Monday, January 2, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #638-#641: "One Moment in Time"

* (one of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "You know what?  I think we're going to need more tea."  "Yeah, you go do that Tiger."  -- Peter going for more tea, MJ pouring some wine

(This issue is complicated to summarize, because we're actually also dealing with scenes from other issues.  But, here we go.)

In the past, Mary Jane gets Mephisto to promise to leave Peter alone.  In the present, Mary Jane appears at Peter's apartment because it's time for them to be friends and, to do that, they have to talk about what went wrong between them.  It is revealed that the change that Mephisto made to undo their marriage was that he freed one of Electro's henchmen, who had been arrested and was sitting in a police car at the time.  The henchman tracks down the cop who arrested him and tries to kill him; Spidey hears the gun shots and intervenes.  The henchman throws a brick at Spidey, concussing him, and then the two of them fall off the rooftop, knocking out Spidey and causing him to miss the wedding.  MJ forgives him, but tells him that they can't ever get married, because she was only getting married because she wanted kids and she couldn't see bringing a kid into their world.  Moving to the era of the deal with Mephisto, Peter performs CPR on a dying Aunt May, who recovers.  Meanwhile, an assassin is sent by the Kingpin to kill Aunt Anna, who calls MJ.  The assassin -- revealed to be the same henchman that Mephisto freed -- goes after MJ, who's #1 on his hit list, when she appears to save Aunt Anna.  Aunt Anna calls Peter, who goes to find MJ.  The henchman knocks out MJ, but Peter stops him before he can kill her.

Peter then brings MJ to Dr. Strange to be healed.  Realizing the danger his public identity poses to his family, Peter asks Dr. Strange to undo his reveal.  Strange consults with Reed Richards and Tony Stark, who agree to help.  Dr. Strange casts the spell and puts Peter in a protective shell; Peter decides to pull in MJ with him.  Peter informs MJ when she awakens that no one knows but them, and she tells him she wishes he wouldn't have done that.  MJ decides to end the relationship because of the danger she -- as Spider-Man's girlfriend -- poses to her family.  Back in the present day, MJ tells Peter she wasn't strong enough to be his girlfriend, but someone out there is and he has to move passed her to find that person.

The Review
OK, so, going into "One Moment in Time," the biggest unanswered questions are what Mary Jane said to Mephisto sotto vocce during "One More Day," what Peter and Mary Jane remember about the deal (if they remember it), and who they think is responsible for the mindwipe that erased everyone's memory of Peter being Spidey.  We do, actually, get those questions answered in this arc.  MJ just made Mephisto withdraw from Peter's life entirely, neither MJ nor Peter remembers the deal with Mephisto, and the mindwipe is done by Dr. Strange, Reed Richards, and Tony Stark.  Bam.  Done.

I appreciate the effort that went into this arc and, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure it could've gone differently.  The writing could've been a bit tighter, since some of the motivations seemed a bit odd.  But, at the end of the day, Quesada was damned by the baggage (of his own making) of "One More Day."

As I've said before, we're Team MJ here.  I wasn't thrilled with the decision to undo MJ and Peter's marriage, but, as I've also said before, I've enjoyed the new status quo more than I've enjoyed possibly any other comic for years.  With Peter not being in a serious relationship, the writers haven't constantly bombarded us with him fighting with Mary Jane as a result of something related to him being Spider-Man.  Those fights with MJ were always heavy, and they often made the book darker, which is why, after all, they decided to remove MJ from the picture.

But, after reading "One Moment in Time," you realize that the writers have more or less written themselves into a corner with this idea that Peter couldn't be in a serious relationship.  At some point, Peter is going to be in a relationship (probably with Carlie), but he's going to face all the same problems and issues he had with MJ.  The writers are never going to be able to make being Spider-Man safe (well, at least not if they want an exciting comic book), so anyone Peter's dating is always going to get hurt, emotionally or even physically.  The editors have bought themselves some time, but it's probably unlikely Peter is going to be single forever.

Acknowledging that, you realize what a raw deal MJ has gotten here.  In the end, the writers have basically said that Peter can be in a serious relationship, but just not with MJ, since she wasn't "strong enough" to handle it.  MJ herself actually says that.  She tells Peter to get over her so that he can find the right girl for him, someone who can handle him being Spider-Man better than she could.  But, really, could anyone?  Do we think so little of MJ that we think someone else could really suffer being Spider-Man's girlfriend in a way that wouldn't wind up where MJ and Peter's relationship did?

In the end, we're here because of the deal with Mephisto, not because MJ couldn't handle Peter being Spidey.  I mean, Mephisto himself says that MJ and Peter have a once-in-a-millenium relationship, so it's hard to believe that it wasn't strong enough to handle him being Spider-Man.  The fact that we've decided to lay the non-Mephisto-related blame for the new status quo on Mary Jane really rings false to me.  It dragged down this entire arc.  It was clearly supposed to move us past "One More Day" and to us to the fun-loving Spider-Man that "Brand New Day" brought.  The last page -- of Peter saying that his best friend set him free and it's a brand new day -- was supposed to be inspiring, but, instead, I felt angry and cheated.

The Good
1) The last page of the first issue (the source of the favorite quote) was pretty funny.

2) I do appreciate the effort that went into this arc.  I do.  From using the scenes from "Amazing Spider-Man" Annual #21 and "One More Day" to the way the only real change that Mephisto made is opening the door for the crook, Quesada has done his best to show us the new status quo's alternate timeline.

3) Perhaps the best result of "O.M.I.T." is that we finally get some sort of reason why -- however weak and convenient -- people didn't take obvious opportunities to discover Spidey's secret identity, such as Lily Hollister and Norman Osborn in "American Son," Ana Kraven in "Kraven's Last Hunt," and Sandman in his "The Gauntlet" arc.  Dr. Strange's spell appears to compel people to avoid learning Peter's identity, as we more or less also saw during the "Face Front" arc.  I still think it's weak -- and it doesn't absolve them of similar pre-mindwipe incidents, such as the one with Eddie described below in "The Bad" -- but it is at least an attempt to explain it.

The Bad
1) The art is a mixed bag.  It would've been better if only one artist handled the non-Annual art.  Instead, we get such a variety of styles here that it starts getting distracting.

2) MJ's conversation with Peter about never wanting to get married rings false.  I don't buy that she was "only" marrying him because she wanted to have kids, so she was able "just" to be with Peter, unmarried, so long as they took having kids off the table.  It feels exactly what it is:  an excuse imposed by the writers because they needed a reason to have MJ and Peter together but still unmarried.  Also, are we ret-conning away her getting pregnant?  Did that happen?  I'm pretty sure if she was so adamantly against bringing kids in the world, she probably would've made sure she didn't.  I mean, accidents happen, but I feel like the baby storyline is now the greatest of the two remaining questions I have regarding the changes wrought by "One More Day."  (The other one is what exactly happened to Peter's other super-powers, such as the organic Web-Shooters, particularly since issue #588 specifically mentioned Morlun.)

3) Having Dr. Strange be the one behind the mindwipe and not Mephisto also reminded me of things I'd rather have forgotten.  I was annoyed, back during "One More Day," that Dr. Strange couldn't do anything to help Spidey.  So, he couldn't save May's life because it was "her time," but he can wipe the memories of everyone on Earth?  Really?

4)  I think we're officially raising the following sort of scenario to Pet Peeve #3:  So, Eddie regains consciousness before Spidey and decides to neither unmask him nor kill him.  Really?  Also, when Eddie is poised to kill Aunt Anna but is interrupted by Mary Jane, he decides not to kill Anna and instead pursue MJ, pledging to go back to kill Aunt Anna later.  Really?  THEN, when he has MJ lying on the ground unconscious, he decides to talk to her instead of killing her, giving Peter time to arrive.  REALLY?  I know that comics need these sort of pauses to build dramatic tension, so I can usually overlook them.  But, we have SO many here that it just really defies belief.

5) The re-use of the scene from "One More Day" where MJ and Peter talk about the possibility of taking Mephisto's deal is weird.  I know why they did it, since they're trying to establish the timeline, but it actually forces them into a bizarre conversation.  MJ is devastated that Peter didn't let her forget his identity, and we're being led to believe that it's the reason why she wants to end her relationship with Peter, because she would've preferred not knowing.  But, instead, Quesada switches gears and makes that argument irrelevant, since MJ herself tells Peter that it's only a matter of time before people discover his identity.  So, why is she so devastated that he didn't let her forget his identity since, if they kept dating, it's pretty clear she'd eventually know?  Was she saying that she would've preferred to have forgotten all about him entirely?  I'm not really clear what she's saying here and it's important since it's the decision that Peter most regrets, pulling her into the sphere of protection.  In the end, the whole conversation is weird and, given how important it was to the entire storyline, it leaves you feeling cold.

6) Quesada draws MJ like a 16-year-old girl here.  Seriously.  For moments, I thought Peter was talking to Cousin Kristy.  She looks nothing like the MJ he drew in the "One More Day" panels, so I have no idea why he drew her the way he did.  Also, at various times, Peter looks like he weighs 300 pounds.  It's just bizarre.

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