I know I promised these would be individual reviews, but unfortunately, I simply don’t have time to do it that way.
Title: “Back In Black” (Amazing Spider-Man #539-543) and “One More Day” (ASM 544, Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #24, Sensational Spider-Man #41, ASM #545)
Author: J. Michael Straczynski, with contributions from Joe Quesada (particularly near the end)
Illustrator(s): “Back In Black” was pencilled by Ron Garney and inked by Bill Reinhold. “One More Day” was pencilled by Joe Quesada, who shared inking chores with Danny Miki.
Original Publication Date: These issues cover dated April 2007 through January 2008
Cover Price: Cover prices on “Back In Black” are $2.99 US, $3.75 Canadian each issue. “One More Day” was cover priced at $3.99US each issue, with the Canadian price dropping from $4.75 to $4.05 with part 3.
Aunt May has taken a bullet to the torso, and is in very bad shape. Peter does everything he can to save her, but that doesn’t seem to be within the power of any mortal.
Confronting the Kingpin.
The pointlessness of “One More Day.” I’ve already gone on at length about it here, though I suspect I’ll keep ranting. This is just a story that doesn’t need to be told. Quesada keeps assuring readers that it doesn’t limit the stories that can be told in any way, but it does. Simple examples: Annual 21, with the wedding itself, couldn’t have happened. Based on what has been said about “Sins Past,” I’d say it’s a safe bet that Peter will never have a child out of wedlock, so fatherhood is right out too. I strongly suspect that Quesada doesn’t see it this way because the stories that the marriage permits are stories that involve Peter actually growing up, so they’re stories that Quesada wouldn’t let anyone tell, anyway. Instead, we get a rewrite of large portions of the past twenty years. (It’s not just the wedding day that changed. It can’t be; Harry Osborn and the web shooters are back, too. The remasking could be explained by a combination spell that includes the “it’s forgotten” bit that has been described by Mr. Quesada in interviews as well as the “supressing the natural reaction to the realization that you have forgotten” bit that hasn’t been mentioned, but also needs to be there.)
I have to give originality credit, simply because these stories haven’t been told before. I still don’t think the last couple of chapters needed to play out this way, but they certainly haven’t happened before. I give it 5 out of 6.
The artwork by Garney and Reinhold is consistently great. That by Quesada emphasizes the wrong details early on (when, in part one, every wrinkle on the doctor’s face is visible, yet Peter’s eyes are a single line each, though the scene is written as though they are open.) Quesada’s work does improve as we go, though. I have to admit, he does a great Mephisto here. I give it 4 out of 6.
The story starts off extremely well. We really feel the pain, anguish and guilt that is driving Peter. Then “One More Day” part three starts, and the momentum is lost in surreality. The mechanism for a retcon of this magnitude needs to be clear, and it most certainly wasn’t. Moreover, when Peter asks for those details that the long-time readers are asking for, Mephisto tells him outright that “you shouldn’t worry yourself over such details.” He then vaguely says that the marriage will have never happened. This really felt like the creative team telling me, as a reader and collector, that my questions and concerns about this event, which by its very nature becomes the most significant event in the past twenty years, simply didn’t matter. The status quo was being arbitrarily changed to whatever the folks at Marvel decided it was going to be, and that we should just accept it because they said so. Well, I’m not. I don’t think the story needed to be told, and I don’t think the conclusion was even told well. As happy as I am that Dan Slott is finally getting to write the character, I’m not at all happy with what happened right before his run kicked off. Still, this tirade is best postponed for the “Emotional response” section of this review; for now, suffice it to say, that the mechanisms of storytelling were very well done for the first seven of these nine issues, and that the remaining two issues felt as though they contained arbitrary choices and decisions driven by the editorial goals rather than the natural flow of the story. Peter’s immediate recognition of Mephisto alone means he should have known better than to go along with this. (Yes, Mary Jane accepted first, but it still couldn’t have happened unless Peter agreed as well, though I’m still not clear on why Mephisto could act without May’s explicit consent.) I give it 4 out of 6.
The characterization, like the story, was rock solid for the first seven chapters, and then collapsed with the rest as things were jammed into place. Peter was clearly aware of who Mephisto was when he first saw him. He has also revealed in the past that he used his spare time as an Avenger to read through their files on the known villains at large. I do not believe for a second that Peter would humour Mephisto and even listen to the offer. It’s also been clear that Mary Jane doesn’t know much about Peter’s life as Spider-Man. (In fact, her disconnect from this side of his life was a major reason that the couple who shares this “perfect love” Mephisto speaks of were separated some time back.) When she asked Peter to hear out Mephisto, I don’t think he’d have listened. Instead, I think he’d have told her that he knows Mephisto cannot be trusted, and that she would then have deferred to his expertise in this area. (In fact, looking back on the JMS run and on the promotional “Spider-Man’s future will depend on one of these six people” promo that included Loki and not Mephisto makes me think that JMS intended to use the favour Peter owed Loki from Amazing Spider-Man #503 and 504 to save May’s life, and that Loki would do so at the cost of the marriage simply because of who he is. This is entirely conjecture on my part, but to me, it seems much more in line with JMS’ “plant seeds and plan way, way ahead” approach to storytelling than the “where the devil did Mephisto come from” storytelling we got instead. This would be hard to explain given Loki’s current incarnation, which may explain why it didn’t happen, but that’s still what my gut tells me.) I don’t even see Mephisto getting involved in this unless he’s got big plans for Harry, too. I give it 4 out of 6.
The emotional response is strong through the first seven issues, and in a good way. The emotional response through the last two issues was much stronger, and not in a good way. This feels very forced. (Mr. Quesada has pointed out, quite rightly, that the initial wedding was very forced, as well. Yeah, well, two wrongs don’t make a right.) The “Back In Black” chapter alone would have garnered a 6 out of 6, which makes me wish once more that I had had the time to review it back then. (Sorry, Mephisto, but I have no marriage to offer to make this the way things had happened.) The way things all play out, and the huge volume of unanswered questions left for collectors such as myself are a serious problem in this respect. (They promise answers are coming in upcoming issues of Amazing Spider-Man. That may well be. That does not mean that they aren’t obligated to provide any answers here. When the next issue of the title has a two page spread of answers, and the production schedule dictates that this spread would have been completed well before the final part of “One More Day” hit shelves, then that means the people in the Marvel offices recognized the gaping holes in this story, and chose to fix them in the incorrect manner.) The whole “you may not like it now, but keep buying anyway!” attitude demonstrated in interviews doesn’t wash with me. I was sorely tempted to drop the title, but I didn’t for three reasons, listed here in order of decending priority. 1) I get fantastic service from my local comic shop, but it’s a small enough place that orders have to be made in advance. If I drop, that retailer gets left holding the (I believe) non-returnable issues I ordered, particularly since I know other readers have, in fact, dropped the title. At three issues a week, that’s a lot of stock to be left holding when final order cut-offs are a few months away. Of course, the sales numbers on Marvel’s end are the numbers that the retailers expected to sell, and not what they actually sold. If there is an overall drop in sales, Marvel won’t see it for a few months, and even then, they may not be able to tell how many dropped due to “One More Day,” and how many dropped because they budgeted for one issue per month instead of three. 2) I have a lot of faith in Dan Slott’s ability to tell fun Spider-Man stories in any status quo. Guggenheim has, in my mind, a great track record on other characters. (Wells and Gale are still unproven in my mind.) If anyone can help replace this foul taste with a better one, it’s Slott. 3) I am a collector, and I do have (mainly digital) copies of every issue published to date. I tell you, though, if I knew that my local retailer could move the issues, and if Slott wasn’t one of the four rotating writers on the title now, that wouldn’t have been enough to keep me on board. I fully expect “One More Day” to be held in the same regard as the “Clone Saga” a decade from now. (Assuming, of course, that the Clone Saga still happened. JMS’ proposed mechanism of “Peter saved Harry from his drug problem, hence Harry and MJ never broke up, hence Gwen didn’t die, hence no marriage…” would have been far more palatable, as it would have provided readers with the needed details behind the change, and would have undone the “Clone Saga” and the oft-poorly spoken of “Sins Past,” too. Yes, it would have rewritten 36 years instead of 20, but once the rewrites extend before the current run on the title and into decades, I don’t think it matters how many decades are involved.) In any event, the emotional response of all nine issues is severely damaged due to the emotional response to the last two issues. I give it 2 out of 6.
The flow of the story starts out strong, and then falters. (Guess where that happens.) I give it 3 out of 6.
Overall, this is a story that has gotten a lot of fans talking, and has had a defining influence on what Amazing Spider-Man will look like in the forseeable future. If properly executed, that would make it a highly recommended must-read. Instead, my advice is to read Back in Black at the soonest opportunity, and then skip directly to “Brand New Day,” operating with the sole knowledge that the complete remaking of Peter’s world is as much a mystery to him as it is to you. I give it 3 out of 6.
In total, the Amazing Spider-Man portion of Back In Black and One More Day receive 25 out of 42.