Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Synchronicity (You're Doing It Wrong)

Ardent followers of my grudge against the current Spider-Man "Brain Trust" will no doubt remember my recommending the line of licensed Spider-Man novels that Pocket Books has been putting out the last couple of years. Well, there's another one out, called Requiem, by Jeff Mariotte. And once again, it's got me wondering just what the heck goes on in the Marvel offices.

Before I explain that, let me make something perfectly clear: This is not a good book. It fact, it's a big damn mess, and I'm rather aghast that it made it to publication in this form. The main story is an overloaded mishmash featuring Carrion, the Scriers, the Darkhold, and the Sin-Eater that never even rises to the sum of its parts. There are also two subplots that go mostly nowhere, one featuring an elderly serial killer with a twist I saw coming somewhere around page 45, and another that ends with Spidey giving a terrible, ham-fisted speech about the health insurance industry. (I'm no fan of those guys, but Spidey is not supposed to be a public mouthpiece, and especially not when the message is so hackneyed it makes the O'Neill/Adams Green Arrow/Lantern books look like John Steinbeck in comparison.) The prose is leaden, the pacing is worn down by several redundant info-dump scenes, and the narration switches from Spidey's first-person view to third person whenever Spidey or Peter isn't actually present for a scene, a device that does nothing for the narrative but everything to reveal Mariotte's inability to reveal information to his readers organically. So I'm not recommending this by any stretch of the imagination.

But there's still something here worth talking about, and it's this: Peter and MJ are still married in the book. It actually seems to be set sometime prior to Spidey's joining the Avengers and all the fun that led to, but there's also a scene that, if you read it with knowledge of what's taken place in the comics, stands out as a big raised middle finger on Mariotte's part to "One More Day." (For the curious, it's the very last scene, so you can check it out in the bookstore by flipping to page 305.) I obviously have no problem with either of those things, but at the same time, I can't believe Marvel ever let this see the light of day.

Marvel published licensed novels back in the '90s, too, through Penguin and Byron Preiss. They launched the line with a pair of Spidey books, right around the time the Clone Saga started, and kept going until 1999, when BP collapsed. During all that time, none of the novels ever took place during the events of the Clone Saga, and few of them even mentioned it. Officially, it had happened (there were some references, mostly hammy "don't even go there" jokes), but there was usually a note in the books that said "this story takes place before/after all this nonsense," depending on what was going on in the comics at the time. For me, it reinforced the sense of impermanence surrounding the Ben Reilly shift; if the folks writing these books (some of them also Marvel freelancers and editors) didn't buy it, why should I? (Peter David took a similar tack when he wrote the Spider-Man/Spider-Man 2099 one-shot with Peter instead of Ben, because who wants to have written the story where Miguel O'Hara met the fake Spider-Man?)

I can't help but get a similar feel from this. Licensing agreements usually contain a clause giving the licensor veto rights over the licensee's method of use. These exist for the purpose of preserving the property's image; they make sure we'll never see an Avengers movie where Captain America shoots heroin, or a Superman TV show where Jimmy Olsen is a serial masturbator. But if Marvel were smart, and were paying attention to the world outside their offices, you'd think they would also have shot S&S a memo stating that all Spider-Man books after 2007 would take place after One More Day and feature a single Peter. They spent longer selling the dissolution of the Parker marriage than the Bush administration spent selling the War in Iraq; if they cared that much, you'd think they'd have covered all their bases.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Marvel simply forgot to take off its nerd blinders again. Comics professionals are usually grown-up (in the physical sense, anyway) comic fans, and they have the tendency to zero in on the minutiae of their little fake universes to the exclusion of more mundane, but practically important, matters. Quesada's goal (and let's not fuck around; at the end of the day, this whole thing began and ended with him and whatever issues made this a focal point of his life for two years) was to have the Spidey in the comics be single, and that's what he accomplished. Actually securing the foundation of his house of cards probably didn't occur to him, no more than the issue of post-Saddam internal strife occurred to George Bush.

During the OMD fallout, The Beat made the rather bizarre assertion that the Spidey on all the underoos and lunchboxes is and always has been single. The difficulties of proving that aside, it is important, when selling a brand across many product lines, to have the different iterations line up with one another. It's doubly important in storytelling across several media, since radically different takes will lead the audience to reject one over another, and then evolution kicks in. Whether this will be the case here, I honestly don't know, but it's telling that Marvel hasn't thought this far ahead.

What would really interest me, though, would be if Sam Raimi decided to marry off Pete & MJ in the movies. Then you'd see some fireworks.

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