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‘One Moment in Time’: The Spider-Man Story Nobody Wanted [Review]

A couple years back, Marvel earned the eternal ire of the crazier side of comics fandom by publishing “One More Day,” a story that ended with Spider-Man and Mary Jane selling their marriage to Mephisto in exchange for Aunt May’s life. This story kickstarted an all-new status quo for “Amazing Spider-Man” called “Brand New Day” that featured a single Peter Parker, the return of Spider-Man’s supporting cast, and genuine forward momentum in its status quo, rather than the water-treading between events that punctuated the stories that immediately preceded “Brand New Day.”

Last week, the last issue of Joe Quesada and Paolo Rivera’s “One Moment In Time,” or “OMIT,” hit the shelves and explained exactly how the deal with Mephisto worked. This was a bad decision.Let’s be honest: “Brand New Day” had a slightly rocky start. The new writing team of Zeb Wells, Bob Gale, Dan Slott, and Marc Guggenheim took a story or two to get all the way up to speed. Once they worked out the kinks, though, it led to some of the best Spider-Man stories in twenty years. The rotating creative teams and thrice-monthly schedule kept the title fresh, and while there was definitely a specific tone for the new era, each writer and artist brought their own flavor to it. “New Ways to Die,” “Grim Hunt,” “Shed,” and pretty much anything Paolo Rivera, Chris Bachalo, or Marcos Martin drew were fantastic.

The best part of “Brand New Day,” though, was the return of Spider-Man’s supporting cast. For a while, it seemed like the only characters who mattered in “Spider-Man” comics were Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker, and, on occasion, J. Jonah Jameson. With “Brand New Day,” the cast exploded in size. Old favorites Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Glory Grant, Harry Osborn, and even Sha Shan, Flash Thompson’s ex-wife, returned to Spider-Man’s life. New characters like Carlie Cooper, Norah Winters, Vin Gonzales, and Mr. Negative fleshed out the already well-established New York City of “Amazing Spider-Man.”

Rather than just being a Spider-Man showcase, “Amazing Spider-Man” got back to being the kind of comic that made it a hit: a soap opera with huge action scenes, solid (if occasionally corny) comedy, and diverse stories. While “One More Day” was a particularly unpleasant way of getting “Amazing Spider-Man” back to its former glories, you can’t really argue with the results.

But here’s the thing. Let’s say that you put one over on someone. It’s not very nice, but honestly, kind of necessary, and it’ll make things better in the long run and jettison some uncomfortable issues from the recent past. You cheat and win, and the results are great for everyone involved. Then, perhaps a couple years later, say you tell them about the tall tale and break down your scheme in minute detail. You explain to the person you lied to exactly how you did it, the timeline of your master plan, and various minutiae they may have missed while they were busy buying your story.

This is essentially what “OMIT” has done, filling in all the blanks of “One More Day” that didn’t need to be filled in. Rather than answering questions or revealing new information — which is it doesn’t, since the broad strokes were obvious and the smaller strokes inane — “OMIT” just serves to remind you exactly how distasteful “One More Day” was and how we got all these good stories. It’s the comic book equivalent of ripping a band-aid off a still raw wound and then going, “Oh, yeah, that’s where I stuck you with that knife!”

“OMIT” isn’t all bad. Paolo Rivera acquits himself very well, producing some fantastic art and what is hands-down my favorite cover of the year for “Amazing Spider-Man” #641. His work is alternately haunting, scary, and just old-fashioned fun. He knocks his part of the story out of the park and into another stadium entirely. But where his work ends, Joe Quesada’s writing begins, and that’s where the problem with “OMIT” lies.

Over the course of its four chapters, “OMIT” tells us how Aunt May survived being shot, how Spider-Man’s secret identity was restored, why Peter and MJ broke up, and why they didn’t get married. None of it is satisfying, and a lot of it raises more questions than it answers. Quesada was adamant that Peter and Mary Jane not divorce, and I tend to agree with his decision there; it’s tough to create a divorce where there are no bad guys. “OMIT,” though, manages to make Mary Jane look petty and more than a little cowardly. While freaking out about Spider-Man missing their wedding is entirely okay (especially if you’ve ever seen the bill for a wedding), her rationale for leaving Spider-Man isn’t. What’s her reason? In her own words:

“I love you and I wish I was strong enough to be with you, Peter Parker, but I’m not. And I don’t know if I ever will be. And you — you need to find someone who is… and you need to move on.”

And sure, maybe Peter missing their wedding day shook her faith a bit, but we’ve already established that Mary Jane is strong enough to be with Spider-Man. In fact, we’ve read a story where she goes through this struggle… how many times now? At this point, the change just didn’t ring true. We’ve seen too many examples of Mary Jane showing the steel in her spine and never backing down to anyone for this to be believable. Instead, she just looks weak, particularly in light of her history of standing by her man. “I’m just not strong enough,” romance movie cliche that it is, just doesn’t work for Mary Jane. It’s too thin.

More than any question of Mary Jane’s motivations, more than Spider-Man being constantly off-balance and behaving like a schmuck throughout the story, the biggest problem with “OMIT” doesn’t have to do with the story itself. The biggest problem is a question: Who wanted this story?

The people regularly reading “Amazing Spider-Man” didn’t want it. They had a good-to-great comic in their hands three times a month, a supporting cast worth caring about, and awesome art, while the dirty trick that was “One More Day” was becoming an increasingly distant memory. While there were gaps in the story, they were the kind of gaps that you knew held no good answers, so you were okay with ignoring them.

And the longer they sat, the less they mattered. We don’t need answers for how Jean Grey came back from the dead, Onslaught, Teen Tony Stark, Electric Superman, Nightcrawler’s father being the Devil, or that time Angel and Husk had sex in front of her mother. We’re past them and we don’t care any more. At best, they’re punchlines. At worst, they’re tired old grudges.

The vocal haters, though, the ones who spent the past two years dissing “Amazing Spider-Man” for hypothetically turning back time to the ’70s or turning Peter Parker into a loser while studiously claiming to not read the comic? Were they the audience? The craziest among them, the ones who gleefully tracked every perceived fault and mis-step, weren’t going to be happy with any answers Quesada cared to give. The book was already the worst book ever in their minds, and no answer “OMIT” has to give would have changed that. There was no chance of pleasing the vocal haters, because the only thing they want is for “One More Day” to be wiped from the history books, and trying to answer the questions has only given them more ammunition.

And really, “OMIT” does make it even harder to get past “One More Day.” It interrupted the kind of run Spider-Man fans have been waiting for just to pull off whatever scab had formed over the wound of “One More Day” and just toss some salt in for the fun of it. It answers questions no one was asking any more, and all of those answers are pretty much exactly what we assumed. It’d be one thing if “OMIT” was the kind of story that knocks your socks off and smacks your emotions around, but it isn’t. The writing is trite and played out. The plot twists are predictable, and even worse, they’re boring. Rivera’s art is fantastic, but wasted on this story.

“Brand New Day” is winding down, but instead of going out on a high point with “Shed,” “Grim Hunt,” and “Origin of the Species,” it’s instead going out with a tainted reputation, and for what? To fill in continuity holes? So we can read yet another story of people sitting in a dark room and crying? No, thanks.

Marvel should have let sleeping dogs lie and let “One More Day” fade away. It’s okay to live a lie in comic books, especially when the lie turns out so well.

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