My first Spider-Man comic was Web of Spider-Man #12. It came out in March of 1986 when I was just three-years-old. I got it from the spinny rack at the grocery store and I read it so many times the pages eventually ripped away from its tattered cover. Always one to encourage reading, Mom regularly let me get comic books when we were at the grocery store, drug store, or gas station. When I was seven-years-old, my parents got me a membership to our local comic shop (perks included a 20% discount off the cover price and a pull list). Weekly trips to Books Galore were a part of my life until I turned sixteen. All of a sudden things like gas money and the outings driving fostered began to make demands of my budget so, with conflicting emotions, I decided to stop collecting comics. My last was Peter Parker: Spider-Man #98. Released in November of 1998, it was the “end” of Peter and Mary Jane’s story (until the next month’s reboot) so it felt like a fitting end.
A great many things happened to Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the intervening seventeen years before I’d return to my local comic shop in the fall of 2015. Of them all, I don’t think any were more significant (or more controversial) than the “One More Day” and ”Brand New Day” storylines.
While I wasn’t reading Spider-Man comics at the time, I knew all about “One More Day” and “Brand New Day.” Despite not reading comic books, I still kept up on comic news. Spidey and the whole Marvel Universe remained close to my heart during those years. But even if that wasn’t the case it would’ve been hard to miss OMD/BND as they made national news.
During Marvel’s original “Civil War” (2006-07), Peter sided with Iron Man and unmasked on live television. In the story that followed, “Back in Black” (April – Oct 2007), Aunt May was hit by a sniper’s bullet which Peter dodged with his spider-sense. As she lays dying in the hospital, everyone from Tony Stark/Iron Man to Doctor Strange to Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic to Doctor Octopus to the High Evolutionary to Doctor Frickin’ Doom is unable to heal her (while the assassin missed Peter, Kingpin should still keep him on a pretty hefty retainer as that is one unbelievably deadly shot by a regular guy with a regular gun firing a regular bullet at a character in the Marvel Universe).
The infamous “One More Day” (Nov 2007 – Jan 2008) would find Peter out of options to save Aunt May’s life. With nowhere else to go, he and Mary Jane sell their marriage and their love to Mephisto. The devil worked his dark magic, Aunt May was saved, Peter’s secret identity was restored, and all knowledge of Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage was gone. Everyone – themselves included – remembered their time together as a couple, living together as boyfriend and girlfriend, until a very messy, bitter break-up.
“Brand New Day” would usher in the new status quo for The Amazing Spider-Man. Peter was single once more. Mary Jane had left New York City because the break-up was too hard. Harry Osborn was back from rehab in Europe (he had died in The Spectacular Spider-Man #200 back in 1993) so Peter had his best friend back. Instead of several Spidey titles coming out every month, now The Amazing Spider-Man was being released on a three-times-a-month schedule. It featured a Webhead Braintrust of writers – Dan Slott, Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim, Zeb Wells, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Fred Van Lente, Roger Stern, Brian Reed, and Tom Peyer – rotating stories to keep the comic coming out thrice monthly. The Brand New Day Era was 101 issued, beginning with The Amazing Spider-Man #546 in January of 2008 and concluding with The Amazing Spider-Man #647 in November of 2010. Dan Slott took over as the solo writer on the title with issue #648.
All this happened when I wasn’t reading comics but when I was certainly reading about comics.
And I hated it.
I mean I hated it.
I. HATED. IT.
Breaking up Peter and Mary Jane?!!? With a deal with the devil?!? To save Aunt May (from the 4,000th time she’s almost died)?!? And reshaping reality so no one remembers they were married?!? It felt like the worst example of lazy, contrived story telling. As someone who grew up loving Spider-Man – and who still loved Spider-Man with his whole heart even if I wasn’t presently reading the comics – I resented it. I felt betrayed. Spider-Man was (and remains) the fictional character I’ve had the longest running consistent relationship with. And with one, lousy narrative swipe, they had wiped out everything I knew about Spider-Man. My entire youth was spent with Mary Jane and Peter together! Heck, I began reading Spider-Man comics in March of 1986 and Peter and Mary Jane married in June 1987 in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. Mary Jane and Peter were a couple for my entire life and they married a year after I first met them. Now…it was GONE. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was hurt. And I swore I would never read Spider-Man comics again and I most certainly would never read “One More Day.”
Well, you should never say “never.” Not long after I returned to reading comics I felt that old familiar pull to my favorite character. But SO MUCH had happened! It felt overwhelming to begin again! So I approached tentatively, checking out Spider-Man/Deadpool first. I enjoyed that. I liked the idea of Peter being the CEO of this big tech company, too. I sought an entry point for Dan Slott’s era of The Amazing Spider-Man and I went with “The Parker Luck.” I was loving it all! Dan Slott was born to write Spider-Man! And I was back with my favorite hero in new stories every month. Peter and MJ weren’t together – and it was a bit jarring at first – but I found my rhythm.
This didn’t mean I let go of my “One More Day”/”Brand New Day” resentment. Oh no. Just because the current Spidey comics were good didn’t mean the narrative trash that severed the greatest couple in comic history was a good idea let alone a well crafted story. But as I began my “Spider-Man and Relationships” series I felt I couldn’t write about Spidey and MJ without reading “One More Day.” So I did. It wasn’t as terrible as I thought but I still couldn’t bring myself to say I appreciated or agreed with the idea itself. Reading about Peter’s romantic exploits with characters like Michele Gonzales, Carol Danvers, and Jessica Jones had me bouncing around the Brand New Day Era. And honestly? I really enjoyed all those stories. So, with Peter’s relationship with Carlie Cooper looming large as the one major romantic experience of his life I hadn’t read about, I decided to finally do it. I would dive in and read “Brand New Day.”
Before I began, I thought of something I tell my students all the time. I tell them there are five words which will change the world if we embrace them. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing we can ask ourselves to consider. They can apply to all matters, big and small.
But what if I’m wrong?
Those five words – But what if I’m wrong? – can change the world. It is so easy to become so entrenched in our viewpoints. We have a point of view. We dig in. With social media, creating an echo chamber that only agrees with us and demonizes all opposing views has never been easier. Everything from our politics to our faith to our understanding of medicine and science to whether or not we think The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker are good Star Wars movies become hills we will die on, knowing in our hearts of hearts we espouse the one infallible truth.
But that’s not always true. In fact, it really is. To learn, to grow, to become better than we were the day before, we have to be willing to look at what we believe, to hold those beliefs to the fire, to test them, and we need to be courageous and confident enough to toss aside the beliefs that don’t hold up. We need to be able to ask ourselves but what if I’m wrong? And we need the courage to honestly evaluate the truth of the matter.
I’m not advocating we routinely overturn all our beliefs, big and small. To say we should always change is as ridiculous as saying we never should. But what I tell my students is we need to always be open to learning more, to considering opposing points of view, to reevaluating what we once held as true, and changing when we learn we’re wrong. As I sat down to read the Brand New Day Era of The Amazing Spider-Man from beginning to end for the very first time, I strove to practice what I preach. I believed the story was lazy and contrived. I believed it warranted my resentment. I thought it was a betrayal of everything Spider-Man always was to me and a callous tossing aside of twenty years of continuity. Because of all this I felt frustrated, angry, and hurt. But what if I was wrong?
Reading “Brand New Day” with an open mind I realized I was wrong. Those 101 issues weren’t just good stories. They held some of the very best Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read! The new characters introduced – like Carlie Cooper, Norah Winters, Michele Gonzales, Lily Hollister, Mr. Negative, Overdrive, Paperdoll, and Scewball – quickly became some of my all-time favorite Spider-Man characters. What they did with the classic characters – like Mary Jane, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, Harry Osborn, Felicia Hardy, Aunt May, and Flash Thompson – showed such dynamic growth for the characters! The very idea Spider-Man, the consummate loner, would join the Avengers was mind-blowing (and if you’d like to read more about how Spidey joining the Avengers showed beautiful growth as a character and setup super exciting stories you can click here)!
As I read I realized there were two overarching reasons “Brand New Day” not only worked for me but earned my respect in a way few comic storylines do.
First, I write often of how I tend to favor newer characters (like Squirrel Girl or Ironheart of Miles Morales/Spider-Man) or characters new to me (like Wonder Woman or Harley Quinn or Captain Marvel) because they still feel like they can change. They either don’t yet have a bedrock status quo to reset to or I’m not yet familiar enough with their bedrock status quo for everything about their characters to feel predictable. As a result they feel more worthy of my $3.99 each month because the stories feel like they carry a greater urgency. I still enjoy reading those other titles with more classic characters but I wait until I can get them at the library or read them on Marvel Unlimited.
With “Brand New Day,” the Webhead Braintrust took Marvel’s most recognizable, popular, and profitable character and did something incredibly daring with him. And then they weathered the storm of criticism and kept it up. There was plenty of support for this new direction! But there was lots of scorn, too. Look at me – I wasn’t even reading the comics and I was deeply upset about this move! That couldn’t’ve been easy. They had and held on to the courage needed to change Peter Parker and his world in a significant way.
The change worked, too! Reading those stories I found them fresh, exciting, so funny, and emotionally complex, too. While I read these stories scattered over the last year, I find myself thinking of them often. The arresting visual of a snowstorm crippling New York City coupled with the emotional weight of Spider-Man trying desperately to traverse the city and stop cultists from unleashing a destructive god in The Amazing Spider-Man #555-557 is one of the most unique Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read. The “Shed” storyline in The Amazing Spider-Man #630-633 where the Lizard forcibly suppresses any hint of Curt Connors for full dominance has stayed with me as only the most haunting pieces of literature can. The recurring story bits were just as engaging. I enjoyed seeing Peter give himself permission to let loose and enjoy a friends-with-benefits/sex buddies relationship with Felicia Hardy/the Black Cat. My heart ached for Carlie as I watched her develop real feelings for Peter while he gave her nothing but mixed signals in return. Eddie Brock becomes Anti-Venom. Doctor Octopus was dying. Norman Osborn returns and levels up his machinations to a whole new level of evil manipulation. Aunt May runs the F.E.A.S.T. center to help the homeless and even gets married again! And these are just the first story bits that came immediately to mind.
In “Brand New Day” the Webhead Braintrust boldly changed a character as popular as Spider-Man and the stories they delivered were so much the better for it. I loved them! Who wants to read about a character who never changes? Everyone involved with such a dramatic shift in such a mainstay character has my deepest respect.
Second, in retrospect my harshly negative reaction to Peter and Mary Jane selling their marriage to Mephisto had very little to do with the story itself and everything to do with me. Mary Jane and Peter got married in 1987. I was four-years-old when I read that comic for the first time (or had it read to me). Hearing they were splitting up was, in some weirdly unexpected way, like hearing my parents were splitting up and I reacted in a similarly emotional (though scaled down as it was fictional characters and not my actual parents) way.
The thing is, we have a terribly unhealthy view of break-ups in our culture. We see any break-up – be it the end of a dating relationship, an engagement, or a marriage – as a bad thing. But break-ups aren’t bad. Yes, they can be sad and they often are. We can mourn what we’ve lost. But people break-up because they change. Some of us find someone with whom we can change in the same way our entire lives and that’s great! But many of us don’t and in those situations the healthy, responsible thing to do is break-up. Relationships work until they don’t and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Internalizing break-ups as “wrong” can make us feel we’re doing something wrong when we recognize our needs aren’t being met in a relationship. We can feel guilt or shame for leaving a relationship where we aren’t heard and/or our needs aren’t met and seeking another one where we are heard and our needs are met – or even just enjoying life on our own. But we shouldn’t! In that situation, leaving is the mature, healthy, responsible thing to do. (God supports it, too, but that’s a conversation for another time.)
All this is to say, looking at Peter Parker with the eyes of an adult and not a six-year-old reading about his favorite superhero, I can see he was a terrible partner to Mary Jane. Yes, they shared sincerely loving moments and yes, they cared for each other. But Mary Jane’s needs were barely a part of Peter’s life. She loved him and he loved her…in the way he could…which wasn’t healthy or anything remotely approaching a true partner. Reading Spider-Man comics as an adult, it’s clear Peter has deep unresolved trauma in his life. It’s obvious he has a wildly unhealthy relationship with a significantly skewed sense of “responsibility.” No matter how much he may love Mary Jane, no matter how much he may want to be with her, unless he starts seeing a therapist with the dedicated regularity of his superhero patrolling, he’s never going to be able to be with her in a healthy, supportive, mutually symbiotic way. He needs to get his act together. And Mary Jane deserves better! Her needs are worthy of being met, too!
Really, the fact that their marriage lasted as long as it did when Peter lives his life the way he does stretches the ol’ suspension of disbelief more than most of what happens in the Marvel Universe.
In breaking Peter and Mary Jane up, the stories the Webhead Braintrust could tell in The Amazing Spider-Man a) were no longer modelling an unrealistic and unhealthy image of marriage for its readers (especially the young ones), b) placed Peter squarely back in the casual-to-semi-serious dating world which is where he belongs until he begins to heal himself, c) featured stories far lighter in tone as they didn’t have to revolve around an always struggling marriage Peter could never sustain, and d) could expand the cast in a wider/more free way.
It was bold. It was brilliant. And it worked! So yes, I was wrong. Far from being a betrayal of any sort, “Brand New Day” took the fictional character I’ve had the longest running relationship with and put him in some of the best stories I’ve ever read. I couldn’t see it then. But I can see it now and I am so, so, so thankful I do!
Whenever anyone asks me where to begin reading Spider-Man comics, I tend to suggest Dan Slott’s “The Parker Luck.” It was where I jumped back on and, since Peter is reclaiming his life after Doc Ock controlled his body for years, a new reader learns all about his world alongside Peter. Now, I’d recommend “Brand New Day” just as enthusiastically. With Spider-Man: No Way Home just a week away, some fans of the movie may find themselves wanting to try Spider-Man comics for the first time. This would be a perfect comic journey to take with Spidey – especially since the spell Doctor Strange casts in the film is based on what Mephisto (via Doctor Strange) does to reset Peter’s life in the comics. Regardless of the new movie, “Brand New Day” will forever be a wonderful entry into the world of Spider-Man as well as a treat for lifelong readers like myself…if and when expectations and preconceived notions can be let go.
For me, asking myself if I could be wrong opened the door to an idea filled with stories which now hold a special place in my heart for giving me so much new and so much good with a character I’ve loved for thirty-five years.