Friday, 11 May 2012
Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 16: The Death Of Mary-Jane Watson Parker
If you haven't read my previous entries on this subject I recommend that you start with Part One here: http://bit.ly/K2PVXi
The Amazing Spider-Man (volume 2) #13 By Mackie / Byrne / Milgrom
After an underwhelming first year, the next phase of the Spider-Man reboot began in earnest with this issue, bringing with it an unexpected turning point for the franchise - and of course Peter Parker's life. Mary Jane's death was not as massive a surprise at the time as you might have expected, and in fact was an entirely logical move from a company that had been trying to undo Peter and Mary-Jane's marriage for years. It had also been foreshadowed since the beginning of the reboot, through both the marital turmoil experienced by the couple and Mary Jane's creepy stalker.
The issue begins in fairly typical (for the reboot!) fashion, with a separated Peter and MJ bemoaning the state of their marriage. Refreshingly, after taking down some crooks Peter begins to take on a more positive outlook on his situation, always a pleasing move for a character who is down on his luck all too often. Mary Jane on the other hand seems unshakeable after Peter forgets about her flight, and sets off for the airport alone. By this point this situation feels almost like a trope for the reboot, and although it is a while since I read #12 it still comes across as done to death.
The rest of the issue follows a similar tack. As Mary Jane makes her way to the airport and gets on her flight, Peter arrives at their apartment, realises with horror that he has forgotten about her flight and sets off after her, predictably finding himself waylaid by his crimefighting duties along the way. Once again, this is very much a Spider-Man trope but a rather more welcome one than Peter and MJ's marital strife. While it was frustrating seeing Peter getting held up, it is very much true to his character and a welcome reminder of the guilt that makes him tick.
These scenes are broken up by the introduction, and later demise of an all new Rocket Racer, who finds himself on the wrong end of a reinforced door to the face on his way to take on Spider-Man. I was glad that the previous Rocket Racer, Robert Farrell appeared too, and pleasantly surprised that his heroic turn was remembered by Mackie - not traditionally a writer famed for his use of continuity. The new, villainous Rocket Racer is barely a character, but it was good fun seeing an antagonistic take on a concept that has been left on the shelf for a number of years. The fact remains however that the Rocket Racer is an inherently lame villain, and while the way that he is taken out is mildly amusing, it is a portion of the story that feels utterly inconsequential.
The most important segment of the issue is of course its conclusion. As Peter finally arrives at the airport he realises that he is too late, only as it is revealed to the reader just pages later that MJ's plane has exploded in mid-flight. As she gets onto the plane we are treated to a not so welcome hint that her stalker could have some involvement in the explosion, through a 'kindly' stranger offering her a lollipop - one of the stalker's calling cards.
This issue was actually a generally solid Spider-Man story, dealing with several of the themes that make him such an inherently great character. While Peter and MJ's forced tension is, as ever unwelcome it is dealt with in a more natural way this issue, and it was pleasing to see both characters taking on a more balanced outlook over the course of the issue. Unfortunately while there is a lot to like about the brief, humorous Rocket Racer subplot, it detracts from a story that should have been more serious in tone, and comes across as little more than filler. Mary Jane's death is obviously a pivotal point in the series and works well as a cliffhanger, although the ramifications proved to be catastrophic. John Byrne's artwork is patchy, with some decent pencils but sloppy use of backgrounds. It looks here as though he sorely misses Scott Hanna. Not a bad issue, but certainly not an especially good one.
Peter Parker: Spider-Man (volume 2) #14 by Mackie / Weeks / Campanella
Interestingly, while the reader and other character's know throughout this issue that Mary Jane is dead, Peter remains totally unaware for much of its duration. The issue kicks off, however with a completely unrelated character - Cletus Kasady, formerly known as the serial killer supervillain 'Carnage'. Kasady was robbed off the alien symbiote that grants him his powers a few issues ago, and the opening few pages see him fantasising about taking on both Spider-Man and Venom, defeating them both. An interesting piece of character work that sets the tone for his role in the issue.
Aunt May soon learns of MJ's death by telephone, just as Arthur and Jill Stacy walk through her door in a genuinely touching but brief scene. Her, and a handful of Peter's supporting cast's reactions to the news are dealt with throughout the issue, and the scenes are handled very well, adding weight to the events of the previous issue.
The tragedy of the issue lies in Peter's internal narration as she swings about the city fighting crime, all the while thinking that he will be able to patch things up with his wife. He eventually comes upon Cletus Kasady who has escaped from jail after a collision with a taxi during a routine transfer. In a creepy scene Kasady covers himself in red paint to try to recreate the appearance of Carnage, before setting off on an attempted killing spree. Spider-Man makes short work of him, although interestingly it is revealed that some of the symbiote's strength has remained with him in its absence - an interesting idea that was never really touched on after this issue. In some ways Kasady seems to work better without the alien symbiote and all the over the top stylings that it brings with it.
The issue concludes with Peter returning home to Aunt May, and the tragic news that the reader has been waiting to be delivered to him for an entire issue. The final page is perhaps one of the most memorable single pages of the reboot, and works very well in its simplicity.
It is very difficult to fault this issue. Although there isn't that much to it, it delivers an effective (and unfortunately short lived) revamp of a tired villain, and some much needed emotional resonance following Mary-Jane's death. Lee Weeks' art is very nice too, in an understated way, and he seems a natural replacement for John Romita Jr. MJ's death on the other hand is more difficult to praise. While it does seem a natural turning point for the series given the events of the previous 24 issues of the reboot, removing MJ could have been done without saddling Peter with yet another death. At this point he is a character with enough tragedy in his life, and MJ's death proved to send the character in a direction that he is really not suited to. In my opinion, she is far too important a character in the Spider-Man mythos to be removed in these circumstances. Taken on its own merits though, this was a solid enough issue.