These days, the life of Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada encompasses a lot of areas outside the traditional realm of comics publishing. From working on new Marvel animated series to collaborating on the fate of the Marvel Studios movie universe, Quesada’s time for hands on comic making be it scripting or drawing new superhero stories is limited. So when he sits down at the drawing board, the E-i-C picks projects that are going to have an impact.
Similarly, while Quesada still makes the home of his signature Cup ‘O Joe column right here on CBR, his cross-country travels won’t allow for the weekly fan Q&A, but that just means that when Joe does have time of a Cup ‘O it’s extra jam-packed with Marvel Universe madness.
This week, CBR News is happy to present a collision of both those worlds with something we like to call “Cup O’M.I.T.” – a week-long, inside look at the recent and controversial Spider-Man story “One Moment In Time” by Quesada and artist Paolo Rivera. Running in “Amazing Spider-Man” #638 – 641, “O.M.I.T.” made drastic changes to the Spider-Man continuity and the modern life of Peter Parker in the wake of the equally shocking “One More Day” story. In this first installment of the week-long event, Quesada opens up about how “One More Day’s” various twists and turns brought about “One Moment In Time” and how the latter story works with the former in a twisted fashion.
Kiel Phegley: Joe, in talking about the story that is “One Moment In Time” I’m going to take a little cue from you and frame my specific questions about the book in a bigger question I think that fans will be asking throughout.
Joe Quesada: Sounds like a plan.
Kiel Phegley: I guess before we do, we should announce spoiler warnings, don’t you think?
Joe Quesada: Absolutely.
Hey, SPOILER WARNING!
You were saying?
Kiel Phegley: The question for all this, simply put, is how much of the specifics of this story did you know you wanted to do when “One More Day” originally happened? Was the wedding issue a part of what you were going to rework?
Joe Quesada: That’s really a tough question to answer without going into the history a bit of what was going on at the time since I wasn’t originally writing those issues. But to the point, the simplest answer I can give you is that while I was working on the last two issues of “One More Day,” I had worked out loosely about 75-80% of what would eventually become “One Moment in Time.” The remaining percentage came after I eventually I decided to write the sequel myself and really started to dig into the possibilities and making sure that all the logic points connected. Also during that time, I came across a story element that I thought was the most interesting twist to the story.
Kiel Phegley: That being?
Joe Quesada: We’ll get to it, but what is surprising is that it’s something that has somehow snuck under the radar.
Kiel Phegley: So, how does the historical context here play into those percentages?
Joe Quesada: Oy! Okay, let me see if I can get through this as briefly as possible since most of it was chronicled live via the Internet and probably boring to most at this point, but you asked. We have to go back a few years, to one of our big creator summits, where we began discussing how we were going to go about telling the story of the un-marrying of Peter and MJ.
The original methodology that was pitched in the writer’s room at that time by JMS, the methodology we’d all agreed to, was based upon the movie “Sliding Doors.” In other words, one small thing was going to happen in Peter Parker and Mary Jane around the day or days of their wedding causing them to never get hitched. This was an idea we were all comfortable with, because it would cause as little change and upheaval to the world of Peter Parker as a story like this could. The one thing we as a group discussed at length, and didn’t want to do, was to have decades of stories that didn’t happen. That to me would have been disastrous. So, with everyone comfortable with how we would proceed, we moved forward. It was also essential for us to have a definite plan at that juncture because based upon that methodology and certain key story points we discussed at this creative summit, the Brand New Day writer teams would have to start working way ahead of time so that we could hit our accelerated thrice monthly schedule planned right after “One More Day” ended.
Flash way forward: I was two issues into drawing “One More Day” when I started to get a bit concerned because we hadn’t gotten to any of the ideas that were discussed in the writer’s room. There was a lot that needed to be covered in what was now amounting to be fewer and fewer pages. But look, JMS is a master storyteller and knows how to pace a story. So at that juncture in the process, that concern was only a mild one. When the third script finally came in, Axel and Tom contacted me incredibly concerned. I had already read it by that time so I knew why they were calling, we had an incredibly big challenge in front of us. To put it bluntly, the ideas that were pitched at the summit and the parameters that we had all agreed to, was not what was in the script. Instead of a story that took us back to the wedding day and why it didn’t happen, what we were looking at was a story in which 37 years of Spider-Man continuity never happened and every issue since “Amazing Spider-Man” #98 no longer counted. As a bit of context, issue 98 was the issue in which Harry was addicted to drugs. Harry and MJ were dating at that time, so his addiction caused their breakup which subsequently drove Norman to become the Green Goblin, again with devastating results to Peter’s life. The script in front of me for issue 3 of “One More Day” revisited that story from back in 1970. In this new version, Peter heroically manages to get Harry into rehab. Because of this, Harry and MJ never break up. That meant she and Peter didn’t start dating as originally happened and Norman would not become the Goblin, thus never killing Gwen Stacy. This was also a problem because we had also come to the decision a while before all of this that Gwen was going to stay dead. In defense of JMS, he did at one point pitch a version of this story at the summit, but it had been shot down by the room because of all the history it would wipe out, not just with Spider-Man, but across the entirety of the Marvel U.
Kiel Phegley: This was right around this point that there was a lot of public debate and bickering going on about the project creatively, right?
Joe Quesada: Yes, on both ends and definitely more than the fans really needed to deal. But hey, that’s life. However, when that was all said and done and played itself out in the interwebs, we were behind the eight ball, we had two issues in the can and more importantly a loudly ticking deadline which was only made louder knowing that there were writers and artists working on, and in some cases completing, Brand New Day stories that now made absolutely no sense based upon this third issue of “One More Day.” Once we realized that we couldn’t do issue 3 and a subsequent rewrite as it was written, is when One More Day and the events surrounding it started to really get nutty.
Kiel Phegley: So stating with the third and fourth issues is when the reworking of the original scripts began and you started formulating ideas?
Joe Quesada: Yes. During and after all the back and forth, arguments, public statements and other silliness, we had to editorially go back in and rework the two remaining issues so that they made sense with where Brand New Day was going to begin. As we did this, the one thing that became obvious was that we weren’t going to be able to answer all the questions in the two issues that were left as was hoped. So a conscious decision was made to get through the story, have Peter and MJ have their confrontation with Mephisto and do it in a way that would make sense with the sequel when the time came to tell that story while also trying to use as much of what JMS had given us to that point in order to keep a tonal similarity with the first two issues. At this juncture, everything we did was with one single goal in mind, to serve the upcoming Brand New Day and to make sure that those creative teams had a clear runway to take off from. Am I happy that we had to perform triage on those issues in order to make the story work? No, not at all. Did it make for a totally satisfying read? Of course not, how could it have? There were too many unanswered questions for the reader. But, as E-i-C I’m confronted with decisions like this all the time, some bigger than others, but when I’m left between 37 years of continuity disappearing or leaving a story open ended to revisit on another day, I feel I made the absolute right decision.
So moving forward as of issue 3, along with Axel, Tom and Steve Wacker, we started working on story points that could be used later in a sequel and made sure that events in “One More Day” lined up with those ideas. There were a lot of ’round the clock sleepless nights of writing and drawing for me and I have to say, those three guys really helped me creatively in ways I could never thank enough. We had a lot of questions that needed to be answered. What did Mephisto actually do? How did the wedding not happen? How was the unmasking undone? How did it all fall into place with as little upheaval to continuity as possible? Luckily, we had a loose idea of some as we had all collaborated on some of these answers during the summits and in e-mail chains, but it was a heck of a challenge. Eventually the answers started to come to me as we patched it all together but there was still one nagging question that I couldn’t seem to come to terms with, what did MJ whisper in Mephisto’s ear?
Kiel Phegley: So when did you actually figure that out?
Joe Quesada: I’d love to paint you a romantic picture saying that we had all the answer during “One More Day,” but that wasn’t the case, especially with the whisper. The honest answer is that the idea of what was said came after the series was done. As ridiculous as that may sound, there was actually a reason behind it.
The whisper was an idea that JMS and I had discussed and the idea was to leave it purposely ambiguous, an open puzzle piece for lack of a better description. Something that could be used later by another writer somewhere down the road that would lead to other stories. I thought it was a cool idea, so we moved forward with it. But, once things fell apart and we realized that we now had to create a story that was going to end with more questions than answers, that whisper was going to now take on much more weight as it was now one in a series of many unanswered question “One More Day” was going to leave behind.
Because of the added weight, one of the things that I kept stumbling on when thinking about the whisper was, “What would be big enough?” What words could be dramatic and Earth-Shattering enough that would meet the expectations fans had about what was in those empty word balloons? It was a big problem because even thinking about meeting those expectations was simply the road to madness. But now looking at the sequel, one of the important ideas behind “One Moment in Time” is how many of the things that happened to Peter really had nothing to do with Mephisto. He didn’t pull the wedding day out of continuity, he didn’t make Aunt May better, and he didn’t wipe the world’s memory of the unmasking. What he did was drop a domino and guide a pigeon to inadvertently unlock a door that allowed a two-bit thug to escape a police car. From that point on everything that happens happened through Peter’s own actions and decisions, and the majority of those were in his trying his very best to do the right, heroic thing. It was at that point that I realized that what MJ whispered to Mephisto wasn’t Earth shattering, in fact it couldn’t be. It just had to be heroic, heartfelt and keeping with her character. What MJ eventually whispers, while seemingly not all that important, makes her the hero of the story and in effect is Earth shattering in its simplicity.
Kiel Phegley: Okay, wait, how so?
Joe Quesada: Remember the twist I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, this is what I was talking about. MJ unknowingly beat Mephisto at his own game. By agreeing to MJ’s terms, Mephisto has actually wiped himself from ever having been involved in their lives. In fact, looking at it linearly, those four issues never happened. Along with the wedding, “One More Day” and Mephisto have been wiped out of continuity and Peter and MJ never made that bargain.
Ooooooh, me hears something breaking.
Check back tomorrow on CBR for an inside look at “One Moment In Time” Part 1 including Quesada’s theory on the original Spidey wedding annual and what key change had to take place to keep Peter and MJ together.