Pipeline, Issue #383


I might spoil the most recent issue of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN on you here. If you haven't read #512 and don't want to know about it, skip down to the next section.

J. Michael Straczynski's new addition to the Gwen Stacy portion of the Spider-Man canon has left some people outraged. Outraged, they say. It's polarized Spidey fans in ways I haven't seen since the rumor of Uncle Ben being a child molester was once floated.

I read the story, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on. While I can admire the technique behind it, the story didn't affect me much either way. I think there's a reason for that which many people reading this today will be able to identify with:

Gwen Stacy means nothing to me.

Really. I know I just caused several of you to spin your heads and shoot white-hot steam out of your ears. After all, this is Peter Parker's first true love. She's the girl he should have married. Why, Sam Raimi even grafted her story onto Mary Jane for the movie.

The reason why JMS' revelations regarding Gwen Stacy's early sex life and affinity for older men doesn't mean much to me, is that I never much cared for Gwen Stacy. By the time I started reading comics -- and I started with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #318 -- Gwen was dead in the ground and a long-forgotten memory. Mary Jane was Peter Parker's wife and one true love.

You could do anything you want to Gwen and it wouldn't affect me. I've never understood the whole affinity for Gwen that so many people have. I accept it as a part of Peter Parker's youth, and that's it. JMS' reliance on Gwen as a plot point in recent issues has given me some idea for what she meant to Parker but, more importantly, what she meant to the fans who were around at that time. Many of them to this day still think Peter should be married to Gwen, and that Mary Jane is a poor substitute. The writers, they might argue, should have thrown MJ off a bridge. I've never understood that idea since I wasn't attached to any one love for Peter over another. There's only ever been one that I've read about. I accept that.

So it happens that JMS has gone back into the archives and constructed a tale that weaves neatly into continuity to give us an additional layer to the tragedy that happened at that bridge when the Green Goblin tossed her to her death. Technically, it's an accomplishment. As far as I can tell, he's expertly woven in the plot points into existing continuity. Some may quibble and argue with it, but I give more leeway on these things than most probably do. It still falls far short of what Kurt Busiek was able to do with UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN, weaving a whole series into those in-between moments. The difference there, of course, is that Busiek emphasized relationships we already knew about and merely created more examples of how those relationships worked. He didn't alter any of the characters in any significant way. The fans accepted and loved the series for it.

What JMS does here is take a step further out onto the gangplank. He's going back to a point many consider sacred in the Marvel Universe, and some even point to as a turning point for the comics industry as a whole. In doing so, he adds layers to a story that's much cherished and beloved, even by those who believe it weakened the character of Peter Parker in some way, causing him to eventually marry "sloppy seconds."

The thing about it, though, is that it's not -- to use a loaded term -- necessary. There was no unasked question about the original storyline. Goblin killed Gwen because she was Peter Parker's love. Nobody asked the questions JMS answers with this storyline. I know it's a great story for a writer to come up with -- the kind that promotions can hail as being "the story you never asked for -- but should have!" Some might even argue for the strength of character it takes a writer to create such a thing. But it doesn't add anything to the character anyone wants in their childhood sweetheart.

Let's look at this from the fan's standpoint: Those who worship at Gwen Stacy's altar aren't going to buy into this story. Those who are too young to truly remember her -- and that's everyone from the G.I. JOE generation forward -- don't have the emotional attachment to the character necessary to make this an Important Story. To many of them, it looks like a giant step backwards into continuity for the sake of a story stunt.

Taken another way: Gwen Stacy's death ushered in an era where comic book heroes could fail. Her death was the end of an era for many. It was the final loss of innocence. That doesn't mean those fans want to further lose the innocence of Gwen Stacy. Today's fans have grown up in an era of comics where rape, mutilation, amputation, death-and-revival, and all sorts of sexual mayhem are part of the everyday vernacular. Those fans aren't shaken up by the upset of this particular apple cart. As such, grafting today's sensibilities onto one of yesterday's most cherished stories just won't work. It looks shocking for shock's sake, whether that's the intent or not.

If Mark Millar included a story like this in the middle of WANTED, nobody would bat an eye. The tone fits there. Does it fit in with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN? I'm not so sure it does.

On top of it all, it's another stunning backpedal for the Quesada era at Marvel. Suddenly, they're mining the past for purposes of something that comes very close to a ret-con. I thought we were looking forward now? That's why X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS was canceled, right? That series attempted to fill in gaps of continuity in much the same way this story does. That's what got it canceled.

I will say this for the story, though: it's perfect for Mike Deodato's current art style. His realistic take on the characters help to draw the emotion out of every scene. This story is one of high-strung humans dealing with highly charged and emotional issues. Relying on someone who's simply a superhero artist, capable only of drawing capes and cowls engaged in fisticuffs, wouldn't have worked on this book.

So, to sum up: It's not a bad story. It's technically very sound. But it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for fannish reasons, not story reasons. It's a no-win situation, as I see it, for most people. In the end, only time will tell whether this story will be accepted by the fans and entered into part of canon, or just ignored as other controversial stories have. Personally, it's not my cuppa.

(It should go without saying, but let me just cover my butt on something here: The preceding is filled with generalizations based on my experiences with the comic book industry and fandom over the past 15 years. No, I can't produce statistical analyses for any of it. I doubt Marvel could, either. Or DC. Serious market analysis is sadly lacking in this industry, after all. This is all my opinion. You're free to disagree with my assumptions and my conclusions all you like. It's what makes the world go 'round. But I think my theories above might help to explain some of the reaction you've seen -- or might have felt -- to the storyline thus far.)


STRANGERS IN PARADISE: TREASURY EDITION is the new paperback book from Perennial Currents, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing. This full color oversized book runs almost 250 glossy pages. In it, creator Terry Moore takes the reader through the history and evolution of the series, from the earliest comic strip incarnations of the characters to a storyline specific breakdown of the series. It's a wonderful companion piece to the series for any serious fan. Included in the book is the original version of the series' first issue, which was later trashed in favor of what you eventually read. There are plenty of pages reprinted here, with Moore's running commentary on topics ranging from his creative process to social commentary to character-specific motivations.

If there's any complaint I would have about the book is that it spends too much time reprinting art from the series and not enough in commenting on it. Some of Moore's annotations are sparse where I'd love to hear more from him about his creative process. There's still plenty of information in here for any serious fan to enjoy, though.

As a celebration of an independent comic's success, I would love to see more books like this for other series. Imagine a BONE book like this, with Jeff Smith touching on his artistic influences, the way the series progressed over time, and even his experiences with the Hollywood machine. Sure, it might be limited in its focus to obsessive comics types, but this kind of behind the scenes material is invaluable to today's up and coming talent, as well as its studious fans.

The hefty book is $23.95 and is due out on shelves this week. Amazon has a listing for it already.

(You're bound to see other reviews for this book around the web in the coming days, if they haven't been out already. I just wanted to be the only one to discuss it without comparing it to a DVD commentary track.)


  • JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #2 should have been an easy sell to me, given its poker-themed cover. Sadly, the issue was a let down. The story is broken down into two parts. In the first, the JLA play poker in the Watchtower, where Superman wins easily. This raises Booster Gold's suspicions. In the second, the JLA fight the Royal Flush Gang in Vegas. There's nothing to connect the two, and the latter story is generic simple man-to-man fighting. The final gag with the JLA poker game is so out of character and, one might argue, morally bankrupt, that it boggles the mind. Its good for a cheap gag, but that's it. Too bad.
  • Artist of the week: It has to be Andrew Kaiko, who has a website named Sketches and Squirrels. I love squirrels, and he draws some pretty funny cartoony ones.
  • Here's something else I missed in my earlier PREVIEWS column: Flip to page 112 for the preview art on Vertigo's new series, TRIGGER. It's a very pretty book, with art that reminds me of Stuart Immonen's and Lee Bermejo's.

  • Just to even further clarify the never-shipped CrossGen Travelers editions: They were not only never shipped, but they were never printed. Don't go looking for stacks of these things at Diamond's warehouses. They never got that far. I'm guessing the unpaid printing bills kept that from happening.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: A review of the new Meat Loaf concert DVD. A movie trailer trilogy. More on the RadioShark. William Shatner shines on BOSTON LEGAL. Ken Jennings has a not-so-secret origin. CSI: NY is too full of stars. And Donkey Konga sports a new controller.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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