Reweaving the Web

Is there anyone out there, other than those who are working on the Spider-Man books right now, who doesn't believe the books need a kick in their collective ass?

This is Marvel's flagship character, the best known icon they have. If you ask someone who doesn't know comics at all to name some characters, I guarantee you they'll come up with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. They might come up with X-Men, but Spider-Man is a dead lock. How many X-Men balloons do they have in holiday parades? And yet, despite how well known the character is, Marvel Comics doesn't seem to care at all if his comics are awful.

Let's face it, things have been mediocre at best for a long time. The last time the books were readable was during the tail end of Michelinie's run with McFarlane, and the last time they were really good was when Roger Stern was writing them. In the 1980s! For those who are counting, that's about 15 years that Marvel has let their flagship character stagnate.

Every revamp idea, every chance to breathe something new into the franchise, just made it worse. The Spider-clone story is now infamous for how not to do a revamp. Go back to a story in the 1970s that introduced a clone of Peter Parker and introduce the idea that the Peter Parker we've been reading about since that time is not in fact the real one, but a clone. Of course, the way to introduce this story is to have the "real" Peter Parker return and take up a costumed identity as the Scarlet Spider. Then confuse the issue about which is the clone. Then make up your mind that the clone is the one we've been reading about for 20 years. Then watch your sales plummet as fans bad-mouth the company and change your mind. I'm certain it will become legendary for it's complete disregard for history, lack of respect for their readers and lack of forethought in general.

Then, to top it off, driving the stake in the already dying franchise, they brought on John Byrne to destroy whatever illusion of respect for the past was left. They had just finished learning that fans didn't want such radical change, and they introduced more.

There's something more at work here than just bad talent. It's not just that Howard Mackie's writing skills leave me colder than a naked eskimo, or that John Byrne's idea of "improving" the origin was having a big explosion in the lab that killed a whole bunch of people. It goes all the way up to editorial, which has made bad decision after bad decision. The direction of the stories, the choice of talent, the restructuring of titles, everything that has been done has been done wrong.

Marvel has the right idea. Something needs to be changed in the Spider-Man titles, that's obvious by looking at fan dissatisfaction and the all-important bottom line, dropping sales. (Granted, these books are still in the Top 50, but their sales numbers are shameful.) Unfortunately, they don't take it far enough, and they go to the same creators and editorial staff who got the books into this trouble in the first place to save it. If they could save it, don't you think they would? Only the most paranoid fans believe that a creator is deliberately doing bad work, I would hope that the people running the business of Marvel would be smarter than that.

No, it's time for a total housecleaning. Give Spider-editor Ralph Macchio something new to edit, maybe he can do a good job there. Mackie's got Mutant X to write already, and despite his mediocre writing skills, he's always shown the ability to get more assignments. John Romita Jr. (penciller on Peter Parker) is doing a great job on Thor and I'm sure fans can think of plenty of places they'd rather see him than on Spidey.

There are a lot of folks who could take over the helm of these troubled titles. I'm excited by the mere notion of giving this character to Quesada and Palmiotti over at Marvel Knights and letting them pick the talent to write and draw the character. They've had one misfire so far, the ill-advised Punisher revamp, and they've redeemed themselves for that one with the upcoming Ennis/Dillon mini. I have total faith that those guys could pick a killer creative team.

To be honest, there aren't a lot of editors at Marvel I would trust to take over these titles. Tom Brevoort is a great editor, but he's got so much on his plate, he can't really take over another line. And the X-book editors have shown the ability only to drive off talent rather than bringing it in. There are others who look promising, but who I don't know well enough to say that they'd be my ideal choice for Spider-Man uber-editor.

When he was Jim Owsley, Priest gave us some of the best Spider-Man comics since the heady days of Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. Peter David and Roger Stern both worked during his tenure, and it was Owsley who gave David his first shot at writing. And while I can't honestly see it happening, Marvel could do a lot worse than to bring in Priest as editor of the books. For that matter, I don't know if he'd be interested, but given how well Stern understood Spidey, I'd love to see him given the editor position and see what he would do with it.

But something's got to change. The only reason to be reading the Spider-Man titles right now is the same reason you look at a car accident when you pass it. It's sick fascination at how badly something has gone wrong. He's a clone, wait, no he's not, no wait, let's see what his origin was really like with a 13-issue mini-series that completely eradicates much of what is beloved about his classic story. Norman Osborn, who had a classic death, is brought back to serve as a hackneyed Lex Luthor/Kingpin knockoff. New villains that are introduced are awful, old villains are misused. One of the few successful reformations in comics (that of Sandman) is undone by a writer's whim, with little thought to the consequences. A long-standing supporting character is killed off in an unconvincing and pointless manner because it's inconvenient to have Peter Parker married. The list goes on and on and on.

Mistake after mistake. I can't think of a single thing the creative team has done right. This is not the treatment that Marvel's flagship character deserves. Hell, I wouldn't even wish the current creative team on the 3-D Man.

Randy W. Lander usually tries to be more diplomatic, but is tired of seeing his cherished Spider-Man dragged through the mud. It was suggested by Don MacPherson that he mention the DeMatteis/Buscema run, but other than "didn't like that either" he didn't have any comments.

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