Ultimate Spider-Man and the Laws of Spider-Man Comics

 In: Rave > 2024
 Posted: 9 Apr 2024
 Staff: Keith Moore (E-Mail)

According to physicists, there are Two Laws of Thermodynamics...and now, according to me, there are Two Laws of Spider-Man Comics. These Spider-Man comic laws appear to be as immutable as their thermodynamic counterparts, but before I get into them, a little background...

I had zero expectations when I picked up my copy of 2024’s Ultimate Spider-Man #1. I honestly had no idea what it was about. I didn’t read any ads for the title and I’m completely social media-free so no spoilers there either. I just assumed it was another 616 Spider-Man title. After all, Marvel is currently publishing Superior Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Men, Web of Spider-Man, Miles Morales Spider-Man, and that list doesn’t include all of the Spider-Man minis and one shots. I also didn’t read the Ultimate Invasion mini series from which this series emerged, so suffice to say I had no idea what I was getting into.

I’m now caught up on the first few issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, and I think they are fantastic. The joy I felt reading them was matched only by the unsettling thoughts they provoked in my head. Two unsettling thoughts to be specific. My first thought was that there is a reality at hand that I have been ignoring for the last 17 years. That the 616 Spider-Man will never reunite with MJ, and their marriage is forever lost to Mephisto. And my second thought was that no matter how brilliant this new Ultimate Spider-Man series may be, it will eventually end, because every title not named Amazing Spider-Man inevitably does. And thus...

The First Law of Spider-Man Comics:

Any title not named Amazing Spider-Man will inevitably be canceled.

Some perspective…

When I first read Tom Brevoort’s The Spider-Man Manifesto in 2007’s Amazing Spider-Man Swing Shift, I didn’t realize just how foreboding it was. I dismissed it, assuming that like every status quo shift that had occurred prior, it would eventually be reversed and the marriage would come back. But after reading the first few issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, the true significance of Brevoort’s perspective came crashing down on to me.

I realize this isn't a news flash, fans have been debating and criticizing Brevoorts remarks for a long time. In essence what Brevoort suggested was that the ‘true’ Spider-Man (ie, Spider-Man as he was intended to be) is an everyman, hard-luck hero who doesn’t get to grow up. I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist. So, marrying him off essentially destroyed what made the character interesting and appealing to fans.

It’s also no secret that the internal debate at Marvel around the marital status of Peter Parker was plenty evidenced over the years. The second Clone Saga and The 'Death' of Mary Jane storylines are well-established attempts at resetting the world around Peter, namely making him less married. Those stories never quite got the job done though.

In 2007, the One More Day/Brand New Day story arc did get the job done, removing Peter and MJ's marriage from existence in the 616. And in hindsight, the fact that Brand New Day arrived at a time when the original Ultimate Spider-Man title was losing steam is certainly not a coincidence. After all, the original Ultimate Spider-Man was our everyman, hard-luck hero who wasn’t grown up. But just two years later in 2009, his title would go through a reboot and in 2011 he was ultimately (pun intended) killed off. The Death of Spider-Man arc in 2011 and thus with it the death of the original Ultimate Spider-Man series was once again proof of The First Law of Spider-Man Comics.

But OMD/BND added subtext to this law. Specifically, that Brevoort’s (and others) one ‘true’ Spider-Man must reside in the never-ending Amazing Spider-Man series.

So The First Law of Spider-Man Comics becomes:

Any title not named Amazing Spider-Man will inevitably be canceled. And that Amazing Spider-Man title must feature an everyman, hard-luck hero who cannot grow up.

And that is where the pain begins for some fans. We don’t realize we’re fighting an immutable law of Spider-Man comics when we root for the return of the marriage.

The salt in the wound is that Marvel has teased the return of the marriage on a repeated basis over the years since OMD/BND. The images below are examples of those teases from Marvel ads. The first is from 2009 (ad for Amazing Spider-Man #600) and the second from 2010 which was teasing the story that ultimately became OMIT.

Marvel knows what they’re doing, and I respect their game. I’m a sucker for the marriage, so of course I’m going to fall for their tricks. They also know that the marriage sells. As part of the 2015 Secret Wars crossover event, Marvel gave us the real thing...kind of. We got to see Peter and MJ married again (with a child as well), it just happened to be in an alternate universe. Nevertheless, Slott and Kubert’s Renew Your Vows mini series was very well executed and very well received by fans. So much so that in 2016 it became an ongoing title. The success for the ongoing series, however, was short lived. And it wasn’t the marriage that killed it, it was the rotating creative teams, and the age-jumping/time jumps that it endured. Those inconsistencies stunted the organic growth of that world. Despite the warts, the Renew Your Vows universe can be viewed as the true progenitor of the 2024 Ultimate Spider-Man universe.

Then, of course, there’s Nick Spencer's 2018-2021 run on Amazing Spider-Man.

His run was sprinkled with winks and nods to the marriage and OMD/BND, hinting at the potential for a retcon that would reunite Peter and MJ. The very first page of his very first issue was a call back to one of the most memorable moments of the marriage. And Kindred was fixated on a 'mistake' that Peter had made at some point in his past. I get a headache whenever I think about who or what Kindred was, but one thing is clear, Spencer was trying to undo the injustice done to Harry Osborn by bringing him back from the dead for BND after his classic death in Spectacular Spider-Man #200. So imagine the pain of the knife twist when it was eventually revealed that they were retconning Sins Past. The question of whether or not it was Spencer's call to pivot to Sins Past getting the retcon and not OMD/BND can be debated. But at the end of the day, the reality was that the status quo established by OMD/BND was left standing by the time Spencer was off the title.

And I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I’ll throw an idea out there. One reason Marvel editorial may have pulled the plug on allowing Spencer to upend OMD/BND might very well be due to the current Ultimate Spider-Man title. I don’t know exactly how the timing of these projects works (ie, how far back they go), but it is possible that Marvel was in the planning stages of this new Ultimate Spider-Man while Spencer's run was ending. Knowing full well it was going to involve a married Peter and MJ. And that would put the kibosh on letting Spencer retcon OMD/BND in Amazing Spider-Man, returning the marriage to the 616 universe as well. We certainly cannot have two universes where Peter is married!

Regardless of whether or not my speculation is true, the irony of the whole situation is that the same way the creative teams of the 90's toyed with the idea of removing the marriage, modern efforts have been toying with the idea of bringing it back. That may be the most important insight I had after reading this new volume of Ultimate Spider-Man. In the 90's, they thought an unmarried Spider-Man would improve the series and sell more books, and that eventually gave way to Bendis and Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man. Now, in order to augment sales across the Spider-titles, Marvel is bringing back the marriage. We've come full circle.

But the reality is that there is no need to try to 'fix' the marriage situation in the 616, they don’t have to…

Because there is The Second Law of Spider-Man Comics:

The 616 Spider-Man universe must remain unchanged from the Lee & Ditko era. Any significant departure from that status quo must take place in an alternate universe.

The heart and soul of creativity around Spider-Man now resides in the alternate universes. The true renewable energy source of Spider-Man isn’t the universe that Lee and Ditko created, it’s every other universe. And Marvel knows this. The value of Spider-Man is no longer his flagship title. It's the other worlds that will pop into existence, get the fan base excited, then eventually disappear when the numbers slump. That is where the creative juices will always be the most plentiful, where there are no rules, no one ‘true’ Peter Parker that is fixed as a single guy in the middle of never-ending soap opera as a hard luck hero.

The Amazing Spider-Man series will continue to exist more out of nostalgia, a way of never forgetting the brilliant creation of Lee and Ditko. And I can respect that. But if you're looking for true innovation in Spider-Man comics, keep eye on what is going on in the alternate universes. Of course, the cynical view of this approach is that it allows Marvel to have its cake and to eat it too. As the Amazing title hits milestone after milestone in its issue count, Marvel will have plenty of opportunities to sell multiple variant copies of those milestone issues (and of course the occasional reboot to a #1 issue as they oscillate between legacy numbering and new volume numbering). But there was no stopping that either.

So where does that leave me? I’m going into this new Ultimate Spider-Man series eyes wide open. There is no reason for me to fight the immutable laws of Spider-Man comics. I know full well this series will eventually be canceled, while Amazing Spider-Man will continue to plod along until long after I'm gone. But, hey, I’m thankful a book like this is out there, I find myself excited again to go to my shop on a Wednesday to grab the latest issue in the series…sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

 In: Rave > 2024
 Posted: 9 Apr 2024
 Staff: Keith Moore (E-Mail)