In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT!. We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Today for Spider-Month, the Comic Book Couples Counseling Podcast returns to one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories of all-time and discovers a bittersweet declaration of true love:
If you want to rile up the Marvelous Marvel Marching society, just mention One More Day – the four-issue story arc crossing three Spider-Man titles that editor-in-chief Joe Quesada used to pluck Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s marriage out of continuity in 2007. Fans were outraged and there was a noticeable blow to the readership. Quesada’s intentions were so utterly transparent. He fell in love with Peter when he was a swinging bachelor, and he wanted to give the next generation an Amazing Spider-Man like his – melodramatic and decidedly unsettled.
From Namor and Marrina to Ant-Man and the Wasp, Marvel already had quite the record for dissolving super-powered relationships, but the deep love of Peter and M.J. required something epic. It took the combined forces of the likes of Quesada, J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom Brevoort, and Ed Brubaker at two separate Marvel creative summits to craft the mystical end of their profound relationship. It could be argued that Marvel had no business breaking up the couple in the first place, but if it had to happen, it would demand the power of hell to do it. The readers were broken-hearted to see their favorite Spidey couple shattered by the likes of Mephisto and they should be, but One More Day, written by Straczynski and Quesada, who also provided pencils, did not disrespect their marriage. They built upon Peter’s unresolved but essential trauma over the death of his Uncle Ben and Mary Jane’s selfless and unsatisfied desire to ease her husband’s pain to create the only circumstance that would deny themselves each other.
Civil War left the Parkers in shambles. Peter unmasked and a wanted criminal. Kingpin dispatched a goon to assassinate the outed vigilante, but the bullet pierces Aunt May instead, and Peter was left beside himself with guilt.
By the end One More Day‘s second issue, Peter has to accept the divine inevitability of Aunt May’s death. He went to Doctor Strange for a miracle, and Strange held out his own broken hands, “had he [The Ancient One] simply healed me, there would have been no one to stand before the forces of dark and light when intercession was most needed,” but Peter could not hear it, “If you’re saying her death was part of a greater plan, forget it.” Through a Latin incantation, Strange opened a portal in time and place for Peter to ask the greatest brains in the universe – Reed Richards, Ororo and The Black Panther, Doctor Doom – but none provided a solution; nothing that could pull her back from the brink. Peter tore through the fabric of fate with nightwalkers nipping at his psychic-being and Peter could not stop the bullet from ripping May’s flesh – it was still Peter’s fault. It would always be Peter’s fault.
As Doctor Strange repaired the wounds to Peter’s non-physical being, Peter continued to plead, “So why can you fix me up, and not Aunt May?” It was a matter of time, and it was not his.” Strange tried his best to absolve Peter, “Stop blaming yourself for the inevitable. Savor the time that you have. Go to your Aunt, and give her every moment of your love. There is no greater gift you can give right now.” Doctor Strange was right – Peter had to acknowledge that he was at the end of his rope. There was no sense pulling and fighting anymore – he had no more options but to be still with his aunt, love her as best he can, and live with the fact that she gave her life for his, and not the other way around. At least it wasn’t like the last time. At least he wouldn’t have to face the guilt and sorrow alone. At least he had Mary Jane.
It was leaving the Sanctum Sanctorum that Peter was informed that acceptance was not his only option – this was not the end of his rope, “You haven’t even seen the rope, but I can show it to you. I know where it is.” The little auburn-haired mystery girl leads Peter right to Mephisto, who had been simultaneously negotiating with his wife. Peter offers his soul, but the devil scoffs. Mephisto has the power to rearrange the details of reality so that Aunt May lives, but he only wants one thing. “I want that which gives you joy, that which sustains you. Your moments of greatest despair, the source not of your power, but of your strength, your happiness, your dreams, and your passion. I want your love…I want your marriage.”
What Peter doesn’t realize is that he was sitting at the negotiating table long before he saw red. Mephisto had been listening, in the likeness of a bird, when Peter was pleading with himself at May’s bedside, “It should be me on that table, not her. My fault. I’d give anything, do anything, to bring her back from the edge. To have just one more day with her.” Mephisto was right when he said, “Worlds turn on such thoughts.” Peter’s certainly did. When Peter came back from Stark Towers without access to a bottomless bank account to pay Aunt May’s medical expenses, he indicates that he has a ‘one way or another’ attitude about getting the cash. When M.J. tries to protest, he insists, “I’m already a criminal, so what’s the difference! I’d sell my soul if I thought it would help her.” Peter prioritizes May’s life over his pride, his health, his morality – but it’s not really about her dying. She is an 87-year-old woman, and he admits on multiple occasions that he would be fine if she were dying peacefully in her bed of old age. It is that he could have prevented it – he could have kept his identity secret, or never left May and M.J. alone, or ran away with them – and according to Peter’s trauma, not preventing something makes it his fault. Great power, therefore great responsibility.
Mary Jane sees Peter cursing himself for May’s condition, and she wants to relieve his pain; she wants to help. When Dr. Fine tells Peter and Mary Jane that May will be moved to the Charity Ward without proof of insurance or indication of payment, M.J says she can go back to the old place, sell some valuables, and get some money but Peter just cuts her off. It’s too dangerous. “We have of something,” she persists, “I know,” Peter says coldly,”I’m going too.” She tries to tell him it’s not his fault and there is nothing he can do, but it only causes him to push her further away, out of the way. He never tells her what he’s doing or where he’s going. He cradles her chin in his hand, “I love you,” he says, “I know, be careful,” she says. She watches him thwip into the night, and she worries.
Peter initially starts to tell Mephisto to take his offer and shove, and it is Mary Jane who urges her husband to hear the demon out. She asks Mephisto for his terms: their married life and the bargain that made it would be forgotten by their conscious minds as if they never happened, but there would be a sliver of soul that would know and would suffer. They had twenty-four hours to decide, and they had to decide together.
When Peter and M.J. are alone again, M.J. dares ask the question, “What if it was just her time?” Peter went to the Sorcerer Supreme for a cure, and he came up empty. He bore nightwalker psychic scars for trying to rewrite inevitability. But it can’t be her time, because it was still Peter’s fault and he has options. “I’m responsible, M.J. Even if I’m not, even if we argue all the logical ways I’m not…in my heart, I am. And if that’s what kills her — I couldn’t live with myself. I’d break myself in two.” M.J. strikes back – “So if I say let her go, then I’m responsible for that and ‘breaking you in two.’ Don’t do that to me Peter.” Peter goes on to explain that he could not choose his marriage over May dying of his bullet alone, but if they decide together he could live with it. But that is an impossibility, they can’t decide together. Peter’s answer is ‘no’ and M.J. is left making the deciding vote. All of the sudden, she has the responsibility. The little auburn-haired girl had Peter all figured out, “You know what your problem is? You’re selfish! You’re selfish and self involved. You’re always putting your pain at the center of the universe. As long as you go to sleep with a clear conscience, you don’t care who else has to pay the price for that good night’s sleep.”
For the rest of the twenty-four hours, they hold each other. Peter tries to reminisce but she shushes him, “I remember all of it, every little detail. And no matter what that little monster does, nothing will take that away from me.” At the first chime of midnight, Mephisto reappears. At the third chime of midnight, M.J. tells him ‘yes,’ but with her own conditions, “You’re going to put back his life just as it was. You’re going to give him a chance at happiness.” And that was how she could help – her happiness for his. “And why, should I do that?” M.J. whispers her answer in his ear, and he accepts. She then turns to her husband, “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s all going to be okay, go on now, save May. Be the hero. Be my hero.” So Peter does – he agrees to Mephisto’s terms. As one last twist of the knife, Mephisto reveals that the little auburn-haired girl was a possibility yet to come, the daughter they would never have.
“Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot,” and just like that, Mary Jane’s first words to Peter are the last words of their marriage. In that iteration anyway. Though One More Day dissolves their marriage, it also honors it. The reason Mephisto wanted to destroy their love is that it was sacred in the eyes of God, “It’s because yours is the love rarest of all. Pure, unconditional, and made holy in the eyes of He who I hate most. A love like yours comes about once in a millennia, and to take that away from Him…” It was that speech that made Mary Jane’s mind, and as the friction of fate being denied its course made sparks, Mary Jane told Peter her deepest faith, “Because whatever he does to pull us apart would have to be bigger and stronger than what brought is together and kept us together, no matter what happened. And there’s no power in the universe big enough for a job like that. Not the devil, not God, not anybody.”
Mephisto explained to Peter and M.J. that erasing Peter and M.J.’s marriage from the timeline would be like removing a stitch from the fabric of the past. But what happens to garments with stitches removed? They tend to fall apart. The stitch that Mephito changed in the timeline was that he let a prisoner free before Peter and M.J.’s wedding and Peter prioritized catching the criminal over getting to the ceremony on time and this causes M.J. to rethink the relationship. This stitch is an opportunity for the editors to hit reset on many details go Spider-Man’s continuity – he goes back to mechanical web shooters, Harry Osborn is back from the dead, and, yes, Peter’s secret identity is hidden once more with a little help from Doctor Strange, Iron Man and Mister Fantastic.
Spidey fans would like to pretend that One More Day never happened – or hit the reset button on the reset. Nick Spencer recently reunited Peter and M.J. in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, so maybe Mary Jane was right – it would take a power stronger than God or Devil to keep them apart. It would take the power of fandom. They could simply grow closer and wed once again, but wouldn’t it be more worthy of the characters to have a final face-off with the demon Mephisto and have them choose their love once and for all? Mary Jane deserves her final speech to Peter to be fulfilled and the pseudo-Satan to eat his words. For better, for worse, for richer or poorer, One More Day is part of continuity. May that dropped stitch-in-time be repaired and may the fandom forever hold its peace.
That’s a wrap! Thank you to Brad and Lisa for their incredible insights. Thank you, true believer, for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!