Spidey is getting divorced and making a deal with the devil? Gawker Media's cool new blog, io9 (self-proclaimed as "strung out on science fiction"), reports that Marvel Comics has released Amazing Spider-Man #545, which tells the tale of Spider-Man making a pact with a demon to save his Aunt May's life by ending his marriage to Mary Jane.
Many fans are outraged; they should be.
Marvel, and far too many Hollywood studios, seem wedded to the idea of self-implosion as the way to wrap-up a story franchise, revive ratings or lure fresh audiences. They convert beloved storylines into estoric non-wonders that reveal more about the struggles of the writers than the intricacies of the story itself. And that's devilish, indeed.
Case in point: I watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End during the Christmas holiday. I had regretted not seeing the film this summer because I enjoyed the first two installments of the pirate adventure. But the latest film featured an incoherent supernatural mush about life, death and life again that certainly wasn't Christian theology, but I don't think Blackbeard would have believed it, either... Savvy?
The film violated its own story conventions, the guideposts a reader needs to enter the "story universe" the writer creates. When story conventions are broken, they leave the audience wondering what happened to the characters and the story they once knew. As Robert McKee writes in his fantastic book, Story, "the audience knows these conventions and expects to see them fulfilled."
I also felt betrayed when Alias self-destructed. The fabulous television series concluded with a head-scratching existential ending that defied the general clarity of the previous episodes. Did the writers write themselves into a corner they could not escape? If so, the fans, not the writers, suffered the most.
When admired stories possess a center based on convictions, violating the story's conventions is particularly vexing. An excerpted comment by NefariousNewt on the io9 blog about Spider-Man says it well:
Stan Lee's original vision is being erased and Marvel is becoming one of those mega-corporations that does what it wants and no longer cares what the die-hard fan thinks. I think this might spell the end. Spider Man has always been my favorite superhero, because he was just like me: wanting to do right, juggling the needs of his personal life and the career he has chosen, and putting himself before others day after day, all the while living on the edge of poverty, the truly anti-heroic hero. Now, I'm ashamed...