Yet another day

(or, how the current issue of Spider-Man makes explicit the dark bargain at the heart of comics fandom)

Briefly, for nonfans: Twenty years ago, Spider-Man married his longtime girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. Now Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada has decided Spider-Man works better as a single guy than as a married guy. This being comics, any narrative event can be reversed by some incoherent gimmick. So: Peter Parker's beloved Aunt May is badly wounded by a bullet meant for our hero. The Devil appears to Spider-Man and offers him a choice: he can save his aunt's life, but he has to give up his marriage. This being comics, "give up his marriage" doesn't mean "get a divorce," it means that history is altered, and everyone's memory is wiped, and Peter Parker and Mary Jane never got married in the first place. And so Pete and MJ weep and kiss and remember the good times in a special two-page spread that's like a parody of a love montage in a movie. (There's an image of the two of them riding a tandem bike, for god's sake.) And then Peter wakes up, and Aunt May is downstairs making pancakes, and I threw up in my mouth a little.

Of course, there's the obvious evolutionary backwardness of the whole thing: to choose an octogenarian aunt over a loving and healthy and presumably fertile marriage is to prefer death to life. But there's an aspect of this that's more specific to comics culture. One More Day states the dark side of the geek bargain more explicitly than anyone really wants: Everything can be the way it was before, when you were a kid. All you have to give up is girls, and marriage, and procreation, and the possibility of a healthy adult relationship. That's been the deal between fandom and the comics industry for decades. There's plenty of fans who've made the same choice Peter Parker did, and who now sit alone in their apartments, surrounded by comics and DVDs and collectible figurines. But there's something really unpleasant about having it said out loud, or presented as heroic.