Thursday, August 02, 2007

I Finally Placed That Smell

This week, at some random point when I was reading some current comics and reflecting aimlessly - both of which I get to do lots of, on vacation, making me wonder why I'd ever go back to work - it finally clicked what the current Civil War/Skrull invasion protracted storyline reminds me of. Well, actually, two precursors occurred to me this week, but one is more significant than the other.

The more trivial parallel came to mind when I started considering what might be coming in the next big Spider-Man event: 4 issues in length, it's called "One More Day", in which, rumour has it, someone close to Spidey is going to die and his personal life is about to change dramatically. It's scheduled to come out in Sept and Oct so we won't have much longer to wait, but to date the lid's been kept fairly tight on it, as far as I'm aware. So I got to wondering.. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has been very public about not liking the fact that Peter and Mary Jane are married in the Marvel Universe, because he feels it's too limiting in terms of what kind of stories can be told about Mr Parker's personal life. He can't have any romances beyond MJ, for example, because who'd root for a Spidey who's stepping out on his old lady? But what could Joe Q do about this situation, since a divorced Peter P would also not be well-received? Well, of course, someone could always kill Mary Jane... And that's possibly what "One More Day" will be, although I have my doubts. For one thing, it's likely easier to knock off old Aunt May, since she's already at death's door (in the current story playing out in the comics), and they killed her off years ago, only to bring her back via some sleight-of-hand involving a phony May being killed or something like that. And no one really knows how to write Aunt May anyway, so is that big a loss? So the smart money's probably on May, not Mary (Jane). But suddenly I thought, "What if it turns out that the MJ Peter married was actually a Skrull?" We know that stuff like that is coming up in the Marvel U so why not use it to get Parker out of his marriage?

Perhaps the biggest single obstacle to employing that resolution, believe it or not, is the fact that Marvel's already used it! Back in the 90s, Johnny Storm inexplicably became involved with, and married, Ben Grimm's blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, only to have it revealed a year or two later that "Alicia" was a Skrull who'd fallen in love with Johnny after being sent to spy on the FF (or something like that). The marriage was annulled, the real Alicia flew back to Ben's arms, and Johnny was back to banging every chick he met (or so it seemed sometimes). So re-using that device, this time with Peter/MJ, is probably too gauche even for Joe Q. Or maybe not.

The more promising (and likely) revelation that I had related to how the use of Skrulls - as imposters who've been posing as characters we thought we knew - was eerily similar to what is probably the most maligned Spider-Man story of all time: the Spider-Clone Saga, again from the 1990s (a truly dire period in comic history). Attempting to fully recap that folly here would require more time than I care to spend right now, but the short version goes like this:

In the 1970s, one of Peter and Gwen's old university professors turned out to be a master cloner (!), who'd created, and quickly aged to adulthood, clones of Gwen and Peter, only to discover in the process that he'd inadvertantly grown his very own Spider-Man! This tale came about a few years after the real Gwen had been killed by the Green Goblin - pardon me, there's something in my eye - so it made for some interesting scenes in which still-grief-stricken Petey caught glimpses of his lost love in the crowd, but was maddeningly unable to catch up to her before she got away. Eventually he did catch her, and fought a second Spider-Man, and it was all resolved in just a few issues! In the end, the clones were supposedly killed, their bodies incinerated, and life went on (Prof Warren was locked up and no one listened to his crazy ramblings about having cloned Spider-Man).

Fast-forward to the 90s, and an older Peter, in love with Mary Jane (maybe even married by that point, I can't recall) was shocked to be confronted by a duplicate of himself. But that's nothing compared to the sinking feeling he experienced as he was told, and then eventually came to believe, that the man before him was the real Peter Parker, and he was the clone! Egad! The Spider-Man we'd been reading about for two decades was the lousy clone created by Prof Warren way back when - though he didn't know it - and the real Spidey had been off in hiding the whole time (in Marvel time, about a half dozen years or so had passed). Could it be?! Had we really been hoodwinked into thrilling to the adventures of a phony for all those years?

Marvel let this story stand for a shockingly long time (a year? more?), with 'clone-Peter' retiring from the superhero gig and 'real-Peter' taking the name Ben Reilly (to avoid confusion, like that was even a possibility by that point!) and operating as Spidey. Eventually fan reaction - almost universally negative - forced them to 'reveal' that it was all a trick, and the man who'd been in hiding was the actual clone, though he didn't know it. We ultimately got our original back, after a period in which both of them operated, as Spider-Man and the Scarlet Spider. In the decade since, there's been virtually no reference to the Spider-Clone Saga, Ben Reilly or the Scarlet Spider in the comics themselves, but the fans still bring it up scornfully at the drop of a hat (myself included, although I had given up on Spidey around that time and never really returned until JMS started writing it years later).

And yes, that was the Reader's Digest version! There's sadly a whole lot more to it than that, but you get the gist!

Anyway, the upcoming Skrull bruhaha is starting to remind me of the Spider-Clone Saga. Marvel's definitely going for the same "he/she isn't who you thought they were!" shock experience that the Spider-Clone Saga aimed squarely at - and hit! And that's a scary thought, when you consider how that worked out the last time. Could they really be stupid - or ballsy - enough to try a repeat performance? And more importantly, would it go over any better this time?

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