Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Wizard Did It




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I am not a fan of retconning stories. No, let me rephrase that: I hate retcons. Probably the worst thing about reading comic books is the fact that one day, everything you've ever known and loved about a character turns out to be an outright lie.

What makes things worse is that I'm coming from a writer's point of view. I don't know about other people who subsist on making stories, but I like logical progressions that don't rely heavily on MacGuffins to move the story to a newer level. Sure, post-modernist stories don't always make sense, and magic-realism makes sanity seem like a thing of the past, but from my experience, the hook is never something that doesn't make sense, or happened just because. Telling stories demands that when something happens, there's a reasonable plot device, and by reasonable, we're talking about things that work - and fit snugly - within the given logic of both the readers and the given universe of the given story.

Like, say, the animated series Megas XLR. Sure, Megas is a giant robot that's piloted by a fat geek who does nothing but play video games and eat. And the command center is a convertible. Sure, I'm willing to buy that, since it's innovation. What I don't buy is that Megas just happens to beat up all of his enemies for no apparent reason, and escaping relatively unscathed, to boot. No robot's that powerful. Not in Japanese anime, not in Transformers, not in Battletech. Megas is just too unbelievable; there is no way that Coop can be that good, or that his robot is that powerful. It doesn't make sense.

Another thing that doesn't make sense, vis-a-vis the subject of this post, is the recent Spiderman story arc called One More Day (OMD). In this arc, the editorial powers of Marvel comics dons its retconning hood and effectively does a mindwipe on most of the entire Marvel universe by rendering the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson-Parker as false.

As in it never happened. It wasn't real. You were fooled.

This revelation, which I first read from Websnark, piqued my curiosity as well as my outrage, since the Marriage of Spiderman remains as one of the few popular comics that I have completely read and subsequently loved, alongside the Death of Superman and the following Funeral for a Friend story arc. In my mind, these two story arcs are one of the biggest landmarks in the Marvel and DC universes, and serve as milestones for the characters, giving them an entirely new spectrum of possibilities.

Apparently, the ed board of Marvel didn't think so, since the marriage, according to Joe Quesada, didn't do much to help endear Spiderman to the fans. And sure, I recognize that what sold Spiderman was that he was the masses' hero, somebody who shared what your average Joe had to deal with. I understand that being single meant an entire universe of available possibilities was more viable for the title character, especially in that everyday person aspect.

But honestly, the execution of the storyline was utter crap, if you'll pardon the expression. Using Mephisto as a tool to make the entire Marvel universe forget about the existence of Mary Jane and Peter's marriage (not to mention the fact that Peter revealed his identity to the world as part of Civil War's storyline) was pretty weak; geeks will be familiar with the title of this post as a loophole for every inexplicable plothole that could be found in webcomics (fact is, the line was popularized by webcomics to parody silly MacGuffins), and what Joe Quesada did with the Spiderman storyline was literally something a wizard (Mephisto is a deity, but magic is magic is magic) was responsible for.

Now, okay: magic is pretty commonplace in fiction, and that's a fact. What fired up my snark gears was what happened between writer J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada during the production of the four-part story arc. The details are surprisingly clear: Straczynski didn't want to do the script for OMD, but a job's a job, so he does it anyway. The last batch of his scripts - for the last comic of the arc - weren't up to Quesada's standards, not because they were bad, but because the events that took place weren't what the editorial board of Marvel wanted to happen. So they tell Straczynski off, and Quesada does a massive overhaul of the script.

Of course, Straczynski decides that since all that hoopla happened over a story he didn't want to write anyway, the story was better off without his name on the credits, although Quesada was able to persuade him to think otherwise. Now, the fun thing about this was that in Straczynski's original script, a massive haul of plotholes would have been nicely filled up. Quesada admits to this in this interview. The only reason he didn't let it pass was that it would have messed with the plans of the editorial board for the entire Marvel universe in the months to come, which, admittedly, is a pretty good reason.

But plotholes, man! Plotholes are the scourge of every logical individual who enjoys a good, entertaining, ship-tight story. And anyway, there have been more all-encompassing retcons before: Superman alone has a retcon history that could fill a book, not to mention the League of Superheroes and the variations between the Golden and Silver ages of comics. What's Quesada's beef with nulling most - if not all - of the Spiderman comics from the 1970's to the present? It's happened before, and while it doesn't make everybody happy, at least it makes for a neater timeline.

Here's a quote from Straczynski which fuels my distaste with Marvel's decision:

But there are some vital omissions in the interview, including the primary reason I finally threw up my hands on the book, which had mainly to do with how the resolution was handled.

To explain, here's the conversation I had with Marvel, in sum:

"So what does Mephisto do?" I ask.

"He makes everybody forget Peter's Spider-Man."

"Uh, huh. So Aunt May's still in the hospital --"

"No, he saves Aunt May."

"But if all he does is save her life and make everybody forget he's Spidey, she still has a scar on her midsection."

"No, he makes that go away too."

"Okay...:

"Then he wakes up in her house."

"The house that was burned down?"

"Right."

"But how --"

"Mephisto undoes that as well."

"Okay. And the guys who shot at Peter and May and were killed, they're alive too? Mephisto can bring guys back from the dead?"

"It's all part of the spell."

"And Doc Strange can't tell?"

"No,"

"And the newspaper articles? News footage?"

"Joe, it's been forgotten."

"I'm just asking is that stuff there or not there?"

"Not there. And Peter's web shooters are back."

"Is this the same spell or a different spell?"

"Same spell."

"How does making people forget he's Spidey bring back his web shooters?"

"It's magic, okay?"

"I see. And Harry's back."

"Right."

"And Mephisto does this too."

"Yep."

"So is Harry back from the dead, or has he been alive? If they ask him, hey Harry, what did you do last summer, will he remember? And the year before? And the year before? If he says they all went on a picnic two years ago, will they remember it?"

"It's --"

"Because if he now has a life he remembers, if he's not back from the dead, then you've changed the continuity you said you didn't want to change. Those are your only options: he was brought back from the dead, and there's a grave, and people remember him dying --"

"Mephisto changes THEIR memories too."

"-- or he's effectively been alive as far as our characters know, so he's been alive all along, so either way as far as our characters are concerned, continuity's been violated going back to 1971.

How do you explain that?"

"It's magic, we don't have to explain it."


And there you have it; quite possibly the silliest retcon in comic history. Please let me refer you to the title of this post yet again.

For shame, Marvel.

***

My former band, the awesome boys from MaHaSa, will be having a shocking series of gigs this week, starting tomorrow at Al's Bar in ParaƱaque, and another one at Purple Haze in Tomas Morato this coming Saturday. The music is awesome (and I'm not just talking about the songs that I helped pen), so if you're in the area, please do drop by. The music (and the company) is always worth it.

***

Speaking of music, I dropped by Freedom Bar, which has pretty much become MaHaSa's second home, last night since I felt like chatting up the owners. I didn't know that I'd be stumbling headfirst into what was the best night of the bar: the Monday jazz and free jam night. Which is pure awesome, so awesome that you'll end up forgetting that you planned on limiting yourself to two beers, and end up guzzling down seven.

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