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Monday, December 08, 2008 

Even Busiek is now disappointing

Kurt Busiek chimed in on a lenghty thread on CBR, and has added himself to the list of knee-jerkers opposing the Spider-Marriage. First, he said:
I actually wrote the married Peter numerous times -- two issues of SPECTACULAR, three of WEB, a few stories in the back of SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED, some WHAT IFs...

But you can count me among the people who thought it was a mistake to have him get married.
Then later, he says:
I've discussed this before, and I expect it's all Google-able, so I'm not sure how much point there is in going into it again. People will trot out the same arguments on both sides, and nothing new will really be said.

I already see people dismissing writer's arguments against the idea as "resistance to change," as if all change was good and all preservation was bad. But pouring sugar in your gas tank is change, too. Not good change, but change.

My basic argument against the idea is that it breaks the Spider-Man concept without replacing it with something that's as good or better than what was there before. Every series has a core idea, an engine that makes it go, and if you mess with that engine, you have to make sure you're improving it, rather than pouring sugar into the gas tank in the name of change.

At heart, to pick an example, the Fantastic Four is a family of explorers. If you ditch Sue and Johnny, and recast the book as Ben and Reed, college buddies, with new teammates Iron Man and Spider-Man, it's not a family of explorers any more. You broke the idea, and didn't replace it with anything else. It's just a bunch of superheroes, and not distinctive.

However, if you were to lose Ben, and have Johnny marry Crystal and Franklin grow up and develop useful super powers, well, it may not be to everyone's taste, but you've preserved the idea -- it's a change that still lets the book be about family. It's a change that could work because it builds on the core idea rather than breaking it.

Spider-Man, is at heart, about responsibility -- specifically, about a young guy who is torn between two conflicting areas of responsibility, between his responsibilities as a hero and his responsibilities to family/social life/school/work. Essentially, the conflict between private life and civic responsibility, made worse by the fact that his civic responsibility is a secret to his private life, a concept that accentuates the dilemma, makes it stronger.

But having him get married weakens that dilemma, because there's two ways to handle it -- either his wife knows his secret, in which case he's got a partner, a helper, ameliorating the dilemma and making life easier, because she can understand, she can be supportive, she can make excuses for him to smooth over other problems. Or she doesn't know, in which case he's unacceptably dishonest -- it's okay to hide the truth from frail, sickly Aunt May for health reasons, because responsibility to Aunt May was a pre-existing condition. But asking someone to marry you while lying to them about what your life consists of is morally indefensible.

So it either makes his life easier, which hurts the series concept, or it makes him a shitheel, which hurts the series concept. Or you can have his wife know the secret and be demanding rather than supportive, but that's insane -- it makes her into a heartless bitch, demanding that he value making it to dinner on time over saving lives.

It doesn't work, thematically. Reed Richards can get married, because that's change that strengthens the series concept. The Flash can get married because it doesn't strengthen or weaken the series concept -- "torn between the horns of a dilemma" is not part of the Flash idea. But a married Spider-Man is a Spider-Man with less of a dilemma to deal with, and that weakens the series.
Even though he's got several other friends and close acquaintences whom he has to keep his secret ID from as well? Even though there's plenty of other cast members who could come along, provided there's a writer and editor interested in making these things happen, who could cause him more dilemmas too? Sorry, I don't buy, and the idea that Mary Jane would be a heartless bitch is insulting. Might I point out that she too could have challenges in helping him to keep his secret ID concealed, which can and does provide being married with some storytelling potential, and that makes his whole argument even weaker?
Is that resistance to change? Sure, in the sense that being opposed to having James Bond retire from MI6 and become a florist is resistance to change, or being opposed to John McClane having a happy family life, or to Harry Dresden learning to use technology, is resistance to change.

If you're going to change an ongoing series premise, you need to do it in a way that (a) serves the core concept well, either by strengthening it or at least by not weakening it, or (b) replaces the core concept with another one that works at least as well.

I don't think a married Spider-Man does either of those things. It's a fine idea for what-ifs or such, but I think that in an ongoing, open-ended adventure series it weaken the Spider-Man core idea and doesn't have corresponding benefits.
I'm wondering if he even has any idea what the core idea of Spidey is now. Maybe he doesn't. Spidey has had some family concepts included over the years, and that's what being married is all about too. I'm sorry, but Busiek just misses everything.

I guess we can't expect much else from him though. 4 years ago, I recall finding on the DC Comics boards that he upheld Identity Crisis. Clearly, he's a lockstepper with the editors, if anything.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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