Monday, July 04, 2005

A Multitude of Sins

Amazing Spider-Man 509 - 514 ("Sins Past")

It's not my way to refuse praise where it's due, so lets start there. Mike Deodato's pencilling, with its combination of beauty and realism, is fantastic. This is a golden age of comic book art, and he's one of the best around. His portrayal of Gwen Stacy is superb. The dialogue in these issues sparkles - Straczynski has a great ear for each individual he is writing. For four of these six issues, ASM was first on my monthly reading list, and provided one of those rare times where you simply can't wait to get the next issue.

In a poll on CBR, this arc got a fair few votes as the worst Spider-Man story ever. When you consider that this includes stories such as Peter's robot parents, "I am the Spider", the Clone Saga, Aunt May's resurrection and the horrible Byrne / Mackie relaunch, this is quite a condemnation. So what gives?

It's the story. Peter receives a newly-posted and incomplete letter from his long-dead girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. At her graveside, he, as Peter, is attacked by two hooded figures, from whom he barely escapes. One raises his hood, which shows his face to be very similar to Peter's. Forensic analysis allows the second page of the letter to be deciphered, showing that Gwen had become pregnant without Peter's knowledge and secretly given birth to twins, Gabriel and Sarah. In unmasking Sarah, Peter finds she is the spitting image of Gwen. Mary Jane admits to Peter that she knew about the twins all along, but had sworn to Gwen not to say anything. She tells Peter who the father was - Norman Osborn. The Green Goblin, Spider-Man's greatest enemy and murderer of Gwen Stacy.

In a rapidly collapsing storyline, we discover that the children are prematurely aging, and wish to kill Peter because Osborn has told them that he (Peter) is their father, and who deserted them. It all ends on a big showdown on Brooklyn Bridge, with Sarah taking the now obligatory plunge off the bridge. Peter, for only the 1296th time, saves a falling woman, once more remembering not to snap her neck. Gabriel, bad to the bone, discovers an underground lab, injects himself with Goblin formula and becomes (cue for drumroll) the new GREY GOBLIN. Peter saves Sarah with a timely blood transfusion. The end.

I think we can dispense with any analysis of early issues of Spider-Man to see if this fits in continuity. Of course it doesn't. And if it did, wouldn't you notice your girlfriend's belly ballooning to watermelon size? The weaknesses in the plot are startling. Here's a few

Gwen goes to Paris to give birth - she did once indeed visit Europe, to London. I have a mental image of Stracyzinski thinking of Europe being a small town, perhaps the size of Roadkill, North Dakota, where pregnant women regularly pop to different countries to give birth.

The twins are rapidly aging - yet Norman's goblin formula gives you rapid healing. Degeneration and regeneration are not the same thing.

If Osborn wanted Gabriel and Sarah to become his heirs, why didn't he tell them the truth, that he was their father. They would have still wanted to kill Spider-Man, as their mother's murderer. What does this charade gain?

For that matter, why didn't he tell them Peter is Spider-Man?

Why, in all these years, did Osborn never mock Peter by telling him he had taken Peter's first love's virginity?

If Peter's so keen on preserving Gwen's legacy by helping Sarah, why has he never tried to help Gwen's clone, containing the memories of Gwen's life, and at risk of degeneration at any time?

If Peter is no relation to Gabriel, why is there such a remarkable physical similarity?

Why exactly did Gwen sleep with Norman, when all portrayals of her had been of someone very much in love with Peter? The reason given was "I felt so badly for him, but at the same time, under it all, there was this strength, this magnetism, as though there was the person I know on the outside and deep inside, this other person, so powerful, yet so mysterious..." So that's all right then.

Why does Sarah wear a hair band underneath a mask which covers her entire head, and how come it stays in place when Peter snatches the hood off? Surely it couldn't just be a contrived way of getting us to look at the above cover and concluding that Gwen was returning?

Why does Norman keep nicking Peter's family and whisking them off to Europe - Aunt May, baby May, Gabriel and Sarah. Does he rent an apartment block for them?

And while we're at it, where did Gwen keep the babies? She gave birth to them in Europe, but confronted Osborn in New York. If they were in the USA, who was looking after them and how did Osborn get hold of them after he killed Gwen? Why didn't Peter notice them when he went to the airport to meet Gwen when she returned? Why didn't he notice that Gwen's apartment was piled full of nappies, covered in hideous plastic toys and stank of baby vomit? Newborns need feeding every two to four hours, twenty-four hours a day. How did she have any time to see her friends if she had newborn twins to look after? How did she continue studying? If the babies were still in Paris, then with whom? Why did Gwen leave them there if she was so intent on caring for them? Was she going to return for them, or can you post babies in the mail? And, again, how did Osborn get hold of them?

It's just a horrible, car-crash of a plot. The reason it's created such animosity is that many of us have a long-standing attachment to Gwen, and an equal long-standing dislike of Mary Jane. We simply refuse to like Mary Jane, despite a jaw-dropping number of attempts to retcon her character (originally vacuous, self-loving, amoral and casually cruel) into something lovable. Having Gwen's clone bouncing around purposelessly for thirty years was bad enough. Now Gwen has become a promiscuous trollop with a poor grasp of contraception who would betray Peter for his best friend's father just because he was "powerful, yet so mysterious." Pathetic.

Being part of "the cult of Gwen" doesn't mean much more these days than disliking MJ. I certainly wouldn't advocate bringing Gwen back, but I do object to poorly-planned storylines like this which traduce a dead character without logic or feeling. And before you accuse me of being a sad fanboy who's emotionally involved with a fictional character, just consider that every work of literature since the "Epic of Gilgamesh" has attempted to get an emotional response from its audience. If you don't get emotional when reading fiction, then you might as well be reading computer training manuals.

As an inveterate and disillusioned Gwen Stacy fan, can I make a suggestion? Stop writing garbage stories about her. Just let her go.