Tuesday, May 03, 2005

How To Alienate All Blogfolk Everywhere; Or: I Liked Sins Past Just Fine

So the internet is losing its shit again about the Amazing Spider-Man story, "Sins Past." In case you don't know (like, if you just pressed that "go to the random next blog" button or have a severe memory problem), it was a story that ran through that comic last year wherein two adults tried to kill Spidey. They were later revealed to be fast-aging offspring of the Green Goblin's secret ID (Norman Osborne) and Peter's late ex, Gwen Stacy. The internet immediately went berserk, as only true fans of something can. People were comparing it to DC's pet dungheap, Identity Crisis. On the surface, I can see why. There was a retcon involving a villain and a beloved supporting character having sexual contact. Comics from a more innocent time were revealed to have "between-the-panel" moments of more (im-)mature content.

But I want to point out where the comparison fails, because I think the reason I liked Sins Past and loathed Identity Crisis lies within the differences.

1. The Differences Between Silver Age DC and Marvel

We all pay lipservice to the idea that DC was the home of gods with secret identities and the main idea Marvel housed was humans with superpowers. DC heroes led shiny, sci-fi lives in satellites. Marvel heroes got the crap beat out of them and they lived in bunkers and cramped apartments with their aunt. Specifically, the JLA were near-infallible gods and Spider-Man lived a life of pain and tragedy. Peter Parker's story is better-suited to handle a blow like this story. Tragedy fits into his archetypal arc. His is a world where teenagers do dumb things and make mistakes, and then pay for them. The JLA's world is one where SuperBigBrother will protect you from any harm. Identity Crisis is an antithesis of what those comics were and should be. Sins Past fits in much better.

2. Consensuality

I can critique Identity Crisis for dozens of things, but most of it falls back to bad writing, which most superhero books have, anyway. What I took offense at was the rape scene. It was graphic, it was unnecessary, it was crude, it was never again addressed, and it was blatantly manipulative and misogynistic. Contrast that rape with the consensual (if obviously poorly-thought-out) sex between Gwen and Norman. A powerful, charistmatic older man and an inexperienced teenager. Immoral? Yes. Unfortunate? Yes. But it's not rape. It's a mistake, and teenage girls make them all the time. It's a mistake that I'd not judge my female friends for making. A lot of the ire directed at Sins Past online seemed to come from guys who took it personally that "Gwen" "slept with" "Norman." By no means was this ALL the ire, but there was a heavy dose of "Dirty slut!" in the complaints. Again, a teenager screwing up and later trying to make up for it and dying makes sense in the world of Peter Parker. Graphic rape in the JLA satellite doesn't.

3. Story mechanics

I've not been nor am I yet a fan of anything else Straczynski has written. But he writes a damn charming Spider-Man, with a good three-act structure to his stories, plot development, sharp-but-not-overpowering dialogue, and a decent mix of drama and humor. I've NEVER liked Spider-Man before this, really, other than the requisite "I'm seven and Spider-Man looks awesome" stuff. Sins Past wasn't costant awfulness. Parker was still Parker and he'd still crack wise. Other things would happen. Identity Crisis is 24-Hours-A-Day-Awfulocity. The dialogue is bogus fan-fic junk. The art would only be considered good in mainstream comics. And the plot made NO SENSE. Now "better than Identity Crisis" is faint praise akin to "better than my mom being cannibalized in front of me." Sins Past was solid comic storytelling that took a very unpopular turn. (Though I will freely admit that the panel focussing on Osborne's "O-face" was gross as hell and unnecessary. But I mostly chalk that up to art I already didn't like.)

I just think the Identity Crisis comparisons don't hold up. Was it the greatest Spider-Man story? No. Was it even Straczynski's greatest? No. But in no way does it deserve the rampages it seems to constantly get, nor the awful punishment of having PAD coming on instead. You may not have liked it, but with at least the above three points, surely you'll see why it doesn't deserve THAT company.

8 Love Letters:

Blogger alex said...

I liked it too.

I liked the way it made Norman out to be the kind of guy that wanted to fuck with Peter in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. He went from being a standard villain to a fucked up nut who specifically wanted to ruin Peter's life.

I also like the Goblin twins.

8:51 PM

Blogger Greg said...

Not to be too technical, but if Gwen was under 18 (beats me, 'cause I didn't read it) then it's rape. Statutory, but rape nonetheless.

11:26 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

There's a reason the two are totally different crimes with different punishments, Greg. Dry Ice is ice, but it's nothing like normal ice.

5:35 AM

Blogger ADD said...

Actually, if it was in New York State, the age of consent is 17, not 18.

And I wouldn't be quite so flip about the "difference" between rape and statuatory rape, Joe. First of all, the punishment isn't as different as you might think, and secondly, a minor cannot legally or ethically give consent to sexual intercourse, and therefore an older, more powerful person having sex with them is, indeed, rape.

6:09 AM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

Oh, no, don't get me wrong. I'm offended and grossed out by that kind of predation as well. If anything, I'm OVERprotective of underage kids. But wasn't Gwen, in this story, in college? Am I wrong? If so, statutory stuff is pretty grey in some areas, even I have to admit. A thirty year old and a seventeen year old is really gross to me, but is it always a crime? I dunno. In the past, such distinctions weren't so clearly defined.

But the point is, to me, what happened in Sins Past was gross and awful, but less disturbing than Identity Crisis AND it fit in more with the diogesis of Spider-Man.

10:04 AM

Blogger Paul said...

Ah-hahahahahahah! You spelled diegesis wrong, Rice, you stupid fuck!

I got you! I finally got you!

12:16 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

Uhhhh . . .no I didn't. I . . .uhhhh . . .was using a different word, "diogesis." You are not smart enough to know that word.

12:46 PM

Blogger Brad Curran said...

I haven't read this story yet. I haven't read JMS's Spider-Man since the third tradepaperback, give or take a couple of issues. I'm not fond of the retcon of Gwen sleeping with Norman, just because I can't reconcile her making that decision with the Gwen in the Lee and Romita comics. That said, I'm not fond of the whole "Gwen's a slut reaction," either, and you do make a good point about it making some sense within the context of the Marvel Universe, if not the way the character was written at the time the stories being referenced took place (which was one dimesional, since she was one of a superhero's girlfriend in a Stan Lee comic).

In other words, I'm not fond of the direction JMS went in with Sins Past (and retcons in general, just because I think they're part of the problem with the lack of accessibility in mainstream comics), but I'm not calling for his head over it (although yeah, I haven't read it yet), and I find a lot of the criticism pretty extreme. And tedious. Very, very tedious.

9:16 PM


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