I used to love reading comics. Up until about four years ago, I spent the majority of my income on buying them. But then one day I found myself pretty fed up. I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying the bulk of my purchases. I came home from the comic book store one day with a bag full of mags, and I started leafing through all of my recently bought titles: the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, etc. And I just started thinking to myself, am I seriously still reading Spider-Man comics?
There’s nothing wrong with reading Spider-Man comics. I’m not trying to say that I had this moment of self-doubt because I suddenly realized that Spider-Man isn’t cool. I don’t care about what’s cool (well …) What I was thinking about was that Spider-Man has been around since the 1960s. And here I was still spending way too much money on reading his continued adventures. I had been a pretty faithful reader of Spider-Man since about the second grade. And over the years I had been given the collected works of all of the stories that were written before I was born. So with over forty years of Spider-Man stories stuck somewhere in my head, why was I still buying these books every week? What could possibly happen to Spider-Man now that hasn’t happened at least twenty-five times already?
And that’s basically how I stopped reading comics. I just finally understood that everything that the big comic companies were doing was just a rehashing of stories that had already grown stale probably close to a decade ago. I think that the powers-that-be were finally coming to grips with this little problem also. Towards the end of my dutiful reading, the publishers started to tweak the storylines in dramatic ways. Like Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to the public. It was in the papers. Or the Hulk turned red instead of green. Sounds cool right? Injecting some fresh ideas right? But these high-profile publicity stunts reeked of desperation.
And sure enough, while the characters may have changed briefly, superficially, the collective history of everything that they’ve been through was just too entrenched in popular culture to enact any meaningful, significant change. I remember about two months after I had seriously kicked the habit, I started going through some withdrawal symptoms. I found myself at bookstores, not comic book stores, just you know, like Barnes and Noble, my hands trembling as I browsed the chronically understocked comic book racks. I wasn’t going to buy anything, I swear. I just wanted to see what my old friends were up to while I was gone.
I’m not going to bore you with the extended details, but I remember standing at a bookstore one day while I was taking a three-hour lunch break from my mindless office job, leafing through the current issue of Spider-Man, reading about how this big fundamental change that took place in his life, his unmasking, his coming out to the public, had just been completely erased, like it never happened. And the creators couldn’t even think of a plausible or creative storyline to justify the whole world forgetting about his big reveal, so they wrote something absurd involving Spider-Man making a deal with the devil. Poof. Everything went back to normal. It was all a dream. Come on! At least make an effort to keep me wanting to be involved. But no. Spider-Man is still just a guy, perpetually in his twenties, swinging around New York, fighting the same bad guys, dating the same girl, quipping the same wisecracks since the 1960s. I don’t know, but it sounds like Spider-Man is trapped, stuck in a terrible purgatory, doomed to relive the same cheesy exploits, week after week after week, forever.
Can’t they just let anything end naturally, realistically, with the tiniest bit of respect? Everything today that was even once remotely great or interesting is dragged out entirely too long. The Office is still on TV, a shell of its former self, unfunny, unoriginal, just begging to be cancelled. But they’ll never cancel it. Dwight Shrute’s great-grandkids are going to be stuck selling paper on NBC, getting pranked by Jim and Pam’s great-grandkids. And they won’t even be new pranks. Just the same old pranks. Green Day is still around making terrible CDs, formulaic ballads and anthems that barely echo the once original recordings of almost a generation ago. But you know that Billie-Joe Armstrong isn’t going to stop touring. He’s not going to stop wearing eyeliner and singing “When I Come Around” to sold-out stadiums.
Somebody at Marvel Comics should write a story where Spider-Man is just sitting in a chair directly opposite the reader. The whole issue will be conversational, from Spider-Man to all of us. He’ll thank us for reading, he’ll reminisce about all the great times we’ve had together. It won’t be sad. We’ll always have our back issues. But then he’ll say goodbye and swing off into the sunset. And that will be it. Last issue. No more rehashed stories. Somebody, please come up with a new character that we can run to the ground for the next forty years.
It sounds like a good plan, but that last issue would probably fetch a really ridiculous price on the comic book market. And publishers would confuse that market price with demand for more Spider-Man. And not even a month later there would be rumblings and rumors about the Spider-Man relaunch. And he’d be back. And he’d be fighting the Green Goblin. Or Mysterio. Or the Lizard. Or the Shocker. Or Venom. Or his clone, evil Spider-Man. Or his clone’s clone, evil-evil Spider-Man, which, by the standard definition of double negatives, would actually be a good Spider-Man. So they’d team up and there would be two Spider-Mans for a while, but then the clone would die.*
*That clone storyline actually happened in the comics. Twice. Once in the seventies and once in the nineties.