Ryan Chartrand

“What would you do if you only had one more day?” read the front cover of “The Amazing Spider-Man” No. 544, the first of a four-part storyline that revamped the superhero’s life.

To answer the question, if fans value the character of Peter Parker, reading that very storyline would not be included on their list of things to do.

The crossover, which concluded in December and is still settling into the acceptance of nerds everywhere with the ease of an Atari being crammed into a pocket protector, was the final arc of writer J. Michael Straczynski’s seven-year tenure penning the series to pleasantly refreshing plateaus of newfound sophistication.

But “One More Day” unraveled much of that work.

So upsetting are the painfully epochal tales that, of 15,355 respondents to a recent Newsarama forum poll asking “Brand New Day: What’d ya think?,” 66 percent answered, “ARRRGGGHHHH!!! Worst. Thing. Ever.” Another 17 percent voted for, “Not a happy camper today. Gonna keep reading, but I don’t think I like this at all.”

Of course, readers weren’t the only ones dismayed at the implications of the tragedy.

Even Straczynski himself, apparently at a loss with what was primarily Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s vision, said there was a “lot” he didn’t like and at one point wanted his name removed from the final two issues he was associated with.

The first half of “One More Day,” made up of “The Amazing Spider-Man” No. 544 and “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” No. 24, are relatively harmless, seeming to calmly wind down the fallout from Marvel’s “Civil War,” which led to Spider-Man revealing his identity to the public, resulting in Aunt May taking a bullet that was meant for him.

It’s in part three, “The Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 2)” No. 41, that the Spider-Man, or more importantly – the Peter Parker – we all knew and loved begins to be butchered.

It starts innocently and interestingly enough, though, pulling the curtain on a cast of mysterious characters Peter briefly comes across. At the beginning, he talks with a young girl we were introduced to on the final page of part two. The perplexing, red-headed child, whose mischievous smirk and piercing emerald eyes evoke images of a possessed Regan MacNeil, eventually stops in her tracks and snaps at Peter, “And what if I never grow up? You know what your problem is? You’re selfish! … You’re selfish and you’re self-involved and you always put your pain at the center of the universe!”

She then scurries out of sight and Peter gives chase before suddenly encountering a bespectacled, heavy-set, slightly depressed-looking middle-aged man.

The man, who says he “fell into” a toiling existence as a software designer after high school, implies that he’s ungrateful for the power he has that someone like himself could only dream of obtaining.

Another lecturer reveals himself as a genius businessman and prolific inventor who bemoans losing the love of his life, for which he would trade all his success. Though forgotten later, intrigue is peaked.

Answers to the identities of the well-crafted persons leading Peter around come at the end of a dark alley where Peter is dropped. There he comes across a fully grown, stunning woman in a red dress. In telling him of how the future can change based on the tiniest of actions, she reveals the two men were alternate-reality versions of himself had he not become Spider-Man.

Fed up with the riddle, Peter demands for whoever is behind the characters to reveal his or her true self.

True to form, Mephisto, a lord of hell, presents himself to Peter in a masterful couple of pages, drawn by Quesada and colored by Richard Isanove, whose demonic, glowing red hues completed by pure, pervasive blackness palpably capture the essence of evil.

Of course, the visuals alone do not make the story worthwhile.

The netherworld ruler alludes to making Peter a deal that would save the life of his aunt, but Peter replies that he could never make such a decision on his own. On cue, Mephisto transports them beside Mary Jane Parker, Peter’s wife.

In one of the most devilish faces ever appearing in a mainstream superhero comic, Mephisto, with searing, yellow eyes, tells them that, in exchange for May’s life, he wants their love and marriage.

As we find out in the story’s conclusion, “The Amazing Spider-Man” No. 545, he wanted to dissolve their marriage to deny God a love like theirs that “comes about but once in a millennia.”

He gives them one day to decide, promising that neither would remember the bargain, the moment, or their lives up to that point, but that a small part of their souls would always be haunted by the decision.

Mary Jane at first tries to appeal to Peter that it may have simply been May’s time to die, but Peter argues he’s responsible because she didn’t die of natural causes; she took a bullet that “would never have been fired if not for the things (he’d) done.”

Implying he wants to save May, Mary Jane realizes the inevitable, and the two collapse in a silent, unspoken farewell embrace in the darkness.

In closing the deal, Mephisto reveals the mysterious woman and the little girl to be future versions of the couple’s daughter they will never have because Peter chose the life of his aunt over his marriage.

The swirling winds of hell and shimmering tears streaming down Mary Jane’s face after the revelation embody not only the sadness in the characters, but the reader’s disbelief of such a preposterous conclusion.

Following a final kiss before fading into nothingness, Peter awakes alone in bed and heads downstairs to meet his doting aunt, completely unaware of his foregone life.

Happy-go-lucky and oblivious, the vintage, “classic” single bachelor that was Peter Parker has a quick, unhealthy breakfast before waving goodbye to his dear, sweet relative.

Unusually, though, Peter heads to a party thrown in honor of Harry Osborn, who is now alive again in the modified reality.

On the last page of the conclusion, Peter, Harry and other friends reminiscent of those circa Spider-Man’s prime stories from the 1960s toast “A brand new day!”

In the new story arc of that name, we vividly learn the extent to which Straczynski’s progressiveness was ditched for a regurgitation of hackneyed corniness, embarrassingly dated lingo and gutter sleaze, from J. Jonah Jameson’s cursing of the ‘wall-crawler’ to adversarial alley muggers dispensing four-letter words.

Even the efforts to modernize the feel of the “ol’ gang” of Peter, Harry and friends, from references to cell phone minutes to trips to flashy clubs, ring hollow because the cast of characters, as presented, simply don’t belong.

They belong in the past, done for.

Peter Parker may have had more inherent appeal when he was young and single, because so many Spider-Man fans are themselves, but in trying to recapture the essence of that allure, Marvel dealt a sickening blow to the essence of the character himself.

By disallowing Peter to let go of his aunt and the stronghold guilt he has carried, an opportunity for tremendous growth on Peter’s part was squandered.

Moreover, aside from any waste of would-be character development and a rightful send-off for Straczynski, Quesada and company also simply made an egregiously nonsensical, offensive decision in having Peter choose his aunt over his wife, with whom he had so many years left in a love and a marriage most of us could only aspire to have. Peter’s decision is simply not believable.

Whether the new, retconned, “back-to-basics” approach was devised of true conviction concerning the character, or merely an attempt to make him more conducive to the financial success enjoyed by the movies is ultimately irrelevant.

In halting and trading the ongoing life of the character for the most recognizable, marketable, patented panache of the now-transformed character – in denying the aged, tried-and-tested Peter his actual future – they denied his fans the privilege to find out what truly forever happens to him next.

And that, after all, is what a good comic book should be for.

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