LOS ANGELES – It was bad enough when Jamie Lynn Spears, the 16-year-old all-American girl, announced she was pregnant.
But Spider-Man splitting with Mary Jane, his wife of more than 20 years? We didn't see that one coming.
Which is exactly the point, says Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. It was time to shake things up in the life of Peter Parker, the nerdy New Yorker who upon being bitten by a radioactive spider attained the ability to transform himself into a web-spinning world savior. And it was easier to do that, he said, if Parker wasn't married.
Still, as the writer and artist who created the story that transformed Spider-Man into Single-Man earlier this month, Quesada has made himself about as popular with some of his readers as the villainous Green Goblin.
"When we first did it, the reaction was, 'How could you do this? This is a terrible thing to do," he recalled. "But with the first issue of 'Brand New Day' [in which Spider-Man returns to single life], our letters very quickly changed to people saying, 'This is fantastic. This is the Spider-Man we remembered. We didn't know what we'd been missing."
To briefly recap Spider-Man's trials and tribulations, his beloved Aunt May was recently wounded by an assassin. To save her life he and Mary Jane struck a deal with the devil-like Mephisto in which she would be restored to good health if they allowed Mephisto to erase every memory of their time as a married couple.
Reaction from the critics was swift.
"Considering I have been reading Spider-Man for exactly 20 years now, and that seems to be the amount of time Joe Q. has decided to rip from Spider-Man continuity, can I simply return all of my Spider-Man comics for a full refund?" asked one of the more polite postings on Marvel's Internet message boards. Some message threads were discontinued after they became nothing more than forums to insult Quesada and others.
"It's heresy for some people," laughed Dave Pifer, who runs the Secret Headquarters comic book store in Los Angeles. Others, however, have been more quick to adapt.
"The ones who are new to superheroes like Spider-Man, they're excited about it," Pifer said. "They feel like they're starting at the beginning."
One message poster even joked that the beautiful Mary Jane, who remains in the Spider-Man cast, is free now to pursue Brad Pitt.
But what of the man who created Spider-Man? What does he think?
"I think it's a very creative idea. It should stimulate a lot of interest in the characters and the books, and I'm eager to see what happens next," said Stan Lee, who wasn't involved in the current story.
It was Lee who married Spider-Man and Mary Jane in a mock ceremony at New York's Shea Stadium in 1987.
"Amazing that they're not even middle-aged yet," Lee quipped.