Perhaps no single comic book storyline is so deeply disliked, hated, and reviled as Marvel's 2007 Spider-Man mini-series One More Day. While other comics may have featured rushed artwork or poorly articulated stories, few can touch One More Day when it comes to inspiring rage and regret among an established fan base. But what if the entire thing could be retconned into something... better?
For the unfamiliar, there are actually several reasons why One More Day is so deeply loathed. Fans of the love story between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson dislike it for bringing one of comics' greatest romances to an end by simply erasing their marriage from existence. Many Marvel Comics readers dislike it for how suddenly it altered the larger Marvel Universe, twisting reality in defiance of established continuity and characterization. The modern comics have taken steps to rectify the mistakes of One More Day, including restarting the Peter/Mary Jane romance.
Yet there is still a great deal of damage that has been done to the Marvel Universe at large. Thankfully, it could all be easily explained with one retcon, revealing the 'truth' about the infamous miniseries, and a subsequent storyline to help readers accept "what really happened" in One More Day.
The Story Of 'One More Day'
In order to explain the story of One More Day, one must also consider the state of the Marvel Comics Universe at the time. It was just after the original Civil War event, which saw the establishment of a Super-Human Registration Act that required anyone with superpowers in the United States to be registered with the federal government. In an effort to help build support for the law, Peter Parker revealed his secret identity as Spider-Man to the world at large. This eventually resulted in an assassination attempt by the Kingpin, which left Peter's Aunt May fatally wounded and in a coma.
Peter turned to Doctor Strange for assistance, but Strange said it was beyond his power to save Aunt May. Strange did offer to cast a spell that let Peter ask around the Marvel Comics universe for help, but everyone from mutants with healing touches, to Doctor Doom himself said there was nothing they could do to help. Things looked hopeless, until Peter was approached by the demon Mephisto - a Devil in the classic Faustian mold, and long-time enemy of the Silver Surfer and Thor, who offered people what they wanted most... in exchange for their souls.
When Peter said he would never sell his soul, even for Aunt May, Mephisto scoffed and said he had no interest in Spider-Man's soul (admitting it would be boring to watch him suffer in Hell for eternity, knowing he had made a noble sacrifice). Instead, Mephisto asked for Peter to give up his marriage, as destroying a holy symbol of love would be just as satisfying to a being of pure evil. After discussing the bargain with Mary Jane and getting the titular "one more day" together, reality was rewritten. Peter and Mary Jane had never been married, and were no longer even dating in the new world created by the bargain with Mephisto. The knowledge of Peter's secret identity was also erased from the minds of the world, for reasons that went unexplained at that time.
Behind The Scenes of 'One More Day'
When hearing just how badly One More Day was received, the first question most will ask is why it was written in the first place. That answer begins with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, and his belief that the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in 1987 had been a mistake. It was Quesada's opinion that being married aged Spider-Man and made him less accessible to younger readers. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to retcon the Spider-Marriage. Killing Mary Jane was out of the question, as the character was too popular in the wake of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, and making Peter into a widower would only age him further. Divorce was out of the question for the same reason, but also because Quesada felt such a path could be a public-relations disaster, depicting a moral paragon like Spider-Man going through a divorce.
Quesada approached Amazing Spider-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski with the idea of a storyline that would end the Peter/MJ marriage and close-out Straczynski's Eisner Award winning run on the series. Ironically, much of Straczynski's run had been devoted to rebuilding their relationship, after Mary Jane and Peter underwent a trial separation just before he took over the series. Over a two year period, over half-dozen other writers and editors would contribute to the concept that became One More Day, including Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar, Ultimate Spider-Man creator Brian Michael Bendis, and incoming Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott.
Straczynski's original plan for One More Day would have completely reset the timeline of the Spider-Man comics, taking the series' status quo back to 1971, just after Stan Lee had stopped writing the book on a monthly basis. In addition to restoring Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn to life, this would seemingly have satisfied Quesada's mandate that Peter's youth once again be emphasized in the comics. Unfortunately, other writers reportedly convinced Quesada that Gwen Stacy's iconic death was too important a story to be erased, so the idea of simply resetting the timeline to when Peter and Mary Jane were college students was rejected. Despite this, Harry Osborn was still magically resurrected following One More Day.
Straczynski, for his part, was unhappy with the changes and with Quesada's refusal to allow him to detail precisely how the timeline was changed due to Peter and Mary Jane's bargain. Quesada favored a softer reboot, free of lengthy explanations beyond Peter and MJ having lived together... but never having officially married. Quesada later defended the choice by saying "'it's magic'" is all the explanation fans have ever needed." Straczynski briefly demanded that his name be taken off the third and fourth issues of One More Day due to Quesada's extensive rewrites but was eventually persuaded not to for fear of sabotaging Marvel.
Why One More Day's Aftermath Made No Sense
One More Day was panned by critics and fans alike, with both groups ruling it horribly out of character for Peter Parker, a hero long defined by his sense of responsibility and morality, to now be depicted taking the easy way out to avoid dealing with the death of a loved one. Quesada's 'moral' high-ground crumbled in the face of those who pointed out he had Spider-Man making a literal deal with the devil in order to avoid depicting a divorce, since some might consider it immoral, or have a hard time talking to their children about Spider-Man breaking-up with his wife. The readers and critics also questioned story elements introduced as a result of One More Day, like Harry Osborn's resurrection, and the world magically forgetting Peter Parker was Spider-Man, which made no sense within the context of Mephisto's bargain.
Quesada attempted to explain all of this away with a 2010 follow-up story called One Moment In Time... which blamed the events of One More Day on Mary Jane, saying that it was she, not Peter, who took the initiative to accept Mephisto's deal. It also explained that all Mephisto did was arrange for one criminal to escape, setting in motion a chain of events that caused Peter to miss his wedding day. The world forgetting Peter Parker was Spider-Man was revealed to be a group effort by Doctor Strange, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four and Tony Stark. Characters whom, it should be noted, had just finished fighting a war over the morality of altering people's minds on a global scale.
As for Harry's resurrection? He had just been in hiding for several years. For obvious reasons, the resulting vitriol from fans and critics was just as thick as it had been for One More Day, if not worse. But is there any explanation that could actually have been well-received?
Our Theory: Norman Osborn Made A Deal With Mephisto
At the same time that Peter Parker's new life in the wake of One More Day was confusing readers, another storyline elsewhere in the Marvel Universe was also drawing complaints about not making any sense. Norman Osborn, long outed as the villainous Green Goblin, was selected to lead the Thunderbolts - a government-sponsored superhero team largely made up of seemingly reformed super-villains. It was in this position (during the Secret Invasion storyline) that Osborn was able to manipulate the media to present himself and his team as patriotic heroes helping to repel the Skrull invasion. This, coupled with other events, resulted in S.H.I.E.L.D. being shut down and Osborn being placed in charge of a new government organization called HAMMER, as well as the Avengers Initiative.
Within the context of the post-Civil War Marvel Universe, it made little sense to make Norman Osborn into a prison trustee, much less place him in charge of the organization that monitored every costumed crime-fighter and super-human in the United States. It would make sense, however, if one considered a frightening possibility - that Norman Osborn had sold his soul to reacquire the power, money, and prestige that he lost when his secret identity was revealed to the world. While Peter Parker, if properly written, would never make a deal with the Devil, Norman Osborn would gleefully agree to such a bargain, having sought mystic means to harm Peter Parker before in the Gathering of Five storyline.
How This Theory Would Fix Everything
When viewed through the lens of Norman Osborn making a deal with Mephisto, suddenly the aftermath of One More Day makes perfect sense. Osborn, who had complained that Peter "broke the rules" when he outed himself in Civil War, would want Spider-Man to regain his secret identity so that he could continue his war on his archenemy in private. It would explain Harry Osborn's sudden resurrection, as Norman had always been depicted as a caring if distant father, despite his insanity. It would explain Osborn's sudden rise to power, and how he came to be placed in charge of every superhero in America, despite his own criminal history.
But most of all? Norman Osborn would certainly love it if all of this could be arranged in a way that would make Peter Parker think it was all his idea, and all his fault, even if he had no conscious memory of it afterward. This theory might not be a perfect fix for everything One More Day did to the Spider-Man legacy and the larger Marvel Universe, but it would sure explain most of it.