The next chapter has Peter Parker stop by the F.E.A.S.T.Food, Emergency, Aid, Shelter and Training. homeless shelter. It’s owned by a guy named Martin Li. Mr. Li funds the place and helps run it, but the real management work is done by the eternally elderly and saintly Aunt May. Mister Li is throwing a party to thank Aunt May for her years of ongoing sainthood or whatever it is she does at the FEAST center when she’s not walking on water.
May is an interesting character because of how unapologetically one-dimensional she is. Usually fans dislike it if a character doesn’t have any flaws. Uncomplicated characters are seen as “boring”. As characters pass from one writer to the next, there’s always the temptation to “make them more interesting” by giving them flaws and secrets and stuffing their closets full of skeletons. But Aunt May never got that treatmentACTUALLY they tried to give her a backstory where she was a super-spy back in the 60s, but that idea seems to have been dropped. I think? I hope so. The whole point of Peter Parker is that he’s just a normal kid in extraordinary circumstances, and that falls apart if you retcon him to be a member of a family of badasses.. She’s been a nice old lady since the beginning. She’s always encouraging and supporting of Peter, and she’s always telling him to do the right thing. She doesn’t have any feuds, grudges, vices, or hangups.
Aunt May works as a character despite her lack of flaws. Then again, she’s usually not treated like a full-blown character. Her status quo doesn’t change very much, she doesn’t have any long-term aspirations, and she’s not involved in interpersonal conflicts the that way Mary Jane or Flash Thompson are. She’s almost an aspect of Peter’s character. She’s the flawless mother figure for him to disappoint, while also acting as his moral center.
She’s got red hair in this version. While that feels a little strange to me, I have to admit it makes some kind of sense. She’s also a little more spry and a little more headstrong than the version I’m used to. On one hand, sure, this is a modern take on the character and makes her look more like an aging baby boomer rather than a white-haired leftover of the Lost Generation that’s still inexplicably walking around in 2018. On the other hand, I’m a fussy and possessive fanboy and I don’t like it when things change.
In this version she’s working at a homeless shelter rather than being a retired homebody. Again, this makes sense. Septuagenarians tend to be more active than I remember them being in the 1970s. I don’t know if that trend is driven by economics, culture, improved quality of life as a result of technological advances in medicine, or the fact that our world has mostly kicked its cigarette habit. In any case this change gets her a little more involved with the story, which is always a good thing.
This Martin Li character seems like a nice fellow. I wonder what his deal is?
The Auction House
Spider-Man finds out there’s some sort of break-in happening at the auction house where Kingpin is keeping his prized art collection. As Spidey infiltrates the building he encounters a gang of dudes who are speaking Chinese and wearing masks that seem to be inspired by Chinese opera.
Well, I guess Martin Li is a supervillain then? It doesn’t take a lot of genre awareness to know that these Chinese bad guys are probably working for the Chinese guy we just metYou might also hedge your bets and assume there are twin brothers doing a yin / yang thing with Martin being the good one, but as it turns out Martin is both the yin and yang.. In the real world this would be racial profiling, but in the world of comic books where everyone knows each other we can tell this is just the result of the storyteller being economical with their characters.
At this point we get our stealth tutorial out of the way. I’m going to put off talking about stealth gameplay until later in the series, so let’s just knock these dudes out and move on.
Once the room is 100% clear and there aren’t any goons left, you find a camera sitting nearby. You examine it to start a cutscene where a mook appears behind Spider-Man in this previously-empty room and gets the drop on him without setting off his Spidey-sense. The bad guy then orders Spider-Man to freeze instead of shooting him. Then he’s knocked out by Mary Jane, who apparently just arrived from hammerspace.
I don’t know where this mook came from. Additionally, I don’t know where Mary Jane came from. And finally, why was MJ’s camera hanging here on a shelf and not on her person?
You can tell this was probably written by one of the comics veterans on the team. It shows a very comic-book way of viewing the world. In a comic book, the reader doesn’t have the freedom to explore a room and see that it’s completely empty. In a comic we wouldn’t show the entire room. The artist has control over what gets shown and what doesn’t. The inker might even dump black ink into all the shadows just to make sure the reader knows they’re not seeing the whole picture. Guys can appear from just off-panel and it’s no big deal because there’s always somewhere for foes to hide.
But here in the world of videogames there’s always enough light to see and the player is free to aim the camera wherever they like. They can see the room is definitively empty. Spider-Man even has magical Batman-style detective vision that allows him to see mooks through walls, and this surprise mook wasn’t anywhere near us before this cutscene.
This game suffers from this problem a lot. You can hear the clutch grind when we shift from “gameplay mode” to “cutscene that runs on comic book logic mode”. Spider-Man is always winning in gameplay and losing in cutscenes. I can’t point to any one scene in particular and say that the scene doesn’t work or is some horrible crime against reason, but the cumulative effect is that I started to resent the cutscenes. As soon as the fade-to-cutscene began I knew it was time for Spider-Man to engage in a little cutscene incompetence or for the writer to put on his wizard hat and cast “summon mook”.
Yes, I realize that stories require tension and you can’t have tension without adversity. I’m not suggesting that Spider-Man should never experience a setback or that his adversaries should never get the best of him. My point is that:
1) Having all the setbacks happen in cutscenes is bad because it makes shift between gameplay and story feel even more artificial.
2) Comic books and videogames have different rules and you need to take this into account when writing. In a comic it’s totally fair to have bad guys appear from the shadows, but in a videogame that’s harder because the player can always see into the shadows, as it were.
My suggestion here isn’t so much, “Never contrive setbacks in cutscenes”, but instead, “Whenever possible, do it in gameplay.” Again, this scene where MJ saves Spider-Man isn’t really a foul on its own, it’s just that over the course of the game this trick starts to get pretty old.
Play as MJ
Spidey and MJ talk and she explains what brought her to the auction house. It turns out this version of MJ is a reporter working for the Daily Bugle, and she was here trying to dig up dirt on Kingpin when the bad guys attacked. She found a top secret file for something called “Devil’s Breath”, but she hasn’t had time to figure out what it is or why they want it.
All of this is revealed in a playable flashback where we control MJ. Later in the series I’ll talk more about these sections of gameplay where you play as people who aren’t Spider-Man.
The dialog between Spidey and MJ reveals that they broke up some months ago and haven’t spoken since. MJ seems happy with how things are going while Spidey is evidently still a bit heartbroken. He’s all nervous stammers and she’s all business.
The Problem With Old Mary Jane Watson
So in this continuity Mary Jane Watson is a reporter instead of an actress. She works at the Daily Bugle and Peter works for the future Doctor Octopus.
I think this change to MJ’s character makes a lot of sense. I have to admit that as a teenager I was never really a huge fan of the original MJ. Sure, like a lot of the rest of the fanbase I thought she was really pretty. But I was never that interested in her storylines or the drama between her and Peter. She was a glamorous party girl and I never really got what she saw in Peter besides his position as the protagonist. She seemed less like a fleshed-out character and more like a wish fulfillment character.
I think original MJ made for a pretty good girlfriend. Maybe she was out of his league and maybe her circle of friends in the entertainment industry were a little too glamorous for him. Peter can go to their fancy parties and feel like he’s out of his depth. We can contrast the fun and fantasy of MJ’s life with the mundane frustrations and brutal struggles that Peter experiences in his double life. That’s a really good place to put Peter Parker in terms of drama.
The problem is that the writers decided to get these characters married. That was a great move in terms of stunt events to generate buzz and temporary interest, but a horrible move in terms of long-form storytelling.
Getting married changes the whole dynamic of the relationship. If they’re dating then MJ can have conflict where she doesn’t know if she can handle having a boyfriend who is always getting into life-and-death battles. If they get married then she’s essentially made that decision and any further angst over it will make it seem like she’s a dimwit who didn’t think things through. Peter’s insecurities can run wild and he can be nervous that he’s not cool enough to hold onto someone as fabulous as MJ, but once they’re married any further angst just makes him look like an idiot.
If the writer has a great idea for a Black Cat storyline, then that’s easy to do with unmarried Peter. They can just have Peter and MJ break up or fight for a few issues. Then when Black Cat slinks into the picture we can have some proper romantic tension without turning our hero into a cad.
I’m not suggesting you can’t do interesting stories about a married couple where one of them is a superhero. I’m just saying it’s a little harder to write and a little harder for the young audience to relate to. The relationship was always the B story in terms of page space. You didn’t have a lot of room for really complex emotional stuff where the writer explores the give and take of a marriage. Their relationship wasn’t the focus of the comic and I don’t imagine the audience would have been into a drama-heavy exploration of the topic. The MJ stories needed to be simple and broad.
Sure, you can have MJ be disappointed in Peter or feel neglected because he’s always so busy. The thing is, we already have Aunt May to handle those kinds of story beats for us.
On top of this, once Mary Jane became a successful actress it gave the writers less freedom to burden Peter with money troubles. It’s easy to see why a freelance photographer might have trouble paying the bills in Manhattan, but once he’s married to a B-list celebrity it’s reasonable to assume that he shouldn’t have to worry about getting evicted.
Basically, the wedding issue gave them a nice temporary bump in sales while placing constraints of future writers that would make Peter Parker’s life too stable to be interesting. It’s not surprising that they pulled some shenanigans to un-marry them, although it is somewhat surprising that it took them twenty years.
The other problem with the original MJ is that being an actress doesn’t give her much of a connection to Peter’s superhero life. There’s a reason so many superhero supporting characters end up being things like secret agents, private investigators, scientists, computer hackers, or cops. Those people always have a ready excuse for how they could be connected to the latest adventure. But an actress? How is she involved with the maniac trying to poison the city water supply or mind-control everyone using bluetooth headsets? I’m sure you can come up with an occasional angle that will create an adventure where you need the help of someone who stars in Broadway productions, but it’s not a built-in part of the character like it is for Commissioner Gordon, Jimmy Olsen, George Stacy, Vicki Vale, April O’Neil, Sharon Carter, Iris West, Lois Lane, Oracle, or Microchip.
The New Mary Jane Watson
Maybe the idea of a news reporter as a supporting character is played out. Maybe it feels like a cheat to turn her into another Lois Lane. Maybe it makes her less unique as a character, but this is a good change in terms of storytelling. It drags her into the field to get involved rather than stranding her at home.
After the adventure at the auction house, Peter and MJ meet up at one of their old haunts to catch up. We also get our Stan Lee cameo out of the wayHe apparently runs the place.. The story hints that Peter and MJ had a nasty break-up, but doesn’t give us a reason for it just yet.
So now MJ has decided she wants to find out what this Devil’s Breath stuff is and why those armed gunmen were looking for it. At the same time, Spidey is worried about these new mask-wearing goons. Arresting Kingpin created a power vacuum and he’s assuming this is some new gang trying to fill the void.
Next week we’ll catch up with Spider-Man’s quilted nemesis, Shocker.
 Food, Emergency, Aid, Shelter and Training.
 ACTUALLY they tried to give her a backstory where she was a super-spy back in the 60s, but that idea seems to have been dropped. I think? I hope so. The whole point of Peter Parker is that he’s just a normal kid in extraordinary circumstances, and that falls apart if you retcon him to be a member of a family of badasses.
 You might also hedge your bets and assume there are twin brothers doing a yin / yang thing with Martin being the good one, but as it turns out Martin is both the yin and yang.
 He apparently runs the place.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
A Star is Born
Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.
Zenimax vs. Facebook
This series explores the troubled history of VR and the strange lawsuit between Zenimax publishing and Facebook.
A programming project where I set out to make a gigantic and complex world from simple data.