[Featurama] It Came From the Quarter Bin: Sarah’s Story Remembered
The past two segments of It Came From the Quarter Bin have been beginnings of a story arc. It’s pretty easy to tackle those, but comics rarely focus on single issues anymore. Today it’s all about packaging the stories across multiple issues to bundle together for trade paper backs.
So as an experiment, let’s try tackling an issue set right in the center of a major arc. Let’s look at the Spectacular Spider-man.
The Spectacular Spider-man issue 25
“Sins Remembered: Sarah’s Story Part Three”
Why I Bought It
I didn’t grow up during the Gwen Stacy era. She was cold way before I picked my first comic up. I have however read those books. It is pretty much required reading if you call this hobby a hobby. My favorite Gwen story of all time, one that my wife shares, is Spider-man: Blue. So when we saw this cover sitting there in the bin, we had to free it.
Her reasoning was because it had that awesome Greg Land cover art. Me? I live for drama. See, I totally skipped out on the controversy J. Michael Straczynski drummed up. I saw this and wanted to see where this all went horribly wrong. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the follow up on Straczynski’s run in Amazing Spider-man.
Now this one’s a doozy, buckle in.
Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s girlfriend in college. They became a couple after Peter grew tired of Mary Jane’s party girl attitude and started to become somewhat serious. This was a time when Harry and Peter had dated both of the girls. Mary Jane was dumped for Gwen while Gwen was using Harry to get Peter jealous. They swapped and Peter’s relationship with Gwen was actually turning somewhat serious.
Unlike the movies, cartoons or even a few recent comics, this was a time when Peter kept his alter ego separate from his personal life. Gwen never knew Peter wore a mask. So when her father died in a Spider-man related incident, the trauma causes her to get serious and she offers Peter an ultimatum. She takes off for London hoping Peter would stop her. He doesn’t.
He does try and get her later by flying to Europe, but messes that up when Spider-man gets splashed all over the papers for his heroic deeds. Still not wanting anybody to put 2 and 2 together, he takes off without ever seeing her.
They spend some time apart and all of a sudden Harry relapses to drugs. Mary Jane freaks and everybody comes back to take care of him. Peter and Gwen resume their relationship. Norman Osborn, who at the time had forgotten Peter’s identity, got his memory back and he was itching to hurt Spider-man. He kidnaps Gwen, takes her to the top of a bridge and then throws her off. Peter tries to save her, but it all ends in a “snap.”
This is the story that has become sacred Spider-man lore because it reinforced the core concept of the character. Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Roy Thomas made the decision to kill off Gwen because their relationship was getting too close. Peter was either going to have to marry her or they would need to break up and that just wasn’t really an easy or clean option. What they gained from her death however is one of the most defining moments in comics and turned Gwen Stacy in to an icon.
In 2004, hot shot Amazing Spider-man writer J. Michael Straczynski would pen a story that would enrage a collected fan base. Dubbed “Sins Past,” he would introduce Gabe and Sarah who would turn out to be the twin children of Gwen Stacy. Shocking. The father of said children? The Green Goblin, Norman Osborn. More shocking, Mary Jane knew about this dalliance and never told Peter.
In one small arc, the character’s role had changed from a Madonna like figure to something else. When Gwen was cavorting around Europe, she was wooed and wowed by a then normal Norman Osborn. She had twins and wanted to take them to Peter and well then history happened. Norman raised the children in France and since his genetics are warped, they have now an advanced healing factor to keep them healthy offset their rapid aging due to their advanced Progeria. Norman locked them up in a mansion and time forgot them until Straczynski brought them forward in Sin’s Past.
This whole scenario however was supposed to be something all together different. Originally Straczynski pitched the idea that these kids were Peter’s. It’s this understanding that makes what happens in this issue a little weird.
What Spectacular Spider-man Issue 25 is All About
The fallout from the Sins Past arc meant Peter felt he was now responsible for these kids. He’s a good guy like that. As we open up the book, a sniper’s trigger hairs lock sights on Sarah while she’s enjoying a nice picnic. Peter runs off to find the assailant, only to find nothing. Sarah in the mean time tracks the sniper and interrogates him. It seems her former employer Monsieur Dupres is after the twins and somehow Interpol is connected.
The duo apparently were discontent being locked up in their mansion. The maids constantly ignored them and their father was rarely there to help raise them. So with their super powers evolving at a rapid rate, they decided to become super thieves for fun and to pay for drugs that offset the crippling migraines and slow descent in to madness that they inherited from their father. They took odd jobs to pay for their medication and Gabe planned a big job that he couldn’t pull off.
In the mean time, Mary Jane has taken to surprising Peter in France since she doesn’t quite trust her husband with a hot blonde that looks exactly like the girl he used to love. Wandering aimlessly through Paris, she meets a sweet talking Frenchman to share a cab with that takes her to find Sarah and Peter at her compound. Upon her arrival, she finds her husband locking lips with Sarah.
See Sarah’s playing a game with Peter. She is secretly hiding her brother who is in relapse and is going mad. Sarah is showing typical Osborne paranoia and control issues as she tries to win Peter’s love so as not to lose him. Thus she surprises him with a quick kiss and MJ pops in to ruin her plans.
Mary Jane is not the woman to scorn, so she hits the Frenchman for a drink or three at a candlelit dinner in front of the Eiffel Tower while her husband is left trying to figure out where Sarah ran off to. Now drunk and feeling awful for not trusting Peter, she slinks back to the mansion and is met with a rage filled Gabe.
Is It Good?
No unfortunately. The book has a bevy of cheap tactics that they throw on to Mary Jane. Starting with the laziest, the writers use a bathroom as a means of escape for Mary Jane. Twice she slipped past a man observing her. Once by waiting so long he fell asleep and the other time by simply crawling out a bathroom window.
Her characterization doesn’t get much better as she proceeds to run from Peter in to the arms of a charming French swinger in a fit of jealousy. As if to garnish some snobbish satisfaction, she uses him. Mary Jane gets so plastered on their date that she proceeds to vomit all over this man’s jacket. All of this really harkens these characters back to the dating scene drama of 30 years ago. Unfortunately, they are supposed to be a legitimate married couple and it’s not very telling of their relationship when MJ is the one that walks out on Peter to toy around with another man.
What’s also interesting is that this is sort of a re-enactment of Peter’s failed trip to London to bring back Gwen. The Osborn twins are going nuts because of their drugs. Peter’s there to help fix the issue, which is causing more trouble for himself than anything. The idea of putting symptoms of Osborn’s madness in to his kids is actually a really nice touch, but the way they handle all this is just a bit much.
Plus he just locked lips with what has to be the equivalent of like a 10 year old. I don’t care how hot the 10 year old is, just say no Spider-man. Even if you want to analyze this without the background knowledge, nothing seems right about their interactions.
I get that Sarah is looking for a father figure, but I just think using her sexuality to achieve it feels bit forced. Since Pete’s a really good guy, that means you’re stuck forcing awkward kisses to make it weird for everyone. More so if you sit back and think about how these two were originally planned as father and daughter. The way it all played out felt unnecessarily weird. It’s as if somebody actually thought the audience would believe Peter would even consider a dalliance with Norman Osborn’s kid. There is plenty of time to have Peter explain out the boundaries of their relationship, but instead they want to make Sarah some conniving brat. It just hurts everyone’s characterization when nobody can sit down and explain what is going on like an adult.
Finally, who has a picnic in a cemetery? Seriously, if you are going to have a tour of France, do you cap it off with a lovely picnic on someone’s grave?
Sins Remembered is a weird book from a weird time in Spider-man’s history. Spidey and MJ were coming off a period where everyone started questioning if divorce was on the table. Throwing Gwen Stacy (in the form of her near duplicate daughter) back in to this to muddy the relationship further just wasn’t handled appropriately. Especially since MJ’s prior knowledge of the Gwen and Norman relationship would make her a great mother figure for these kids. Here she’s just the jealous fool.
Everything that was written on this has since been retconned by an even messier event. In an attempt to show some legitimate discussion of sex in a Spider-man book, every good point went horribly wrong. What we were left with were two illegitimate children raised by a murderer who threw them in a cage and Peter Parker being dragged down with it all.
Sarah’s Story had a chance, but when you throw the creepiness of the conception in, it’s just wholly unsettling. There is just something wrong about that kiss. Something really, really wrong about it.