Since One More Day, there have been many complaints on the internet that the satanic supervillain Mephisto wouldn’t be interested in undoing the marriage and that he wouldn’t have the power to change history so that Peter and Mary Jane were never married.
Rereading stories with the villain from the first Essential Silver Surfer volume demonstrated how accurate the portrayal of the villain in One More Day was, when compared to his first appearances. The Lee/ Buscema Silver Surfer stories established the villain as obscenely powerful, with the ability to traverse the universe instantaneously. He claims that he could kill the Silver Surfer in a heartbeat, but is more interested in the man’s soul. He generates treasure beyond imagining from nothing and can create living monsters. He even dissolves the barrier Galactus had constructed to keep the Silver Surfer on Earth.
Several times the stories established his ability to remove memories from ordinary humans. In Silver Surfer #9, he decided that he didn’t like the idea that people would remember seeing him, so he just erased that part of their mind.
In the preceding issue, he swore that he had the power to erase a man from memory.
He says that his hatred of the Silver Surfer crosses time and space, suggesting that there are few restrictions to his reach.
And he refers to himself as a master of time.
As for motivations, he really had a hatred for all things good, as noted in this line from Silver Surfer #3.
Since the dawn of time, seldom have I sensed such goodness of soul—such purity of spirit—as I sense within the Silver Surfer. All that you are, all that you stand for, is abhorrent to the lord of the lower depths! So long as you exist, Mephisto’s scheme shall ever be in jeopardy.
He just doesn’t like heroes.
It would fit the character to travel the universe for the sound of a soul in pain. He’s made deals with ordinary humans less significant than Spider‑Man, as in the case of the Flying Dutchman from Silver Surfer #8‑9. While there are other valid complaints about “One More Day” Mephisto was acting entirely in‑character, at least when looking at his first appearances.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the story. As Peter Parker had just met an eerie little girl before Mephisto popped up, it seemed stupid of him to forget to ask Mephisto about her. An intelligent man/ experienced superhero like Peter should realize if you’re dealing with the devil, or his stand-in, you should ask about any information you know he’s withholding before accepting any offer. It doesn’t require a reader to be too genre-savvy to recognize that. Thinking back, if Mephisto had said that the future daughter of Peter and Mary Jane was destined to be a threat to him, that would have served as an excellent justification for why it was so important for him to destroy the marriage.
Instead, Mephisto said that he wanted to erase the marriage because it was a rare and holy unconditional love that comes along once in a millennium. That was excessive, exaggerating the significance of Peter and Mary Jane’s love for one another at the cost of making other relationships in the Marvel Universe (Uncle Ben & Aunt May, Reed & Sue, Orora & T’challa, even Peter & Gwen) seem less relevant. Rereading the Lee/ Buscema issues was an indication of how excessive and unnecessary the “once in a millennium” line was, as Mephisto wouldn’t hesitate to destroy something good, even if it’s common.
On the other hand, it countered the suggestion that Peter would be equally happy with someone else. It did reinforce Mary Jane’s belief that their love can survive anything. And it established GOD’s position about whether or not the Spider‑Man marriage should be erased.
One complaint about the story was the lack of set-up, which was atypical for JMS. While Mephisto’s appearance was predicted by many on the internet, because he works in these types of stories, there were no shocking last‑minute revelations tying Straczynski’s final issue to earlier storylines. It wasn’t suddenly revealed that Mephisto had been manipulating events throughout earlier issues, when he could have had a role in earlier stories. He could have given a prisoner the book which later provided the Shade with his powers in JMS’s second Amazing Spider-Man arc. Mephisto didn’t have a sudden war with the Great Weaver or cause the storm that brought Peter, Mary Jane, Doctor Doom and Captain America to the same airport, just in time for Peter and Mary’s Jane reunion. The only revelation in Amazing Spider-Man #545 about events in previous issues was the identity of the little red-haired girl, but there was no serious attempt in the previous issue to obscure that she was the possible future daughter of Peter and Mary Jane. The typical reader had already guessed her identity.
There’s ultimately no reason to demand that the villain of JMS’s last story have any ties to his earlier stories, but it is a bit of a departure for him to do it like this, especially when he’s had years to set this up. I’m also unable to think of any writers who chose to conclude their run on a series by featuring the hero fighting a villain from another series. That said, the only reason the lack of foreshadowing with Mephisto was a problem was that his appearance was so consequential. If Mephisto showed up for two issues and Spider-Man told him to go back to hell, I doubt there would be any complaints that the only hint of his interest in Spider-Man was in a cameo in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #13. But, this story featured a major change to the status quo and concluded a six year run on one of Marvel’s biggest titles, so it was going to be held to a different standard.
A purported sticking point for many readers against OMD was that this was a comic book in which Spider‑Man essentially made a deal with the devil. I think the complaints about this were largely exaggerated. These included likely bullshit claims of riots at comic book stores, and reports that it made a seven year old boy cry, because he thought that his favorite hero is damned to go to hell. If you take those at face value, you could also argue that a visceral and emotional response to a story is generally a good thing, and that Peter and Mary Jane did what they did for a selfless reason: saving someone else’s life.
Featuring a supernatual/ cosmic character in a Spider‑Man story is somewhat incompatible with the idea of Spider‑Man as a down to Earth superhero, but any solution in which the marriage was erased was going to have that problem. Quesada also explained his reasons for using Mephisto over Loki, or any other mystical characters within the Marvel Universe.
Mephisto made more sense. He had the potential power and he also hasn’t been seen in a while. There was also the fact that he had dabbled in affairs of the heart before with the Silver Surfer ‑‑ and, let’s face it, this is quite simply the kind of thing the devil would do. Also, from a neophyte’s point of view, a new fan picking this up, it’s very clear who Mephisto is. A deal with Loki doesn’t strike the same chords and would tie this story into Thor mythology ‑‑ and that just complicates matters. And why would Loki honestly care? Quite simply, the story of “One More Day” revolves around one of the most classic devices in literature, the Faustian Pact.
As similar as Mephisto is to the biblical Satan, he is a somewhat different entity. He’s a stand-in for the Devil, without the specific baggage for religious readers. Quesada explained the differences, emphasis mine.
In OMD, it’s built around the classic Faustian pact. However, Mephisto is an interesting character within Marvel, I remember reading Stan’s account of creating Mephisto. And while he had some of the trappings of Lucifer or Beelzebub, he is not meant to be Satan or have any religious implications. Stan built Mephisto as a super villain, but used the archetypes of the traditional iconography of the devil from classical literature and illustration. He always stopped short of making or naming him Lucifer, Satan or Mephistopheles or saying he was the devil. I get why he would create a character like this; it’s low hanging fruit. The devil, or the idea of a devil, has been one of the greatest villains and mischief makers in literature for centuries. But, Stan most likely didn’t want to start digging in and entrenching this super villain character that would interact inside a superhero universe within Christianity or any other religion. Also, there were probably greater sensitivities to doing this during the ‘60s than there would be later, as we created characters in the ‘70s like Daimon Hellstrom: Son of Satan – who incidentally is not Mephisto’s kid. So, while some may look at a character like Mephisto and say, “Hey, he’s Lucifer,” I would venture to say that he is something else.
There was more Marvel could have done to make the story less blasphemous. Mephisto’s comments about having a victory over the highest power were discomforting. When OMD was delayed, Marvel commissioned additional issues of satellite titles Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. FNSM writer Peter David used the opportunity to explore J. Jonah Jameson’s reaction to an unmasked Spider-Man, while Sensational Spider-Man writer had God tell Peter that everything’s going to work out, a story which served to undercut the much more important One More Day.
Quesada’s visuals for Mephisto were stunning, and I thought JMS’s take on the character was creepy and memorable. He gave the devil’s stand-in some great lines. “I will go anywhere, do anything, for the sound of a soul in pain” reflected the first page of the story, in which Peter wanted to know if the universe was listening to him. Presumably Mephisto was the red bird in that issue. “That’s another story. You’re not ready for that one yet and I’m not yet ready to tell it. Soon, though?” is both evasive and intriguing. “You said you would do anything to save her. Is that true or was it a lie?” is a great way to cause Peter to doubt himself. Of course, Mephisto’s big line “I want your marriage” was ridiculous and ripe for parody. While Mephisto’s role as the antagonist was controversial, things would have been quite different had the protagonist and his wife not agreed with his offer.