The point of One More Day was to set the stage for a new era of Spider-Man comics. However, the most radically different thing about the books might have had nothing to do with the retcon. It was the schedule, as the satellite titles were cancelled in favor of increased production of Amazing Spider-Man. Before addressing the wisdom of that, it’s worth considering an important question any Marvel editor will have to address: Is Spider-Man worth three books a month?
I think so. With the best character, supporting cast and rogues gallery in comics, there’s certainly enough material, along with willing creative teams. It would be an unnecessarily difficult task for an editor to figure out what to cut, especially as the second and third Spider-Man book each month still generate revenue. In terms of the material, it’s worth comparing the title to TV shows like The Good Wife and Revenge, and even the dramas with thirteen or less episodes an year: The News Room, Breaking Bad, Dexter and Doctor Who. These are all dramatic series with clear leads, with scripted content each year in excess of 720 pages of a comic book.
Spider-Man has an impressive rogues gallery, especially when you consider decent villains who weren’t included in a Top 25 list like Tombstone, Hammerhead and the Spider Slayers. Imagine how long the wait between appearances would be if writers were limited to two trade paperbacks of Spidey adventures in an year.
Long-term stories would also suffer. Mega-arcs could either take much longer to complete, which may result in readers losing interest. The stories could also be much simpler, in order for the material to be covered in less pages, which isn’t very satisfying. The writers could cut out all the stories that aren’t part of the larger narrative, although that could make the comics less accessible.
It would also be a waste of talent. Many writers and artists would be happy to work on the character, so if it’s likely to sell, there’s no reason to limit the book to 240 pages an year. You’ll always have several writers willing to work on the series. If a Dan Slott wants to write more adventures with the character, I see nothing wrong with him having the opportunity to do so. It’s rare for a Spider-Man fan to look back at the last year, and decide that there were 24 issues that should never have been illustrated.
If there was always going to be a high amount of content, it’s up to the people at Marvel to figure out how to publish it. The traditional format was to publish Amazing Spider-Man along with a few peripheral books, but this strategy had a few problems. One title will always be perceived as less significant, and it can often fracture aspects of Spider-Man’s appeal across multiple titles.
The character works well in multiple settings. But a writer on a secondary Spider-Man title with a clear identity would have tremendous limitations on the subject matter of his stories. The writer of a quirkier Spider-Man title couldn’t really do a brutal Carnage murder mystery arc. The writer of a a street-level book couldn’t really do a humorous Spider-Man VS Avengers Academy storyline. If Joe Kelly were on Marvel Team Up, he couldn’t just feature a straightforward Spider-Man VS Hobgoblin story. Writers on Amazing Spider-Man can tell whatever types of stories they want, as the series has a history of featuring every type of Spider-Man adventure imaginable.
The alternative to restrictive satellite titles is to have no difference at all between the various Spider-Man books. In that case, the reason for Marvel to publish Sensational Spider-Man is to provide material for readers who like Spider-Man and don’t think one book a month is enough. The raison d’etre of the second satellite title is to attract readers who like Spider-Man and don’t think two books are enough. Crossovers exacerbate that problem. Marvel got good sales with “The Other” but it meant that there was nothing to distinguish Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man aside from the creative team.
Spider-Man’s disadvantage in this regard is that there is no secondary title with the reputation of Amazing Spider-Man. While well-informed and discriminating consumers would argue that a title’s name and the likelihood of major events occurring within its pages has no impact on whether they’ll buy the books, they do not represent the majority of comics buyers for whom the perception of significance matters. A common complaint about Sacasa’s Eddie Brock two-parter in Sensational Spider-Man was that there was less concern regarding the threat to Aunt May’s life than if the story had occurred in Amazing Spider-Man.
In the Brand New Day era with one Spider-Man title issue to issue continuity was still imperfect. But it would have been more confusing trying to keep track of developments in multiple titles. Or some arcs and subplots would have taken much longer. For example, Aunt May was on her honeymoon in Amazing Spider-Man #601. She was married in #600. She was planning the wedding in #595-599. She got engaged in Amazing Spider-Man #592-594 (and Peter also met Jonah Sr.) She met Jonah Sr in ASM #591. Jonah Sr got her number in the one-shot speed dating issue. Each of those beats was essential to get Aunt May to where she was in ASM 601.
This stuff’s harder to manage with three concurrent monthlies. If there was a five part storyline in FNSM from May to September dealing with events in a three-day period, and the July issue of Amazing Spider-Man features Aunt May’s wedding, the editor and writer would have to figure out how to allude to May’s marriage/ engagement in the FNSM story. They’d have to do similar things for every development. If J Jonah Jameson Sr is going to be killed off in a standalone story in one title December 2013, it’ll be odd if he appears at the beginning of a story published from October to March, and it’ll be a spoiler if his death is mentioned in an October issue.
If it were the case that the post-One More Day Spider-Man is just like Archie, multiple titles wouldn’t be anything to worry about, because nothing would change from issue to issue. But that’s not the case. Weddings and deaths are presumably rare, but Peter Parker often finds himself in a different place at the end of an issue than at the beginning. During the Brand New Day era, Peter Parker has lost several jobs, pissed off friends and changed roommates. With three concurrent monthlies, it would be problematic keeping track of the sequence of events. There are also some recent developments with the Spider-Man comics that make this more chaotic, and less profitable.