I find it very interesting that people at Marvel at the time hated the marriage for creative reasons because they felt it “damaged” the character of Spider-Man. One of the objections to One More Day (admittedly from people that grew up with the marriage) seems to be that by keeping the character in stasis it “damages” Spider-Man that way and represses creativity for perceived commercial gain. Yeah, most big-time super-hero marriages are ways to get a short-term sales pop, but it’s very interesting to see the attitude of these 80s creators that “creativity” means keeping the character the same, making sure he’s always “relatable”. Opponents of the sliding timeline would argue the opposite: that good stories, and more stories (as opposed to eventually just telling the same ones over and over), require the passage of time, require characters to grow and change. (For the record, I’m not an opponent of the sliding timescale, though Marvel’s points of intersection with the real world make it difficult, but I am an opponent of using it as an excuse not to change anything ever.)
Being an ageless character like Charlie Brown or Archie only works when the character has no continuity whatsoever (Archie) or only the vaguest kind of continuity where only super-major events and anything falling under the Seven Year Rule are ever referred to as canon (Charlie Brown, early Silver Age DC, the Simpsons). Once you have continuity, once you say everything that’s been chronicled going back to 1961 happened in some way, shape, or form, once Peter graduates high school, has Gwen Stacy killed, and graduates college, you pretty much have to admit the passage of time. Want to know why dead characters never stay dead in comics? Because Marvel and DC want to have it both ways: they want the illusion of change, they want to do stuff that looks superficially like the passage of time and events that matter like killing characters or marrying them off, but they don’t actually want lasting change, so they keep bringing back dead characters so they can tell more stories with them and undoing what few marriages they allow to happen, and then they wonder why comic readership keeps declining when you factor stunts and reboots (the only form of real change that can actually happen) out of it. The comic book industry is like the shell of a dead star that only survives by consuming itself from within.
You want to have a character that’s “relatable” to the audience? Create new ones! Have characters get old, get married, and have new characters come along that new readers can relate to, making the whole shared universe all the richer because it not only has a past, but one you can actually read and look into! Part of the reason Spider-Girl had such a devoted, if small, fanbase was that it showed the direction Marvel could have taken if it wasn’t so scared of change! Are comic companies afraid to let time pass because they don’t trust their talent to be creative enough to create new characters that can be as appealing as the old ones?
Marvel may have invented the concept of a shared universe where events mattered, but honestly post-Crisis DC actually started beating them at their own game with how many “young” heroes they had and how we got to see all the Silver Age sidekicks grow up… but they never seemed comfortable with it (especially given its implications for the age of the “old guard”) and seemed to be throwing it out even before the New 52. (And if I’m interpreting what the powers that be at Marvel have said correctly, DC will STILL be beating Marvel at their own game after Secret Wars; at least their universe still vaguely resembles the real world!)
Or is it that the decline in comics readership since the move from newsstands to the direct market means new characters, no matter how well-written, can never be as iconic as the old ones? If that’s the case, then let the main universe grow and change while creating a new universe to retell the stories of the “iconic” heroes (assuming you can’t just do an Untold Tales-type thing and tell new stories in the existing characters’ past). I found it supremely ironic that the Ultimate universe, supposedly a way to tell the stories of Marvel’s iconic characters free of all the continuity dragging behind it, not only became just as continuity-choked as the main universe but actually saw MORE real change; it was the Ultimate Spider-Man, not the 616 version, that died and was replaced by Miles Morales.
Of course, that assumes the same decline in readership hasn’t produced a readership that can be divided into two categories: those that want growth and change, and those so committed to things never changing from what it was when they started reading that they’re impossible to please anyway. There’s an odd disconnect between the people who make comic books and the people who read them: deep down, the people who make comic books want it to still be the Silver Age, if they don’t think it still is, when they could worry about keeping iconic characters “recognizable” in their new output for new generations of readers (what new generations of readers?) and for people coming in from seeing them in the theater, while the fans just want them to move on and have real growth and change; I suspect the majority view of fans, at least those that have thought about the issue, is similar to my own, and that includes that those that haven’t would ultimately react better to it.
More than a few people have suggested that continuity can actually help bring in new readers, as it helped give Marvel a leg up on DC in the 60s. The barrier to entry isn’t as high as it used to be, or as high as comic publishers claim; comic book stores and trade paperbacks make old content (which has more value when it matters for today’s stories) far more accessible than in the newsstand era (and that old content is often more relevant to what few people are coming in after the latest superhero movie anyway), and the Internet makes it easier to get up to speed than in the 90s, the period that probably most raised concerns about continuity lockout. Not only is the comic industry a dying star slowly feeding on itself, it actively refuses to do anything to reinvigorate itself even despite the wishes of the few adherents it has left, even if that might keep it alive longer and actually produce more adherents in the long run.
Incidentally, I’d be more optimistic about the New 52’s ability to represent a fresh start for DC and allow them to do all of this if it weren’t for its many missteps, missteps that are directly related to its reboot nature and underscore the importance of continuity. Comic book writers and publishers complain about being “shackled” by continuity, but continuity informs what characters are far more than comic book publishers’ perception of what makes them “iconic”, and the New 52 should have shown that a lot of comic book writers shouldn’t be trusted to be “unshackled”. What was more “damaging” to their respective characters, Spider-Man marrying Mary Jane, or Starfire walking around in a bikini, thinking of humans as interchangeable, and mechanically talking about being bored and having sex because Scott Lobdell doesn’t need to worry about how Marv Wolfman wrote her? Was Spider-Man marrying Mary Jane more “damaging” than Superman getting with Wonder Woman because he’s not with Lois anymore so we’ll just take the path of least resistance and go “duh, superman with superwoman, of course!” regardless of whether it makes sense for their characters because that’s what the fans-turned-writers want because writers who actually understand characterization and what makes a good story stay far away from comics except for stunts so everything Marvel and DC produce at this point is basically glorified fanfic?
And of course, which was more damaging to Spider-Man, having him get married because it supposedly makes him less “relatable” and less of an “everyman” because it “ages” him too much, or having him undo the marriage by doing a literal deal with the devil (what a “relatable” “everyman”!) because he doesn’t want to see his already-decrepit Aunt May die (hey, it would “age him too much”!) even though the entire point of his character, even more than being a “relatable” “everyman” (certainly from a creative, as opposed to commercial, perspective), has always been about his own sense of personal responsibility?