“Sins Past” (issues #509-514)
written by J. Michael Straczynski
art by Mike Deodato
published by Marvel Comics

If you are unfamiliar with modern day comic books, you need to realize that these aren’t your father’s “funny books.” It’s high time that we started reviewing comic books since they have been the source material for many of our most popular movies and televison shows. Despite their decreased sales numbers, comic books still impact our culture (though, in Japan, the number one market on the planet, comic books have significantly higher sales and cultural impact).

It’s important to remember what got us hooked on comics in the first place: Larger than life heroes and villains in action/adventure serials; simple morality plays where good was good and bad was bad. These days, good isn’t as good as it seems and bad is a lot worse than it once was, but we still have to muddle through.

You see, the typical age of American comic book readers is 20+ , not 8+ like they were back in the day. Fanboys have grown up alongside the medium. Thus, the books have become increasingly sophisticated. Unfortunately, “sophisticated” usually means darker and harsher. This rush to insert realism has had the analogous effect of retroactively robbing us longtime fans of the medium of our fond memories of childhood.

However, there are lines not worth crossing, taboos not worth breaking, memories not worth tainting, not even for the sake of a riveting tale. That is the feeling that I was left with after reading J. Michael Straczynski’s pivotal story arc, “Sins Past.” In this storyline, JMS retroactively taints our memory of an innocent love and time.

Most of what the average person knows of Spider-Man is from the movies. For those who have followed the comics from early on, Peter Parker, “Spider-Man’s alter ego, “had a true, pure love before Mary Jane Watson. Her name was Gwen Stacy. However, she was lost to him when he was unable to save her during a battle with the Green Goblin (the first Spider-Man movie plays on this tale by having MJ, in the Gwen Stacy role, being tossed from the bridge. In the comics, unlike the movie, Spider-Man is unable to save her).

In this storyline, JMS fills in a bit of a continuity gap in the comics, explaining why Gwen Stacy jetted off to Europe for a time. Apparently, she had an affair with Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, then went to Europe to have her babies, twins Gabriel and Sarah. The twins were raised believing Norman Osborn to be the saint who took them in and raised them while blaming Peter Parker, whom they believe to be their real father, for abandoning them. So, now grown up, they wish to kill Peter Parker and avenge their mother’s death, which they believe happened at his hands.

Yes, it is a complicated soap opera-esque story that is personal and engaging with flashes of his trademark sense of humor that characterized JMS’s Babylon 5.

At first I thought the spiritual connection that I was going to make was coming from the kids relationship with their father and their struggle against their own natures. They had been corrupted, due to their bodies’ fallen condition, by the blood of their father. Tainted by his sinful legacy, as it were. “The truth is in the blood,” Gabriel proclaims. The storyline paints an intriguing image of these lost, desperate souls attempting to find wholeness and salvation from death, by either embracing or rejecting their father. But that’s not the spiritual connection that I was left with.

After I was finished reading the story, I couldn’t help wondering about Gwen. In some ways, this changed my image of her. Hey, I grew up with these characters, so cut me some slack. In JMS’s hands, the reader is lead to feel Peter’s conflicted emotions, the sense of betrayal, the hurt, the tacit forgiveness and unquenchable love. It reminded me of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well as recounted by Michael Yaconelli in Messy Spirituality: “Looking at her long string of bad choices, many would consider her unredeemable, unsalvageable, unteachable, and beyond help. She hasn’t just made a few mistakes; she has lived a lifetime of mistakes, enough to cause most to conclude her life is scarred beyond hope. She comes to the well at the middle of the day because respectable women come in the morning and she understands that she is no respectable woman.

“But Jesus respects her.

“Jesus doesn’t see what everyone else sees.

“As far as Jesus is concerned, this woman is salvageable, teachable and redeemable. As far as Jesus is concerned, the woman with no future has a future; the woman with a string of failures is about to have the string broken. Jesus sees her present desire, which makes her past irrelevant.

“You don’t suppose, do you, the same could be true for you and me? Our mistakes, our strings of failures, and what everyone else labels unredeemable may actually be redeemable? You don’t suppose the mess we’ve made of our lives can be the place where we meet Jesus?”

We all have sins. Things in our past that we’ve done, or had done to us, to make us feel unworthy of ever being loved or clean again. But we can be loved where we are, in the middle of our messy lives. Loved, forgiven, and made whole. “The truth is in the blood.”