Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The "Vile" Peter Parker Vs. The "Virtuous" Otto Octavius (Superior Spider-Man #9)

Even before the series debuted, Dan Slott’s The Superior Spider-Man has been rife with controversy.  How could it not be, considering that the premise involves Peter Parker being dead and his body taken over by his archenemy, Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus?  Some readers have given Superior Spider-Man overwhelming praise, saying this is the most interesting Spider-Man has been in years, and enjoying the constant roller-coaster of a supposedly reformed super-villain playing the part of a supposed hero.  Others have decried the series as being a betrayal of Spider-Man’s legacy, saying that Dan Slott is ruining one of the greatest comic book superheroes of all time.  But regardless how one may feel about Superior Spider-Man, no one can deny that, at the moment, it’s proving to be one of Marvel’s most popular titles, proof positive that controversy does indeed sell.

Last week’s Superior Spider-Man #9 is par for the course in maintaining and promoting that controversy; even the very solicitation of the tile promised readers that after reading this issue, they would be even “angrier” than they were after reading Amazing Spider-Man #700.  Maybe that’s because the outcomes of both stories are almost the same: Peter fights Doc Ock to get his body back, and Doc Ock defeats and kills Peter Parker.  The difference is that this time, Peter and Doc Ock’s battle literally occurs within each others minds, and the Peter who dies this time around is “Ghost Peter,” the remnants of Peter Parker that still resided in his body who could only float around and watch (and be very annoying in the process) how Doc Ock was screwing up his life and reputation.  

To be brutally honest--Peter losing to Doc Ock yet again shouldn’t have come to a surprise to anyone.  Not only are there subplots still in place that are dependent upon Doc Ock pretending Spider-Man, but Marvel’s own promotional material and solicitations for future issues didn’t exactly obscure the fact that Doc Ock was still in the driver’s seat.  To those who are upset over the fact that Peter Parker was killed yet again and, if you believe the hype from Marvel, is never coming back (despite comics being a medium notorious for bringing characters back from the dead), then with all due respect your anger is misplaced, although perfectly understandable.  Rather, if you want to get upset about this issue, then I recommend focusing it on how Peter was portrayed in his supposedly "for real" last moments.

To understand what I mean, you have to go back an issue earlier to Superior Spider-Man #8.  In that issue, Doc Ock learns about an “anomaly” in his brain patterns which, readers know to be Ghost Peter.  However, to get more conclusive results, Doc Ock has to retrieve his "neurolitic scanner," which had been stolen by the doctor-turned-vigilante Cardiac in order to operate on a little girl with brain damage.  Doc Ock is able to track down and break into his secret underground medical care facility, where we then get the following scene:

Superior Spider-Man #8, p. 14
It's then explained to Otto that the little girl’s condition is a result of what Otto did during last years Spider-Man event, "Ends of the Earth," (Amazing Spider-Man #682 - 687) in which he blackmailed the world by demonstrating he had the technology to increase global temperatures.  Faced with the consequences of his own actions, Doc Ock declares that he has to make things right, thus decides not only will he help to map the girl’s brain patterns, but that he, much to the objection of the medical staff, perform the operation himself:

Superior Spider-Man #8 p.17

The surgery goes off without a hitch, Doc Ock is congratulated by Cardiac and the little girl, and Doc Ock, perhaps for the first time in his life, feels proud to be a hero and that he has finally found the greatness he has always longed for…and then he uses the scanner to discover Ghost Peter and proceeds to erase him (one step forward, two steps back.)

Which leads us right into Superior Spider-Man #9, in which both Peter and Doc Ock essentially have a “winner take all” battle literally within their own minds.  And for most of the comic, it’s absolutely spectacular.  The gorgeous and stellar imagery by artist Ryan Stegman; Peter summoning mental projections of his loved ones past and present, while Doc Ock counters with projections of all of Spidey’s rogues gallery; the clever usage of in-jokes from past Spider-Man history; the philosophical debate over what defines a hero; the despair Peter feels as his memories are wiped away as each manifestation of his supporting cast is “slain” before his eyes, including Uncle Ben--and his failure to even recall their name--all of it is shaping to be the best issue of Superior Spider-Man Dan Slott has penned to date.

And then, this happens:

Superior Spider-Man #9, p.18

That’s right--Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel's flagship character and the guy we've been told for 50+ years is "the hero who could be you," admitted that he was so desperate and afraid of Doc Ock, that he was willing to risk the life of an brain-damaged, helpless and innocent little girl just to save his own skin.

Now some of you will be quick to point out that, technically, this is not the real Peter Parker.  At the beginning of the issue, Doc Ock observes that “Ghost Peter” is really just Peter’s memories that Doc Ock decided to keep in order to reference and better pull off his deception, and that somehow, these memories have gained self-awareness and thus only think they are the real Peter.  Which also blunts some of the earlier criticism that Slott brought Peter back too soon after his death.  Unfortunately, Doc Ock also states in this issue that the nature of “Ghost Peter” proves that people “really are the sum of their experiences,” which means that even though “Ghost Peter” is, for lack of a better phrase, another Spider-Man clone, he might as well be Peter Parker.  Thus the implication is that everything “Ghost Peter” did is what the real Peter Parker would’ve done.   

Also, it’s evident that Doc Ock is exploiting Peter’s tendency to blame and doubt himself as a means of bullying him into submission.  His chastisement of Peter isn’t just throwing stones in a glass house--it’s an avalanche of giant boulders plowing through a glass suburb.  After all, it’s not as if Doc Ock was the only person who could’ve performed the operation, especially since Cardiac (who is a licensed doctor) is also in the operating room.  Not to mention that the little girl was only hospitalized to begin with because of Doc Ock, nor did Doc Ock consider the little girl’s safety and welfare when he was initially so hell-bent on getting back his scanner. (Come to think of it, when has Doc Ock ever cared about the safety and welfare of children before Superior Spider-Man?)

Superior Spider-Man #9, p. 16
Furthermore, the scene is also attempting to remind us that Peter, as a character, is someone who, despite all the good he does, is still capable of making mistakes that result in unintended consequences.  After all, Peter does try to defend himself by saying he never would’ve really allowed the girl to come to harm before Doc Ock cuts him off.   In interviews following this issue, Dan Slott and editor, Steve Wacker, remind us that “There are plenty of examples over 700+ issues where his behavior was less than exemplary,” and that just because Peter learned that “with great power comes great responsibility” when his Uncle Ben was killed, it “didn't magically baptize him and make him flawless.”  We've seen over the years, many times,” Slott says “that when Peter Parker really wants to do the wrong thing; he has that moment, and then he shuts it down.”
But are we expected to believe that this also means that Peter, after all his years as Spider-Man, would be the kind of person who, when his back is up against the wall, be capable of, let alone even think about, risking the life a child if it meant saving himself?  The answer, according to this issue and its creators, is an unequivocal yes.

Also, in this particular instance, this wasn’t just an instance of Peter “having a moment” and then “shutting it down;” the page from issue #8 coupled with the one from issue #9 shows that Peter was actually in the process of doing the wrong thing and that it was Doc Ock shutting him down through his sheer force of will.  The intention may have tried to convey that Peter is an imperfect human being who had a moment of weakness, but it also winds up saying that, deep down, Peter is a morally weak, self-righteous hypocrite--which is exactly what Doc Ock accuses Peter of being.

Understand, I’m not advocating, nor do I expect, Peter Parker to always be exemplary or not make stupid decisions.  Part of his appeal and popularity comes from the fact that he, just like the rest of us, is an imperfect human being who tries, and sometimes fails, to do the right thing.  After all, as Slott points out, Peter, as a teenager, “let that burglar run by, he could have done anything to stop him and he didn't” and thought about using his powers to punch Flash Thompson, or consider doing nothing when Flash was in danger.  And that’s just it--he was a teenager, someone who didn’t know any better, who was still learning that the world didn’t revolve around him.  To still characterize Peter as someone who, as an adult, is still that self-absorbed and that willing to put his own welfare ahead of others makes him someone who hasn’t learned a damn thing since his uncle got shot.

So although the issue is supposed to make us feel sorry for Peter, it inadvertently winds up doing the exact opposite.  It makes the superhero no better than the super-villain--which is absurd on it’s face considering that Doc Ock has often endangered countless lives, including a deliberate attempt at killing billions of people just to prove that he could.

Superior Spider-Man #9, p. 17
Then again, given how various writers have depicted Peter in recent years, should we be at all surprised?  In his review of Spider-Man: One More Day, Lewis Lovhaug (aka Linkara) made the astute observation that, for all his “great power and responsibility,” Peter Parker is actually the most self-centered, irresponsible human being on the planet precisely because of the writers’ insistence on making Peter repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over, and giving him the same outlook on life that he had back in high school in spite of decades of stories showing him as an fully-grown adult.  Likewise, Colin Smith, in his very excellent essay comparing Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run on The Amazing Spider-Man with Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, goes as far as to suggest that “Making the adolescent Peter Parker the adult Peter and giving him most if not all the same qualities while placing him in comparable situations to his youth” goes against what the original creators had always intended.  Even comic book writer/artist John Byrne has been ranting about the problems of a "grown-up" Spider-Man for years on his own forums. Well, if the death of “Ghost Peter” results in Peter’s depiction as an emotionally-stunted man-child being forever expunged, then I say “hip hip hooray!” 

And there's another potential silver lining.  During their battle, Doc Ock claims that Peter is unworthy to be Spider-Man because Peter is willing to show mercy towards his enemies, and that doing so puts more lives in danger and makes him just as guilty of murdering innocent lives as the murderers themselves.  The irony is that Doc Ock fails to see that he is the beneficiary of that very mercy.  It was Peter who choose to rescue Doc Ock from drowning in the Ends of the Earth.  It was Peter who, in the last moments of his life, tried to instill in Doc Ock the value of “power and responsibility” in trying to change him for the better.  Even in this issue, Peter tries to give Doc Ock another chance to prove that he has changed for the better.  And yet Doc Ock not only refuses to give that same “quality of mercy” not only on Peter’s enemies, but also on the man who was willing to give him a second chance in the first place.

Likewise, this is another instance which the hero falls while the villain appears to triumph, with nothing to stand in their way, only for the hero to miraculously return and glorious triumph in the end.  Doc Ock may have succeeded in killing Peter yet again but at the cost of having Peter’s memories to fall back on.  Not only does this make Doc Ock’s task of pretending to be Peter and Spider-Man that much harder, but he has also removed the closest thing he had to having a conscience.  After all, it was those very memories that started to change Otto for the better.  Without them acting as a guide, he may have unknowingly sabotaged his own journey in finding redemption just as it was about to begin.  More and more, the Superior Spider-Man is shaping up to be a series in which both Peter Parker and Otto Octavius are deconstructed then rebuilt as characters to examining what really makes Spider-Man Spider-Man.

It's just a shame Peter wound up looking like "the bad guy" in order to get there.

Superior Spider-Man #9, p. 19

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Intermission: Superior Spider-Man #2 and Other Updates

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen.  I realize it's been awhile since I've made another post, but the past couple of days have left me swamped with all sorts of other projects and personal things I had to take care of.  Not to worry though, I'll be putting up another entry in the near future, which will be my thoughts on Brian Michael Bendis' run so far on All-New X-Men.  I've written at least two-thirds of it already, so I hope to have it done relatively soon.  

Likewise, I'm also going to be putting up some analysis on various movies--particularly bad movies.  But rather than just merely critique why they're bad, I'm also going to give myself a little challenge: if I had somehow been the one assigned the task of making the film, what would I have made instead of the film we actually got?  This also gives me an opportunity to ask you folks for any suggestions on which films you would like me to try this out on, although I do have a few in mind already.

In the meantime, in order to tide you folks over, I'm going give my very brief thoughts on Superior Spider-Man #2, which, as of this posting, has just come out today.  And believe it or not, there's actually some good news, What is it you might ask?  

So yes, Mary Jane is no longer under the threat of being the victim of "rape by fraud" from Doctor Octopus.  Nor did Doc Ock, despite his best efforts, succeed in his many attempts to seduce Mary Jane into bed.  In fact, I'm rather surprised and impressed that, due to having developed feelings for MJ himself, Doc Ock ends up doing the right and honorable thing by letting her go--much to Ghost Peter and MJ's mutual surprise.  So I sincerely congratulate Slott and commend him for not going forward in what could've been a very damaging development in regards to Doc Ock's continual "Freaky Friday" machinations.

However, you're probably wondering "Wait a sec?  How come Doc Ock all of the sudden has feelings for Mary Jane now?"  Well, unfortunately, therein lies the bad news.  Because earlier in the same issue, this happens:

That's right--what is being heavily implied (albeit not explicitly shown) is that Doc Ock spent the rest of the evening doing some "handiwork" while he was reliving Peter's romantic memories of Mary Jane.  Which also means he technically borrowed a page from "Skip Westcott."  And if you think I'm reading too much into this, here's what we see happens the following morning:

But I guess this is just like the "Aunt May" scene in Amazing Spider-Man #699 in which, because it's not actually shown on the page, it's only "whatever baggage [I] brought with [me]" and that "any icky/disgusting things that took place were things that [my] imagination came up with."

And in case you're wondering, Carlie Cooper's pointed "Peter" does indeed mean that she knows, or at least strongly suspects that "Peter" is really Doc Ock in disguise.  But does she tell MJ, the one person who deserves to know, anything at all about her suspicions?  Of course not!

Yeah, some "friend" you are, Carlie.  Why did you break-up with Peter again?  Oh yeah, it was because Peter was keeping the fact he was Spider-Man from you, and you don't like how your friends and loved ones keep secrets from you, do you?  Hypocritical much?

I could go into a bit more in-depth about the more problematic aspects this issue raises, but long-time  blogger K-Box--who isn't shy in the least about his apprehension towards the current state of Spider-Man comics since One More Day--has pretty much done a more in-depth job of doing just that.  Forewarning, he's much more colorful in usage of the English language than I am.

For a silver lining (and there's actually some other good aspects about this issue, by the way) I'd say it's a rather tarnished one if you ask me.  But feel free to disagree and leave your comments.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My So-Called Review: The Superior Spider-Man #1

 Note: the following contains spoilers so read at your own risk.

You have to give the folks at Marvel some credit; no matter what you may think of the comics they produce, they know how to play with the emotions and expectations of their audience like a Stradivarius.  Case in point, the controversial, overly hyped Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Superior Spider-Man #1, in which long-time Spidey villain, Dr. Otto Octavious, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus, having successfully taken over Peter Parker’s body, becomes the new Spider-Man upon Peter’s untimely and undignified death.

Many, including myself, weren’t particularly pleased with these turn of events, and yet you still couldn’t help but be drawn into the web that writer Dan Slott wove.  Even long time comic book readers who knew that Peter’s death was most likely temporary couldn’t help themselves.  The result is that the supposed last issue of Amazing Spider-Man sold, just within it’s first printing, a quarter of a million copies (not counting digital sales), is already in it’s second printing, and is the fourth best-selling comic of 2012 (the top three being The Walking Dead #100, Uncanny Avengers #1, and Avengers vs. X-Men #1).  Let’s face it--getting people good and mad is what sells.

So of course with Superior Spider-Man #1, all of us angry and easily provoked readers just have to see what insane "travesty" Dan Slott has in store for us, and how much more he’s going to "ruin" Marvel’s flagship character.  Thus when we pick the issue and flip through it’s colorful pages and over-the-top dialogue, with bated breath or gritted teeth, we come to the last two pages and…

Superior Spider-Man #1, ps. 21-22

That’s right: after just one issue, Peter Parker is back.  Sort of.  Actually, he’s a ghost now.  Well, maybe he’s not technically a ghost, perhaps, but rather sharing his own mind and body with Doc Ock on a subconscious level.  In any case, he still looks as if pulled an Obi-Wan Kenobi and is now playing the part of Jiminy Cricket to Doc Ock’s Pinocchio.1

However, like the titular character now is, I find myself of two minds about this.  As a Spidey fan, I’m glad to see that Peter is still alive (of sorts) and that Dan Slott didn’t drag out his eventual return like so many other comic book stories have done in which they’ve “killed off” the main hero.  It also potentially curbs--but in no way makes it any less unnerving and repellent--the possibility of Mary Jane becoming the unknowing victim of Doc Ock’s creepy, lustful aspirations; after all, if Ghost Peter can prevent SpOck (as some are now calling him) from killing super-villains or can force him to save innocent bystanders, surely he's capable of preventing him from having sex with the woman he loves…I hope.

At the same time, not only does the reveal come across unintentionally ridiculous 2, it also, paradoxically, seems far too soon and serves to undercut the supposed premise behind the Superior Spider-Man that Marvel and Slott himself billed it as.  Instead of getting a story of one of Spidey’s great villains seeking redemption by taking up his legacy, it now appears we’re getting the superhero equivalent of All of Me, in that now Ghost Peter and SpOck will fight for control over Peter’s body.  Clearly, this story was intended to be an ongoing plot for the Amazing Spider-Man, not the set-up to launch a brand new series.

Which leads me to the second aspect of Superior Spider-Man that I’m of two minds about: the supposed protagonist and titular character, Otto Octavious himself.

Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 16
As I said in my review of Amazing Spider-Man #700, I thought Doc Ock’s “conversion” wasn’t only unearned but strained all credulity, given who Doc Ock is as a character and the circumstances behind how he became “Peter” and “Spider-Man” in the first place.  Well, apparently, Slott himself thought the same way because Doc Ock, even though he’s now a “good guy,” is still the arrogant and petulant megalomaniac he always has been.  Likewise, he address the problem I also raised in my review about Doc Ock wanting to even take over Peter’s life as everything he would do from here on out would essentially be giving Peter the credit for his own accomplishments.  As it turns out, Otto is fully aware of this very dilemma he’s put himself in, and barely manages to contain his frustration over the idea that his actions will now serve to enhance Peter’s legacy instead of his own, again keeping with his true character.  Also, the issue effectively shows that Doc Ock is a far more meticulous and strategic thinker than Peter, as shown by his injecting “nano-spider-tracers” in one of new members of the Sinister Six and the eventual trap he lays for them when they attempt a second robbery.  After all, Doc Ock isn’t also known as “the Master Planner” for nothing.

And yet, this also proves that, quite the contrary, that Doc Ock didn’t actually learn the lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” and that Peter’s “final sacrifice” in Amazing Spider-Man #700 really was all for naught.  In fact, Peter’s attempt at rehabilitation have made things all the worse.

Last year, Slott penned a story about a new “sidekick” for Spidey named Alpha, who, after gaining his powers as a result of one of Peter’s scientific experiments, Peter felt compelled to take under his wing out of a sense of responsibility.  The thing was, Alpha was deliberately depicted as an obnoxious, self-important jerk that no one, not even Spidey, could stand.  And it was a portrayal that worked too well because the readers absolutely despised the character and wanted him gone as soon as possible because he was such a one-note obnoxious, self-important jerk.  Well, it appears history may repeat itself because Doc Ock as “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” comes across exactly the same way, the only difference being he has a greater vocabulary and Batman’s “prep time.”  I mean, just look at how he’s depicted in this panel during his dinner date with Mary Jane:

Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 14
Now if you saw someone like this in real life, would you want to see this person succeed?  Would you want to be in this person’s company if you could help it?   Would you want to root for and support such a self-important, pompous ass like this?  Of course not.  If you couldn’t do it yourself, you would wish someone--anyone--would have the guts to give this jerk a series of repeated smacks across his smug puss like Tyrion does to Joffrey in Game of Thrones until he sobs like a baby.  With this one panel, Dan Slott and artist Ryan Stegman have given us the perfect illustration of SpOck as the quintessential douche bag.  Like Slott’s Alpha story beforehand, it’s a portrayal that’s too one-note, and in case is potentially more alienating since Doc Ock is also supposed to be the main character we’re being asked to follow month-in and month-out.
Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 13

This also leads to the other major problem this issue has, one that has carried over from Amazing Spider-Man #700--even though Doc Ock makes no attempt at obfuscating his true personality and demeanor, none of the other characters still find it the least bit suspicious that “Peter” is no longer acting like himself.  And once again, we have a scene of Mary Jane putting up with Doc Ock’s misogynistic treatment towards her, this time with him wrapped up in his own thoughts and ogling MJ’s cleavage as he listens to the Sinister Six plan their heist on his now ever-present Bluetooth instead of what she‘s saying.  Even if you buy into the notion that MJ somehow hasn’t figured out that “Peter” isn’t really Peter (when she really should’ve long before this point), you’d still think, based on how she’s been portrayed in the past, she’d have left him right then and there, saying their getting back together was a mistake and for him to never call her again until he cleaned up his act.  Because the one thing Mary Jane should never be is a clueless doormat.

Finally, I’m even of two minds about Ryan Stegman’s artwork.  In the past, his work has been both vibrant and energetic, and one cannot resist being lured into the page as the various colorfully characters seem to leap out from the panel.  It’s an art style that is perfect for a comic like Spider-Man, and that’s still the case here; I love, for example, how Stegman illustrates Doc Ock in his new and slightly tweaked Spidey costume, and how he depicts Doc Ock as Peter looking like Neil Patrick Harris’ Dr. Horrible with his 1930s style lab coat and upraised goggles.  Even so, his illustrations don’t seem to be of the same quality as they have been.  Maybe it’s because he’s also doing his own inking, but his illustrations in this issue have a sketchy, unpolished look that, in some panels, don’t make his work as clear as they could be.  Though, admittedly, this is more of minor quibble than anything detrimental.

All in all, I must admit that some my concerns about where Slott was taking Peter Parker and Spider-Man have been somewhat ameliorated, and I do have a morbid curiosity about where things will go with Superior Spider-Man from this point.  Nevertheless, my feelings about Amazing Spider-Man #700 have remained unchanged, and the entire premise of the new series feels incredibly flawed from the start.  Granted, seeing how long before Doc Ock screws up and reveals himself, or how Peter can get his body back is part of the suspense driving the narrative forward, but I wonder if even those who enjoy the issue are unable to ignore a little voice in the back of their minds asking if Peter can get back in the webs, and soon.

Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 10

1 And yes, considering that Disney now owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm, the comparison I made was deliberate. 

2 Then again, considering how Peter died and came back during The Other, in which he molted his own skin, wove himself a web cocoon, experienced a trippy dream sequence involving totemic spider gods, and then was rejuvenated with a new body and new powers--which included having retractable Wolverine-style bone spears--maybe him coming back looking like a Jedi Force Ghost isn't quite so bad by comparison.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Spidey Speculation on...The Superior Spider-Man Series

It seems even in his supposed death, people are still talking about Spider-Man.  Now that folks have seen how Peter Parker died and Doctor Octopus donning the webs, the one thing that appears to be on their minds, regardless of how they feel about the results is, "What happens next?"

Having already given my rather lengthy and extensive review of Amazing Spider-Man #700, I've attempted to look into my metaphorical crystal ball to try and guess what we might expect over the coming months with Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man.  Read it at the link below and feel free to offer some of your own theories:


Friday, December 28, 2012

My So-Called Review: The Amazing Spider-Man #698 to #700

"...I think for years to come the shadow of Peter Parker is going to be draped over the book. There's nothing you can do about that. But new cast members will come in. Life goes on. Peter Parker fans will sort of fade away over the months and years, and you'll have a bunch of people who only know the new cast." --Marvel Senior Editor Steve Wacker from an interview with Comic Book Resources, December 14, 2012

So Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, is dead…again.1

And after 50 years of publication, the comic book series that bore his name has published its last issue…again.2

This time, Spider-Man didn’t perish at the hands of a vampire-like monster dressed in Victorian garb,3 or in one last battle with his arch-enemy, the Green Goblin. This time he was the victim of a diabolical "Freaky Friday," his mind transferred into the decrepit, terminal-ill body of his other arch-enemy, Doctor Octopus.  And having failed to get his body back, Peter died alone, hated and feared by the very loved ones he promised to protect--but not before teaching Doc Ock the value of human life and that “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Thus the reformed Doc Ock, now in Spider-Man’s body and having complete access to all of Peter’s memories, will live on pretending to be both the wall-crawler and Peter Parker, with none of Peter’s friends, family or loved ones being any the wiser in the new series, The Superior Spider-Man, part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch designed to attract new and dwindling readers.

Of course, if you Googled “Amazing Spider-Man #700” or “Superior Spider-Man” during the past two weeks, you may already know this.  Summaries of the Amazing Spider-Man #700 and even the entire issue itself leaked online, and the reaction towards this news, and towards it’s author, Dan Slott, is what you would expect.  Many outraged fans demanded to know “what the hell was Marvel thinking killing off it’s flagship character on his 50th Anniversary?”  Some have pledged never to pick up The Superior Spider-Man or any Marvel comic book ever again, unless Peter Parker returns.  A few have even crossed the line into the realm of the morally bankrupt and stupid by issuing death threats towards Slott on Twitter.  Others, however, have praised Slott for having the guts to do something so controversial and provocative to such a beloved comic book franchise and are eagerly waiting to see what weird events lie ahead.

Yet most of these reactions were visceral, not based upon reading the issue itself.  Slott and other spokespersons from Marvel advised that, to get the full effect, one needed to read the story in its proper context; those that did read the issue before its official release date were advised to remain silent and not ruin it for anyone else.  Both fair and reasonable requests.

So now that the issue has finally hit the stands to be properly judged on it’s own merits, what is my own humble assessment?  That so much about Amazing Spider-Man #700 is fundamentally wrong on almost every conceivable level, that to just describe it as “bullshit” isn’t only inadequate but far too kind.  Hell, by even talking about it, I’m probably giving this issue far more attention than it deserves.

Amazing Spider-Man #698, p. 18

I’m not saying this because I happen to be an unashamed Spider-Man “fanboy” who considers Peter Parker one of the greatest comic book superheroes of all time.  I’m also not saying this because Peter is supposedly dead and Doc Ock is now the new Spider-Man.  Like it or not, interesting stories could be derived from such a set-up. (Besides who really stays dead in superhero comics anyway, other than Uncle Ben or Gwen Stacy?)  Nor do I have anything against Dan Slott; he's proven time and again to be a very talented, clever comic book writer, and having personally debated with him online, his love for all things Spider-Man is irrefutable.  If anything, the "final" issue of Amazing Spider-Man may be further proof that Slott is in a creative slump and has been ever since the conclusion of last year's Spider-Man epic, "Spider-Island."4 Hey, it happens to the best of us.

Even in the case of Amazing Spider-Man #700 and the overall story,“Dying Wish,” it’s clear what Slott’s attempting to show: that Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus are two sides of the same coin, and how, under the right circumstances, they could’ve have been just like the other--literally in this case.  That being a hero doesn’t just mean punching bad guys and protecting people; it also means doing the right thing when everyone else is against you, to forgive your enemies and reform them even if you feel they don’t deserve it.  And to some degree, Peter did die as he had lived: a misunderstood loner who kept to his promise to use his powers for the benefit of others instead of personal gain.  All this has the seeds of an emotionally compelling and dramatic story--if only Slott hadn’t botched it's execution.  And the story's problems begin not in Amazing Spider-Man #700, but in the two issues before it. (Although the way Slott builds towards the surprise ending in Amazing Spider-Man #698 is extremely well done; considering how "Dying Wish" ends, one could probably just read that issue alone and save the extra $12 by skipping the next two issues if they so chose.)

In Amazing Spider-Man #699, Slott explains how Doc Ock learned Spider-Man’s true identity and gain complete access to his mind every time Spidey used the same technology Doc Ock uses to mentally control his miniature octobots and mechanical arms, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man #600 and in “Spider-Island.”  Prior to his own capture in“Ends of the Earth”5, Doc Ock managed to create a gold octobot programmed to seek out Spidey and switch their minds via re-writing their brain patterns.  Now even those with a passing knowledge of Spider-Man knows all about his “spider-sense,” the precognitive ability that instinctively warns him of incoming danger.  So how does this gold octobot get around this and get the drop on Spidey to rewrite his mind?

Amazing Spider-Man #699, p. 9

Spidey just ignores his spider-sense.

That’s right--Doctor Octopus’s entire plan, his one last stab at revenge, completely hinges upon Spider-Man purposefully ignoring the very ability that helps to protect him from being taken by completely by surprise. 

“Now hold on,” says the continuity obsessed reader. “Spidey had to ignore his spider-sense because in the previous story, the Kingpin had devices built that overloaded Peter’s spider-sense to the point where he had such debilitating headaches, he could barely move.  He had no other choice but to use his martial arts training (yes, Spidey knows kung-fu now) to block out the pain.  Besides, it was just a coincidence the octobot got the drop on him, and coincidences happen in real life all the time.”

True, but Doc Ock wasn’t a part of the Kingpin’s plan.  Since he’s prison, Doc Ock couldn’t know this was happening to Peter at the time.  Unless he can see into the future, Doc Ock had no way of knowing at that precise moment Peter would be forced to ignore his own spider-sense.  After all, it’s not as if Doc Ock is unaware of Peter’s spider-sense considering how he essentially read Peter’s mind beforehand one than once.  Plus, how difficult would it have been to establish that Peter couldn’t sense the gold octobot because it contained a copy of Peter’s brain patterns and thus would not be regarded as a potential threat?  It certainly would’ve made more sense than the alternative. In any case, the entire basis for the story rests not upon a mere coincidence but an utter contrivance.

“Dying Wish” is also illustrates what is popularly known as “the idiot plot.”  Because it order for this story to advance toward it’s desired conclusion, almost every character--particularly Spidey himself--is forced to toss aside all logic and common sense because “the plot says so.”

For example, in Amazing Spider-Man #698, Peter, upon first finding out he’s in Doc Ock’s body, utters the words "Peter Parker" and nothing more.  This is assumed by the Avengers that “Doc Ock” has somehow learned Peter is Spider-Man and wishes to see him before he dies.  Thus the Avengers wait for “Spider-Man” to show up at the very same prison “Doc Ock” is being held at for presumably several hours.  Keep in mind that Peter, despite his weakened state, is perfectly capable of speaking in complete sentences, and that Doc Ock has been running around as both Peter and Spider-Man for all that time. 

Peter has yet another opportunity during Amazing Spider-Man #699 when he gains mental control over the very same gold octobot responsible for the mind-swap.  And even though Peter actually considers going to the Avengers for help, he opts instead to run a fail-safe program in the octobot that offers a $6 million dollar reward for any super-villain to break “Doc Ock” out of prison.  Why?  Because Peter thinks the Avengers would find his situation “too unbelievable.”  Never mind that the Avengers have members like Captain America and Thor who have dealt with nefarious schemes involving mind-swapping in the past, or that they have heroes like the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange, and the super-genius leader of the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards, on speed dial.

Finally Peter, along with the super-villains who helped to break him out of prison, eventually heads to the Avengers Tower, believing that’s where Doc Ock is holding all of Peter’s family and friends.  And wouldn’t you know it? the Avengers aren’t there, having been sent by Doc Ock on a world-wide goose chase after a bunch of re-activated giant octobots.  Then again, Doc Ock needn’t have bothered since, according to Spidey’s own reasoning, the Avengers wouldn't have believed him anyway.

Amazing Spider-Man #700, p. 18
In fact at no time does any part of Peter’s plan to get his body back involve telling anyone close to him what‘s really happening.  The only time he does is the result of, yet again, mere contrivance--Spidey breaks into a police station along with his super-villain allies that just so happens to have the very same octobot he needs to switch his mind back in his body, where he's just so happens to be confronted by his CSI ex-girlfriend, Carlie Cooper, threatening him at gunpoint.  And, of course, she just so happens to not believe him when he tries to tell her the truth.

(And by the way, Peter, while your attempt to convince Carlie that you're the real Spider-Man by reminding her only she and Mary Jane know your secret identity was a good effort, you know what would’ve worked even better?  How about telling her she has a “Spidey tattoo” on the inside of her right hip, the one she got way back in Amazing Spider-Man #659 and 660?  Considering how intimate the two of you were, revealing such a personal detail about Carlie could’ve been pretty convincing, don’t you think?  Oh, but that’s right, you couldn’t do this because the plot said so.)

As for the other supporting characters and villains acting clueless during the story, perhaps some leeway could be given, considering this does involve swapping bodies, particularly towards J. Jonah Jameson since he has a history of being obtuse whenever Spider-Man's involved.  To his credit, Slott does have a few characters remark on how “Spidey” and “Doc Ock” aren't acting like themselves.  Then again, it’s not all that difficult for them to see this considering how Spidey and Doc Ock make almost no effort at acting anything like the person whose body they inhabit.  By the time things escalate to the point where “Spidey” literally punches the Scorpion’s jaw off, shoots impact webbing at his own “friends” and is about to kill “Doc Ock” by smashing a car on top of him, one doesn’t need the keen observational powers of Sherlock Holmes to see something is seriously amiss.  And yet everyone simply brushes all this aside and never seriously question why “Spidey“ and “Doc Ock“ are acting the way they are. 

One character who I cannot give leeway towards to, however, is Peter’s long time love interest (and prior to "One More Day", his wife) Mary Jane Watson.  As this issue reminds us, she has known Peter is Spider-Man almost since day one and should be the one person who should know Peter better than anyone else save God.  True, at the start of Amazing Spider-Man #700, MJ may suspect “Peter” might be an imposter (Or at least, I think that’s what Slott is suggesting when she pretends to come onto “Peter” and rips open his shirt, only to see that he is, in fact, wearing his Spider-Man costume underneath.  The way it’s written, it might as well be MJ be disappointed “Peter” is still Spider-Man it’s that unclear.) and even demands “Peter” to explain what's wrong with him.  And yet even she winds up falling for Doc Ock’s deception.

Amazing Spider-Man #700, p. 28
In the issue’s most egregious scene, MJ, believing that “Peter” is worried about the upcoming battle with “Doc Ock,” attempts to offer her support for him like she usually does.  “Peter,” apparently a firm practitioner of the "girls really want jerks" approach to romance, rudely blows her off, telling her that she’s useless and nothing but “the plucky best friend with the one motivational speech.”  Only instead of slapping “Peter” across the face like any self-respecting woman would do, she instead declares her undying love for “Peter” and the two of them “get back together” with a passionate kiss. It’s bad enough that Doc Ock throughout “Dying Wish” has been taking advantage of MJ’s love for Peter to try and have sex with her, but for him to successfully seduce MJ like this is pretty sickening.  

Granted, no intercourse has taken place between them as of yet, but the possibility that MJ is in danger of becoming a victim of rape by deception is the Sword of Damocles looming over the new status quo.  Because anyone with any ounce of common sense knows that if MJ knew “Peter“ was really Doc Ock, she wouldn’t reciprocate any of his advances towards her, let alone be anywhere in the same room as him.  For someone who even Slott has insisted is “the most important person in Spider-Man’s life,” this is a huge disservice to her character and towards fans of her and Peter’s relationship. 

This also echoes a controversial subplot by Fred Van Lente from three years ago6, where the Chameleon, also disguised as Peter, made advances on Peter’s then roommate, Michele Gonzeles, which resulted in what appeared to be them about to engage in sex on their kitchen floor (though Marvel clarified they were just “swapping spit.”)  Now with “Spider-Man” and Mary Jane's “new-found romance,” Marvel’s on the verge of venturing into the same treacherous waters, only a thousand times more turbulent and destructive.  And DC and Marvel wonder why they still have trouble courting female readers.

Amazing Spider-Man #700, p. 42
The one character who doesn’t seem to have his intellect affected in any way is, of course, Doc Ock himself.  Although "Dying Wish" wants you to believe that Spidey and Doc Ock are intellectual equals engaged in a battle of wits, it's Doc Ock who is given every possible advantage to succeed, always presented being one-step ahead of Peter, outsmarting him at every scene, and always having a ready-made contingency plan that literally seems to come from nowhere.  He’s even a better web-slinger than Peter when he creates a giant stuntman-like airbag out of webbing to cushion his and Peter‘s fall from several stories, to which Spidey even wonders why he never thought of doing something like that before.  

Compare this to Peter, who becomes so desperate to stop Doc Ock he abandons his vow of using not resorting to attempted murder, resigned to the idea that his life as Spider-Man is over no matter what the outcome.  By the time Peter tries to use the gold octobot to get his body back only to learn Doc Ock has conveniently protected the back of his skull with armor plating hidden underneath the Spidey mask, it’s excessive salt poured into an already festering wound.  The message is obvious: Doc Ock not only thinks he’s a better Spider-Man than Peter, he actually is one. 

Furthermore, one cannot help but conclude that Slott identifies more with Doc Ock in this story than the titular character of the comic he’s been writing for.  And if you think I’m exaggerating, consider the following quote Slott gave to USA Today:

"Doc is kinda like me: He's short and schlubby. This is a guy who now gets to be in the body of Peter Parker. This opens up whole new things."
Now there's nothing wrong with identifying oneself with a fictional character; readers, as well as writers, do this all the time.  Also, every character in a fictional work contains some element of the author in them.  Unfortunately, identifying with a character too much runs the risk of having those characters labeled as “Mary Sues."  Based on how “Dying Wish” has played out, Doc Ock as the new Spider-Man is already dangerously close to becoming just that.  I also find it particularly odd that Slott would identify more with Doc Ock than the titular character he's been writing about for the past five years.

As for Peter's demise, comparisons to Brain Michael Bendis’ “The Death of Spider-Man” in Ultimate Spider-Man are unavoidable.  In that story, Peter, even though wounded and with his secret identity exposed, nevertheless stands up to the Green Goblin and protects the people he loves with every last breath, refusing to even entertain the possibility that all is lost.  In the end, he is properly mourned, having made peace with himself and made amends for failing to save his Uncle Ben, and is finally recognized as the genuine hero we readers always knew him to be.  

By contrast to Amazing Spider-Man #700, one cannot help but think that Peter goes out like a complete chump.  Yes, the issue tries to make the point that Peter, his surrogate body utterly broken, has exhausted all other options and has no cards left to play, except he's been dealt a loaded deck from the start.  Moreover, when one thinks of the oft repeated scene of Spider-Man trapped underneath tons of debris, using all of his strength and will to free himself, knowing he has people who depend and count upon him, it doesn't ring true this same person would just abandon all hope and quit as he does here.  The only reason why he even has one last card to play is due to a deus ex machina rather than by anything of his own merit.

Amazing Spider-Man #700, p. 49
This occurs when Peter's life literally starts to flash before his eyes, and that because the gold octobot is establishing a wi-fi link between their minds, Doc Ock begins to experience Peter's memories as if he himself had lived them.  From this scene, we're supposed to understand that because Doc Ock has now essentially lived and felt Peter's life within a matter of seconds that he has somehow seen the error of his ways.  We’re supposed to take away from these issue’s final pages that Doc Ock, having been forgiven for his actions by his mortal enemy, will now follow in that enemy's footsteps on a path of personal redemption.  And it all rings hollow.  For even though Doc Ock promises he will carry on Peter’s legacy, to no longer be a villain and to protect the people Peter loves, he isn't so much motivated by the words of “with great power comes great responsibility” bur rather spite, envy, and self-loathing, fueled by a desire to outperform the late Peter Parker in every respect.  

Nor, as we see in the follow-up to this story, Avenging Spider-Man #15.1, does Doc Ock express any sense of remorse or regret over having been responsible for Peter’s death--he actually laughs in triumph over having finally defeated him.  It’s also rather telling that someone who is supposed to have learned the value of human life and the virtues of heroism makes no effort to try to save the person who taught him those lessons.  Moreover, this new Spider-Man will continue to use and manipulate every one of Peter’s friends, family and loved ones as they remain oblivious to the person they really cared about is no more.  Some "hero" this is shaping up to be.

This also raises the question as to why Peter would be so willing to forgive and trust Doc Ock merely because he played for him his own “greatest hits?”  After all, Peter never forgave the Green Goblin for killing Gwen Stacy and the Lizard for eating his own son; yet here, he’s willing to let bygones be bygones to someone who, in shown his previous appearance, threatened every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth, who wanted to go down as “the greatest mass murderer of all time.”  Furthermore, why would an egotistical megalomanic like Doc Ock,
prior to his eventual "conversion," even want to take over the body of Spider-Man, much less pretend to be him?  Even if it was to save his own life, wouldn’t he find the act of essentially becoming both Peter and Spider-Man degrading, especially since everything he would be doing as both Peter and Spider-Man would be giving them “credit” for his own accomplishments?  Considering how Amazing Spider-Man #699 reveals one of Doc Ock’s contingency plans was creating “robotic duplicates” one has to wonder why (other than because the plot said so) didn’t he just transplant his mind into one of those instead and save us the trouble.         

Amazing Spider-Man #700, p. 12
Is there anything at all to like about “Dying Wish” and Amazing Spider-Man #700?  As a matter of fact, yes.  While artist Humberto Ramos is an acquired taste, this is, in my opinion, some of his best work, and that even though the character design choices are sketchy, the way he depicts the action sequences and panel layouts is comprehensible and fluid.  Every scene Slott writes with J. Jonah Jameson is also pure gold, with his standing up to the Scorpion being the high point, reminding readers that, for all of his bluster, he cares enough to lay his life on the line for his family.  I also particularly liked the ironic role-reversal in that Jonah finally recognizes "Spider-Man" as a hero, unaware that he is now championing Doc Ock who, hours earlier, Jonah had branded a failure and a loser.  Finally, Peter’s momentary out-of-body experience where he encounters all the people who have died over the course of the series, including his parents and Gwen Stacy (although I find it rather dubious that the Rhino is also in Heaven) is touching, and Peter's obligatory reunion with Uncle Ben is quite poignant, already preparing the reader for Peter's adventures as Spider-Man to have a genuine sense of finality.

Contrary to how Marvel is promoting this issue and forthcoming Superior Spider-Man, I'm not operating under any illusions that Peter Parker will be gone for good.  Too many comics, movies, cartoons, video games and toys showing a Spider-Man who is still Peter Parker suggest otherwise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the comics have Peter make a “triumphant and miraculous” return just in time for 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Also, I don’t see how a status quo such as this could be in any way sustainable.  During the Clone Saga of the 1990s, Marvel was forced to explain to confused readers who “Ben Reilly” was, how he was really the real Peter and that the Peter they followed for so many years was really a clone.  Here, we'll be  having a series staring a character who looks like Peter, has the same memories as Peter, who everyone believes is Peter, but who is in fact not Peter but Doc Ock.  Once again, Marvel faces the undoubting task of having to constantly explain what happened--why Doc Ock is now Spider-Man, how he got into Peter’s body, why he’s a good guy and what happened to the real Spider-Man--instead of moving forward.

Can a new Spider-Man series in which the protagonist is one of his villains who killed the original be successful?  As I said earlier, the concept behind Superior Spider-Man allows for some interesting stories.  Also Doctor Octopus is a great villain and, in my opinion, a much more fitting arch-nemesis for Spider-Man than Norman Osborn. However, the qualities that make Doc Ock a great villain also don’t necessarily make him into a potentially great hero, much less a "Superior" Spider-Man. There's a reason fans have identified and rooted for Peter Parker these 50 years.  Aside from being a superhero, Peter had to make ends meet, pay to bills on time, take care of his family, search for love and friendship--all the things we regular people have to deal with everyday. We saw Peter as one of us. 

Amazing Spider-Man #700, p. 51
Doc Ock, however, is an arrogant, petulant mad scientist who we can't wait to see his ass get beat so we can relish in his defeat. When bad things happen to him, we don't laugh with him and share his occasional misfortune like we do with Peter; we laugh at him because he deserves to lose and be humiliated for what he brought upon himself. To make such a character the "hero" of the story doesn't just mean you have to somehow turn a guy you loved to hate into object of pity, you also have to diminish all the qualities that made him such a great villain in the first place.

Regardless of our own personal feelings, however, we must except that what is done is done.  This is Dan Slott’s turn at the helm, and Marvel has put a lot of faith in him to tell this provocative spin on their flagship character.  And yet, no matter how hard I try to be rational and soothe the comic book "fanboy" within me, I cannot help but be reminded of how my first ever comic book was an issue of Spider-Man.  How Spider-Man was the first costume I wore for Halloween--not a store-bought knock-off, mind you, but handmade by my mom.  How I collected the Spider-Man newspaper strips to make my own “comic books,” or how I drew my own Spider-Man action figures.  How I used to wake up early every Saturday morning to watch “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends” or reruns of the Nicolas Hammond made-for-TV movies.  How I followed his adventures through the Black Costume Saga to "Kraven’s Last Hunt," from robotic parents to crazy clones, and from wedded bliss to an annulment made via a Faustian pact, through the good and the bad.  Very bad, at times, but mostly very, very good.

Yes, my rational side reminds me that nothing's set in stone as far as comics are concerned, that Peter Parker is too big of a character to stay gone forever and fade away into obscurity.  That Marvel knows exactly what they are doing.  Even so, the “fanboy” in me cannot help but think, “Spider-Man deserved so much better.  And so did his fans.”

AUTHOR'S NOTE: In an earlier draft of this article regarding Dan Slott's identification with Doctor Octopus, I made what could be interpreted as a disparaging remark which wasn't my intention. This, having been brought to my attention and pointed out how this made me sound like a jerk, I've decided to edit out the comment upon careful reflection. Apologies to Mr. Slott in advance.
Avenging Spider-Man #15.1, p. 2

1 If you're curious, Spiderfan.org offers quite an impressive list of all the times Spider-Man has died in both mainstream and alternate timelines.
Yes, Marvel officially "cancelled" Amazing Spider-Man in 1998 with issue #441 as part of it's "Final Chapter" story, only to relaunch the title with a new first issue about a month later.
As seen in "Spider-Man: The Other"
Amazing Spider-Man #666 to #673
Amazing Spider-Man #682 to 687
Amazing Spider-Man #602 to 604