As death of a superhero stories go, this one takes the cake. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” ends with Issue 700, “Dying Wish: Suicide Run,” and gives us what would seem an ironclad end to the Spider-Man we’ve known since 1962! We had recently seen a death of Peter Parker in “Ultimate Spider-Man,” but not until now do all die-hard fans really gasp in astonishment at the end of an era. Spider-Man’s odometer is being rolled back in such a really big way, above and beyond a new origin shake-up like the “New 52” reboot at DC Comics. And there lies the beauty in what Marvel Comics is currently doing. All readers should appreciate the big changeover that will leave any true believer wondering what will happen next. If you can’t stand any form of spoiler, stop now. But, if you are at all familiar with Spider-Man and are cool with discussing this issue in depth, then read on.
The choice of villain is interesting. Doctor Octopus is classic. While the Green Goblin would have been sweet, Doc Ock makes a perfect rival to switch roles with Spider-Man. There’s a thoughtful side to the good doctor, right? That is essential for this story to make any sense. Dan Slott’s script has fun with the gray area of being a bad guy. Doc Ock is only doing what comes natural, attempting to thwart, even kill, Spider-Man! But, this time, he has truly gone too far, playing with the very fabric of reality, of existence. Yeah, it gets deep. No one said it was going to be easy for Otto Octavius to go all “Freaky Friday” on Spider-Man and himself. The comics industry these days, particularly those publishers heavily invested in superheroes, DC Comics and Marvel Comics, have to always be careful about remaining fresh and relevant. The whole print/digital dynamic has been a challenge. It’s never easy to steer in the right direction. And you can’t expect good results if you force them. While not a silver bullet, a superhero death story can be quite liberating and result in something inspiring.
In recent years, the character of Peter Parker, and his world, has fallen into the trap of naturalism, being depicted as too real, instead of flexible fiction, full of potential, moving a story forward. Peter Parker is not real so he doesn’t need a swank bachelor pad in Tribeca. J. Jonah Jameson is not real so he doesn’t need to go from being editor-in-chief of The Daily Bugle to being mayor of New York City. It makes sense that Peter Parker would own a laptop in the 21st century but it is not obligatory either. In the end, give Peter Parker a purpose and don’t worry about the laptop. Smoothing out the edges to Peter Parker is deadening a character meant to remain on the fringe. Once that process has begun, isn’t your character basically already dead? One misstep leads to another. “One More Day” leads to “Brand New Day.” But hope springs eternal. Peter Parker remains a work in progress.
With Doctor Octopus taking over the role, the very body, of Spider-Man, we have a huge conflict. We have lift-off! We have a story! How long can such an outrageous situation last? Don’t worry about that, fanboy! Instead, enjoy the ride! The next issue of the flagship Spider-Man title is no longer “The Amazing Spider-Man.” It will be called, what sounds temporary (or is it permanent?), “Superior Spider-Man.” Maybe we’re entering a whole new world or maybe we’re coming up to the very edge of it. If Grant Morrison were given a shot at it, you can rest assured he would make a very viable case to never look back. We’ll just have to see what Dan Slott has in store.
By all outward appearances, the action and the artwork (Humberto Ramos, pencils; Victor Olazaba, inks; Edgar Delgado, colors), is all Spider-Man goodness, a first class act in a nicely honed house style. We begin with Peter Parker ensconced in all the trappings of a successful young man: beautiful girl, career, and apartment. Everything has a nice slick appeal, the Spider-Man vibe we’ve become accustomed to as of late. But then the plot thickens. Peter is abusive to Mary Jane. Something is terribly wrong. Inversely, back at Doc Ock’s secret lair, the boss is acting too soft among his henchmen, all concerned about no one getting killed in their pursuit of Spider-Man.
The role reversal builds beautifully. Yes, these two have undergone a “mind swap” and that’s no small potatoes. There are severe consequences for that kind of spooky voodoo. You’ve got the bad guy acting like a good guy; and you’ve got the good guy acting like a bad guy. It can’t be helped! Mind swap! Then it gets more interesting. Each of the character’s memories housed in their brains take over. Even though Doc Ock’s mind is inside the body of Peter Parker, the essence of Peter Parker manages to prevail. Doc Ock is compelled to identify with Peter Parker, to want to be Peter Parker.
You can see why die-hard fans might have a problem with all this. Okay, they’ll accept a superhero death story but this one’s super messed up. How is the real and genuine Peter Parker ever going to be put back together? Well, maybe Doc Ock’s body can be salvaged or maybe, heck I don’t know, maybe Peter Parker managed to transfer his mind to some safe haven we’ll learn about later. Anything is possible. Let’s take this to the extreme. What if something happens similar to what the death of Captain America had wrought upon readers: an allegiance to a new leader! It wasn’t that long ago that readers were starting to get really comfortable with Cap’s sidekick, Bucky Barnes, as the new Cap. It took a lot of soul-searching, willingness to embark on new adventures, before we saw the return of Steve Rogers. Well, maybe this won’t be quite as stellar a journey but it should end up being an intriguing trip. It wasn’t just to sell comic books, was it? Okay, it was definitely to sell comic books but maybe it will open up a new path.
Doc Ock, or whatever Spider-Man has turned into, compelled to redeem himself and outdo Spider-Man, should be a first-rate story. The day will come when the true Peter Parker will rise up and take back his rightful place. It may seem like a lifetime away for some fans but it’s a good thing. Instead of concerning ourselves with making Peter Parker’s “life” more relevant and comfortable, we’re cracking some eggs on our way to a better omelet. For now, that omelet is not Peter Parker back intact. That omelet is a new compelling Spider-Man story. It is also a way to buy some time because, even after it’s all sorted out and we have the “real” Peter Parker back, Marvel Comics still needs to ask itself who that Peter Parker really is.
Visit Marvel Comics. “Superior Spider-Man” comes out January 9, 2013.