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The Amazingly Superior Spider-man is neither Amazing nor Superior, Discuss

SPOILER WARNING

I’m going on a little bit of a rant here true-believers, so if you haven’t read the last few issues of TASM and don’t want to know what happens, turn back right Marvel NOW!

The Amazing Spiderman Doc Ock CoverAs you may have heard, Marvel is in the process of giving their characters a fresh start in the the mega-event Marvel NOW! Coinciding with this event is the seven-hundredth issue of The Amazing Spider-man, the web-slinger’s first regular, monthly title which began in 1963. Marvel is now (see what I did there?) ending that streak on a nice round number. Less than two years after killing off ‘Ultimate’ Spider-man, they are stickin’ it to poor Peter Parker and laying him to rest once again.  I have always given my best effort to approach these big sensationalist events in the Marvel Universe with an open mind, and can appreciate the fact that these characters have been around for 50+ years and it’s tough to keep things fresh, but Marvel, dude, I think a web line has been crossed here.

Let’s go over the course of events that have lead to the big finale. I knew that this was going to be a controversial ending and I wanted a little bit of context, so I started with issue #698 and #699 before nabbing the whopping eight dollar #700. As of #698, Doc Ock is withering away and dying in prison. When Octavius is believed to be moments away from death, he calls for a meeting with Spider-man. Once Spider-man is at his bedside (it sounds weird already right?) it is revealed that it is Peter Parker who is actually in Otto Octavius’ sickly and dying body and that Otto is in Peter Parker’s body a la Freaky Friday.  After a series of chases and fights, we start to think that Peter might pull off the switch and get his body back, but time runs out and he dies in Ock’s body. Before he does though, he somehow gives Otto his memories and we see all of the iconic moments in Spider-man’s fifty year history pass through Otto’s mind. Naturally, that leads him to want to be a hero. Not only does he want to do good, he declares he wants to be a better, Superior Spider-man and one-up the poor, departed Peter Parker.

Spiderman death of Peter Parker as Doc Ock

I half expected him to break into song singing “Anything you can do, I can do better….” Let’s break down why this plot-line is problematic into three main areas:

Otto’s turn from the dark side happens too abruptly

Throughout these three issues, Octavius is a complete dick. He’s still acts and speaks like a very traditional villain. This Freaky Friday switch is all part of his evil plan, which he succeeds at. The villain wins. I couldn’t understand the character change that was supposed to be happening with Otto. He sees all of Peter’s memories and feelings that shaped him into Spider-man which ends up being a really round-about way of saying “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”. The reason I don’t buy this as a believable cause for Otto’s change is that he’s always had great power (what with his intelligence and robotic arms), but he still chose to be a stealing, murdering mad-man. So why the change of heart now? Doc Ock has always been out for himself.

The equivalent would be if Osama Bin Laden assumed Obama’s identity and memories and said “You know what?  I see where this guy’s coming from, God Bless America!”

Now it’s not really the concept I have a problem with. I find the idea of a villain taking up the mantle of Spider-man after Peter Parker dies quite interesting. The idea that it’s a classic, iconic Spidey villain who has switched brains with the real Spider-man and is posing as Peter, that’s a bit more awkward from a story point of view. Which leads me to my next exciting point…

With Great Power Comes Great Relatability

For my money, this is the big one. This is what has made Spider-man one of Marvel’s most endearing heroes for the last five decades. The reason we all dig Peter Parker so much is that he’s one of us. The every man. He’s got problems just like the rest of us: Bills, money, school, work, family issues, girl trouble, social awkwardness and on top of all of that, he’s got the monumental task of being a super-hero trading blows with super villains. You take that away and you’ve taken the wind out of Spider-man’s sails (made of webbing, of course). The character loses the heart of his appeal, and it’s not quite as easy to root for the ‘ol webhead. With a former villain now parading around in the body of his mortal enemy, essentially lying to all of Peter’s friends and family, it’s more difficult to relate and care behind the dude under the mask. On top of being a villain from his inception up until about five minutes ago, Octavious is kind of a douche. He’s arrogant, cocky, condescending, and emotionally vacant. It’s obvious that this is all the grand tee-off for Otto’s journey to become a hero, but there needs to be some seed of appeal that makes us want to see Ock find his inner friendly neighborhood Spider-man.

Spiderman Crawl

A Fill-in-For-a-Dead-Super-hero Term only lasts a Year

Throughout comic history, every time a major lead character is ‘killed’ off, it has lasted about a year, give or take before said character triumphantly returns as expected via sometimes thinly stretched premise. It’s something that every comic reader now knows and expects. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with what the publishers are doing when they do a “Death of [MAJOR HERO!!] storyline. The idea of taking the main character out of the costume and letting someone else take up the mantle for a period of time can be very interesting and is completely valid. It takes the regular readers out of their comfort zone and keeps things fresh for a little while. What I take issue with is that this move always has to be framed as a ‘Death of…’ mega event. It takes the dramatic weight from the death and eventual ‘resurrection’ of the character because it’s expected. I think a more effective, natural direction would be to just have the character want or be forced to give up being that hero. At this point, it feels like every major character in comics has been killed in some capacity. In the legendary The Amazing Spider-man #50, “Spider-man No More” story, when Peter gives up being a hero (albeit for a little while), it was legendary and memorable because it was believable.

Who knows how this grand experiment will play out. The best way I can sum up my feelings is that I’m simply uncomfortable. It just doesn’t feel like Spider-man, but that seems to be the point. Dan Slott is taking us out of the comfort zone and telling a very different kind of Spider-man story, which has a lot of people up in arms and in the internet world. People have even gone so far as to send Dan Slott death threats via twitter (diabolical…). While I haven’t completely embraced this new Spider-man venture, I am going to be a trooper and stick with it to see how it all pans out. I’ve read a fair amount of older issues from Dan Slott’s run on Spider-man, the most notable being ‘New Ways to Die’ and ‘The Gauntlet’. He clearly understands the character and is a good writer so I can’t help but think there’s gotta to be something to look forward to. The Spider-man team has promised some interesting twists and turns for this book so they’ve got my four bucks each month (for now), so here’s hoping Doc Ock Spider-man takes me for a ride.

Doc Ock Spiderman Memories

For some bonus material, check out this interview from CNN with writer Dan Slott and editor Stephen Wacker. They give some insight behind their decision making and also discuss some of the kickback and death threats via twitter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.hudecek.1 Jeff Hudecek

    Of all the typical, conflict-inducing techniques out there, body swap is among my least favorite. Still, for some reason this one intrigues me. I think the idea is that they’re trying to show that Spiderman’s deeds, his core, would be enough to purify even the most corrupt soul.
    That said, it’s silly.

  • http://twitter.com/HeroesAreBoring Rob Pilkington

    Superior Spider-Man is neither superior nor Spider-Man, discuss.

    Also, yeah: Body swaps. Sigh.

  • Michael Wheeler

    I picked up ASM 700, and have read the first two Superiors, and just no. Really dislike the art, really dislike the writing, really dislike the whole ghost of Peter Parker trying to make itself heard. Body swap can work, but it works a lot better for me when we don’t KNOW that the ‘real’ guy is still in there. If they had Octavius keep seeing Peter? Maybe. But instead the readers know Peter’s really there, and Octavius doesn’t, so WE all know that this is yet another death that doesn’t count.

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