(a) Humberto Ramos
“Spider-Man is Doctor Octopus now.”
“What does that mean?”
“Doc Ock switched his mind with Peter Parker’s, Doc Ock’s body was about to shut down, and Peter had no way to escape. Now Peter Parker is dead and Doctor Octopus is running around in Spider-Man’s body.”
“So, Spider-Man’s going to be a villain now?”
“No. Doc Ock’s psychic ‘mind meld’ of sorts with Peter made him truly understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Since he’s Spider-Man now, Doc Ock wants to be a better Spider-Man than Peter ever was.”
“Sounds like Marvel’s kind of running out of ideas.”
This was the conversation I had with a friend of mine who doesn’t read comic books. Yes, when the news was leaked about the big twist of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I read it. As a journalist (and of course, this is not true for all writers), I find that a ‘big reveal’ in and of itself isn’t the big news–everyone gets the same issue and sees the same twist happen. No, the most interesting part about a big twist in comic books is how much it affects the readers. I told my friend what was happening in The Amazing Spider-Man because whether you read comic books or not, you more than likely know who Spider-Man is and that he has an enemy named Doctor Octopus. Obviously, a non-reader is going to be bored by a plot summary of Siege or Blackest Night. But Spider-Man? It’s a character–and, quite frankly, a franchise–that enough people are familiar with, that a change in the title’s status quo actually gets mainstream media coverage. This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always for something that changes the way we see classic characters that have been around for 40, 50, or 60 years.
In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, that change comes with the apparent death of Peter Parker. My favorite glossed-over detail is that Brian Michael Bendis did this over a year ago in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. The timing of this is important for a number of reasons. The first is that Marvel very much hyped up Peter Parker’s death in 2011, making a huge spectacle of it by spreading it’s influence across most of the Ultimate comics at the time. The second is that, in a very real way, many Ultimate Spider-Man fans felt a personal connection to the loss of a character they followed for ten years as Marvel established and cultivated a brand new comic book universe. The third is that Bendis had a concrete plan for what was to come after Peter’s death. These reasons, and more, formed one of the most poignant and emotional deaths in Marvel’s history. Dan Slott has been writing The Amazing Spider-Man for a long time, and over the course of his run, he’s built up the relationship between Spidey and Doc Ock to a point where something like a brain switch between the two characters could be more likely than a number of other ways Peter Parker could meet his apparent demise. But this is precisely what makes The Amazing Spider-Man #700 such a failure as a Spider-Man comic book.
Metafiction is great when it’s applied correctly. In the case of NBC’s low-rated yet critically lauded Community, pop culture aficionado Abed Nadir acts as a bridge between our world and the kooky, slightly-warped universe of Greendale Community College. Here, the metafiction makes sense because Abed is obsessed with TV, movies, video games, social media, and pretty much everything else in our modern lives. His obsession contextualizes how often the show brushes up against surreality.
The concept of Doc Ock as the new Spider-Man is, in and of itself, a huge act of metafiction simply for metafiction’s sake. Spider-Man’s crux, for most of his 50-year history, is that Peter Parker is a wonderful, caring, kind, thoughtful, brave individual that the world population regards with skepticism and distrust. The readers always knew Peter was a true hero, while the rest of the world saw him as a menace. Though, in recent years, being a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four (for a short time during Johnny Storm’s death) has done wonders for his reputation, meaning that slowly, the population of the Marvel universe has come to know and believe in New York’s wall-crawler as the hero he’s strived to be since his Uncle Ben was murdered. Now, the tables are literally turned. We the readers know that the menace known as Doctor Octopus is inhabiting Peter’s body, while the Marvel universe at-large still believes it’s business as usual under Spidey’s webbed mask.
As my friend so eloquently put it: Marvel is running out of ideas. Dan Slott, Joe Quesada, and Axel Alonso (along with whoever else at Marvel will talk about it) will go on record more than once to defend this massive change in status quo–Thou dost protest too much, methinks. Fans and critics will identify the ‘comic book cliche’ and insist that this change won’t be permanent. This is just background noise. What does it matter if it’s not permanent? What matters is how this comic book was written, why it was written so, how the issue pays homage/honors the past 50 years of Spider-Man comics, and how it affects readers. In all of these instances, Slott has come up short with The Amazing Spider-Man #700. Instead of feeling like the grandiose, epic issue this should have been, we got Doc Ock running around in Peter Parker’s body, a small cadre of C-list Spidey villains, and a half-hearted attempt to shake things up.
This brain switch story should have been simply that: a story. In Slott’s hands, the idea grew from what could have easily and interestingly been a good mini-series or run on ASM, to a media stunt designed to sell books without thought to the consequences. And yes, I know that Marvel’s creative types probably had dozens of hours of meetings to discuss this whole situation, and I’m sure they went over it as many times as they could before agreeing it would work. Unfortunately, Stockholm syndrome is not a viable excuse for needlessly and meaninglessly get rid of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.
All that being said, I’m excited for The Superior Spider-Man. After some frustrating hours after reading The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I eventually came to accept that this is what’s happening–Doc Ock is Spider-Man and that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future. So, in the spirit of diminished expectations, I read Avenging Spider-Man #15.1, an issue that’s almost necessary to see how Otto Octavius truly morphs into a superior Spider-Man. Then I realized that I shouldn’t need to have read Avenging Spider-Man to get the whole story, I shouldn’t be required to purchase yet another book that, arguably, has some of the most important sequences from this sprawling narrative. In the end, it became glaringly apparent that Dan Slott’s The Amazing Spider-Man #700 was a huge letdown. Slott’s literal words aren’t terrible, and the dialogue is usually organic and natural for whatever situation Spidey gets into. It’s the bigger picture that Slott misses, and it’s painfully obvious throughout the entire issue.
The forest is burning and Slott is only focused on one tree at a time.