Book of the Week: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700
Warning, full spoilers are inevitable! Please read the actual issue first!
Virtually by default, it had to be this book; neither Marvel or DC released much this week due in part to anticipation for this climatic issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (ASM), the flagship Spider-Man title for generations. 2012 represents not only Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary as a franchise, but also the 10th anniversary of his leap to the big screen with Sony and Sam Raimi’s “SPIDER-MAN”. Not only is this the 700th issue of this flagship title – aided no end by years of double and triple shipping – but it is the finale to solo writer Dan Slott’s most ambitious story arc yet on this title. While the seeds of this yarn began in ASM #600 when it was first revealed that Dr. Octopus was dying and cycled through the “Brand New Day” era of 2008 into the “Big Time” era in winter 2010, it is also the conclusion of “Dying Wish”, the seeming last three issue arc of ASM. Naturally as most triple digit anniversary issues are, it is extra sized and extra priced; the main feature is a 41-42 page yarn by Slott with Humberto Ramos on art, Victor Olazaba on inks and Edgar Delgado on colors. There are two additional stories by two different creative teams, and while they are perfectly fine reads, it is the main story which is the major draw, and thus the major focus of this and most reviews.
Picking up from where the last issue left off, the “dying wish” of Dr. Octopus has been to switch minds with his arch nemesis, Spider-Man. Thus, he’s now in Peter Parker’s body living his life with all his contacts, friends, and powers, leaving the web-slinger to die in Otto Octavius’ mangled body. With only hours left to life, Spidey-as-Ock has managed to escape prison by recruiting some additional super-villains and is attempting to track down his nemesis and true form. This attempt causes him to escalate danger to others in the form of attacks and even a showdown with his ex, police officer Carlie Cooper. Meanwhile, Ock-as-Peter is getting closer to Mary Jane and establishes a final showdown within Avengers tower with all of Spider-Man’s friends and family as unwitting hostages. Every page becomes a life or death struggle as the seconds tic away for the real web-slinger and Ock-as-Peter ups the ante at every turn.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to review this story without mentioning the ending. This is because the shock value of the finale is virtually the entire point of the story itself, as well as the launch of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN next month. The twist is that the reader’s expectation is not provided; Peter Parker seemingly dies within Doc Ock’s mangled form. Octavius remains within Spider-Man’s body with full access to his life. The villain has won, although his victory is Pyrrhic as in discovering what it truly means to be Spider-Man, Ock has gotten a gut full of Peter’s memories and motivations, and above all his devotion towards the protection of life, even of the lowest scoundrel. He thus vows to not be a villain but to instead be a “superior Spider-Man”, thus the cue to a new series. The finale is both shocking and ham-fisted, and while it leads to an interesting premise to a short term ongoing series, one cannot see this as lasting even despite all of Marvel’s editorial moves. The same Marvel which claims this is sticking is also a company which has released two or three UNCANNY X-MEN #1 issues within the last two years. With “AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” hitting theaters in summer 2014, it is probable that things will be sorted out by that point, same as Steve Rogers was seemingly killed off and replaced for 2.5 years, only to return just in time for Marvel Studios’ release of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” in 2011. Regardless, this gives Marvel at least a year and change to run with this status quo, if sales and editorial whim so choose.
An honest review of this, despite Dan Slott’s previous triumphs in large-scale ASM stories such as “Ends of the Earth” and “Spider-Island”, is that this massive story itself is a mixed bag. Ramos performs a yeoman effort in terms of artwork, although some minor signs of rush are evident here and there. In terms of Slott’s script, it naturally has moments of brilliance as well as some moments which there is a sign of rush or potential baiting of the audience. The same fans who have continued to grind an axe over the end of the marriage between Peter and MJ back at the end of 2007 won’t be pleased to see Ock-as-Peter making the moves on her and pursuing a relationship with her. Ock-as-Peter actually deflates MJ a bit by poking out how she seems to exist to perform only one motivational speech, as a possible sign that MJ has done little as a character but support Peter for the past two years. Octavius’ speech patterns are also clearly noticeable to the readers yet nobody in Peter’s cast – such as his aunt May or his former wife/fiance – seems to notice. Seriously, when was the last time Peter referred to anyone as “woman”? While Ock seemed to have access to Peter’s memories within his form back in issue #698, it isn’t until danger comes to May (who he almost married) and he gets zapped by his own “golden octobot” that he grasps that being Spider-Man is more than just fancy powers and a cute supporting cast. To a degree it is similar to the finale of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #12 where Lex Luthor has technically won and arranged Superman’s death, it is a victory which brings with it insight and reformation. Yet it may be difficult to forget that how Marvel’s most iconic superhero died in the body of his arch-nemesis while said arch-nemesis got away with the murder in the superhero’s body and has full access to have creepy date-rape relationships but is guilted into being a better hero, probably. While the short term death of a major superhero has long been a part of the genre, other heroes such as Captain America, Thor, and even James Barnes got more public grief and dignity.
Spider-Man, having reached a half century in print, has naturally come upon the dilemma of most long running franchises. Due to corporate interests and collective nostalgia and audience expectation, it is difficult to escape a status quo for long. To a degree it is perhaps fortunate that Marvel continuity in general was progressive and forward learning from the early 60’s into the 70’s, which allowed Peter to graduate high school, enter college, and have major relationships. Every now and then major stories or stunts have to be done to jazz up the fans and shake things up. The irony is that Slott’s run over the past two years had seemed to do just that without putting the character through a death sequence. While having someone new be Spider-Man isn’t in itself an idea Marvel hasn’t been willing to do in the past – Ben Reilly in the 90’s, Miles Morales in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN recently – it is naturally begging for controversy to have Spidey’s arch nemesis and killer take over the mantle. It is an interesting set up to run with for a short period of time, but even now some fans can already imagine what complicated manner will ultimately be done to undo it, whether one, two, or ten years in the future.
Dan Slott has stated in interviews on websites as well as personal statements at the NYCC 2012 that he expected fans to be outraged after this issue, but that the first arc of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN would clear things up. Thus, it may not be fair to completely judge this until that arc comes. However, the fact remains that this is a very mixed package, mingling brilliance with speedy execution with many potentially creepy scenes to come. Highlights remain the scene in the “afterlife” as well as some of the action and the final motivational bits. Lowlights remain any scene between Ock-as-Peter and MJ alongside with the sheer idea of the true Spider-Man dying alone and unnoticed while his killer moves on to enjoy the life he stole. Beyond any short term outrage is a potentially interesting premise for a new series, although any serious notion that it will be eternal betrays history. The irony of irony is how much Slott’s run has mirrored that of John Bryne and Howard Mackie from 1998-2000, which included Peter becoming a scientist, a seeming death scene and a fresh #1 issue with a brand new Spider-Man. This was hardly the first time Doc Ock figured out who Spider-Man is nor the first time some bizarre gambit has resurrected him from death. It is all a part of the webbed soap opera, even if some of the twists seem to have to become more extreme than the last to make headlines. Slott was right that this was the biggest story he’d ever done, and it’s hardly the worst or best Spider-Man has seen. It is still a mixed bag, which is perhaps not the most ideal springboard for a new spin off series which seeks to inherit ASM’s steady sales.
Even for a short term death, Spider-Man deserved better. Regardless, this was a must read issue with essential material which will be the subject of much discussion for weeks, if not months, to come. Hopefully what follows is as good as Slott promises, and it won’t be long before the true Spider-Man swings again.