Posted December 30, 2012 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Comics

A Spider-Fan’s Thoughts on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700

Let’s get this out of the way as early as now – yes, Peter Parker WILL be back, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve been reading comics ever since I learned how to read, so believe me, I’ve already heard the “he’ll be back” argument time and again, and to that, I say, “I KNOW.” Hell, I give this two years, tops. I’ll admit, I am pissed about Parker getting killed off, but the inevitability of his return should make it abundantly clear that the main point of contention here is NOT the death itself, but HOW it happened, and WHO replaced him.

Evil has won.

As of Amazing Spider-Man #700, the Peter Parker we’ve known, laughed with, and loved for 50 years (not counting the Ben Reilly era, of course) is dead. This is hardly the first time the webslinging hero has died in the comics – off the top of my head, he has already had at least 4 canon deaths. This particular instance, however, is significant for quite a few reasons.

One, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise, and also gives us the landmark 700th issue of the long-running Amazing Spider-Man comic book series. Two, the build-up for this death was strong and powerful, to say the least – Amazing Spider-Man #698 remains one of the most brilliantly-written comics I’ve ever read, and really raised expectations. This, coupled with Marvel’s – and the writer, Dan Slott’s – tight-lipped policy on the outcome of the story made the announcement of the series’ cancellation with issue 700 a real kick in the figurative testicles. This brings us to the third reason: with the cancellation of Amazing comes a new series in January, Superior Spider-Man, marketed as starring someone who “isn’t Peter Parker” as the new Spider-Man. Many people – myself included – speculated that it would be fan-favorite Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of the dystopian world of 2099. Others thought it would be the introduction of the Ultimate universe counterpart of Spider-Man, Miles Morales, into 616 continuity. Unfortunately, as the conclusion of Dying Wish revealed, the new, Superior Spider-Man is none other than Dr. Otto Octavius. He transferred his consciousness into Peter Parker’s brain, in turn trapping Parker in HIS withering body until he died due to complications from years of running afoul of super-powered beings.

I’ve decided to scrap the idea of writing a review for Amazing Spider-Man #700, for up to now, I remain undecided as to how I should evaluate it. It’s certainly moving, powerful, and emotional. It has an air of finality and despair that allows the comic to truly live up to its promise of being the other bookend to Peter Parker’s story. The back-up stories are also a nice touch – I’m particularly fond of the one written by J.M. de Matteis – and the letters column answered by Stan Lee made me wish I’d written in as well. The brain switch and eventual triumph of Doc Ock is also a bold move – one that, when done with a character not as prominent as Spider-Man, or perhaps even as the premise of a new character, would probably rake in praise and applause for being revolutionary and brave, and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale environment.

However, there are way too many problems I could not get over about the comic in question, and believe me, the death of Peter Parker is just the tip of the iceberg.

Died As He Lived – Parker Luck

A lot of people I’ve talked to feel that this is not the ending Peter deserves. (Let’s ignore the fact that he’ll inevitably come back and focus on the events at hand – if we dismiss every death in comics as a reversible publicity move, then we are missing the point of reading comics in the first place.) I find myself agreeing with them. Blame it on the bias and on the fact that I’ve been a fan of Spider-Man since I was in kindergarten, but I really would have preferred a more heroic and glorious end for Peter. True, one can argue that Peter convincing Ock to carry on as Spider-Man in his stead is a solid moral victory for Peter, but that’s a very small consolation in a sea of things gone horribly wrong. Screw Parker luck, this is too much for anyone to swallow. Especially not when stories like Sensational Spider-Man v2 #40 (depicting the possibility of Peter growing old with Mary Jane and having two lovely children) or the alternate reality of Spider-Girl (Peter Parker’s daughter, who inherited his amazing powers) exist.

Peter Parker did not win this one, period.

He LOST, and he lost in the most terrible way possible. One of his greatest enemies managed to switch places with him, with no one else knowing about it, and swore to become a superior version of him, basking in the adulation of the very same people who are booing and jeering at Peter while he lays dying in Ock’s body. Spock (a nickname devised by Spider-fans for Otto Octavius in Peter Parker’s brain) is essentially wearing his skin, doing things in his name and enjoying the love and support of Peter’s relatives and loved ones. Not only does Peter not deserve this, Otto Octavius does not deserve this, either. He does not deserve a second chance. This is not how justice works. After years spent living a life of crime and with so much blood on his hands, Otto Octavius most certainly does not deserve a third* shot at life. A last-minute change of heart does not change things, and it never will. (More on that later.)

The Irredeemable Ock-Man

By turning Doctor Octopus into a man seeking redemption, the long-time Spider-Man villain has inevitably been written into a corner. In terms of character development, he can never and will never be an acceptable substitute for Peter Parker as Spider-Man. He has done way too many unspeakable acts for him to ever be worthy of the title of “hero”. Spock will never be likeable. Never. Any attempt to write him as someone with even a shred of altruism or heroism in his body will definitely be out-of-character for the doctor.

If he stays in the gray area he is supposedly in right now (the desire for redemption fighting his basic urge for self-gratrification), he essentially becomes a redundant member of the Spider-family; we already have TWO morally ambiguous (and well-established) Spider-Men in the form of Kaine as the Scarlet Spider and Flash Thompson as Venom. Kaine is resisting his assassin tendencies and trying to protect the people of his adopted city while adopting a no-nonsense, leave-no-survivors approach to crimefighting. On the other hand, Agent Venom is devoted to fighting for the common good, possessing a value system born out of his hero-worship of Spider-Man and strengthened by his time serving in the U.S. Army. What complicates matters for Agent Venom is the symbiote itself, seeking to gain dominance and growing stronger and more deeply-rooted in Thompson by the minute.

At this point, Spock can neither be good nor evil. He still got where he is now through deception, trickery, and a wanton disregard for the sanctity of life, so it’s pretty safe to assume that he will never be a true super-hero. There is karma of cosmic-level proportions waiting for him, that’s for sure. Besides, they already did a masterfully-written story on how a villain replaces Peter and does a better and scarier job at being Spider-Man than him, and it’s called Kraven’s Last Hunt.

There is also the problem of where Doc Ock’s place will be once Peter Parker returns. Obviously, he will not and should not be allowed to continue as Spider-Man. However, by that time, whatever character development he would have already gained as the Superior Spider-Man will make any attempt to return to villainy utterly cheap, and will effectively neutralize whatever point Superior Spider-Man had in the first place. Ergo, you are left with a character who can neither be hero nor villain; a character who is most likely better off dead (oh, the irony).

What, then, is Spock’s place in the Spider-Man mythos? “Rough justice” (Kaine) and “control” (Flash Thompson) are already taken. What’s going to be his thing, arrogance? Why would anyone want to root for an arrogant pretender who has yet to pay for all of his crimes? Dan Slott even goes as far as to compare Ock’s replacement of Parker to the legacies of characters such as DC’s Green Lantern andthe Flash; such an analogy does not work in this case for the sole reason that most legacy heroes do not usually pass the mantle on to morally-dubious characters, and especially not to killers and wanted felons.

Mind Your Own Business

The mechanics and specifics of the mind swapping bother me greatly, as well.

I’m not even sure how events unfolded as they did, as if it were an actual brain swap, neither party should have access to the other’s memories AND their own at the same time. It’s one or the other. Treating the consciousness as something that can absorb the memories of whichever host it finds itself in (original or not) implies that (1) it exists as a separate entity from the brain itself and (2) memories are indeed nothing but messages relayed from one point to another inside the brain (the hard drive, if you will). By that logic, a consciousness traveling from one brain to another should not even retain any memories from its origin, meaning a brain swap would be pointless in the first place. Behavior, instincts, and mannerisms would probably be transferred, but not facts or details that require memorization (one’s own name, for example).

On the other hand, following this logic, a consciousness that travels to a different brain while retaining memories from its previous host would essentially find itself in an empty house after it gets moved, as the consciousness originally residing in the brain the new consciousness traveled to should logically carry its own memories with it as it moves, like luggage. Ergo, Ock in Peter’s brain should have played out as an arrogant Peter who is completely unaware of anything about Peter’s supporting cast that goes beyond information that would be within the reasonable boundaries of what a villain like Doctor Octopus could know. I would have actually embraced the idea of Ock in Peter’s body frantically doing research on each and every member of Peter’s supporting cast just to keep up the ruse. Having every detail of Peter’s life handed to him on a silver platter is not only a little too convenient, it also hardly makes any sense.

That said, I believe that the vision of Heaven supposedly experienced by Peter in Ock’s body should not have been possible as well. This is because I don’t think it was an actual vision of Heaven, but rather a manifestation of Peter’s subconscious. The evidence? The Rhino and Silver Sable are present in his vision, when neither have yet to be confirmed as dead in the comics. Peter saw them there because he thought they were dead, and therefore should be there. The vision was most likely nothing but a dream. Once again, however, how could it have been possible for Peter to remember all of his dearly departed friends if his memory still resides in the brain that Doc Ock is currently occupying?

The Not-So-Amazing Peter Octavius

Dying Wish was essentially Peter being outsmarted at every turn by Doc Ock (even with the advantage of Peter having access to Doc Ock’s memories) and ultimately leaving the protection of the city and his loved ones to his hated foe, out of desperation. We are treated to a Doc Ock who has pretty much taken the kid gloves off, being true to his words from Amazing Spider-Man #687 about possessing the superior intellect between him and Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the story arc gives a little too much credit to Doc Ock, and the villain inevitably becomes an unbeatable Mary Sue. Peter complementing him in his head for using webbing in a way that he supposedly never thought of was the final nail in the coffin.

Another thing that strikes me here as disappointing is Peter’s lack of competence as Doc Ock. For example, the sequence with Carlie Cooper could have been resolved in a better way. Had he, instead of telling her about his civilian identity, recounted to her the story behind the Spider-tattoo on her hip (from Amazing Spider-Man #660), I daresay she would have been more likely to believe him. After all, the tattoo story is something both too intimate and too insignificant for anyone apart from Peter Parker and herself to know.

Sure, we can chalk it up to Real-Peter panicking and his body failing, but Spock anticipating his every move was bordering on ridiculous. The carbonadium plating that Doc Ock developed literally at the last minute is too much to swallow, and it becomes painfully apparent that the writer’s favorite character is indeed none other than Doc Ock. This also leaves you with the impression that Doc Ock’s victory might even be partly wish fulfillment; the character is granted the ability to escape his current state and take the life of a pre-established hero without immediate consequences.  The shared near-death experience by Peter and Otto is the device used to initiate Otto’s conversion from archenemy to successor. However, I find it very hard to believe that an arrogant genius who has spent the majority of his life living with a certain mindset would yield to another point of view just because of what basically amounts to a PowerPoint version of This Is Your LifeAvenging Spider-Man #15.1, the epilogue to Dying Wish, does make things easier to bear, though; it establishes that while the lesson of power and responsibility has made its mark on Spock, his superiority complex remains his center, and will no doubt define his career as the new Spider-Man.

Here’s another stray variable in the equation: Doc Ock had already been faced with the option of letting his most hated foe die, way back in Spectacular Spider-Man #221. The course of action he took? He saved Spider-Man’s life, realizing that without Spider-Man to act as the Yin to his Yang, he would have no other purpose in life. This is a far cry from what happened in Dying Wish. I guess we can attribute it to people’s priorities changing, or something along those lines. Also, to be fair, Doc Ock was in no danger of dying in the story in Spectacular (even though he ends up dying at the hands of Kaine anyway); the stakes are definitely higher here.

Long Live the Superior Spider-Man

In an interview with USA Today, Slott claims that the idea of the very readership being against Superior Spider-Man is, in a very meta sense, as Spider-Man as Spider-Man can get.  The problem with this analogy is that the reader, as omniscient observer, was well aware of the fact that, despite all of the negative press the original Spider-Man got in his world, he was truly a hero. It is this same status as all-knowing watcher that hammers the point home – Otto Octavius was a villain and has always been one. We, the readers, are not opposed to him because we think he’s a menace; we’re opposed to him because he IS a menace. This is not a case of bad publicity ruining the reputation of a hero – this is pure evil, looking at you through the eyes of an old friend.

There are many theories going around about how Peter Parker will return. Some say that the golden Octobot still has his brain patterns, which will serve as the blueprints for his restoration. Others believe that what truly occured was not a brain swap but merely hypnotic suggestion; it’s still Peter Parker in the driver’s seat,  believing that he’s Otto Octavius. Still, others claim that Peter’s consciousness still resides in his brain, and that this will lead to an ongoing power struggle between spider and octopus inside the Superior Spider-Man’s head.

Dan Slott has said that when the first issue of Superior Spider-Man comes out, all will be revealed, and the people who were pissed about December’s events would get an understanding as to where things are going, and will breathe a collective sigh of relief. At this point, all we can do is speculate on the eventual fates of both Ock and Peter, and anticipate the day when Superior Spider-Man #1 hits the stands.

I, for one, will be reading Superior Spider-Man in spite of my distaste for the way Peter Parker’s story ended. I’m not going to read it because I’m hoping to see Spock fail, though; I’ll be reading it because I know he’ll fail, and I want to be there when he does.


*Otto was killed by Kaine in the ’90s, but was resurrected after a year (I think), because lol comics.

Mikael Angelo Francisco