In honor of the new year, I finally give my rambling explanation of the recent alterations to the Spiderman franchise and what I think of it.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700, AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #15.1, ETC. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Just to give people one final chance, if you don’t want AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700 spoiled for you, go out and purchase a copy. It’s eight dollars US and is, regardless of its implications, still a very good finale.
Is it just those who have already read ASM 700 or don’t care about spoilers? Good, we can begin.
So at the end of ASM 700, Peter Parker dies (in the mangled body of Doctor Octopus). He is so far as we can tell legitimately deceased, his soul presumably having moved on. Doc Ock now has full, uncontested claim over Peter Parker’s body, and no one knows it. But, as explained in that very issue and in AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #15.1, Otto Octavius hasn’t claimed his prize without cost. In Peter’s final moments, he used a partial connection to his old body to force Otto to experience everything in Peter’s memory; all the ups and downs, all the gains and losses (of which there are many). Basically everything that made Spiderman who he is, Otto now must bear as part of his own “past”. He vowed to not only be a hero – “more or less” as Otto said himself – but to be a “better” Spiderman than Peter was.
A “Superior” Spiderman if you will. This ends the events of these two issues as presented.
So how do I feel about this change? Really, I still don’t know. Though plenty of time has passed to allow the subject to settle, it’s still very early and the shift is so radical as to confound me yet. The entire reason I decided to write this was to string out my thoughts on the matter so as to present it as objectively as possible for others, and simply to help judge my feelings myself.
In an effort not to taint my own opinion, I purposely avoided the views of others it, save for one man whose authority on comics I hold in high regard. And even he said little on the matter, on account of Spiderman being “dead to [him]” since the entire One More Day fiasco.
The possibility that Peter would die and be replaced by Doc Ock was one I foresaw since the beginning of this recent storyline, partly from how the solicitations for Superior Spiderman were hinting at a new Spiderman. The last issue came with no other possible candidates introduced or alluded to – no resurrected Ben Reilly or new Spiderman clone or alternate universe Peter Parker or just some random guy – so if anyone was going to take the spot it was Doc Ock. The possibility didn’t shock me. What shocked me was Marvel going through with it.
Suddenly a lot of doors are closed. The popular consciousness of Spiderman is that he’s Peter Parker, not Doc Ock in Peter’s body. I know Sony holds the rights to Spiderman films, so Marvel has no direct control of that. But so many television shows are out of date or rendered invalid now that Spiderman is so radically changed. Brand synergy is a problem every comic publisher needs to address, and this change violently harms Marvel’s. It reminds me of how DC, as a part of their reboot, changed Beast Boy of the Teen Titans from green to red furred, in accordance with Animal Man and its association of red with the animal kingdom. Except now fans of the Teen Titans animated series are left out in the cold, and they make up a massive untapped potential fanbase DC snubbed. That’s what this looks like to me. Marvel throwing away valuable brand synergy.
So what does this mean for the stories themselves? One the one hand, it won’t be as difficult to integrate the new version of Spiderman into existing stories. Otto (hence called Otto Parker or Ottoman, or something similarly derogatory) knows everything Peter did, so he won’t just slip up on some stupid thing. There won’t be any awful stories where Otto gets into wacky antics because of some obscure thing only Peter would remember. Then again, Otto isn’t Peter Parker. He was previously a supervillain, so there’s always going to be that subtle element of darkness in the character, and there will most certainly be stories about people around Spiderman reacting to their “friend’s” new attitude. But on the other hand, the entire point of ASM 700 and Avenging Spiderman 15.1 was to illustrate that, although Otto Octavius is in the driver’s seat, he’s still got all of Peter’s road maps. He isn’t necessarily going to disregard doing good when it presents itself, just take a different track to it.
In one way this is good. Exploring the methods of a Spiderman can lead to different types of stories, as can the possibility of Ottoman learning how to be Spiderman and Peter Parker. The former was done to (I hear) great effect in the Ultimate universe, where Peter Parker died and was replaced by another kid, Miles. But in another way, this is not so good, because it means a darker Spiderman (potentially). The problem there is that we already have a darker Spiderman: Kaine, aka the Scarlet Spider. Kaine’s entire schtick is him being morally ambiguous, and learning how to be a better person. His character arc revolves around almost this exact kind of thing. He’s a hero who used to be a villain and now adopts the identity of a dead man. It seems like Superior Spiderman will take the concept in a few different directions, but having the two both in publication feels like them stepping on each others toes.
Heck, this development even kind of hurts Miles over in the Ultimate universe. Everyone could accept him as replacing Peter Parker because there was always the knowledge that Peter Parker still existed in the main universe. Now Miles will come under greater scrutiny because we no longer have a “proper” Peter Parker at all, and he can be seen as partially to blame. I don’t blame him, I’m sure he’s a great character and deserves to exist just as much as Peter Parker, but not everyone is as forgiving as I am.
And really that’s the root of the difficulty. Peter Parker as we’ve known him doesn’t exist anymore, except vestigel remains in the mind of a different character with different motives. Spiderman is no longer Peter Parker; he’s a gestalt or amalgam combined with Doctor Octopus. While I’m willing to see where Dan Slott will go with Ottoman, it’s still sad to see him go.
It reminds me of the nineties Clone Saga. During this period, the Spiderman creators were trying to find a way to retire Peter Parker as Spiderman and replace him with a fresher version, Ben Reilly. And this wasn’t that bad an idea. Peter didn’t need to die, he just had to retire. And heck, there’s no reason Marvel couldn’t have made Peter a notable supporting character in the Ben Reilly Spiderman books, and even put the costume on every so often for annual or semi-annual team-ups. The Clone Saga sucked because it flip-flopped on various elements, and stretched out the proceedings long after anyone cared for the storyline. Mercifully, this storyline made the change and got along with it, but the problem still remains: did Peter Parker have to die to get the result we see here?
Probably yes, but it’s still seems wasteful to me. To use a different example from comics history, when the Silver Age began DC wanted to revamp several of its properties. The old Justice Society of America and its constituent members were re-imagined as the Justice League of America. But DC didn’t just wipe away the old JSA and pretend it didn’t exist. The JSA stayed around (admittedly in a different universe), and the two groups crossed over on a yearly basis. These were fun, and it honored the legacy of characters. I’m not accusing Superior Spiderman of defiling the memory of the old character – even the pretentious and potentially insulting adjective makes perfect sense given Doc Ock’s ego. I just can’t help feeling there were others ways to revamp the character than the way they did it.
Heck, I’ll probably like what Slott does with Superior Spiderman. And Peter got a better send-off than many comic book characters who were subsequently replaced. Although I still think AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700 should have ended with a sequence of Peter Parker’s soul going to rest. We got a brief scene where he meets his dead friends and family, but that was earlier when he died for three minutes. This should have been like that time the original Captain Marvel died, where as he slips into death during a cancer coma he has one last dream battle with Thanos, and then crosses over to the beyond. Here he gets his near-death experience over early, so his final death seemed incomplete. Peter Parker just died for real, and he doesn’t even get a sequence where his loved ones welcome him over for real? Instead we got a lame short adventure starring Black Cat, who hadn’t even appeared in the ongoing series for a dozen issues. I feel kind of cheated.
Speaking of cheated, the Peter/MJ romance is back on. Except it isn’t Peter getting back together with Mary Jane, it’s Doctor Octopus in Peter’s body that gets back together with Mary Jane. Sure he might feel things for her because of Peter’s memories, but it still feels like Marvel pulled a fast one. Fans were demanding they get back together, and Marvel gave it to them in the most technical, insincere manner possible. “What do you mean it doesn’t count?” said the Marvel execs. “Peter Parker and Mary Jane are back together again! We gave you what you asked for!”
I’m honestly insulted more by this than with One More Day. At least there, Marvel was breaking them up regardless of what fans wanted. Now it’s sort of undoing it by way of and outright bait and switch. What a load. It’s almost funny, and I don’t care nearly as much as other fans.
Finally, do I think this was the right thing to do? Should Marvel have taken the Spiderman franchise in this direction? Well, think of it this way. Regardless of whether the Otto Parker amalgam was a good idea – and I think it’s serviceable with plenty of story opportunities – we must agree that Spiderman was deathly in need of a kick in the pants of some kind.
Spiderman has been a terrible rut for the last few years now, with some forces wanting to make Spidey progress as a person and get older, while other forces try to keep him the young man he always was. While he still lived, Ultimate Peter Parker fulfilled the need for a young Spiderman. But for the main universe, Peter Parker was a being in limbo. Too old to be a young guy who makes mistakes, but never allowed to grow beyond his perceived demographic because Marvel didn’t think people could relate to a Spiderman with adult problems.
This is incorrect of course; many long-time fans have grown up, and even younger fans could be made to like a character with more adult problems, especially considering the original appeal of the title being Peter Parker having to deal with real world issues. But the powers that be insisted on the limbo, thwarting a meaningful breakup of the married Peter and MJ on account of divorce being an “adult problem”. Heck, back in the Clone Saga the two were set to have a child. Instead of divorce, we got One More Day and Spiderman’s deal with the devil. Instead of having a child, theirs was either miscarried or stolen by villains, never to be seen or referred to again in the main universe (though we did get a great alternate universe spin-off in the form of Spider-Girl).
The point I’m trying to make is that something had to give. Some meaningful change to the dynamics of the franchise had to happen. We got a really good example of this in Peter Parker getting a job at a science lab instead of his perpetual occupation as photographer. But the rut needed escaping from. So from that angle, replacing Peter Parker with someone else was not entirely out of line.
But on the extreme other hand, I’m a lot more forgiving of this change than most fans. As a rule, a try not to be that kind of fan who hates change in comics, no matter the context or merit. Simply to keep my sanity and check possible life-shortening rage, I try to remain optimistic and approach change with an even hand. I don’t like to say “with an open mind” because it’s heavily charged and overused, but it’s a close approximation to my method. At the end of the day, I will give SUPERIOR SPIDERMAN its due, and judge it on its own merits.
The same cannot be said of my fellow comic readers. I don’t need to have read the opinions of others to know many, many people look upon the instatement of Otto Octavius as the new Spiderman as an affront to them and everything they stand for, arbitrary though it may be. Fans will leave the franchise over this for all the reasons I outlined. They hate change, and this change is as subtle as it is devious.
(^Case in Point^)
Moreover, brand synergy is again a factor. As many new readers as the Marvel NOW initiative attracts, many will leave wondering what all this new business with Peter being technically dead, and Doctor Octopus inhabiting his body. They’ll not understand how a villain could enact such a scheme and win, even though genre conventions say Peter should have escaped the plot any number of ways. Most of all, it won’t be the Spiderman of popular consciousness they’ll be reading about. The Spiderman known to the layman is dead, and doesn’t exist in any series now. Anyone attracted by one of the many Spiderman films won’t know what to do with themselves, which will be especially acute come the inevitable sequel to the recent The Amazing Spiderman.
They’ll take one look at this, look confused, then walk away shaking their heads, returning to whatever thing preoccupied them before. They’ll once again give up on comics as the inscrutable field of the obsessive comic fan.
This more than anything else makes me sad. Sad and disappointed.
I don’t like to take bets on how long it takes for a change to get reversed in the comics world. Sometimes, changes stick, like DC’s reboot that seems to be chugging along. DC has stuck to their guns, good and bad, and its working for them. But let’s be honest here. How long will this last? Does Marvel know how much bile they’ll take by this decision? Are they prepared to weather this and remain steadfast? More importantly, can Marvel’s masters at the Disney corporation resist buckling under the pressure? I’ve seen one estimate laid at it, saying Marvel will reverse it all in six months. This was an offhand remark based on broad generalizations, but there’s some truth to the matter. I wish it weren’t so, but this is the kind of thing that would induce a retcon.
It’s also pretty easy to see how it could happen. Ottoman becomes increasingly more taken by the memories of Peter Parker, which then manifests as a separate personality. The two sides, Otto Octavius and Peter Parker, have a civil war over control of the body of Spiderman. And then Peter comes out on top, repressing Otto Octavius to some dark corner of his psyche, reducing him to a talking voice that pesters him as Peter gets on with his life. Or maybe they clone up Otto a body, and he gets to have his old arch nemesis back. There are several workable solutions that could be implemented with a minimum of stretching to credibility. As much as I’d love for Marvel to stick to its guns for once as it pertains to Spiderman, I can see this happening inside two years.
Until that happens, I’m going to see where Dan Slott is going with this Otto/Peter amalgam. It’s an interesting idea, and worth exploring. Maybe it would have worked with some kind of alternate universe. This whole mess is taxing on me because it’s so hard to decide where the good begins and the bad ends. I hate the concept of “shades of gray” on the grounds that it gives people the excuse not to think about the complexities of a situation. And complex this is, for many reasons.
All I know is it’s my professional responsibility to read at least the first issue of SUPERIOR SPIDERMAN and see where Dan Slott is going with this. Take from my rambling dissertation what thou will. And have a Happy New Year.