Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts on Amazing Spider-Man 700

By JOE BEN DEAL

Amazing Spider-Man 700, the controversial final issue hit stands yesterday. A lot of people are talking about it. While it was an entertaining comic romp, Dan Slots take on Peter Parker and Spider-Man are just not for me. The following is part review, part speculation, and part discussion of the themes of Amazing Spider-Man 700. I'm going to talk about Amazing Spider-Man 700 in depth so consider this a MAJOR SPOILER WARNING, READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING OF AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 700. Also, you should know I think about Spider-Man comics way too much so be forewarned that I am going to over think the simplest moments and possibly be blinded by nostalgia and love of classic Spider-Man comics as I've been reading Spider-Man comics for almost as long as I can read (I'm 32 now). Okay, that's out of the way, on with the show.

Amazing Spider-Man 700 came out and even though I had avoided all spoilers, the comic book offered no surprises. Well I guess I didn't avoid all spoilers, I knew that this was the last issue of Amazing Spider-man which would dramatically end Peter Parker's story and that a different Spider-Man would be in the pages of Superior Spider-Man and since Doc Ock was already Spider-Man as of 698, the logical assumption would be that Peter Parker would not be able to reverse the mind swap before he died. That's exactly what happened. Comic solicitations having been spoiling comic book story lines before the internet ever came along.

So just imagine a story where the villain kills Spider-Man and then attempts so prove that he is the superior person by donning Spider-Man's costume and become a better Spider-Man… of course I'm talking about Kraven's Last Hunt. So far, the current Spider-Man story arc seems to thematically be rehashing Kraven's Last Hunt in which Kraven shoots Spider-Man pointblank with a rifle and buries his body, then becomes Spider-Man and captures Vermin, a villain that Spider-Man had never defeated solo before, proving to himself (Kraven) that he was a better Spider-Man than Spider-Man was. Meanwhile, Spider-Man was only unconscious, having been shot with tranquilizers, not bullets, and digs his way out of his own grave. Kraven's Last Hunt is beautifully written by J.M. Dematteis and drawn to perfection by Mike Zeck. It is a comic book that offers a compelling and moving story with out forcing controversy moments into it just to stir up media frenzy. It actually received unwanted controversy over Kraven's suicide. While covering similar themes, the current story doesn't come close to matching it's depth of emotional and haunting psychological story telling.

I'm most disappointed by the lack of twists and turns. For once, everything goes Doc Ock's way. It must be Peter Parker's brain, because in the past, Peter Parker could always out think Doc Ock, but now that he's in Doc Ock's body, Doc Ock was out thinking him at every turn. While we're on that subject, Slott writes Parker as very absent minded when it serves the story. All the way back to his story arc "New Ways to Die," where Peter Parker battles the Thunderbolts who are being coordinated by Norman Osborn and doesn't notice that they take his camera. Now at this point in time, Parker had made a tracking device in his costume that his camera would follow and take pictures of him in battle, but Norman Osborn finds it and reverse engineers the tracking device so that he can use it in weapons. Now even though Parker's camera is his livelihood, he does not realize it is missing after the battle so he doesn't realize Osborn has it. That just seems like a big gaping plot hole. For fifty years, Parker has been retrieving his camera after every fight and this one time, after a battle in which Osborn was monitoring what was going on, he just absentmindedly forgets about his camera. This absent minded Parker is who Doc Ock was able to swap brains with him. In the past, Parker would test things out, like the Venom Symbiote, he wore it for awhile, but then he took it to Reed Richards and they ran all sorts of test on it. But when it comes to Doc Ock's equipment he repeatedly used it without fully understanding it and then incorporated it into his own devices. It seems overly carless for Parker, who has so much experience as Spider-Man, would repeatedly make the mistake of using machines that gave Doc Ock full access to his brain. It also doesn't make sense to me that Doc Ock would suddenly be a better Spider-Man than Parker, they have comparative intelligence, but even with years of experience as Spider-Man and as he was falling to his death, Parker was thinking about how Doc Ock, who had only been Spider-Man for maybe a day, was using webbing in ways he had never thought of.

That sums up the issue, with Peter Parkers body, Doc Ock can out think Peter Parker at every turn even though Peter Parker has Doc Ock's full arsenal of secret bases and weapons and octobots at his disposal. There was a nice moment ASM 699 when I thought the Lizard was going to get involved and maybe the Superior Spider-Man would be Curt Conners, but that was just a red herring. The Lizard, believing Doc Ock is about to die, confesses to him that he has the mind of Curt Conners trapped in the monsters body. I was really hoping he was going to be the unexpected development that would help Peter Parker try to get his body back, but when Peter Parker dies before being restored to his body, Curt Conners would over write Doc Ock's brain waves with his own so at least a super villain was not in control of Peter Parker's body. Then Conners would fight crime in an attempt to redeem himself for killing his son, failing Peter Parker, and all the other horrible things he has done in his life. But nah, even knowing that the Lizard has his brain back, after Parker summons fellow super villains to break him out of prison, he doesn't insist on breaking the Lizard out as well. He does ask the Lizard if he wants to join with him and the super villains he has summoned to break him out of prison, but the Lizard doesn't know he's Peter Parker and doesn't respond.   

The press is crying that Peter Parker died and he maybe did… kinda. The Amazing Spider-Man 699 ends with Peter Parker trapped in Doc Ock's dying body and Doc Ock in Spider-Man's body. Like I said, there are no surprises, they tussle and Doc Ock's body dies with Peter Parker still in it, kinda. The reason I say kinda is that this is all about brain waves, it's not a body swap situation. By that, I mean traditional stories don't try to explain the body swap, just some machine magically switches peoples bodies and we buy it. This story gets more technical and makes it a little more murky. The machine rewrote Doc Ock's brainwaves over Peter Parkers brain, but kept all of Peter Parker's memories so essentially, the body is still Peter Parker, just with Doc Ock added to it. The machine then wrote all of Peter Parkers brain waves onto Doc Ock's brain, but again kept all of Doc Ock's memories intact. It's not stated why Peter Parker's brain waves were written onto Doc Ock's brain instead of just being erased, but Doc Ock is a super villain and it makes sense that he would want his archenemies to know who killed him. The whole brain wave idea feels murky to me, but essentially Doc Ock used neurotherapy to change Peter Parker's brain to Doc Ocks. At the end of issue 700, Peter Parker/Doc Ock forces Otto-Spider-Man to experience his memories that made Peter Parker, well, Peter Parker. If the memories make the man, and Peter Parker's body has his own memories and Doc Ock's, who is really in Peter Parker's body? Its seems more like a combination of the two than a straight up Doc Ock. But what about Peter Parker's spirit? For a brief moment at the beginning of issue 700, Peter Parker/Doc Ock dies for a few minutes and Peter Parker's spirit interacts with the spirits of characters who have died over the years. Then he is suddenly sent back to Doc Ock's body to keep fighting. So I guess the spirit goes with the body that his the brain waves it matches to.  

The creators keep saying this is a permanent change and the new title with a new number one shows their commitment to the new status quo which is almost insulting to the long time fan. I remember when Amazing Spider-man was canceled and replaced with Amazing Scarlet Spider which only lasted for two months and then Amazing Spider-Man resumed with Ben Reilly as the new permanent Spider-Man. That lasted for a little over a year I believe before Peter Parker returned to be Spider-Man. Then a few years later Amazing Spider-Man ended to be relaunched with a new number one with a new creative team, that title lasted for several years before resuming the numbering of the original title so it could celebrate it's 500th issue. I also remember Spider-man number one, Web of Spider-Man number one, Sensational Spider-Man number one, Peter Parker Spider-Man number one, Marvel Knights Spider-Man number one… the point is, a new number one is just a bump in sells and in no way illustrates that some change is permanent. There are quite a few ways this could easily be reversed.

1. Doc Ock's brain waves over time continue to alter biased on Parkers memories and strong beliefs till they alter to the point where Peter Parker is the dominate personality again but still carries Doc Ock with him. This is not so much a reversal as an everything you though you knew is wrong, he never stopped being Peter Parker to begin with!

2. This idea I think has the most promise, the spirit of Peter Parker returns and knocks Doc Ock out of his body. There have been countless Marvel stories over the years featuring character's spirits so we know spirits can still interact with the world even after their bodies have died. Hell, how many times has the Red Skull put his spirit or brain waves or what ever in a new body? But the essence of Peter Parker is that he never gives up and I think the idea of him fighting his way back even after death takes the never give up attitude to a whole new level. I don't really see this happening since at the end of 700, it felt like Peter Parker gave up when Doc Ock said he would be a hero, but hopefully once he hits the after life and sees Doc Ock going after his woman, he'll recant and fight his way back and reclaim his body. This idea also most directly follows the themes of Kraven's Last Hunt, and if you are going to do your own spin on one of Spider-Man's most famous and critical acclaimed story, might as well go all the way with it.

3. At the end of ASM 700 Peter Parker/Doc Ock had reprogrammed an octobot to rewrite his brain waves back onto Peter Parker's body/brain, but fails because Otto has the brain protected, but theoretically if the octobots are just copying brain waves then that octobot still contains Peter Parkers brain waves and could still restore them. The problem here is that no one knows that except Doc Ock. This story would follow Doc Ock changing so much that he seeks redemption for killing Peter Parker and restores Parker to his body.

4. And lastly, Mary Jane. Mary Jane has been through a lot and it stands to reason that it would be most obvious to her that Peter Parker is not himself, but she would never suspect that Doc Ock has taken over Parker's brain would she? Well, Peter Parker/Doc Ock did tell one person that his body had been swapped and that person was his friend, ex-girlfriend and police officer, Carlie. At the time, Carlie didn't believe him even thought he was able to reveal Spider-Man's secret identity to her (she is one of the few people who knows it). If she or Mary Jane suspects something is up, this could be the thread that starts them on the path to restore Peter Parker. Maybe Mary Jane could call up Mephisto and offer him Aunt May's soul if he'll return Parkers.

In summation, I just don't really like body/mind swapping stories. It's a somewhat silly premise that seems rife with problems that muddle the story. The idea that Doc Ock had taken over Spider-Man's body got a whole lot more uninteresting when Doc Ock proclaimed he would be a hero. I'm not a fan of hero deaths for sensationalism or for stories were the villains uncharacteristically decide to be super heroes. Doc Ock has spent a long time being a selfish crazy psychopath and now he's suddenly, in a blinding moment of revelation, decided to be a super hero? I get that the memories of Parker was powerful, but to have anybody make a complete turn around as a character in such a short amount of time seems a little forced and to undermine the whole premise. Also, the question of who exactly is Peter Parker if he has both Parker and Otto's memories is an interesting take and I would love to see it addressed by someone who can handle compelling psychological stories, someone like say J.M. Dematteis, but I don't have any interest in reading more stories by Slott. I've been reading Spider-Man for over twenties years, but I don't believe I'm really the target audience anymore, which is okay. I've got lots of Spider-Man comics that I love and will be happy re-reading them.

During the Clone Saga, similar to this story, someone replaced Peter Parker as Spider-Man and that person also had Peter Parker's body. That person was Ben Reilly. At the time, Reilly believed he was the original Parker and not a clone. Peter Parker thought he was the clone, was married to Mary Jane and expecting his first child. I liked Ben Reilly and I think most people did, it was the downturn in story telling that made the clone saga hated, not Ben Reilly. But Reilly became Spider-Man because Peter Parker had decided to stop being Spider-Man so he could spend more time with his wife and raise their child in peace, away from the super hero life. They moved to Portland, Oregon where Peter got a job as a research scientist and actually lost his powers. Eventually, Peter Parkers powers started to return, he moved back to New York, Norman Osborn paid a nurse to make it look like Mary Jane's baby was stillborn and he kidnapped the baby. Parker later found out that Gwen Stacy, his first love that was murdered by Norman Osborn, had had an affair with Norman Osborn which had resulted in children who returned to confront Parker. Then, to save Aunt May's life, Parker made a deal with the devil that erased his marriage to Mary Jane. And now Parker has died a super villain with out anyone even knowing he is dead. Peter Parker deserved better. I'm going to take a break from new Spider-Man comic books and pretend Peter Parker and Mary Jane never moved back from Portland, Oregon. They're story continues and they are there now, married and raising a family. And they are happy.


Joe Ben Deal writes for The Nerduary and can be found over on his own slice of the Internet here.

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