I love Spider-Man. He was the first superhero I cared about, my introduction to comic books. True, my preferences have changed a great deal since I was eight years old, but the webslinger will always hold a special place in my heart. Whether actively reading them or not, I always try to keep track of Peter Parker’s adventures. And his most recent adventure…well, it’s made some waves, hasn’t it? We’ll get to that in a bit, but first I’ll go ahead and establish my credentials:
1) The first comic I ever read was Spider-Man Unlimited #1.
2) I saw the 2002 movie adaptation the weekend it came out, and bought Peter Parker/Spider-Man #44 on the same day. It was the first comic I purchased with my own money.
3) I still have the giant poster of Spidey (as drawn by John Romita Jr.) that used to hang over my bed when I was younger.
4) One of my most prized possessions is a “Spidey Super Stories” vinyl record my grandmother gave me.
5) A few years ago, I embarked on a quest to read as many issues of Spider-Man comics as I could (legally) get my hands on. I have read issues #1-545 of The Amazing Spider-Man (with issues #546-697 I’m a little more inconsistent), and a healthy chunk of the other titles (which include the aforementioned Spider-Man Unlimited, as well as Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man and plenty of others).
Allow me to put this information in perspective. I didn’t share it in order to brag (if anything, I just proved that I’m better at wasting time than the average person). I do not pretend to be an expert in Spider-Man, or comic books in general. I certainly don’t have the time or dedication to commit all the comics I read to memory, nor do I know enough about sequential art, psychology, philosophy or literature to claim that my opinion is somehow more valid than another fan’s. That would be extremely snobbish. No, the reason I took the time to detail a decade and a half of Spidermania is to assure you, the reader, that I “get” Peter Parker. It has been rather rudely suggested that I do not “get” him multiple times (both in person and on the internet) since I made it known that I am actually NOT outraged by recent events in Spider-Man comics. And not only am I not outraged, but (GASP!) I think it’s a good idea?! abuhbuhbuhbuhbuhWHA?!?! Yeah, that’s right. I’ll explain myself in a bit, but first let’s take a few paragraphs to enlighten those of you who haven’t heard the Spider-news.
(I’m sure my blog is well-read internationally, so I’ve prepared a multilingual spoiler alert. Though I suppose it doesn’t help if the rest of the post isn’t multilingual. But I will NOT let the five minutes I invested in Google Translate go to waste!)
Spoilers below! Spoilers sont ci-dessous! Spoilers están abajo! Spoiler sind unten! スポイラーは以下の通りです！
If you who haven’t heard, Peter Parker is dead. Well, sort of. It all started when the Webhead’s old enemy Dr. Otto Octavius (AKA Dr. Octopus) learned he was dying. Turns out, the lab accident that turned him into a supervillain also exposed him to dangerous radiation. The radiation interfered with his body’s ability to heal injuries. After years of getting beaten up by pretty much every major superhero in the Marvel Universe, Otto’s body couldn’t handle the strain, and it was shutting down. Knowing his days were numbered, Doc Ock used one of his Octobots that had access to Spider-Man’s brain patterns from an earlier incident when……forget it. They switched minds. There. Okay? If you want to know exactly how it happened, read Amazing Spider-Man #698-700 and support the industry.
Anyways, while he has access to Peter Parker’s memories, Octavius doesn’t have any emotional connection to them. He’s got Peter Parker’s life and none of his scruples! But Peter, in Octavius’s body, is able to escape and confronts his nemesis. Unfortunately, Peter isn’t able to regain his own body before Octavius’s shuts down. In a last-ditch attempt to save his legacy, Spider-Man forces Octavius to relive all of his most profound experiences as Peter Parker. Having been deeply moved by Peter’s life of heroism and sacrifice, Octavius swears to his dying enemy that he will carry on as Spider-Man. With that, Peter (in Octavius’s body) dies, and Amazing #700 ends with Octavius vowing to use his scientific genius and Peter’s values to become…”A Superior Spider-Man.” That’s the status quo for the new ongoing series, The Superior Spider-Man.
Naturally, people were upset. Before The Amazing Spider-Man #700 was even released, the news of Spidey’s death leaked, and hardcore fans reacted with exactly the maturity and open-mindedness one would expect….Yeah, that was sarcasm. They sent death threats to the writer. A bit of an overreaction, but I understand the rage. I do. I felt much the same way in 2007 when the infamous “One More Day” story arc ruined Spider-Man for me for years. I’ll talk about “One More Day” a little bit later on, because it is relevant, but not in too much depth (mostly because this exists and it says everything there is to say about “One More Day” much better than I ever could). Suffice to say, I hate it. HATE IT. So as I said, I understand the anger. But Superior is a horse of a different color. “One More Day” was a betrayal, not only of the reader’s trust and linear storytelling in general, but of the spirit of the character and his core philosophy (You know, “With Great Power Come Great Responsibility.”). If anything, Superior is a reaffirmation of those things, but from a much-needed fresh perspective. Here’s two reasons why I believe it needed to happen:
1) Spider-Man had become stagnant.
Before “One More Day,” Spider-Man was doing well for himself. He had a good relationship with the NYPD, a stable marriage with Mary Jane, a fullfilling day job as a teacher, and he was a member of the Avengers, the most prestigious superhero team on the planet. This was good. After all, Peter isn’t a teenager or an aimless twentysomething anymore. He’s an adult. He’s matured since he was an awkward sophomore in high school. Therefore, he should understand by now that “great responsibility” applies to all areas of his life, not just the part where he patrols NYC in tights. Joe Michael Straczynksi and Peter David, the writers of Amazing and Friendly Neighborhood, understood this too. In fact, it was JMS who rescued Peter from a very forced marital separation with Mary Jane and had Aunt May (finally) learn his secret identity as Spider-Man. The characters were all stronger for it. And then came Joe Quesada.
Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief in 2007, decided that Spider-Man wasn’t exciting anymore because he was married. In Quesada’s book, married people don’t deserve our attention (even if they’re superheroes) because married people are uninteresting by default (and yes, Joe Quesada is married and has a child, so I don’t know what that philosophy says about him as a person). Determined to completely destroy Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s wedded bliss as quickly and nonsensically as possible, Quesada conceived of “One More Day.” Thanks to that poorly executed solution to a problem that didn’t need to exist, Spider-Man went back to being a single guy who lived with his Aunt and couldn’t hold down a job. You see, some writers feel the need to have Peter’s personal life be a constant nightmare of broken promises and disappointment, because that makes his suffering even more noble and it’s easier for us to figure out that being Spider-Man is such a big sacrifice for him! Because in this life, doing the right thing and being a good person should only be rewarded with PAIN AND SUFFERING!! THAT’S GOOD STORYTELLING, RIGHT??!!! @#$%*&!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! aldhgkldaghdklghklasghklh…..
…Sorry about that. I had a rage-induced stroke.
By magically erasing twenty years of character development, Marvel compromised Spider-Man’s credibility. Stories about Peter struggling to make ends meet, find love, and balance work with superheroics just didn’t cut it anymore. Not for me, anyways. Even when Dan Slott took over in 2011 and started putting out some good stories, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d read them before. It just seemed like Spider-Man should be done with this uncertain stage in his life by now (comic book timelines are pretty fuzzy, but I figure Peter’s got to be at least 30 at this point). I know Marvel didn’t take my opinions into account when they decided to cancel Amazing and launch Superior as part of their MARVEL NOW! line. No, that was just an attempt to boost sales and compete with the buzz generated by DC’s New 52. But by cancelling Amazing, they unintentionally broke the cycle. We don’t have to re-tread the same old storylines for another decade or two just to get back to pre-“One More Day” territory. Instead, we get to explore territory that is both familiar AND new.
2) Otto as Spider-Man provides a fresh perspective on the “great power/great responsibility” thing.
Otto Octavius having Spider-Man’s powers is a really neat idea. It’s especially interesting because, when you think about it, Otto basically IS Peter Parker. Well, minus the nurturing environment and life-changing revelation about personal responsibility. The parallels are all there: Otto and Peter are both men of science, who were rejected and tormented because of their shyness and intelligence. Both were exposed to radiation in a lab accident that unlocked their true potential and changed their lives. Both were initially driven by insecurities and unchecked egos. Their paths only truly diverge when Peter’s Uncle Ben dies as a direct result of his own selfishness. Otto never has anything like that happen, so he goes right on using his power to take what he wants and hurt anyone in his way. Still, Spider-Man and his archnemesis have more in common than either of them would prefer.
Now I know that’s not a perfect comparison. It wouldn’t be too hard to poke some holes in that analysis, I have no doubt. I leave that to you, if you feel so inclined. We’ve seen over the years how Peter Parker has been shaped by his experiences and his “great power/great responsibility” creed. How will Otto react now that those things have been forced upon him? As we saw in Amazing #700, he is deeply affected by those memories, so much so that he promises to carry on the legacy of his most hated enemy. Cool! But….Otto is still a different person, with different priorities and a different upbringing (he was raised by an abusive blue collar dad and an overprotective, smothering “Science Mom.” Get it? Because “Dance Moms,” but Otto liked science and she….never mind). How might those difference affect him now that he is a “hero?” Will they affect him at all? Otto’s journey as Spider-Man raises so many questions: Are superpowers and convictions all one needs to become a hero? Will living as Peter Parker be enough to redeem a former supervillain after a lifetime of hate and violence? Can his ego handle the fact that all of his accomplishments from now on will be credited to Peter Parker and Spider-Man instead of Otto Octavius and Doctor Octopus? Will he be more responsible in his personal life than his predecessor or less so? Does he know where his mind ends and Peter’s begins? If Otto’s ruse is discovered, could Peter’s friends and family ever believe he has changed? Does he believe he has changed?
These are just some of the questions I want to see Dan Slott tackle in The Superior Spider-Man (And Chris Yost in The Avenging Spider-Man, come to think of it). Maybe he won’t answer any of them. Maybe this new direction will crash and burn. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before Peter Parker comes back to life and the cycle resumes. We’ll see. But for now, I have no reason to be anything but optimistic. If nothing else, this whole business has made me genuinely excited about Spider-Man for the first time in years. Right now that’s all I need. Excelsior!
As always, I value input; it helps me improve this blog and it keeps the conversation going.
P.S. I mentioned Peter David earlier. He’s a great writer who’s done splendid work for both Marvel and DC. Over the holidays, Mr. David suffered a stroke. He’s recovering, but it will be a slow and expensive process. Here’s a link to his website, which explains how you can support him and his family while still fulfilling your comic book/science fiction/fantasy needs.