Comicscape: Amazing Spider-Man #700 (Mania.com)

By:Joel Rickenbach
Date: Friday, December 28, 2012
Source: Mania.com

A few months ago I wrote about the state of Amazing Spider-Man. The book was in the middle of an interesting arc called Alpha, in which Peter Parker must deal with a new super hero with unlimited power that he accidentally created. This newly minted super powered High School-er had all of the power, but none of the responsibility. Besides being a story worth seeking out, the reason for the article was to take stock of where Spider-Man was currently at as a character. We were a few years removed from the One More Day fiasco, and Dan Slott (and mostly Humberto Ramos) had emerged as the permanent voice of Spidey after almost a year of rotating writers and artists. I didn't think Slott was knocking every issue out of the park, but he was a nice, consistent, guide for who Peter Parker is and where Spider-Man was going. Even then there were rumblings of something big in store for the web slinger, but isn't there always?

Despite all comic book reading logic, as this big shake up got closer and closer, fans started to panic. The end of Spider-Man's 50th anniversary year was drawing nigh, and that big fat issue #700 was just going to make it on to shelves for the last week of the year. It didn't help that Dan Slott said he was going into hiding after #700 hit stands, as he anticipated fan reaction to be less than favorable. It turns out his flair for the dramatic may not have been as over the top as many of us thought. Once Amazing Spider-Man #698 was released, most fans could see the writing on the wall, and in anticipation of what was to come, began to revolt. The last few pages of ASM #700 leaked in advance, and it was widely reported that Slott received death threats in response. Now, a death threat is no laughing matter, but given that aforementioned comic book reading logic, it seems rather ridiculous, and smacks of hype. Yet, hype or not, ASM #700 has definitely stirred the pot, and is worth some examination.

The setup (Spoilers for ASM #698-#699): In short, it's the old switcheroo. Throughout Slott's run on ASM, he has chronicled the deteriorating health, and world dominating desperation, of Dr. Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus. So much so that one begins to get the impression that Slott is not-so-secretly trying to give Doc Ock the nod as Spider-Man's A-1 super villain, usurping the mighty Green Goblin. ASM #698 opens with Doc Ock incarcerated, and hooked up to an iron lung, with only days, possibly even just hours, to live. We follow Peter Parker on a typical web-slinging jaunt through the city, but his inner monologue and interactions with supporting cast seen a bit off. To make a long story short- Doc Ock's last request is for Peter Parker (not Spider-Man) to come to his death bed. Peter does, and during their few moments alone, he reveals that somehow they have switched bodies. Otto Octavius' mind is in Spider-Man's body, and Peter Parker's mind is inhabiting the dying husk of Doctor Octopus. Doc Ock refreshingly says he will not reveal how he did it, and leaves Peter to die in his all but deteriorated body. The majority of ASM #699 is Peter desperately trying to use every last ounce of strength in Doc Ock's body to escape prison, and somehow reverse the body switch before it's too late. Along the way Peter figures out how the Doc did it thanks to some shared memories and wonky science. I was really hoping the "how" would be something simple, shocking and brilliant, but instead it's overly convoluted, and involves some past storylines that I thought were decidedly less than. Of course, it doesn't really matter, Spidey will find a way to reverse the curse by the end of the gigantic issue #700.

Amazing Spider-Man #700 (Beware, spoilers!): Well, it turns out Spidey doesn't find a way to switch his and Doc Ock's bodies back, and Peter dies along with the Doc's crippled shell, meanwhile Dock Ock has a new lease on life inside thirtysomething Peter parker. That's it, that's the big kahuna everyone has been getting their knickers in a twist about. It is a bit more deep than that though-- during Peter's last moments as Doc Ock, he uses their linked minds to make the Doc feel every experience and emotion he has felt during his life-- The death of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy, the constant hardship of living life as Spider-Man etc. This rush of experience breaks Octavius down, and makes him realize what life has been like on the other side of the coin. He pledges to Peter that he will live out his time as Peter Parker/Spider-Man honoring the way of life Peter has lived, and will do the right thing. It's a fascinating idea, and one I wish got a lot more play in this three issue arc. I would be happy to see Peter's adventure trying to break out and stay alive as Doc Ock cut in half if it meant more time seeing Peter and Octavius gain a deeper understanding of one another. There's something profound about mortal enemies coming together, and finally learning who the other actually is, only to have that moment be fleeting, as one of them leaves this mortal coil. The issue ends up being a huge, can't miss moment for the Spider-Man legacy, but taken as a single issue it's not the blazing hot coal I thought it would be.

 

Now, let's get back to that comic book reading logic-- Any cries of injustice, forum ranting, or hand written notes wishing for the writer's demise are wholly ridiculous. If you've been reading comics for any length of time then you know how this works. It's not permanent, and the idea that one of the big two publishers would actually kill off their biggest character is laughable. That, of course, speaks to the larger issue at hand-- can we enjoy a storyline even if we know it's in some way just a stunt? Will this body switching still have an effect on Spider-Man in twenty years? Probably not. So, all the Wednesday warriors and trade tyrants can hope for is a good story, one that may end up being a favorite despite its lasting impact. I know many who still hold J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man near and dear, even though that piece of Spider-lore has been all but forgotten in the book itself. Dan Slott has a huge opportunity with the set up he's given himself. Doc Ock has been an over-used and often laughable villain for awhile now. His motivations and dialogue come straight out of the ham-fisted golden age. Can Slott and Co. actually make us care about such a character? Will this new Superior Spider-Man shed the tag of "menace" that Marvel is already antagonizing readers with? Slott has a monumental task ahead of him, but he does have a slight ace in the hole-- this new status quo is at least somewhat new and interesting, and that hopefully will give us readers a good story. It's already got our attention, now if they can just walk that tightrope and eventually stick the landing. We know Peter Parker is coming back, but maybe, just maybe, in the end Doc Ock will bow out of continuity, and we'll actually be crushed. That would be cool.

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MARVEL COMICS
Amazing Spider-Man #700 (Humberto Ramos Variant Cover)(Last Issue), AR
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Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him on Twitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue. 



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