SPOILER ALERT! If you have not yet read a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #700 and don’t want to have the ending revealed to you before you do, then stop reading this blog and get to your local comic book retailer a.s.a.p.!
And now, here’s my blog….
This is only my fifth blog for Hold 322, and it is easily the most difficult one I’ve had to write so far. That is because I am trying to compose myself and these words mere hours after losing someone I cared for very much. No, I don’t mean a real person, (though I did lose a much respected real life peer recently) I mean a fictional character. One whom I’ve come to closely identify with the more I read his adventures, both past and present. I refer of course, to the one and only Peter Parker; the man behind Spider-Man’s iconic mask.
As recently as 2007, if you had asked me who my favorite comic book super hero was, I would have answered Superman. The Man of Steel is the hero whose adventures I read most growing up and I’d come to know and love the character on such shows as Lois and Clark and Smallville. He stood for truth, justice, and oh yes, the American way. Also back then, if you had gone on to ask me for my second favorite, I would have said Batman. The caped crusader was the first fictional hero I remember ever being strongly aware of, thanks to reruns of the Adam West TV series, the two Tim Burton films, and Batman: the Animated Series. You would have had to have persisted and asked me who my third favorite hero was before Spider-Man would have been my answer. I had always liked Spider-Man. Some of the first comic books I can remember reading featured the wall crawling hero, including the epic cross-brand crossover event: Superman versus the Amazing Spider-Man.
I liked watching the animated Spider-Man series from the early 90s, as well as the older Spidey cartoon, you know, the one with the unforgettable theme song we all know and love… “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man…” But even with all that, and a series of blockbuster movies starring Toby Maguire, I for some reason never quite connected deeply enough with the character.
All that changed in the early months of 2008 and when I started finally reading the original Stan Lee / Steve Ditko / John Romita created Spider-Man stories from the early 60’s in large black and white reprint volumes I’d get from my local library, and then I bought myself the Amazing Spider-Man Complete Collection on DVD Rom featuring every issue of ASM ever printed up until June 2006, all of which I can read whenever I want to on my computer. This renewed interest in Spider-Man struck at just the right time in my life; a time when my boyhood dreams were coming into stark conflict with the realities of young adulthood. In Peter Parker, I found someone who was trying so hard to do the right thing and achieve greatness, while at the same time having to face the fact that he wasn’t perfect, that he often failed as often as he found success. It was a bit like looking into a mirror. I was having moments of near greatness that were interrupted with tragic failure and deep disappointment. It was like fighting crime and web swinging as Spider-Man one moment, and then having to deal with personal loss and real world problems as Peter Parker the next. Four years later, my life is still pretty much that way, I suppose; maybe a bit less web swinging than before, but still very much relatable to the life and times of Peter Parker.
If you ask me now who my favorite comic book hero is, I still won’t say Spider-Man. I won’t say Superman or Batman either. No, I’ll tell you that my favorite comic book hero is Peter Parker. He may be Spider-Man, able to stick to walls, swing on webs and fight super villains, but it’s not the costume or the powers I care so much about, it’s the man behind the mask. The guy I see so much of myself in.
I have been blessed this past year or so to be able to once again collect monthly comic books after years of not being able to, and Amazing Spider-Man (along with Avenging Spider-Man) have almost always been reliable moments of entertainment and escape during that time, no matter what I’ve had to face in my real, everyday life. I could count on hanging out with Peter Parker at least three times a month and that was amazing, but this week, all that went away. My trusty security blanket has been snatched away from me, and I’m not sure where to go from here.
Just before noon this past Wednesday, the day after Christmas, I ventured out into the Hoth-like winter wonderland outside my front door and drove across town to my favorite comic retailer, knowing that the day I’d been both waiting for, and dreading, had finally arrived. The much hyped ASM # 700 had finally been released. I bought my copy, as well as the rest of my week’s hold, and an additional copy of ASM # 700 I’d promised Jeff I’d pick up for him, and then quickly left the store. Usually I like to browse about the store before leaving, but on that day, I just wasn’t in the mood—a metaphorical Sword of Damocles was suspended over my head.
I’ve read the rumors and conjecture about what this issue had in store for me. JC, Jeff and I have talked about it all at length on the podcast, and I was resigned for the worst while still trying to hope for the best. I knew for sure that a big change was coming. This was the final issue (ever?) of Amazing Spider-Man. The series will be replaced in January by Superior Spider-Man. The editors of ASM have been promising the end of Peter’s story, but they’ve also been insisting that his exploits will continue. I’ve just been trying to carry on reading ASM these past months with an open mind, but this week, I’ll admit, my faith in Marvel and their grand plans have been faltering like the San Andreas.
I swung over to Jeff’s house on my way home and dropped off the copy of ASM #700 I had picked up for him. He thanked me and told me he hoped today would be a happy one and not a sad one. I’m not sure if he meant that to apply just for the comic book we would both soon be reading that day, or if he meant it for life in general, or both, but as I shook his hand and prepared to depart his home, I nodded and told him I hoped for the same thing.
When I finally got home, I settled in for whatever was to come, as I prepared to read the $7.99 tome I had brought home from the comic shop. As is my usual Spider-Man comic book reading ritual, I got myself some cold Coca-Cola from the refrigerator, turned on my old desktop computer, and began playing my Spider-Man playlist (it’s just the Spider-Man cartoon theme song I mentioned earlier, followed by the Bravery’s entire The Sun and the Moon album; for some reason, those songs are the perfect accompaniment to my Spidey reading time) and sat down at my desk to read whatever writer Dan Slott and company had in store for me.
It was a very strange experience, reading ASM # 700. It was surreal to be rooting for someone who looked like the dying and deformed Otto Octavious, but who was actually Peter Parker, and to be rooting against Doctor Octopus, who looked just like Spider-Man. The entire time I was reading I kept remembering listening to JC say with near certainty that Peter Parker would die and the new Superior Spider-Man was going to be a blend of Peter and Otto in one body. I didn’t doubt JC, all signs pointed to him being correct, including the Superior Spider-Man sneak peak he and I had both read, but I still hoped it somehow wasn’t so.
It bothered me to see Peter, my fictional friend, trapped inside a withered and dying body that wasn’t his own, unable to convince his friends of the truth and having to rely on super villains for help. When Carlie Cooper confronted Doc Ock (Peter) at the Police Station, I hoped she’d see the truth in his words and try to help Peter get back his own body, but sadly, she’s not as good a detective as she should be, and almost got herself killed trying to shoot the apparent villain. I was even more bothered to see how Doc Ock as Peter treated Mary Jane. Telling her to shut up and calling her “woman”. I thought for sure that MJ would be able to see that something was wrong, even figure out what was really going on. At the very least I thought maybe such a strong willed person such as Mary Jane would have been turned off by how “Peter” was treating her and gotten away from him, but alas she did not. Instead, she kissed him. She kissed that Octopus in Spider’s clothing, as it were.
Early on in the issue, Otto’s body fails and Peter, of course trapped inside said body, apparently temporarily dies and goes to what appears to be heaven. All his lost loved ones are there, from Gwen Stacy and her father Captain Stacy, to Peter’s parents, and his Uncle Ben. They all tell Peter how proud they are of him and express to him how great a hero he has become, except for Silver Sable who blames him for what has happened. Saying, “…you didn’t kill Octavious when you had the chance. You didn’t even let him die. If you did, you wouldn’t be in this mess.” Upon seeing Silver Sable, I thought to myself that Peter can’t be dead. This couldn’t be heaven because even though Silver Sable had been believed dead after the events of Ends of the Earth, I recall us learning in later issues (was it from Madam Web? I can’t remember who…) that Sable had in fact survived and was not dead. Therefore, this must be some sort of near death hallucination Peter was experiencing. But then the heaven like dream ends with Uncle Ben giving Peter such an encouraging pep talk that I kinda hoped it really was happening.
Ben: “You’ve more than earned your rest. And any other time, I’d give you my blessing… but you can’t leave a man like Otto Octavious running around as Spider-Man. Or Peter Parker. You’ve built an amazing life. Don’t you dare let him destroy it.”
Peter: “I won’t, Uncle Ben.”
Ben: “Good. Now listen. There are no scales you have to balance. Not in my eyes. When this is over, then you can rest. Someone else can be Spider-Man. It’s okay. Until then? You have one last thing to do. You need to get up and fight one more time! C’mon, Peter! Get up!”
I hoped Ben’s sage words were prophetic, because they seemed to imply that Peter was going to be able to stop Doc Ock once and for all. After finishing the issue and thinking it over again, perhaps Ben meant something else entirely; more on that later.
When Peter and his imposter finally clashed at Avenger’s Tower for their final showdown, I almost believed that I would get what I wanted most. I almost hoped that Peter would defeat Otto and get back his body, his life. As Otto’s body was about to expire after the fall from the tower, and the little golden Octobot that was the only thing capable of restoring Peter’s consciousness to his body was climbing up on the doppelganger Spider-Man’s neck, I believed that everything would work out just fine. I thought that the Octobot would restore Peter’s consciousness just before Otto’s body gave out. Then Peter, imbued with some residual Octavious memories and brain power, would go on to become the Superior Spider-Man.
This was my naïve hope. It was shattered just a couple of panels later as the Octobot was unable to pierce the imposter’s skin due to carbonadium plating Otto had completely shielded his cranium with. Pages later, Peter, trapped in Otto’s body dies. Otto, finally triumphant, and still inside the healthy and powerful body that once belonged to his fallen enemy, declares that he is now the Superior Spider-Man.
This is where I’ll return to Uncle Ben’s words during the heaven sequence of the issue. What I skipped over in the above paragraph was that before Peter died, two things happened: 1) a flood of Peter’s memories and emotions consumed Otto, making him feel as if he lived those events and felt those feelings, and 2) Peter used his final dying moments to express upon Otto that being Spider-Man is a calling not to be ignored; you know, the whole, with great power comes great responsibility thing. Apparently, all this had some sort of impact on Otto, as he swore to himself that he’d chang his ways, promising that Peter may be leaving the world, but he would not be leaving it to a villain. Otto would use his second chance at life and his newfound powers to be a better Spider-Man than Peter ever was.
Was this what Uncle Ben meant when he told Peter not to let a man like Otto Octavious ruin all that Peter had built, the legacy he’d created as Spider-Man? Was it enough for Peter to give Otto some warm feelings and a dying breath lecture on being a hero? I just don’t know. I just want my fictional friend back. I just can’t stomach the idea that Otto Octavious will now be our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, that’ll he’ll now be living Peter’s life and living it “better than Peter”. The thought of Octavious being with Mary Jane makes me sick. The new Spidey suit Otto builds in Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 (which I also picked up Wednesday), complete with goofy goggles and birdlike claws, is really stupid looking. I just don’t like it.
Now, as I finish writing this blog two days after reading ASM #700, I find myself at a crossroads of sorts, and I’m not sure which way to go. Do I keep reading the adventures of “Spider-Man” every month, even though the man behind the mask is not who he appears to be? Do I trust Dan Slott and the folks at the house of ideas to know what they’re doing, and hold course until the great payoff arrives to award my loyalty? Or, do I walk away now and return only when Peter does? Because, trust me on this, he will return. That much I still believe. I remember when some people were freaking out when DC killed off Bruce Wayne for a time over in their Batman titles, and I calmly talked them all off the edge. I assured those worried folks that in comic books, death is merely an inconvenience and continuity will always be restored in the end. Of course, during Batman’s death, his replacement under the cowl was Dick Grayson, not the Joker.
Anyhow, the rest of ASM #700 was pretty good. There were two bonus stories that weren’t great, but not terrible either. Also included were a lot of neat extras such as a complete ASM cover gallery and an extended bullpen and letters section that included the guest editorial prowess of none other than Stan the man Lee. The real one, not that hilarious ultimate version we’ve got roaming around the Hold 322 studio.
On a final note, I don’t care how upset this issue made you, there is no good excuse for making death threats toward anyone involved in making it. It’s okay to have feelings about fictional characters and events, but seriously folks, it’s just make-believe and not important enough to warrant threatening anyone’s life or safety.
Anyhow, that’s more than enough from me. What about you fan-boys and fan-girls? How did you feel about Amazing Spider-Man #700? Will you be reading the new Superior Spider-Man series or will you be waiting on the sidelines for Peter’s return?
Until my next blog, be sure to listen to Hold 322, follow me on twitter @Robert_A_Easton, and read comics, read comics, read comics.