Point/Spider-point: The pluses and minuses of Marvel’s latest moveWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jim Beard
Toledo Free Press Star Staff Writer
and Jeff McGinnis
Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor
Just before the end of 2012, Marvel Comics released Amazing Spider-Man No. 700, the “final issue” of the long-running comic series. The finale turned out to be a surprising one, as Peter Parker died while his mind was trapped in the body of villain Otto Octavius (Doctor Octopus), while Doc Ock still lives within Parker’s mind and will now continue on as the new “Superior Spider-Man.” Comic book author and expert Jim Beard and Pop Goes the Culture writer Jeff McGinnis debate the pros and cons of the story.
Jim Beard: In comic books, death is not an ending. Death is a story. Peter Parker is not dead; there’s a story, we just don’t know what it is yet.
The point is not that he is dead, but how long he’ll be dead. Marvel is banking on the readers needing to know what happens next, and how long they can drag it out for without killing the story. I know writer Dan Slott and he’s a storyteller. He’s also an inveterate humorist, so there’s something here that he sees as very humorous.
Jeff McGinnis: The problem I have with that line of thought, though, is that by that standard we can’t critique any storyline except in hindsight. So, Spidey readers will have to wait months to see what happens, paying for each issue the whole time, and then decide if it was worth the journey? They can’t be critical now of a story twist that seems to undercut everything they love about a character?
The fact is, as of right now, the plot being told is that Peter Parker was killed and replaced by one of his most persistent villains. What about this story is supposed to keep the interest of audience members who love Parker as a character? Is the idea that “of course he’ll be back eventually” a lure to keep interest, or an excuse?
Beard: I accept that point, but the usual response to people flipping out about film trailers is “Go to see the film first!” Granted, you get a whole film in two hours and have to wait up to a year for a comic story … but, I digress.
Readers will look in on this story to see how brutal it will be. Marvel is selling it as a “superior” Spider-Man, i.e., one who shoots first and asks questions later, presumably. We went down this road in the 1990s with the Azrael version of Batman, and I think it was proven that no one really wanted a bone-breaking, murdering Dark Knight. We’ve been told that Doc Ock is having a “change of heart” going forward, but we also have the question of rape that’s already reared its ugly head in comic fandom circles — how far will Marvel take this? How far can they take it? The story will be how much Ock can change and how much of his villainous ways are set far too deeply in his DNA.
McGinnis: Therein lies the dilemma. This is not an antihero in the mold of Marvel mainstays The Punisher or Wolverine. This is an honest-to-God supervillain who is suddenly taking on the mantle of Spider-Man — and doing so by killing off Peter Parker, one of the most beloved protagonists in all of comics. How will the mainstream public accept this? Let’s be honest — Doc Ock just isn’t interesting enough as a character in and of himself to carry a series, let alone one where he is wearing Peter Parker’s identity.
As you mentioned, the question of what this means for the people in Parker’s life is also a huge question, with the “r-word” getting tossed about for when/if he and Mary Jane get together. It brings up a lot of interesting (and potentially damaging) issues that Marvel will have to deal with. The question is, will the story being told be worth the trouble?
Beard: Slott has a pretty good track record and he loves and knows the characters enough to deliver something worthwhile. I give him the benefit of the doubt here and trust that he can ramp up the story and keep the whole thing from devolving into the typical Marvel “event” megillah: big idea, good startup, middling middle and letdown ending.
As far as Otto Octavius, it’s obvious that Marvel is at loose ends with what was once one of its biggest supervillains and a mainstay of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. He’s a character you either ditch or go for broke with. Does the public remember him from “Spider-Man 2?” I don’t know, but regular comic readers may think he’s still a joke and for that reason alone they may take a look. That’s what Marvel needs, for people to at least take a look and buy a few issues.
McGinnis: But how many will look in? How many mainstream fans will get pulled in by the idea of a supposedly permanent mind-swap, centered around yet another comic death? How many times during the past 20 years have major characters been snuffed as a gimmick to draw fans in, with ever-diminishing results? No one can take death seriously as a storytelling device in comics anymore.
It all comes back to the story. If the tale being told really captured people’s imaginations, the backlash wouldn’t be quite so intense. This feels less like a genuinely interesting development in the Spidey saga and more like a gimmick to sell another “event” — one that could seriously undermine the nature of the Spider-Man universe.
Beard: Here’s how this will go: Marvel will get a temporary bump in sales, for however long, be able to say that Spider-Man is part of their current NOW! promotion and then bring back the real Peter Parker in triumph somewhere down the road. Which will give them another bump in sales and another news story that will break through to the general public. That’s not pessimism on my part; that’s a modern comic book truism. And if the story is good, some fans will look back, maybe even several years from now, and say, “But y’know, it was a pretty good story.” Unlike, say, the Clone Saga.
Any backlash will be minor in the grand scheme of things. An unknowing person will be able to look in while this is going on and see the Spidey costume they’re familiar with, the powers and the face and name of Peter Parker. Marvel might be considered relatively smart and safe this time around.