‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #700: An Enthralling, Imperfect End [Spoilers]
Oh, you don't remember any of that? All that stuff got reversed within a few months? Well, let me recover my monocle out of my piping-hot tea, because that's apparently flabbergasting. If some folks on the Internet are to be believed, the events of writer Dan Slott and artist Humberto Ramos' The Amazing Spider-Man #700 have irreparably changed Spider-Man for the worse. What seems to have been lost from the conversation is whether the comic itself is any good. As a life-long Spider-Man fan, I can say I was pretty well satisfied.
WARNING: Unavoidable spoilers for the issue follow.
Let's not beat around the bush: This is the issue where Peter Parker, whose mind has been switched with the dying Doctor Octopus', would appear to croak while Doc Ock takes over Peter's life and becomes Spider-Man. In case that's confusing: Peter Parker's brain ended up in Doc Ock's body, and then that body died. Doc Ock's brain is in Peter Parker's body, and he's chill.
Quite frankly, it doesn't have the impact you might think. For one, spoilers have been floating around on forums and comics sites for weeks. (I called it on War Rocket Ajax when #698 came out, thank you very much.) On top of that, Marvel sort of telegraphed it. This is supposedly the last-ever issue of Amazing. (And if you believe that, I have some longboxes I can sell you.) As part of Marvel NOW, Marvel promised a restart of the franchise with a darker, more pompous Spidey in the new Superior Spider-Man title. It all added up.
(Which is why the outrage and the death threats over this comic, at least over the last big reveal, are silly and overblown and dumb. We'll get Peter back soon enough -- this isn't the first time this has happened to Peter Parker, guys. What matters is if the story is compelling, and whether this new direction we'll get for a while has any potential. It is, and it does. I'm happy for the change, just so we can try something new for a while.)
What had me concerned was that this comic was going to be a bummer. And while the issue spends much of its middle wallowing in what's (let's be honest) a bit of a tired Spider-Man trope, the one where he encounters his old friends who have died and feels a lot of guilt before Uncle Ben's ghost gives him a pep talk, it really picks up by the end. In fact, Slott offers a really cool spin on another Spidey story point that writers have kicked around since the birth of the character 50 years ago: The notion that even when Spider-Man wins, he loses. Here, it's the opposite. Peter really couldn't lose any harder than he does here, but his spirit and overwhelming sense of responsibility are so powerful that he essentially wills them to live on in Spider-Ock. That the new Spider-Man doesn't entirely have Doc Ock's evil personality, that he's seasoned with Peter's driving purpose and heroic obligation to others, makes the new title way more intriguing than if this was just Ock masquerading as Spidey. Here, Ock endeavors to change.
What gives me pause about the upcoming series -- and the covers I've seen don't make me feel any better about it -- is the altogether discomforting relationship between Spider-Ock and Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane's complete obliviousness to how different and cad-like Peter's behavior and speech are in this issue strains credulity. But more potently, it also imbues not-Peter's constant attempts to bed her with an unappealing luridness. That the readers know Mary Jane's consent isn't really consent because Peter isn't the person she thinks he is makes us a sort of unwilling participant in...well, I don't really know what to call it. But it's not particularly something I want to read about in a comic that was otherwise very strong.
As I said at the beginning, these kinds of changes in comics never last. Marvel might be able to kill Peter Parker's marriage, but they'll never completely kill him. What matters is whether the comics that come out in the meantime aim for something new and interesting or hit all the notes we've heard before. Amazing Spider-Man #700 plays a familiar tune but offers a handful of satisfying variations on the theme. It's an experiment that isn't a total success, but it at the very least is an attempt to shake things up. In a genre where fans prove over and over again that status quo is sacred, I'll take what I can get.