Disclaimer: This column is an opinion formed by an author who does not have an omniscient knowledge of comics. It also contains a fair number of spoilers for the titular comics.
To provide fair warning, the disclaimer at the top is really an understatement. There are some major spoilers ahead for these comics. That being said, there is not much point in beating around the bush. Courtesy of these three issues, Peter Parker is dead and Doc Ock is now Spider-Man. Yeah, that actually happened. Now, let’s take a closer look and see what caused this insanity.
As a matter of full disclosure, I should mention that I’ve kept my eye on the Spider-Man universe enough to know generally what’s been going on in it, but I have not actually read many Spider-Man comics since the “One More Day” story arc (a story wherein Peter made a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the devil, to save Aunt May and make the rest of the world forget Parker’s recently-revealed secret identity in exchange for Peter and Mary Jane giving up the memory of their marriage). Hence, I did not pick up these issues when they first came out and there were none left when I went to go buy them later, so my knowledge here comes largely from scans and transcripts of these comics.
Marvel’s “Amazing Spider-Man #699” picks up where the prior issue ended. Peter Parker is dealing with the reality that Doctor Octavius (also known as Doctor Octopus or Doc Ock) has managed to swap their minds so that Doc Ock’s mind now occupies Peter Parker’s super-powered body and Parker’s mind is in Doc Ock’s old, decrepit body. Additionally, Doc Ock’s body has taken too many beatings from his battles against Spider-Man and it is now failing and approaching death, with Peter trapped inside. As a side effect of the mind swap, Peter and Doc Ock have access to each other’s memories. Peter uses this ability to figure out how Ock pulled off the mind transfer (turns out he got a scan of Peter’s brain when Spider-Man had to access some of Ock’s technology to stop it, then later used that scan to get an Octobot to swap their mind patterns). Peter (as Ock) manages to contact some other super-villains and gets them to break him out of prison. Peter then sets out with the villains to capture “Spider-Man” (Doc Ock) and try and reverse the mind swap. Got all that?
In “Amazing Spider-Man #700,” Peter, still in Ock’s body, holes up in one of Doc Ock’s hideouts and starts working on getting all the pieces together to reverse the mind swap while Ock (in Peter’s body), noticing the news coverage about Doc Ock breaking out of jail, decides to leave the country so that Peter can’t get them together and undo the damage. However, he later has a change of heart and comes back to face Peter and finds himself defending Parker’s friends and family from an attack by another villain. Peter (as Ock) catches up to Ock (as Spider-Man) and attempts to use an Octobot to switch their minds back, but Ock had planned ahead and modified the Spider-Man costume to make it immune to such attacks. As Ock’s body begins to fail and Peter starts to die, he manages to get the Octobot to beam his memories into both of their minds, forcing Doc Ock to briefly live through all of the Peter Parker memories to which he now has access. Overcome with the enormity of all Peter has been through and all he does in spite of his circumstances, Ock accepts Peter’s dying charge to be a hero and vows to become an even better Spider-Man than Parker ever was. Upon hearing this, Peter dies and Ock steps into his role as the Superior Spider-Man. Still keeping up?
“The Superior Spider-Man #1” chronicles Ock’s first steps into the world of heroism. It is not a perfect transition. He still talks like the egomaniacal supervillain he has always been and he tends to run away from fights he thinks he cannot win. Strangely enough though, Ock finds his self-preservation instincts occasionally overridden by the desire to protect others, even going so far as to use his own body to shield a police officer from harm. Ock has also managed to renew Parker’s relationship with Mary Jane and is thoroughly enjoying the various perks that come with dating her. When he goes to confront the villains who he ran from earlier, he finally gets to do the one thing he, as a bad guy, has never been able to do before—win. He refuses to stop at simple victory and begins beating one villain to death. However, he finds himself strangely unable to deliver the killing blow and, in his confusion, willingly hands over the bad guys to the police. On the final page, the reader discovers that somehow, some form of Peter Parker still exists in his body and while Doc Ock cannot see or sense him, Parker has some very limited control over what his body does. Knowing that Doc Ock cannot hear him, Peter declares “…doesn’t matter. You don’t get to kill. I won’t let you. I don’t know how, but I am still in the fight. I AM Peter Parker, and I swear I will find a way back!” So, to summarize, Peter Parker and Doc Ock switched bodies, Peter died in Doc Ock’s body, Ock is now Spider-Man and living Peter Parker’s life, and Peter still retains enough of a presence in his own body to make sure Doc Ock acts like a hero.
Obviously, this move is causing a lot of controversy, but the Marvel writers are due some credit. They have done what many thought was impossible, they made life worse for Spider-Man. He has had loved ones die in his arms, been beaten to pulp a thousand times over, had the entire world hunting him, had to question whether or not he was a clone, been to an alternate dimension where he had died, and once was forced into a literal deal with the devil, but now he gets to almost powerlessly watch as one of his worst enemies lives his life. I mean, Peter doesn’t even get to rest in death. He has to expend his energy trying to stop Ock from doing anything too horrible. And let’s not avoid the awkward, Doc Ock is trying hard to get as far as he can with Mary Jane. While she thinks he’s Peter. So technically, if he succeeds, it’s rape. And now, with Peter in his head, it’ll be a rape Peter has to watch and probably won’t be able to do much about. Also, that relationship is creepy, not just because of the age difference between them or the fact that it’s not actually Peter, but also because Doc Ock once came very close to marrying Aunt May in “Amazing Spider-Man #131.” As if that didn’t make things creepy enough, Doc Ock and Aunt May got a little bit of an early start on their wedding night right before the (thankfully interrupted) ceremony. An early start of which, thanks to the body swap and the memory sharing, Peter now has intimate knowledge. Ew. Also, the readers do not have a particularly compelling reason to believe that this new “Superior Spider-Man” will stay good. Sure, he’s got Peter as a sort of a failsafe hidden conscience in his head now, but that could just as easily drive him to rebel against the desires of his old nemesis as it could propel him towards more acts of good, especially if and when he figures out the source of this newfound moral compass. This deal just seems to be getting worse all the time.
One of the most common defenses of this story involves pointing out that other heroes, such as Batman (from DC) and Captain America (Marvel) have been temporarily replaced and those comics turned out fine and even provided some fairly interesting stories with compelling character development. The problem with this defense is that the heroes in those cases had at least some hand in choosing and training their replacements. In the cases of Batman and Captain America, their replacements were their former protégées, Bucky and Robin, respectfully. Doc Ock is not Peter’s protégée. Spidey hasn’t spent countless hours impressing upon this guy his perspective on right and wrong, his ways to fight, live, and how to accept and move on from mistakes. Heck, this wasn’t even some random guy on the street to whom a dying and desperate Peter chose to pass on his legacy, hoping that this person would fight the good fight in his stead. No, this was one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes, one of Peter’s worst enemies who fought against everything Parker stood for, then stole his life along with his costume. Bucky and Robin were trained by their mentors to continue their work, even if that meant one day replacing the irreplaceable legends Batman and Captain America had become. Doc Ock had to be very close to Peter’s last choice on the list of people he’d want to someday take on his mantle. Doc Ock standing in that that suit, a suit he did not earn, is a huge insult to everything those red and blue webbed tights represent.
So yes, I am mad about this situation. When I first found out about these issues, I ranted long and hard to anyone who would listen. I’m mad at how Peter was treated. I’m mad about the death he was given. Here’s the thing that a lot of fans are skipping over though: Peter is coming back. This is comics, nobody stays dead except Uncle Ben. Also, Spider-Man is pretty much the Mickey Mouse of Marvel. He is one of their most recognizable characters to comic fans and, more importantly, non-comic fans alike. The man who deserves to wear that mask is not staying gone, especially not with the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” movie on the way (it is slated to come out May 2014). Marvel can make stupid moves, but they are not stupid when it comes to profiting from their movie tie-ins. Additionally, one of the big complaints I hear a lot from comic fans (either directly or in the undercurrents of what they say) is that they want to see some variety in the characters they love. They want to see writers take chances and shake up the status quo. Then, when the writers do take a chance and change things up (in the safest way possible because, as I’ve pointed out, he’s not staying dead long), the fans explode on them and call for their heads. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. Dan Slott, the most recent writer for the “Amazing Spider-Man” series and the current “Superior Spider-Man” series, received multiple death threats over these issues. Were this a permanent change, I think this would be a horrible way to leave things in the Spider-Man universe, but knowing that it is temporary, I’m fairly interested to see what kind of stories can come out of this situation. I’m curious how Parker, when he finally makes it back, is going to handle the fallout from any trouble Ock causes during his time as the Superior Spider-Man. I also really want to see a couple of team-ups with other Marvel heroes, just to see Doc Ock try and interact with other do-gooders. Also, I’ll admit, I really want to see a crossover between this Spider-Man and Deadpool, just to see what kind of chaos results. Plus, split personalities, in the right hands, can be really entertaining, especially in this case once Doc Ock actually recognizes Peter’s presence. Am I saying this run will be good? No. But Dan Slott’s a good writer and this is a compelling premise, so I am at least willing to give it a chance to be interesting and enjoyable. Finally, whether this story is good or bad, the fact is that the controversy is getting Spider-Man comics some serious attention. People who only know him through other media are getting interested in the comics and people who barely read his comics are getting back into them. If you’re heavily into the comics industry/medium, you have to have been living under a rock the past few weeks not to have noticed this. “Amazing” #700 alone has sold over 250,000 copies thus far. In every comic shop I’ve gone to lately, all of these issues have either sold out or there’s only one left and it’s being sold for a much higher price. No matter what people are saying with their words, their wallets are telling Marvel that this was a good move, so if you really hate it, don’t buy the comics and stop talking about it so you’ll stop spreading the word and piquing people’s interests. If you can’t stand this change, ignore it ’til it’s over, because honestly, I’d guess this might last about a year maximum before Peter Parker’s back and swinging around New York once more.
When I first started discussing these issues, I fully expected to trash everything related to this storyline and afterwards and refuse to touch anything related to this stupid idea. Now that I’ve had a chance to cool down and think about it, I’m still not going to go rush out and buy every variant cover for this run, but if a couple of good stories come up or the trades from this series get collected together, I’ll probably put some effort into getting my hands on them. I’ll even stick around if Mephisto shows up again and offers to annul this whole storyline in exchange for the memory of another marriage, as long as it’s the one between Aunt May and Doc Ock. Because seriously, ew.