Storytelling Geekery

In Praise of Spiderman #700

Spoilers for the last issue of Amazing Spiderman – #700.

The most recent issue of Amazing Spiderman, #700 was released on Boxing Day, and had caused controversy beforehand when the contents were leaked.
At the beginning of the current story arc, Doctor Octopus was close to dying from cancer. (Which I think is a good thing itself – I think it gives a sense of heft to a fantastical world.) This doesn’t stop him from being a menace to Spiderman, however, managing to switch bodies with Peter Parker, planning to steal his life.
Switching bodies is a relatively common trope in long-running sci-fi/fantasy/comics, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate SG1, Red Dwarf, The X-Files and four of the five Star Treks having used the idea.
As commonly happens with this type of story, the hero spends the majority of the story trying to get back to his own life, while the villain causes chaos in the hero’s life. But this time there was a very uncommon twist – Peter Parker fails to get back into his body, and dies in Doc Ock’s body.

I’m not much of a comic reader, so I’ve got no stake in this, but it sounds like a really good idea to me.
It’s something that’s big, and shocking – an event that would alter the fictional world hugely. The idea of the hero – the guy we’ve been following for so long, actually dying – well, that’s a very emotionally powerful idea. In addition, the idea of the hero, who’s saved New York numerous times, dying an ignoble and pointless death out of the spotlight, unmourned by most, who don’t even realise he’s dead, is a pretty brutal and unsentimental move to take.

An especially friendly neighbourhood Spiderman
An especially friendly neighbourhood Spiderman

The comic book worlds, which have almost impossibly complicated backstories, do take the occasional big leap like this, only to return things to the status quo. One of the most recent examples is Spiderman making a deal with the Devil to keep his elderly Aunt May alive, wiping out his marriage in the process. Another big idea was the ‘Death of Superman’, which saw the Kryptonian die, and several candidates try to rise and fill his mantle. The writers didn’t quite have the guts to fully explore the implications of making Superman’s death permanent, but the idea at least was a bold and interesting one.

The idea of Octavius getting Parker’s memories is one I don’t like – there would be a lot of tension and comedy in him trying to bluff his way through his new life. There’s also the question of, if Octavius-in-Parker can remember every detail of both lives, doesn’t that mean that the new hero is a blend of the two characters, their personalities meshed?

If he were to be the classic Doctor Octopus villain, but  be overwhelmed by the goodness of Peter’s loved ones, and motivated by them to ‘do the right thing’ however much it’s against his instincts, that’s a potentially pretty powerful and entertaining story arc.
Most popular action entertainment relies on a sort of ‘hero myth’, that only a few gifted people can rise up and make a difference, whereas in real life, it’s generally the collective effort of a large number of people who change things, with someone else in that crowd capable of rising up to fill the gap in some way. This is essentially the reason for the infamous ‘main character shield’ – any number of supporting characters can be killed off, but never one of the main protagonists.

It’s understandable – the success of any franchise will be to some degree because of the charisma and chemistry of the heroes, which means that the writers are understandably reluctant to change a winning formula.
While I’m skeptical over whether Marvel will have the courage to deal with this plot in the way it should be handled, it’s, at the very least, an interesting idea.

I’ve read some intelligent criticisms of the decision to kill off Peter Parker, partially because of the injustice, and the fact that his family don’t get closure over his death. (As they did with his death in Marvel Comics’ other main timeline.) But this in itself is a pretty powerful storytelling tool – sometimes death is unfair, and not everyone is mourned when they die, as they deserve. This isn’t like the infamous ‘phone in to vote whether Robin lives or dies’ issue of Batman, rather it’s controversial for the right reasons.

A lot of long-running franchises go through the motions of the kind of story they’re expected to tell, doing nothing bold and imaginative, with an occasion stab at shock value when sales or viewing figures get desperate.
I’m really intrigued by ideas like this, when a franchise is bold and brave enough to push the edges of the fictional world they’ve created.

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Spiderman #700”

  1. I like the complexity of this idea, but can’t see its permanent potential. I think the novelty would wear off and readers would be left with a protagonist they don’t care much for. This would be an interesting way to end a series, but I can’t see it continuing that way. Keen to see what the readers think.

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    1. From what I’ve seen, the readers seem very strongly against it.

      I like the idea, but I realise it’d need to be handled really well, with the new hero’s journey handled carefully in a way that keeps him sympathetic.

      Thought the idea itself was bold and interesting, enough to comment on.

      Like

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