Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Thoughts on Amazing Spider-Man #700

I like this cover but it's not quite what
a "death of Spider-Man" cover should
convey. I want more out of it.
All right, if you haven't read the issue by now and don't know the ultimate outcome, stop reading now. This is the only SPOILER WARNING you're going to get. If you fail to heed it, don't blame me. I tried.

It's been a week since the release of the final adventure of The Amazing Spider-Man. He's also been known as Spectacular, Ultimate and by several other phrases throughout the fifty year history of the character. He's been the main character in the two titles mentioned above along with reprints in Marvel Tales, a long run in Marvel Team-Up, his own eponymously-titled book launched by fan-favorite Todd McFarlane and had a title called The Web Of Spider-Man, too. Various mini-series and graphic novels have floated in and out of the comic shops over the years and he's guest-starred across the entire Marvel universe.

Finally he got Hollywood treatment in the last decade and a reboot already with a sequel to that reboot in the works. There have been multiple cartoon shows beginning in the 80s (yeah there were some awful things in the 70s, too, but let's not talk about those) and Spider-Man has been in the American consciousness for most of his publishing history. I grew up tuning in to the live action TV show, too, that featured Nicholas Hammond. At one point he even had an epic battle with another famous comic book news reporter cum superhero and the Spider-Man vs. Superman event pretty much launched the Big Event Era in comics.

Spidey's been run through the mill by having an inordinate amount of death in his life. His uncle. His girlfriend, her father. Lots of others. His parents, too.

As a child I loved Spider-Man. I loved Peter Parker. I identified with him. I understood him. He graduated high school, went to college and got a degree. He got a job and had money problems, girl problems. And - oh yeah - he fought some really bad, bad people while being perhaps the most misunderstood hero in the Marvel universe. He would get into fights at the drop of a hat. He had issues but he also knew how to have a good time (at least early on in his history). When he got too serious he'd have to go web-slinging to 'clear his head'. All this endeared him to me. Peter is not that different from me.

His marriage to Mary Jane Watson was right and good and should have lasted. Peter and MJ genuinely loved one another and she accepted the idea of Peter's superhero obligations.

And for reasons I don't believe, Marvel's editorial decree to tear him down came along. They said that Marveldom Assembled didn't want a married Peter Parker. I had stopped reading any of the still-multiple titles not long after Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley rebooted the Ultimate universe but I read some of their run before abandoning the wall-crawler completely. Editorial's handling of the breakup of Peter and MJ's marriage ensured that I'd never come back on anything like a regular basis.,

That was so long ago I can't even tell you. I would occasionally check in with Peter's world and see what was going on, follow the news on the websites devoted to comic books and every so often flip through an issue I found in the grocery store or at one of those all-in-one entertainment houses where I could buy or rent a DVD and check out new music while browsing magazines and books.

I wasn't the target audience any more and haven't been for a long time. No longer part of 'Marveldom Assembled' I found the stories derivative and tedious on the surface. (This attitude is not exclusive to Spider-Man, by the way. I feel like this about MOST superhero comics and I've made no bones about it.) Spider Island was referenced in this issue and there are a lot of characters that were new to me when I picked up both issues #699 and #700. I'll get to that in a moment, but that is part of what's wrong with comics in general and has been for some time. Hang on, though.

But the headlines surrounding the leak of issue #700 drew me back to the title one last time. I should note that if there hadn't been 'events' in the 90s that had artificially inflated the issue count, Amazing Spider-Man had another 8 or so years before it would naturally have hit #700. At 50 years, issue #600 would have been the pinnacle. I digress.

So I picked up the final adventure of the webhead, locked in mortal combat with his arch-enemy Doctor Octopus. Ock has swapped his mind for Parker's and now the old man (whose body is dying). It's one for the ages and a brilliant scheme that's been played out for quite a while in the book, I'm told.

Now I like that Ock (who has eight limbs, four of them mechanical) is taking on Spider-Man here at the end because a spider also has eight limbs. There's a synchronicity at work that makes me happy. In addition, Ock is Spidey's oldest enemy and has gotten the closest to Spider-Man on any number of occasions. Even as a lapsed member of Marveldom Assembled I am pleased that they're battling each other to the death. That's why this now-casual fan came to pick up the last issue of a favorite title.

Here are my critiques of the book itself:

Price - Jeez, $8? Yeah, the main story is extra-sized but the additional material is weak. Remember, I'm a casual fan now so I'm not affected by teasers or other things. In fact, reprinting all 700 covers on a 10x10 grid over seven pages is clearly a plea for Marvel to have me grab my FREE digital copy that's included inside. Right. $8 for a FREE digital download. I suspect that just ending the main story and running the extra-long letters page would have dropped the price to $6 or maybe even $5. When the book normally costs $4 doubling it and including a bunch of 'special features' makes sense in an office at the corporate compound but very little sense when asking retailers and fans to shell out the extra. Still, I paid it so who's the idiot?

The Alternate Covers - Hey, did Steve Ditko get paid again for that 'previously unused' art finally being published 50 years later? I like the one with Spidey swinging over the city where all the creators' names  are embedded in the buildings.

There's something wrong with Peter/Ock's arms here. There
just isn't enough action in them. And Ock/Spidey's punch
is weak, too, as though the artist posed in front of a mirror
with his arm straight out and used that for reference. Boring.
The Art - yeah, not so much. It's too severe, too spindly to convey (to me, a casual fan) what a superhero is. It's at once cartoony (which I like) and off-putting, even grotesque, as though Ramos and Olazaba are going for a Paul Pope kind of feel. It just seems wrong for this kind of big Marvel hero tale. Peter/Ock is drawn so hideously and with such tepid-looking lines (and LOTS of them) that it's hard to feel any empathy for Pete being stuck in the old man's bod. I suspect that this is an evolution in Ramos' style that is made more jarring by Olazaba's inking. I have like Ramos in the past, quite a bit in fact, but here in these two issues I wouldn't necessarily buy another book with this team in place. Especially not if it's a superhero story. Just doesn't fit with what I expected. Again, casual fan.

The Story - I guess this is what some modern superhero fans like, but it didn't do much for me. Peter giving in like he did is hard to swallow. I think that Editorial should have allowed that Peter isn't really dead, that he's lurking inside his own head behind Ock's consciousness and biding his time. I'll be surprised if this isn't the case when the next Spider-Man movie comes out in 2014. Some points of order for comic book storytellers: when there's an even this big and you're anticipating selling hundreds of thousands of copies to people who haven't read your book in a long time - or, indeed, EVER - you need to be nicer about bringing us ALL up to speed. I see that Aunt May is married to Jonah Jameson's father? Glory Grant is Jonah's assistant now that he's mayor of NYC? Robbie Robertson is there but gets only one panel of emphasis? Ben Caxton is also there but also impotent like everyone else. Plus there are 'new' characters who are shown but not really introduced.

There were all these extra pages, didn't anyone think that perhaps a two-page 'What Has Come Before' would be a good idea? Somehow introducing everyone to the cast of characters present in the story should have been there. Then the storytellers might have had a better chance to pull on our heartstrings. It seems Marvel, once again, had an opportunity to score big with all their fans and chose not to.

Look, every issue is someone's first. If this was my first issue of Spider-Man, I'd be CONFUSED.

As for a critique of the ending - my feeling is 'meh'. I know Peter's not dead and so do the vast majority of readers. He's coming back, it's just a question of how. We know when because Marvel Studios won't let anyone else but Peter Parker be Spider-Man in the movies. It seems obvious to me that Peter's in there somewhere and he's always been smart enough to find ways to get out of jams before. The real question in my mind is what he'll have to do to take control of his body again. Will he have to kill Ock? Is he capable of doing that? What does that herald for the character when he does return?

Writer Dan Slott got death threats on Twitter and Facebook for this ending. Setting aside the sheer lunacy of the threats themselves, is it really worth the legal headache to say something stupid over a story? And one that's middling at best?

No. No, it isn't. This story is okay. But just okay.

MY FINAL ANALYSIS of the end of The Amazing Spider-Man is that it's a non-event Big Event. It's meant to stir up the fanbase and generate some interest in the character before the next movie comes out. How does it compare, say, to The Death of Superman? Not favorably, in my book. There was little emotional investment, even within the story, that pulled me in. All it accomplished was to pull this lapsed fan, a former member of 'Marveldom Assembled', to spend twelve hard-earned dollars on two-issues. Comparing that to the height of my weekly comic book-buying habit in the 90s, that's a year's worth of books and about half a book's worth of story. I'm very disappointed in Marvel Editorial.

The creators deserve kudos for doing their jobs well, if not spectacularly. I didn't care if Peter died or not, because I knew he wouldn't be dying in the end.

Then again, I'm not the target audience.

By the way, I remember Spider-Man 2099. I think that book and Batman Beyond are possibly the futures of the characters. I dunno.

In the end I don't necessarily regret the expenditure but I might have spent the money on a couple of paperbacks that would take longer to read and likely have much more character development and a bigger impact as a whole.

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