DYING WISH: Suicide Run
Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Humberto Ramos
Inked by Victor Olazaba
Colored by Edgar Delgado
Lettered by VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
Written by J.M. DeMatties
Illustrated by Giuseppe Cammuncoli
Inked by Sal Buscema
Colored by Antonio Fabela
“Date Night-A Black Cat Adventure!”
Written by Jan Van Meter
Illustrated by Stephanie Buscema
Covers by Steve Ditko, Joe Quesada, Marcos Martin, Olivier Coipel, J. Scott Campbell and Edgar Delgado
Edited by Stephan Wacker and Ellie Pyle
Spider-Man created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr. and countless others.
THE PLOT: With Doctor Octopus posing as Peter Parker, the real Spider-Man who’s trapped in Ock’s dying husk makes several final plays to stop the mad scientist once and for all…
LONG STORY SHORT:…but it doesn’t pan out. In his last moment, Peter floods Ock’s brain with as many memories of his past adventures as he can to instill in him the lesson to use his great powers responsibly, to which Ock appreciably accepts. With the real Spider-Man now dead, Doctor Octopus proclaims to be the best Spider-Man he can be…THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN!
Oh, and some other stories happened.
MY THOUGHTS: The curse of serial fictional characters is that they must always remain fore-ordained to return at a starting point of an established status quo, securing their recognizable marketability. Should they become successful, however they first appeared freezes them to live out adventures removed from reality in that at some point, things have to go back to the way they were on the onset. This is the basic rule for most any successful media and literature franchises, myths and legends. (Unless their finite or one-shot stories, but then that wouldn’t apply towards franchises.)
Comic Books have it the hardest in that they exist as ongoing legends, yet are eventually by their stewards re-made and renewed again and again to keep their values as stories worth telling intact by appealing to each successive generation. Whether their values rise or fall with each new decade is a discussion for another day, but it does as a by-product force the characters to be tried and tested by new stories and adventures, changing virtually everything but the name and presenting different variations of the idea of the characters with new social mores, norms, technology, politics and fashions. Superhero comics being the most recognizable genre of the medium make the most radical changes, stretching the characters and stories like rubber bands, snapping or holding under the pull of fan response. It’s all relative to the individual character how well changes will go down in the end. Fleming wrote that Bond will most often go beyond the probable, but never beyond the possible. When speaking about a particular comic book character, the same applies towards his or her own unique circumstances based on their status quo.
Take Spider-Man for instance. He is the embodiment of variation and metamorphosis in the Marvel Universe. Despite the constant struggle to bring the character back to a realm of comfortable familiarity, The Amazing Spider-Man was the title where status quos come to die. To list a few:
Graduates high school (#28)
Breaks up with his love interest (#30)
Has his fiancée murdered along with his arch enemy (#122/#122)
Loses his best friend to insanity (#137)
Graduated college (#185)
Worked for another Newspaper (#194)
Changed his costume (#252)
Gotten married (Annual #21)
Believed he was a clone (Spectacular Spider-Man #226)
Lost his unborn child (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75)
Revealed his identity to the world (#533)
Lost his wife (#545)
These are all instances in which Spider-Man has excised the window dressing of the Lee, Ditko/Romita run and deal with the results of said changes, only for him to return to default framework with little resonating difference. In my opinion, what lends credence to the “relatability” aspect of Spider-Man is how the character adapts to change and accepts change.
However, this becomes problematic when the change is made so stark, so irrevocable that any sort of recrudescence breaks the verisimilitude of the story and wrecks the readers’ suspensions of disbelief. Of course being a superhero story, certain things like robot parents, cloning and deals with the devil won’t shake the foundations of a book titled “Spider-Man” in and of themselves. Still, when the character is publicized as being a recognizable and relatable hero in certain aspects, such intrusions to the ongoing narrative damage not only the status quo, but the rules for the future.
The problem started with the return of Aunt May. She was killed off ceremoniously in Amazing Spider-Man #400 and returned less than five years later with nothing that was gained from her death (her blessing of Peter’s life as Spider-Man) remaining. Initially her return brought nothing of value. In spite of J. Michael Straczynski’s efforts to embolden the character with her knowledge of Peter’s double life, she was once again regressed to an ignorant, oblivious relic of an era where Spider-Man had not evolved to the character he is today. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have developed considerably over time, but the person closest to Spider-Man’s heart after MJ is for some reason destined to remain a reminder of the days when ASM was first published during the Cold War.
Aunt May’s return had far more dour consequences for the future of Spider-Man, for it proved that TPTB at Marvel Comics would stop at nothing to regain a fragment of the old days, despite the characters going through a maturation which required something more than a dottering old mother figure. The most famous example is One More Day, but I would put the unmasking and it’s retcon as a more egregious example. During the months when the whole world knew who Spider-Man was, we saw a variety of reactions from his friends and co-workers who were naturally developed through the revelation. Betty Brant and Flash Thompson proved themselves to be Peter’s truest friends, while ex-girlfriend Deb Whitman wrote a tell-all book about how Peter ruined her life, and J. Jonah Jameson sued Peter out of bitter spite. The final issue of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man showed the confrontation that the character’s existence had been begging for between an unmasked Spider-Man and Jonah Jameson alone in a warehouse. Things were said, punches were thrown, and the conflict brought up ended unresolved. In a series like Spider-Man seemingly maintained by development, this only whets readers’ appetites for more.
Then One More Day happened and everybody forgot all about Peter’s secret.
It’s a stark way to put it even if no one for a minute believed that Peter’s identity would remain revealed, and it gets me to Amazing Spider-Man #700. The story has been precipitated by the oncoming death of Doctor Octopus, randomly established in Amazing Spider-Man #600 and repeated throughout Slott’s run which began in #648. It reiterates the threat of the impossible, that one of Spider-Man’s most silliest, notable and dangerous enemies will die forever. Two simple reasons kill any suspense: 1) We’ve already seen Doctor Octopus die twice in the official canon, only to be revived by mystical ninjas or other retroactive continuity. 2) to quote the man of the year “You all read comics. You all KNOW how this works. ”
So issue #698 comes and we see both Doc Ock and Dan Slott pull off the impossible, present a engaging dilemma for Spider-Man with an extremely well told issue. Unfortunately this falls into what I call the “binary problem” with storytelling. Either something happens or something doesn’t. Two opposite scenarios are easy to imagine, leaving the story dead of impact or intrigue. There’s a way to tell such a story and make it interesting. A narrative mystery can present a conundrum with an easy solution, but without the “why” of the answer readily deducible. Someone can figure out that the killer is the butler, but a good narrative mystery makes you want to learn why along the way.
So with #699 the question of how Doctor Octopus switched bodies with Spider-Man was immediately answered, leaving only the outcome of Peter either regaining his body or not. If he doesn’t Ock wins and the book ends with Peter’s death. If he does, tune in to #701 for more adventures of the Amazing Spider-Man! In any case, the binary problem of the two outcomes is that the story either continues with the hope that the reader was entertained, or it ends with the same hope.
With Spider-Man however, a simple flat ending doesn’t do him justice. The book has been about Peter Parker and the development of his life and character. As illustrated above, we’ve experienced with Peter life-change after heartbreak after milestone after adventure and have witnessed the development and evolution of the person as a concept. Sure, every story he’s had ran the risk of his untimely death, but it was with the knowledge that the readers were in it for the illustrious experiences in watching Peter go through his paces, knowing there would be more to come. With the year 2012 being the 50th of Spider-Man’s existence and the 10th anniversary of his big-screen debut celebrated with a fourth movie, ending the series wasn’t a bad idea at all. Even killing off the character doesn’t hurt the legacy in the long run, as long as it’s done with dignity (More on that later). So #700 was written with months in advance and several celebratory events to surround itself with. The way in which the book should end however must earn its ending and earn the character’s death. The development of his life should grant him an end that reflects the changes and honors the tradition of change. In actuality, one can say that Dan Slott has achieved just that with his run. Peter became a successful scientist, became a full-fledged Avenger, saw his Aunt be taken care of financially and romantically, earned respect from Jonah Jameson in the end, earned a spot on the Fantastic Four and even reformed one of his most hated enemies in Doctor Octopus. Slott, intentionally or not, did manage to wrap up the story of Spider-Man in a manner that could decisively conclude the character’s story.
So why doesn’t this work for me?
Alright, enough babbling. What did I think of this issue?
In a nutshell, it did a job. Slott was clearly at his most eager in writing this story, tying up certain loose ends with such speed that you almost wish Stephen Wacker pat him on the back and told him to calm down. There are the various Slott-isms of his his apparent here. Exposition out the wazoo, gratuitous continuity references, blithe character moments that are saccharine and poorly paced. Ramos too is working like a man so happy to get to this issue that he breaks from the master’s leash. His faces are all over the place, as is his anatomy. I’ll never say the man is bad, but he’s not doing any favors to his mixed reputation in this one, sadly. (His Carlie Cooper’s fairly sexy though. Maybe it’s the gun.)
To match the energy, here are a number of thoughts that went through my head that ultimately don’t enhance my main beef with the issue.
Why is Silver Sable in Peter’s heaven when he was told she’s still alive?
Why did his clothes change in the dream?
Does Peter seriously think Ben would kick him out for letting him die?
So Doc Ock gets goaded on by J. Jonah Jameson, really?
Why doesn’t Carlie believe Ock when he says he answers her questions about Spider-Man?
Sanjani looks like a ten year old.
It’s spelled “dawdling”.
Robbie and Urich look ten years younger.
No Betty Brant in the “Loved Ones” group.
The Avengers security system recognizes Spider-Man as soon as “he” says it will.
Gargan thinks Aunt May is “lovely”.
What’s Ock’s end goal here after he beats Spidey?
Those are really it. It was an entertaining issue for the most part, and were this anything other than the 700th and the final I’d roll over some problems. However there are some central ones that cause me to pause.
Mary Jane is particularly vexing in this for one thing. Props to Slott for confronting the comic on her role in a manner I couldn’t top if I tried. Despite this, it doesn’t solve the problem of Mary Jane’s role in the book as a whole. If you remember when I complained about her sporadic scenes in the title giving Peter speeches of love and encouragement, I wanted her to be doing other things in order to flesh her out. Slott knows that Mary Jane is more than meets the eye, but only went so far as to have her be a voice in the back of Peter’s head during situations which did not warrant it. Most, if not all of her scenes had her either interacting with Peter or thinking about Peter. Has Slott not heard of the Bechdel Test? In any case, it did the character a disservice. The common complaint against the marriage was that Mary Jane was either too lovey dovey over Peter or she constantly complained about his double life. Here, Slott uses their separation as a vehicle for us to pine for shipping moments between the two of them. Because of this, Mary Jane’ ends up fairly two dimensional. So when Ock calls her on that lack of depth, she further demonstrates it by re-confessing her love. A nice gesture for Peter and MJ fans, or it would be if it were actually Peter, but the damage is two-fold. Mary Jane goes through her feelings in quick word balloons over the span of a single page. After everything they went through in OMIT, a single page isn’t going to cut it. It also robs Peter of embracing his true love, which leads into the second big sin of the main story.
Although Slott has had Peter attain professional success both in and out the costume, much of the achievements have been undermined in a continuous devaluing of Spider-Man’s basic effectiveness as a crime-fighter, and Peter Parker as a person. It’s my most common complaint with the Post-OMD era, one that I feel is as absolute as it’s annoying. Throughout the run, cries of “It’s all my fault” and random moments of straight disrespect from Aunt May to Mr. Fantastic keep Spider-Man lower than he ever was before Brand New Day. His loss of Spider-Sense left him virtually helpless in situations he’s experienced before, and while Slott had him overcome certain scenarios like the penultimate climax of Ends of the Earth, there was a pervading sense that Spider-Man had somehow become the green hero of 1963 again. His emotional state in some stories contributed, and even when he tried to take things seriously like the Lizard or Morbius, such a big deal was made of of his lack of lightheartedness that it was as though the character has newly appeared.
Consider the ending. Peter continuously tries to get back into his own body, only to be outdone by Doc Ock. At one point he attempts to break his no-killing rule by throwing himself and Ock out of a window, but he’s still foiled in an instance intended to show off Ock’s ingenuity while in Peter’s body, yet reminds me of a Steve Ditko back-up page where Spider-Man was shown to do the same thing. Peter dies, but not before instilling upon Ock the scenes of everyone’s favorite Spider-Man stories, and saying the magic words “power” and responsibility”.
If this sounds overly pithy, think of what we’re left to go on with the ending. Peter Parker, after several failed attempt to regain his life (usurped by one of his oldest foes carrying on without a hint of suspicion from his friends and family) dies in a broken husk of his enemies’ body, through a series of health dips brought on by years of his own intervention and action. With Peter gone, his enemy is free to enjoy the love of Mary Jane, the adoration of Jonah Jameson, and the ambition and vow to be an even better Spider-Man.
This is the most undignified way for a character to go out that I have ever seen.
It furthers my feelings that, for a creator who’s love of Spider-Man splashes all over interviews and many of his scripts, Dan Slott doesn’t think very highly of him. Neither, for that matter do Wacker, Pyle or Alonso. At least when Captain America died, people mourned his death in a miniseries and it cast a shadow over the Marvel Universe. Peter Parker, comics’ favorite superhero underdog, dies under the guise of a villain in a frail body without anyone learning about it.
I’m going to say right now that on the face of it, I really like the idea. That a hero dies giving his blessing for one of his villains to carry on in his name is every bit intriguing as it is ingenious. Even for Spider-Man it’s an apt way for the story to end, but-not-entirely for Amazing Fantasy #15′s theme was to make good on past mistakes. The simple reason this fails is in the execution. The main story of the issue isn’t Slott’s worst but it’s incredibly distracting when considering the conclusion and what the issue means to the character. The lead-up to Ock casting aside any evil intentions and becoming a hero begins and ends in about three pages of a 50 page story. If the issue were about Ock reacting to the reception of Peter’s supporting cast in Peter’s body and it coalescing to the end where he asks Peter how to carry on in his life, then that would be the ultimate end to both Peter and Otto’s story. Peter has to force-feed Ock his memories, so that Ock’s sudden change to the good side isn’t out of nowhere. In the long run however this is a let down because the ending was preceded by flash and style but no substance. It comes down to a long chase scene, ending with three pages of Ock reliving a collage of everyone’s favorite Ditko and Romita era issues, mixed in with unnecessary panels of the supporting cast spouting off irrelevant dialogue. The three part story should have been divided by Ock’s gradual understanding of the role while Peter either observed or made peace with his life. After all, he does die. Dignity must be granted to the title’s main protagonist, it can’t be shunted off to the new one at the end of a 50 page comic in three pages. To grasp the horrific ineptitude of Spider-Man’s treatment in this story ( during his 50th year no less), go to issue#699 page 14 and see Peter begging God not to let him die in such a state. Looks like God, or Slott, didn’t have any better ideas.
”But Don!” you say. “Nobody in comics stays dead for long! Everyone knows Peter will be back. Why take it seriously?”
And that, my friends, is exactly the point.
As I said earlier, if changes are to keep long-running characters fresh and relevant yet still within range enough to return to their familiar settings, can it truly be change?
The answer is no.
Ending The Amazing Spider-Man title is a strong move, but in a way it’s been done before when the book was re-numbered during the Byrne reboot. Ending the title with the character’s death and replacement is also a strong move, but not as strong since both have happened before too. Peter’s “died” in a number of forgettable, undignified ways before being revived by the end of the story. Remember the Other in 2005? Clone Saga? Ben Reilly? The events in this story are not original, even if Slott carries them out in different ways. Even Doctor Octopus has learned of Spider-Man’s identity twice before. It circles around the fact that the true nature of Spider-Man and, in essence, comic books, is to change from and back to. Nothing ends, ever. Thus the narrative of Spider-Man is one of unending misery for the character, for he’ll have such a horrible event occur in his lifetime, even though years from now he’ll be laughing about it in some naked appeal for continuity gags by some eager comic fan-turned-author. This is the true reason of defeat for the character; the snapping of the rubber band. Most everything else dynamic that occurred in Peter’s life happened as a part of his life, in situations where he, like us, could move on and get past things. No one can believably get past or experience this. I cannot get past this story, which is why this will be my last comic book review for the time being. Beyond this point the concept of Spider-Man can never again be considered “relatable” or “believable” by honest standards. It would be disingenuous to assert otherwise, and yet the series already has. This issue reiterates the kitsch nature of the genre, and to take it seriously would be like trying to deconstruct camp.
Many thanks to everyone who read and responded to my ramblings over the past 18 months. You’ve truly added to the experience and made me feel appreciated and welcome. Who knows what will happen between now and the next milestone of Spider-Man? My guess at is that the more it changes, the more it will stay the same.