Sunnytime Game Tape: Amazing Spider-Man #700

It’s been quite a while since we tag-teamed a review, but there’s been a pretty significant recent release for our ONE THOUSANDTH POST!  (Please read that in a loud booming voice with plenty of reverb.)  Yes friends, it’s taken Matt and I almost three and a half years but we’ve reached a pretty significant milestone, so I hope you’ll forgive us if we indulge in a little self-congratulation.

 
Amazing!What could bring the Blue and Gold team out of retirement?  Amazing Spider-Man #700, a book promising such major shocks that writer Dan Slott received DEATH THREATS at just the PROMISE of the story, before anyone even had an opportunity to buy the book on the stands.  And sure, maybe it’s a bit of an irregular change to the Spider-Man status quo, but the same jaded cynic in me that rejects Marvel NOW!, New 52, or the latest life-changing event of the season also makes me realize that This Too Shall Pass.  While in times past a big change like this might be have lasted 6 months and a couple one-shots, now we get new series, relaunched books, and a handful of new ongoing titles.  I’ve been collecting through the Death of Superman, Breaking of the Bat, Clone Saga, Civil War, Secret Invasion and deaths too numerous to count, and the reset button is always — ALWAYS — hit at the end.  I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but it’s the cycle of things.  With that in mind, let’s keep in mind that this is just the next chapter of Spider-Man (and Peter Parker’s) adventures.
I loved this book. From the numerous variant covers (I picked up the winter diner cover) to the three stories and the Stan Lee helmed letters page, this single issue managed to pay due respect to the character’s history and give the readers something novel (for better or worse) and wholly worth their money.
Of the three stories, my favorite was the second. Written by J.M. DeMatteis, this story features an old man reflecting on the life and times of Spider-Man. Between the inaccuracies in the story told and the visions we see through the art, this has a nice mythic feel. Until the last page, the reader is left wondering whether the story-teller is delusional, sentimental, or looking back through the fog of decades past. I could write a thousand words or more on this, but I’d rather not.
I don’t know if this was my favorite, but it was especially well done.  It captures the fuzzy, conclusive feel of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” in a way that doesn’t seem like a direct reference but more of a spiritual decedent.  Did it happen?  Is it misremembered? 
 
Oh, and calling back to the whole “Dan Slott received death threats” component of ASM #700, it’s worth pointing out that THE VERY NEXT STORY OF THE BOOK REVOLVES AROUND PETER PARKER AS AN OLD MAN!  For crying out loud, if nothing else speaks to the relative impermanence of the story, it’s this.
The third and final story is cute in a less than annoying sort of way. Jen Van Meter shows us a date between Spider-Man and Black Cat. Stephanie Buscema’s UPA inspired style works well in this fast paced tale of romance and robot fighting.
Regarding the main story, I’m going to jump in and say that this is how Peter Parker’s story had to end. A happy ending with Mary Jane or some other love interest would have cheapened everything that Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, the Romitas, and countless others created and shepherded through 50 years of comic book stories.
The fairy tale ending doesn’t work for Spider-Man/ Peter Parker for a couple of reasons.
  1. The proverbial Parker Luck. From his genesis, Peter Parker has been unlucky. Nerdy outcast gains phenomenal super powers only to be ostracized and persecuted for being a hero, and writers haven’t really changed that character aspect in the last 50 years. Between family deaths, deals with one devil or another, clones, and having to wash that NYC garbage can/ dumpster smell out of his costume too many times to count, he’s basically been life’s punching bag. Within this context, every gift/ boon/ bright spot has had a price or a caveat. 50 years of evidence would indicate that Peter Parker’s lasting legacy in the mythic tradition is to remind us that life isn’t fair.
  2. Peter Parker and the comic book version of Bruce Wayne have one great character aspect in common. Death will ultimately be the only thing that keeps them from fulfilling their solemn vow. If a competent writer/ editor decides to surprise everyone and end Peter Parker’s career as a web-slinger, he’s got to end Peter Parker’s life or his ability to be Spider-Man. To remain true to the essence of the character, the one that suffers from the omnipotent child of Jewish Guilt and Catholic Guilt in the form of his oft repeated mantra, Parker can’t leave the suit in a garbage can and walk of into the sunset with his best girl by his side. Instead he lives the life of most protagonists in Russian literature: he suffers through life to ultimately die for Justice, Love, Virtue, or Guilt. Dan Slott killed Peter Parker because anything else would feel cheap. I’d bet the farm that if Peter Parker had been given a happy ending an equal nerd rage would have ensued and/or the cynicism that runs rampant in comicdom would have been still been counting down the months until Peter’s return.
I completely agree with Matt’s conclusions here.  Both Peter and Spider-Man are born out of tragedy, and it’s the never-ending fight in spite of overwhelming odds that makes the character who he is.  The Batman comparison is also particularly apt.  In fact, the main reason Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy doesn’t work as a comic adaptation so much as Nolan’s personal version of the character is because Bruce Wayne DOES get that happy ending in the end.  While there are as many valid interpretations of the characters as there are creators working on them, it’s been pretty well established over the last 40 years that as far as the “canon” version of the character is concerned he’s married to the job until something forces a divorce.
 
But enough of myNot the first final chapter. Bat Man-love.  The point of that digression is that same thing is true for Peter Parker.  He can’t stop, he won’t stop, until someone or something forces him.  Much as Spider-Man is always able to lift those tons off his back, I can’t call ASM #700 a loss for him.  By converting Octavius, Peter gets the ultimate win.
I’m of two minds on the execution of Peter Parker’s death. On the one hand, I like that his final act was to turn a sworn enemy into an inspired do-gooder. On the other hand, it is a little hokey when you get right down to it.
A sacrifice and a rehabilitation are a fantastic combination for a hero’s death. I love that Peter Parker’s dying breath and thoughts are bent on inspiring a villain to become a better (dare I say superior?) man and a hero. It is nothing short of a heroic miracle. It’s a deed far more heroic than simply punching a villain into unconsciousness.  This ending adds a nice weight of meaning to the death.
Definitely.  And though I admired the hell out of Peter’s last act, it’s truly Otto Octavius’s conversion that feels like the most heroic act of the book.  His slow realization at the end was worth the cover price alone, and his new mission feels true to Otto, Peter, and Spider-Man.
 
Still, seeing Otto Octavius living Peter’s Tragedies and triumphs was a little goofy in that sweet and innocent 1950’s sort of way.
There are a few areas of the book I feel don’t hold up as well as the writing. The biggest is the artwork.  Humberto Ramos’s hyper-stylized artwork creates energy but sacrifices readability.   There are moments in the fight scenes where it’s impossible to tell what’s going on, as sections of armor do things to sections of people, leaving me to wonder what the hell I’m being shown.  The other is the relative lack of subtlety in the story structure.  I can easily picture Dan Slott working backward from his ending: he knows Octavius’ mind must end up in Peter’s body and he must be a hero at the conclusion.  The brain swap is an easy one, but the conversion is a little more problematic.  I shouldn’t look too closely at comic book science, I know, but a straight-up swap would make sense.  A copy, though, wherein the main mind takes backseat Professor Stein-style rather than becoming brain soup feels like it’s serving the plot more than making sense as part of the story’s logical progression.
I feel confident that this new status quo will give rise to many interesting new story direction, but I won’t stick around to see them. I take my leave of Spider-Man comics now. I like the ending. It’s perfect, and a return (inevitable?) of Peter Parker would tarnish it for me.In point of fact, I’m drastically cutting down on my monthly comics intake as a whole. Whether it is for good or for now remains to be seen. If you’ve followed the blog, you’ve read time and again how I don’t care for Johns’ DC. Marvel’s constant state of flux and event has also worn thin for me. Here’s my vote with my wallet.
Meet the new boss.Surprisingly, as the cynic of the two of us, I was actually motivated to keep going a bit further.  Slott wrote such a touching ending I wanted to see where it would go next, which brings us to Avenging Spider-Man #15.1, by Chris Yost and Paco Medina, covering the gap between ASM #700 and Superior Spider-Man #1.  It was a slight book to be sure, and proved something interesting: Dan Slott really captured the characters’ motivations in a way that other writers may not be able to follow.  Much as I was convinced a few years back that the introduction of rainbow lantern corps by Geoff Johns would lose some nuance as other writers took over and didn’t have the characters as internalized, Avenging was essentially the generic “Otto as Spider-Man” story everyone expected, without the subtlety of character that Slott was able to get across so well.  Which is a long-winded way of saying I think Superior Spider-Man will be a good book and character as long as he’s behind the wheel, and probably less so as his role expands across the Marvel Universe.
 
So, Amazing Spider-Man #700: an all-around success, and an interesting contradiction in terms as a feel-good defeat.  Which brings us back to our own little anniversary issue here.  It’s not much of a secret that our output has dramatically declined lately, and after some discussions behind the scenes we’ve both decided with so much going on in our lives it’s better to come to a definite conclusion than waste away.  
 
We’ll still be around, of course.  Matt is re-entering the real world.  I’ve gotten tired of complaining how there aren’t enough good comics with fewer corporate stunts and have decided to bet that other people will want to see the same type of comics I do.  I’ve launched my own publishing company, 8th Wonder Press, and our first book is scheduled to come out in May.  I’ll continue writing over there, although with a different mission statement and the perspective of a publisher. 
It’s truly been an honor to write for you these last three and a half years.  The Internet is jam-packed with comic book blogs, and you certainly have your choice of sites.  Matt and I are both so glad you chose us.
This is an imaginary story.  Aren't they all?
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