Amazing Spiderman #700

Well the wait is finally over. After a long and arduous wait that grew only worse after the book was released, I have a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #700. The simple assumption that I’m operating under is that, whether you’ve been spoiled or not, you know whether or not you want this comic. I’ll tell you here that it’s solidly executed, but honestly it’s the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, you’re either interested or you’re not. I’m still working on figuring out a system for denoting the spoiler level of my posts that I like but consider yourself warned: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. If we’re going to have a meaningful conversation about this issue we’re going to need to have them here. So if that didn’t scare you off continue down into our look at the end of an era.

Suicide Run

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos

I think it’s easy to underestimate Peter Parker. We look back now and see him as a staple of the superhero genre, endlessly copied and parodied but I remind you that it was not always so. Though the impact and popularity of the Fantastic Four cannot be ignored, even Stan Lee will admit that they were an attempt to cash in on the success of the Justice League. But Spiderman was a revolution in comics: a teenaged superhero without a mentor and a hero whose powers were a part of his suffering, not his answer to it. Until geeky. bespectacled Peter Parker, comics were thought of as escapism (even by their creators, though they obviously found more value in escapism than many). Little boys (and girls…but honestly boys in the minds of the marketing people, sorry girls of the 60s. On the bright side it’ll be a good decade for you) were expected to look at Superman or the Green Lantern and dream of growing up big and strong and square-jawed and utterly incapable of being stopped, so unlike their current existence of rules, and vegetables, and bedtime. Even Captain Marvel, the closest precursor to the Spiderman model (and most successful superhero of his day. Seriously no one guessed why?), had to become a grown-up to be a hero. But Peter was different. A shy boy from humble beginnings in Queens, interested in science at a time when physics and chemistry were moving away from images of Nazi and Commie mad scientists toward American innovators. From out of nowhere it seemed, Stan Lee conjured one of the most classic characters of American culture, a good-hearted boy, not without arrogance or vindictiveness, who learned that with great power there must also come great responsibility. And now, half a century later, it’s over.

Sorry to take so long getting to the review but I think it’s important to recognize the context that makes this such a seminal issue. As for the more direct context, one-hundred issues ago Dr. Otto Octavius discovered that he was dying. Knowing that he could not go quietly into the dark, the Master Planner put into motion three schemes to leave his mark on history; one to leave behind a shining metropolis, one to punish the world that scorned him and denied his genius, and one to triumph over death itself. Spiderman stopped the first two but now he finds that Doc Ock’s final revenge is to let him die in his place, in punishment for the physical abuse that sealed his fate. Trapped in Octavius’ failing body, Peter Parker must rise to the occasion one last time and stop Otto from stealing his body and his life.

Ready?

FIGHT!

And fight they do. Dan Slott made no secret of the fact that this issue needed its two predecessors to function and he wasn’t bluffing. With all the set up out-of-the-way, issue 700 is little more than a lengthy battle between OckSpidey and SpiderOck (or is it the other way ’round?) That said, is not just one big brawl, good Otto isn’t called the Master Planner for nothing. Though we do get some classic Spiderman fisticuffs, much of the showdown between the old foes is in their preparations. From the word go, Spidey (the real Spidey) is racing the clock to find a way back into his body, making use of every morally questionable asset Doc Ock has left him. Meanwhile Ock’s victory lap among Peter’s loved ones is interrupted by his old adversary’s escape.

The dual focus on each of the octopods makes for a great story. Slott has long since made it clear that he sees how similar Otto and Peter are and watching two of the smartest characters in the Marvel Universe go head to head is exhilarating. With the stakes so high, it can actually get your heart pumping to see Peter come up with plan after brilliant plan, only for Otto to snatch it away from him.

But it’s not just about the rivalry between the pair, each one gets solid solo moments. Slott has to convince readers that Otto has story potential. The first scene with MJ is super creepy, all the more so for the art of Humberto Ramos who draws a subjectively sinister Peter Parker and a Mary Jane whose desire to be with him is palpable. There’s been a lot of controversy over the ethical ground Slott is covering, but I think he’s well aware of what he’s doing. What concerns me more is the way MJ reacts to Otto being Otto. While I think she’s honestly distracted by the thought of being with Peter again, Slott doesn’t make that explicit and, frankly, it doesn’t much matter. Mary-Jane Watson doesn’t take “not now, woman” from anyone.

Slott also continues a fine run of excellent issues for J. Jonah Jameson, who finally begins to accept that Spiderman is a hero (oh, the irony of it all!) I love the oblivious and surprisingly respectable way that Jonah turns on all of his deeply held convictions in this issue, admitting that he “knew [Spiderman] had it in him” mere hours after he calls the press “parasites, the lot of ‘em” (“Jonah,” Glory interrupts, “you used to be part of the press.” “Back when it was a bastion of integrity, Ms. Grant,” he replies. Good god, I love this man. Is it any wonder they chose the same person to play him and Cave Johnson?).

But, while Otto is ingratiating himself to the people in Peter’s life, Slott returns to the territory from his acclaimed Matters of Life and Death, giving the real Peter a tour of those who have already left his life. Though it’s emotionally manipulative at best, in a story like this it kind of can’t be helped. Besides, it’s a wonderful scene. The best part is, of course, the moment when Peter confronts his Uncle Ben. It’s a touching moment but one with depth and grimness sown into it. In a heartbreaking exchange Peter begins to break down when Uncle Ben tells him that he can’t stay, worrying that “it’s that one mistake, when I let you down.” This moment shows Slott’s mastery of Peter Parker. Even though Peter thinks he’s lived a good life and likes himself, there’s that gnawing fear in the back of his mind that he’ll never make up for that mistake, that he doesn’t deserve happiness. In Uncle Ben’s touching reply, Slott manages to draw the curtain on the penultimate act of the Spiderman story, giving Peter a strong moment of Apotheosis. Returned to life or consciousness (however you want to read it), Peter goes into his final fight whole, a Spiderman no longer driven by the guilt of one selfish act.

And as poetically as Slott makes it clear that Peter’s time is ending, he also shows us that Spiderman and those he cares for will go on. Just as he did with the Lizard last issue, Slott sets up subtle points for The Superior Spiderman. Don’t count me surprised if Mac Gargan and Carlie Cooper play important parts in the rest of this drama.

Slott’s trademark humor is also on display, though it often has a dark twinge to it. The Trapster gets a good showing for himself and the little ways that Peter and Otto influence each other is fun and interesting to watch.

Finally there’s the moment I know I’ve been waiting for, and I imagine a number of you have too. Mary-Jane loves Spiderman! Mary-Jane loves Spiderman and I don’t care who knows it (though I will continue to be respectful of spoilers for an appropriate period, but still!) If nothing else, for any sadness you feel from this issue, we have a moment of hope. I think Slott’s done a wonderful job of reintegrating MJ into Peter’s life and, though he takes a nice stab at his own characterization of MJ, he’s ready to put her back where she belongs, stronger and better than ever. Now, we could be heading for trouble in the Superior Spiderman, but let’s just trust Slott, breathe for a minute, and enjoy knowing that the spider-marriage lives, if only in spirit.

On the art side, Humberto Ramos continues to be “the engine that drives” this book, to quote Slott. Ever since Big Time began, I’ve felt that Ramos has just the right balance of the cartoony and the grim for Spiderman, and both are on display in this issue. Not everyone enjoys his style and I understand why but it definitely works for me. His Doc Ock (or rather, his body of Doc Ock) is horrific yet viewable, and actually could easily have been a really cool character design for another villain. I don’t like it quite as much as his other characters but he imbues Spidey and Ock with power and speed, not to mention some excellent shadow work. Ramos also modifies his style slightly for a number of beautiful panels depicting Peter and Otto’s memories.

Even so, this can’t be said to be one of Ramos’ best issues. There’s no shame in that, it’s a double sized issue of a biweekly publication. I can’t say it would have been better to switch artists, especially in the middle of a story like this. Still, it would have been nice if there were a few less weird moments. There’s one panel of JJ that could probably be recolored as the Hobgoblin and MJ’s cheek bones switch between beautiful and ridiculous between panels (what is it with him and Js?)

Still, for any issues you may have with Ramos’ style or any individual panels, I think most will agree that his compositions are lovely and I, personally am glad he was the one to see Peter off. Which brings us to why we’re really here…

Many of us couldn’t avoid hearing before it happened (I actually made it up till the release date but forgot to stay off of the Internet), but this book will be remembered best as the issue where Spiderman died. And, as such, this issue, and to a large degree Slott’s entire Big Time run, are a celebration of Peter Parker.

For all his amazing and admirable qualities, and all the innovative thinking that lead to his creation, Peter Parker isn’t all good; not by a long shot. Spiderman, at its start, was still influenced by the Superdickery thinking of its day. It was a nerd’s revenge fantasy. How sweet to secretly be stronger than the bullies at school, and to see them unwittingly start fan-clubs in your honor. How wonderful must it be to have the courage to speak truth to power and have the nerve to think up and dish out a quip at every insult? How great would it be if the most popular girl in school fell in love with you because you didn’t seem to notice her? Peter Parker was an angry young man. Though he’s no Wolverine, we’ve seen time and again how he can lash out when angered, from the Death of Jean DeWolff to Back in Black. In fact what makes him heroic is that he was corrupted by absolute power and came back to himself. It was the first instance of a long tradition of Spiderman having to make hard choices: choosing to change, to be the man Uncle Ben raised him to be again. Otto Octavius was not so different, but he didn’t have an Uncle Ben and his Flash Thompsons didn’t turn around, they followed him all the way through graduate school and into his professional life.

The theme of this story is clear right from the very beginning when MJ recoils at the sight of the spider-suit. To Octavius, it’s the power to be Spiderman that intrigues him. Perverse as it is, it’s not enough to ‘have’ MJ, the beautiful trendsetter, he has to do it as Spiderman, this small-scale god amongst men.

Contrarily, Peter fights like never before and, though he wants his life back, that’s not his most important concern. For Peter, as it’s always been, it’s about the people he loves. He can’t let Doc Ock have his spider powers, they’re too dangerous. Much as he desperately wants to live, it’s never been about what Peter wants, it’s about his responsibility. Even over his promise that “no one dies”, even if it means sacrificing his life, he does what needs to be done, and he does it with a joke on his lips.

But whether you knew it was coming or not, when Ock’s last ace is revealed you can feel it in your stomach. It’s good writing and it’s the death of a beloved character. And seeing Peter’s fight as a battle to protect the world from a spider powered Otto Octavius, he claims one last victory.

I could go blow-by-blow through the death of Spiderman, but you’ve read it by now or you will soon, just read it, it’s quite touching. In the end Slott makes this a story about the heart of Spiderman. Because while the death of Bruce Wayne really convinced most people that there is only one true Batman (and Terry McGuinness), that’s because Batman is a man. And at the heart of it, Spiderman is an idea: that with great power there must also come great responsibility. That’s what he gave us. In this world and in his.

Rest in Peace, Peter. We’ll see you soon.

 

Spider-Dreams
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Giuseppe Cauncoli

 

Spider-Dreams is a simple story decently told. Don’t come in expecting lots of action or riveting dialogue, this isn’t a story for your head or your gut, this one’s all heart.

Baby-sitting his thirteen year old great Grandson, a kindly old man by the name of Martin looks back on the days when he got to tell the boy stories and lets him in on his greatest secret: he used to be Spiderman.

The real fun of this story is that Martin doesn’t seem to be too well-informed on Spidey’s history. He tells how he teamed up with Colonel America and the mightcredible Thunk (alright I did the adjective) and fought fearsome foes like Kraven the Rhino. The art backs him up giving us Matt Fury, half-blind agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., the Frog, Cycneto, and Ghost Dragon-Rider. I don’t know how much of this was the writer and how much was the art team’s doing but my compliments to them, it’s a fun story to re-read.

Acclaimed Spidey veteran J.M. DeMatteis returns to pen the story, and while it’s not up to the high bar his greatest hits have set, it’s solidly brought to life. It seems clear that one of the important things for DeMatteis was evoking the sad lonely life that Martin leads, all alone in assisted living, separated from his nearest relatives by a full generation, and losing his connection to his great-grandson. He succeeds in that. There’s a nice even melancholy permeating the piece, resisting the temptation to do thinks ‘Marvel-style’ and have Martin scream out his pain, two white tear lines down his face.

Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is attractive but not without problems. Most noticeably, Martin’s cheekbones (what is it with this issue and weird cheekbones?). Despite his healthy physique, great grandpa Martin looks like a cross between Uncle Ben and the Red Skull. Other characters fare better, though faces are generally where problems arise.

Stephen, Martin’s grandson, is also a slightly larger boy than you might normally find in an issue of ASM, but he’s portrayed reasonably and attractively, his chin doubling up as he sinks into the couch but returning to normal when he readjusts. It’s nice to see a comic character drawn with some meat on their bones without looking like the Blob.

The flashback scenes are especially great, thanks in no small part to colorist Antonio Fabela. Simple lines and exaggerated colors conjure up a world of fond but fractured memories. From the slightly manga-inspired take on Spidey’s origin to a glimpse of domestic bliss (and chaos) for Spiderman and his girls to a darker time and an extremely well rendered battle, we see Camuncoli adapting his considerable talents to suit the many sides of Spidey’s life. And all throughout he chooses excellent angles. Though he has some stumbles (the one I mentioned above being by far the worst and most noticeable), the art is dramatic and expressive.

Through it all, as with the main feature, what stays with me is the central theme of the piece and the way it celebrates Peter Parker. As we slowly realize that Martin is actually Spiderman in hiding, he shows us that, when it’s all over, Spiderman isn’t what matters to Peter, it’s being Mr. Mary-Jane Parker. All these things we obsess about, how this story connects to the main continuity (I do notice one Otto Octavius playing an organ at Pete’s wedding), whether the Chameleon is actually a threat to Spiderman, who has the right to be Spiderman, they aren’t what matter. Peter deserves his rest, but not in the ground. He deserves a wife and a daughter and a yearly swing through New York with them. And that feeling of holding them close as the web pulls taut: that’s what we all want: our Spider-dream, for us and for him.

 

 

Date Night

Written by Jen Van Meter

Art by Stephanie Buscema

 

The final story is a cute little Black Cat tale, illustrated in a picture book style. Date Night sees Felicia Hardy working behind the scenes to make her boyfriend’s life easier as a solid chunk of the Marvel universe takes a night to spend with the ones they love. With Felicia succeed in assuring Spiderman’s victory? And will they too find time to snuggle!? Read and find out, Spidey-fans!

The art is quite good, expressing the tone of the story well and hiding just enough little details to shut down those who might criticize. Things like Sue Storm’s custom logo, and Felicia’s wrist-ropes show that thought was put into each panel, even if one can’t say that it’s dripping with references or detail.

The writing is simple and sweet. The caption declaring this story to take place “some adorably long time ago” sets the stage well for what is to follow. I will admit that it irks me slightly that Spidey’s getting Avengers alerts in a story that seems to be set in the glory days of the SpiderCat pairing (wasn’t that during the 80s?), but who really cares. Then again the Avengers also don’t seem to care much about a giant robot tearing up New York, at least not enough to cancel their dates (Earth’s mightiest heroes? Maybe, but apparently not the most considerate). But once again, it’s just a cute little story, I think it’s fair to give it the benefit of the doubt. Besides, the robot seems to be the handiwork of one Otto Octavius, so maybe they’re just letting Spiderman deal with his own.

As you may have guessed I don’t think this is a masterpiece. As much as I think that children’s media frequently condescends to its audience, I recognize that in stories for all ages, one has to understand what the apparent purpose is. In this instance, it seems to be to tell a quick little story for children and those of us who still love the feeling of seeing Spidey as a child does.

The one thing I will say about date Night is that seems to be pandering to the female reader. There’s nothing inherently female about the story save perhaps the gender of its lead, but, sad as it is that media is frequently divided along gender lines, we can all recognize when it’s happening. These are tropes I don’t especially care for, but that are typically treated as not for* me. I can deal with that I suppose. As a guy, I have a bullshit claim to most of Spiderman, and in fact comics in general. The reason I bring it up is because I’m not sure who this story really helps. It’s plenty enjoyable and if you wanted your little girl to have a Spiderman story she could read, you could probably do much worse, but why is Black Cat forced to hide in the margins of the story, filling in the shadows of the standard Spiderman story? Obviously this story depends on it but why not write a story where Felicia saves the day? I know that this version of Peter really enjoys fighting robots by himself, but that’s the other problem: Peter doesn’t come off as particularly bright in this story. While Felicia is thinking of ways to help her “Spidey-kins”, Peter doesn’t even notice that the police must have stopped chasing him for a reason. Even stranger, he knows that Felicia is still stealing and is troubled by it but apparently is willing to let it slide cause, ya know, she’s pretty and she likes him. How flattering is it to either of them that in Peter’s anniversary issue, the one celebrating how smart; and kind; and noble he is, he’s played as kind of a doof, easily distracted by robots and sex, and Felicia still has to play second-fiddle to that? It doesn’t help women all that much to show that they’re even more capable than the boys if the boys are useless.  Something feminist in me wants me to like this issue more, but something else that feels equally feminist tells me to like it less. Oh well, at least they’re supportive of interracial dating (I think giant robots and cranes are ethnically distinct).

Overall it’s a fine story that accomplishes what it wants, but it personally bugs me. I’ve been a little hard on it, but it will make you smile.

 

 

Special Features

 

Finally there’s the special features. Big anniversary issues like this often contain celebrations of what’s come before and what’s ahead, and this one is no exception. They’re fine but, honestly I’m a little disappointed. This isn’t just any anniversary. This one feels special.

The first is a cover gallery of all the variants for this issue. They’re attractively framed and given that at least one of them could run you four-figures to actually own, it’s appreciated that your already hefty $7.99 (if you’re lucky) gets you the art at the least. Personally I don’t get the point of variants. I mean, I understand it, but I can never justify the sheer amount of extra money they charge for a cosmetic adjustment to your comic (This is an interesting, though potentially bland article that’s supported and informed my thinking on the matter). Though the Internet makes it plenty easy to track down these images, it’s nice to have them, especially Humberto Ramos’ and the much sought Ditko variant.

The next one is kind of silly but very cool in my opinion. It’s a copy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s official proclamation of NYC Spider-Man Day. It’s not terribly interesting to read but it’s different and it does a fine job of highlighting how important Peter Parker is to this fair city. Also it lets you know his birthday, which, you know, cool! Now I don’t have to go to the Marvel Wiki.

After that is actually my least favorite of the special features. Here we get a look at some fabricated ‘desks’ in the Spidey offices. Really this is a way to get you psyched about this new ‘Superior’ era of Spidey stories. Marvel NOW! As great an idea as this is in theory, it kinda feel flat to me. The images we see aren’t anything to blow your mind. DC has actually done a good job of showing us unused costume designs and hints of upcoming stories without spoiling too much in their books, and Marvel has a long history of great Spidey-teaser images, so it’s a shame that such a special issue contains such standard hints of the future. It’s certainly not to anyone’s detriment (except maybe the rainforest. Wow, I’m a hippie in this review!), but I feel like they could have done better.

Then we get another cover gallery, this time of every issue of Amazing Spider-Man ever (well, at least those with standard numbering). This one isn’t half as practical as the other cover gallery, but the covers remain just big enough to make out the broad strokes. Would it have been nice to be able to see them better? Yes, but, especially as someone who just complained about the potential for wasted paper, I can’t complain that Marvel limited this feature to seven pages. more important than seeing any one specific cover is the opportunity to see them as a tapestry, woven over 50 years. Though they’re hard to make out, you can see the bright colors and blurrier lines of the 60s fade into iconic covers from the 70s and change again into the cluttered but exciting images of the 1980s. You can watch an explosion of symbiotes in the 90s while watching the role of computers grow. You can see how line-wide crossovers invaded in the Bendis years and, if you squint, you’ll be able to make out example of artists striving to make a single image define a villain in the wake of Brand New Day and The Gauntlet. And most of all, you can see what 700 looks like.*

Happy birthday, Spidey. Whether it’s Peter, or Otto, or May under there, you were here long before me and, with any luck, you’ll be here long after, taking care of the city I love. And that’s kind of cool.

 

*There’s also a long letter column answered by Stan Lee, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. Also I’m not sure how helpful a review of it would be. Just know that “the Man” has the last word.

 

 

Check back soon for a review of The Superior Spiderman #1

Excelsior!