So Marvel has finally bowed to the incessant fan whining going on out there and brought back Peter Parker — sort of.
A year after purportedly “killing” Parker off in The Amazing Spider-Man #700 and re-launching the Spidey comic franchise as The Superior Spider-Man, a new series based on the remarkable, if easily reversible, gimmick of Pete’s body being taken over by the mind of one of his greatest foes, Dr. Octopus (a.k.a. Otto Octavius), the original Spider-Man is back, albeit in flashback form, in a new five-part mini-series continuing the numbering of the old title, but with a twist — rather than going out with the straight-forward numerical designations that would have seen these books being The Amazing Spider-Man 701, 702, etc., they’re instead being issued as numbers 700.1, 700.2, etc. I know, I know, say it with me — whatever.
Anyway, I plunked down eight bucks for the first couple issues of this revolving-creative-team fiasco, which are written by Hollywood screenwriter David Morrell and illustrated by comics veteran Klaus Janson, and even though more or less nothing happens here story-wise — New York is blanketed in a massive snowstorm, the power goes out, and Spidey is trying to get over to Aunt May’s place to make sure she’s okay (seriously, that’s it — no villains to fight, nothin’) — one thing became crystal clear as I read these sparsely-dialogued, if competently-enough-illustrtated issues : it’s a damn good thing that Peter Parker is dead and we might as well enjoy it while it lasts (because, let’s face it, no “death” in comics is permanent).
Blasphemy, you say? I beg to differ. Think about it : sure, the new Octavius-Spidey is a d-bag and something of a fascist, with spy-cam Spider-bots literally stalking every inch of the city, an island fortress headquarters, and a blackmailed Mayor J. Jonah Jameson under his thumb, but shit — at least he’s a somewhat interesting character, and that’s something Peter Parker stopped being a loooooonnnnngggg time ago.
While I have little doubt that The Amazing Spider-Man .-whatever-the-fuck probably improves as a series with its third installment when Joe Casey takes over the writing chores, it’s not something I bothered to hang around to find out, simply because Morrell and Janson have, inadvertently, reminded me just what a dead end Parker is as a character. All he’s really good for is acting like a self-absorbed prick and then feeling sorry for himself because he is, in fact, such a self-absorbed prick. Yeah, fair enough, the supposedly “Superior” version of Spidey is even more of a self-absorbed prick, but at least he’s set his sights higher than blowing off Aunt May for a date with Mary Jane Watson or somesuch. He seems to be out to pretty much take over New York by any mean necessary, and doesn’t bother to slow down enough to have an internal debate with himself about the legal or moral ramifications of what he’s doing, much less take a cold, hard look at why he’s even doing so in the first place. In short, he’s a man of action, and Peter Parker had pretty much been doing nothing but tread water as a character for the last 50 years. Otto-Spidey even shows some signs of moral complexity — he’s dating a dwarf (or “little person,” if you prefer) and genuinely cares about her, even though he’s pretty much nothing but an arrogant bastard the rest of the time. Peter Parker wouldn’t have the guts to do that — he’d simply reject her advances, feel sorry for her, and then feel guilty for breaking the poor girl’s heart while he’s out with some supermodel-type. He’d have some pity for her (whether she wanted it or not), but you can bet he’d have even more pity for himself.
Okay, you can fairly argue that Pete “advanced” as a character by doing things like, I dunno, aging at maybe one-tenth (at most) the normal human rate, quitting his job at the Daily Bugle and becoming a full-time scientist, getingt married, reverssing time and undoing his marriage to save Mary Jane from no less than Satan himself, etc., but that’s all circumstantial window dressing — basically, he’s always been the same boring blowhard he’s been since Steve Ditko quit drawing (and, let’s not kid ourselves, writing) the book back in 1967. Ditko’s interation of Parker was, in fact, compelling and interesting :Pete always seemed to be the slightest nudge away from a complete nervous breakdown, and shit almost never went his way — he lost out on love with Betty Brant and Liz Allen, got picked on by Flash Thompson, inadvertently got his Uncle Ben killed — you know the drill. He was a genuinely tortured soul. It was melodramatic as all get-go, sure, but at least it was fun stuff to read.
The minute Ditko flew the coop, though, it all went south — Peter Parker went from being a thin, mousy, bookworm to being a rugged, square-jawed, stereotypically-rendered “hero.” He started to get the girl every time. And Flash Thompson became his best friend.
Oh, sure, he still sat there and fretted about what a shallow, egotistical dweeb he was, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to be a shallow, egotistical dweeb, and we as readers were asked to continue feeling sorry for him not because he never got anything he wanted, but because he sometimes didn’t get every single thing he wanted. I’m sorry, but screw that. This is a character that deserved to get killed years ago!
Morrell’s interminably lazy script for Amazing issues 700.1 and 700.2 seems to serve no other purpose than to lay on the Parker-nostalgia as thick as possible. Wow, isn’t Pete selfless for trying to make sure the woman who raised him isn’t freezing to death; isn’t he heroic for stopping on the way to her house to rescue people from various storm-induced calamities; and gosh, more than anything and everything, isn’t he just the most noble and awesome guy who ever lived?
Well, no — he’s not. He’s just plain boring. And he has been since the one creator who understood what made him unique in the first place left.
There hasn’t been any genuine angst in any of the Spidey books since Ditko’s departure — there’s just been one phony attempt at interjecting angst after another, all ofwwhich have fallen completely flat and resulted in Peter Parker becoming less and less likable as time went on. Dan Slott’s take on Otto/Spidey in Superior may be far from perfect, but at least he’s not treading water, which is all that Marvel was willing to let other creators do for nearly a half century now. I have no doubt — nor should you — that all this will be undone within the next year or two, but damn — at least Spider-Man is worth reading again for the time being, and that’s at least worth a little something, isn’t it?
I’ll grant you, at the end of the day the folks who say The Superior Spider-Man is an asshole are right — but The Amazing Spider-Man was a boring, pouty asshole with a martyr complex. I know which I prefer.