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Amazing Spider-Man #700 – Death of the comic book

Posted by on December 27, 2012 – 2:12 pm

The following commentary contains spoilers from the “last issue” of The Amazing Spider-Man (#700).

The death of a major character in a comic book has become as cliché as the long underwear our beloved superheroes wear, and in 1992, with the “Death of Superman,” these faux deaths started to become newsworthy events; or at least the DC Comics marketing department became smart enough to issue press releases and garner national attention for their big death story.

Let’s be honest, the caped cadaver craze is all about cash. Since Superman’s unfortunate (and temporary) demise in the early nineties, superhero deaths and resurrections have been designed for the specific purpose of making a quick buck. Since then we’ve experienced the “death event” of Captain America and now the death of Spider-Man, with today’s release of the ultra-hyped Amazing Spider-Man #700.

While I understand this is how the comic publishers stay in business and I certainly wouldn’t deprive them from making money, I do take issue with the foolhardy way in which Marvel and current ASM writer Dan Slott has treated my favorite hero, Spider-Man – a controversial move that has not only destroyed the hero, but all aspects of his heroism.

In short – through convoluted plotting, Peter Parker (Spidey) and his longtime adversary Otto Octavius (Dr. Octopus, AKA Doc Ock) have switched bodies, with Peter ultimately dying a painful death while imprisoned in the battle worn body of one of his greatest foes. He dies knowing that Octavius still lives, posing as both the web-slinger and his alter-ego, using the hero’s own memories to help perpetrate his evil plans.

They say that this is a “permanent” change, but I’m not buying it. I’m assuming that the writers have already conceived of a way to get themselves out of this mess (and if you look closely at issue #700 you can already envision how this will happen.) I’m certain that after a few months (maybe longer) of milking Spidey’s death, and after the novelty of having Doc Ock inside Spidey’s body has worn thin, they will unveil another comic event with the return of Peter Parker (probably Amazing Spider-Man #701). So, start saving your nickels (or should I say dollars) now.

Beyond the hype and the hoopla surrounding the controversial ASM #700, let’s look at the book itself, which (in my humble opinion) has some serious issues. Issues that I feel have led to the death of the comic book medium altogether, never mind the demise of one of the world’s most loved fictional heroes.

First off, I was shocked by the price tag on this book, $7.99 for a brand new comic that had just hit the shelf. This is the highest cover price I have ever paid for a comic book and I am still experiencing sticker shock. I really don’t understand how Marvel can justify this dollar amount.

Yes, the book is packed with a couple of very poor supplemental stories that are not even worth reading and some additional letters pages by Stan Lee (who amazingly has given this treatment of his creation his full support), but there is nothing in this book that is worth what they are asking for it. It could easily have been left at a normal size and at the normal comic price of the already excessive $3.99.

The pricing issue alone makes me wonder, who actually has the money to spend on comic books in today’s atmosphere of recession and fiscal cliffs? I love the comic book medium and it has been an enormous part of my life for almost as long as Spider-Man has been in existence. I’ve been gainfully employed since I was a teenager and would consider my income to be in the middle-class range, but because of the outrageous cost of feeding my comic habit, there is no way I can afford anything other than a periodic comic book purchase – and for me a $7.99 price tag is outrageous.

My next issue is with the art in this book, by the veteran Spider-Man illustrator Humberto Ramos. There is a time and place for Mr. Ramos style of art – which for me resembles a manga style that I really, REALLY dislike – but Spider-Man isn’t that place. My favorite Spidey is of the John Romita (senior) and Ross Andru variety and Humberto is way too cartoony for me; especially for a book with as much historical importance as Amazing Spider-Man #700 (with or without the irresponsible Doc Ock plot).

There has been more than one Spider-Man comic series over the past few years that I have walked away from due the use of Humberto Ramos as the artist, and while I know there are those who love his work, I’m certainly not one of them. His choice as the “final” artist on the death of Spider-Man issue was a terrible choice, but at the same time fitting – because for me he killed the various Spider-Man series he was involved with long before this current book.

The Doc Ock & Spidey mind switcheroo isn’t the first time that Marvel creators have used this type of tactic to pull the rug out from under the Spider-Man universe (and it probably won’t be the last.) But I’ve grown weary of these tricks and in my old age I’m starting to develop an Annie Wilkes like attitude towards these cheap plot gimmicks (see Stephen King’s Misery) where I feel cheated out of my investment in these characters I love.

I’m down with the story that Dan Slott has created here, and if it had the context of just another Spider-Man plot line I would be comfortable saying that it is interesting and entertaining, but for my money he and Marvel editor Stephen Wacker have crossed a line for nothing other than short term financial gain. Long term, which it what they are saying this change is about, I don’t care about the bastardized adventures of a Spider-Man who isn’t really Spider-Man, but is a pretentious, murderous, arrogant super-villain who has taken over the hero’s life.

The creative staff at Marvel needs to respect the creators who came before them and the longtime fans of their fictional universe; they are the ones who have allowed you to work in your chosen field. If you cannot honor the characters that others created, then create your own cockadoodie characters! I’d love to see something new, but don’t reinvent beloved characters that don’t belong to you and make them into something they are not and never should be.

ASM #700 isn’t the only problem Marvel is currently creating for itself; they are in the process of rehashing their entire field of superheroes with their Marvel Now initiative. Some of this has worked and is in the tradition of the character’s framework (i.e. the new Fantastic Four) and some of it is just heresy, as in the Captain America relaunch that has absolutely nothing to do with the patriotism and heroics that the character is based on – he really could be any one besides Cap.

Marvel is not the only comic book company guilty of trying to reinvent itself. DC Comics did the same thing last year with its New 52 experiments; and to be clear, I’m not opposed to shaking things up. I completely understand the necessity to create “jumping on” points for new readers and looking at characters with a fresh perspective. Besides, no one can keep track of 50-70 years of storylines and plot points. But you have to remain true to a character’s colors and the original traits that made them a hero in the first place.

There was a time when stories like ASM #700’s were relegated to the “What If?” comics, and that is where they belong. To completely change a character by killing his spirit is to kill what made that comic and that hero great. For me, what Marvel has done here is not only to kill my all-time favorite hero and destroy the universe he inhabits; but with the pricing of this book, the terrible art, and ridiculous filler they used to try and justify the cover price, they have put another nail in the comic industry as a whole.

Let us know what your thoughts are on ASM #700, Marvel Now and the current state of the comic book book industry.