A hero died last week. The villain won, and in a big way. Doctor Octopus, Otto Octavius, managed to switch his consciousness into Peter Parker’s healthy young body and put Peter into his own dying, cancer-ridden carcass. That happened in Amazing Spider-Man #698. In #699 Peter comes up with a desperate plan to save himself. In #700, he gives it a hell of a try, but he fails.
Ok, it’s a comic book. Not real. In the real world, hundreds, perhaps thousands of real heroes die every week. Cops, firemen, doctors, soldiers, professionals of all sorts who help real people, die, and no one except friends and family of those real life heroes ever knows or cares. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy for someone.
But there is a sense in which the imaginary death of the imaginary Peter Parker is more real than that of the real death of real heroes. Spider-Man has been on the world scene since 1963–that’s 50 years. He lived in that timeless comics world where he aged about 10 years while the rest of us got old. I remember the first issue of Spider-Man. I owned it at one time, and foolishly sold it when I thinned my comics collection in 1973 when I got married. Peter was known to and admired by tens of millions of people. The heroes of the real world are lucky to reach a hundred or a thousand people.
They are clever bastards at Marvel. Peter’s body lives on. His memories remain in his physical brain. All that has really happened is that he has had a personality change. He’s no longer Amazing. From now on he will be the Superior Spider-Man. I think that may come back to bite them. How long before the new Spider-Man gets to be known as the Inferior Spider-Man?
Some people are saying that no one ever stays dead in comics, and that is pretty much true. Peter Parker could return from the dead–writers have infinite power in imaginary worlds. I have already thought of a way to do it, and I’ve read about at least two other methods that could be used. Bringing people back from the dead is easily accomplished. D.C. Comics is perhaps the worst offender. Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman, and Green Arrow–just to name the big guys have all really died, and really come back to life in the last decade or so. A little over a year ago, D.C. killed off (discontinued–it’s pretty much the same thing) the entire universe, and rebooted it.
None of those deaths affected me emotionally the way the recent death of Peter Parker has affected me. I haven’t bought Spider-Man comics for decades, but I made a point of buying this issue. This tragedy will be the comic book event of 2013. I’m wondering about buying The Superior Spider-Man #1 which comes out next week. These two issues will certainly be highly collectible in 10 or 20 years if the world and comics last that long.
I’ve been a comics fan all my life. I’ve seen dozens of comic book deaths. They all saddened me, but none has made me feel as bad as this one. And that is because all of those deaths had one thing in common–the hero died heroically. They may have been killed, but they weren’t defeated. Their deaths accomplished something.
Dan Slott, the writer who killed Peter Parker, might say the same thing for his story, but it’s a lie. Peter’s final action is to make Otto understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Otto vows that he will continue the Spider-Man legacy of heroism, and will be a better Spider-Man than the original. He will be THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN!
Does anybody see the same arrogant selfish pride that characterized Doc Ock for the last 50 years? Ock is callous and scheming. He treats people like objects–he calls Mary Jane “woman”, and bosses her around like a hired hand. Despite his promise to the dying Peter, I don’t think Otto Octavius has been redeemed at all. I think the bad guy won.
Marvel has always been slightly more “realistic” in its depiction of the world and the people in it than DC has. This death of Peter Parker follows that trend. In the real world bad guys often win, at least as often as good guys do. In the real world it isn’t often easy to say who is good and who is bad–none of us are perfect. Villains have won before in comics, but never on this scale–never with quite this emotional impact.
I am not so much saddened or enraged by the death of Peter Parker as I am betrayed. I feel that Marvel comics has betrayed their public by letting Parker die this way. I feel betrayed in a way that the death of Superman or Batman did not make me feel. I really feel that Evil has triumphed. Good has been perverted and crushed, just the same as the dying body of Doc Ock was crushed. Every time I think of it, I feel sick.
There are some other issues that the “death” of Peter Parker raises for me that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere else. (They may have been. I haven’t really searched the web to see what other bloggers are saying about this event.) This gimmick of mind switching calls up the Question of Identity. What is identity? What makes you or me who we are? Is it our memories? Octavius mind in Parker body has Parker’s physical brain and all of Parker’s memories. Parker in Octavius body had Ock’s brain and memories. When they made the mind switch, they also carried all their personal memories across the gap. In essence they became the same person, but with different mind-sets/personalities. The Parker personality died, but everything else that was Peter Parker lived on.
Or is it soul that determines identity? There is a short sequence in 700 when Parker is “dead” for 3 minutes, and goes to “heaven” where he is re-united with all the important people that have died in his life: his parents, Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, Silver Sable (wait a minute! Sable is dead? Awwwww! She was such a fox. When did that happen?) This is portrayed as a happy ending for him. Death is not a tragedy. Death is the final victory. If you believe in souls, you could see things that way. I call bullshit on that. We will all die. Some will die horribly; some will die well; most of us will probably expire quietly in a hospital some time. I happen to think it matters how we die. Slott gave Parker the most horrible death he could imagine–cut off from all his living friends and family, in agonizing pain, in another man’s wrecked and ruined body, cursed and reviled wrongly by everyone in the world that he had spent his life helping and saving. Talk about your martyr’s death! We have all been empathizing and identifying with Parker for a long time. In a sense Slott gave us all that same hideous death–it is not a death any of us would have wanted, nor would many of us even wish it on our worst enemies. I feel sick.
The people who run Marvel Comics are probably laughing all the way to the bank about how much money the “Death of the Amazing Spider-Man” has brought them. Slott has said that even though fandom feels betrayed and sickened right now, the fans will get over it. New readers will come to the title, and Parker will mean nothing to those newcomers. Spider-Man will continue. Spider-Man is a title, not a person. Whoever wears the suit, whoever swings on the webs, that’s Spider-Man. That is one way of looking at it, and it is a true way of looking at the situation. Spider-Man is the institution. It doesn’t really matter who is behind the mask. It could even be a total creep like Otto Octavius, so long as he fights the fight and carries the colors. I don’t believe it. I feel sick.
If you were at all affected by the “death of Peter Parker” why not leave a comment?