I think “George Lucas” should be a verb, but unfortunately, there are so few opportunities to use it. To George Lucas something is to take a beloved property and screw it up so thoroughly that you actually make people retroactively lose affection for the original work. Lucas did this with Star Wars for me. I used to love the Original Trilogy, like most guys my age. But after his endless tinkering with the Special Editions and the dreadful prequels, I find that I can’t even summon much enthusiasm for the original movies any more. Now writer Dan Slott has George Lucased Spider-Man.
(I’m going to spoil the last few issues of Amazing Spider-Man, so if you haven’t read it or heard about it, be forewarned.)
I haven’t been a fan of Slott’s run on ASM for a number of reasons. First, there was the giant mess of the “Spider Island” storyline, which saw everyone in New York getting spider-powers and eventually transforming into giant evil spiders. It culminated in a fight between pretty much every superhero and a giant spider-woman-monster… thing. Somewhere along the line, J. Jonah Jameson’s wife gets killed, and Peter Parker declares that as long as he’s around… NO ONE DIES! There are a number of things wrong with this. For instance, does this imply that up to that point, he’d been fairly ambivalent about people dying around him? Also, at what range is he considered to be “around”? Am I guaranteed to live if I’m a hundred feet away from him? Two hundred?
Then there was the long streak that emphasized Pete’s technical genius. Every issue would have him inventing some new gizmo that would — quite conveniently — end up being just what he needed to defeat the villain of the week.
And finally, there was ASM 700, in which Peter dies in the stupidest way imaginable.
Okay, I’ll back up. Otto Octavius has been in the process of dying for the last few years, his body withering until it is just a husk, fully reliant on his mechanical arms. In the last few issues of ASM, Octavius manages to swap bodies with Pete, Freaky Friday style. Pete struggles to get his body back, but it’s all for naught, and Octavius’ body finally dies, taking Pete with it. But not before Pete manages to replay some of his key memories for Octavius, thereby convincing him to use his new Spider-body for good.
Now, there are two possibilities here. Either this is another one of the tiresome death events that are clearly not intended to be permanent developments in the Marvel Universe, but are instead just marketing ploys. I’ve ranted about these before and if that’s what this is, then it’s simply a bad idea, poorly executed. But Slott insists that this is not some temporary setback, but a brave new direction for Spider-Man as a character: a tougher, meaner Spider-Man, who doesn’t pull his punches. And if that’s the case, then it’s about the worst betrayal of a character that I can imagine.
If you’re going to kill off a beloved character like Spider-Man, you better make it an epic death. He should go out in a blaze of glory, valiantly sacrificing himself to save the world, or at least the people he loves. Here, he just fizzles out as he tries to get his body back. Yes, the scene where he injects his own most meaningful memories into Octavius’ mind was supposed to be a big heroic moment, but it falls flat. First of all, it’s not entirely clear what he actually did. Octavius already had all of his memories, so Pete essentially just showed them to him again, but with feeling. And it doesn’t seem to have that much of an effect in the end. Sure, Octavius learns that he should protect Pete’s loved ones and gains a vaguely heroic ethic, but he’s still a merciless thug who doesn’t seem to truly embrace the most essential of Pete’s tenets: that with great power comes great responsibility.
What we’re left with is a Spider-Man who thinks nothing of punching a guy’s jaw clean off. That’s a long way from the good-natured kid who hung crooks from lampposts on his way to dinner at his aunt’s house.
The shame of it is that a story about Octavius walking a mile in Pete’s skin could actually be pretty interesting, if it weren’t presented as the new status quo. But this wipes out Pete in a most unheroic way and throws away everything that made Spider-Man who he was.
Perhaps it’s hasty of me to wash my hands of Spider-Man entirely. After all, the news of Disney taking over Lucasfilm and making new Star Wars movies without Lucas at the helm does have me intrigued. And if my assumptions are correct, and Peter Parker returns to the mantle of Spider-Man, someone other than Dan Slott will be writing his stories, and perhaps they can do the character justice.