[SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR "AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" #700, ON SALE NOW.]
In 1962 the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced readers to a new kind of super hero who wrestled with both super villains and life's various problems. His name was Peter Parker and he would go onto become the title character of "Amazing Spider-Man." Spidey's everyman-like approach to life and super heroics made him very popular with readers, but it also meant he would have to deal with change on a regular basis.
Sometimes that change is as small as a new job or new girlfriend, while others alter his life dramatically and even leads to a new person becoming Spider-Man, such as Peter Parker's clone, Ben Reilly, who became Spidey for a brief stint in the '90s. In the current arc of "Amazing Spider-Man" the title character was forced to deal with one of the biggest changes he's ever faced when his old foe Doctor Octopus switched bodies with him. Complicating matters even further, the body switch gave Doc Ock access to all of Peter's memories while trapping Peter in his old foe's moribund body.
The story of Spidey and Doc Ock's body switch came to a close in the main story of "Amazing Spider-Man" #700 by writer Dan Slott and artist Humberto Ramos. While Peter Parker was unable to escape Doctor Octopus' dying physical form, he was able to force his old foe to experience the emotional components of his memories. Though Peter Parker appeared to pass away, a new "Superior Spider-Man" was born as the pain, tragedy and sacrifice Peter experienced gave Doctor Octopus the desire to be a hero, understanding that with great power also comes great responsibility.
CBR News spoke with a team of Marvel Comics editors including Spidey group editor Steve Wacker, Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort about the events of the issue and what they mean for the January Marvel NOW! series "Superior Spider-Man."
CBR News: Steve when did Dan Slott first come to you with his plans for "Amazing Spider-Man" #700? What was your initial reaction? What did you like about his ideas? And did you have any immediate concerns?
Steve Wacker: It was pretty early on in his planning for the "Big Time" run back in 2010. I liked it just fine, it seemed like a good way to bring the Ock/Spidey conflict to a head after so many years.
But as we started planning the book long term, we put it off because it seemed like it happened too early in his run, so Dan came up with "Spider-Island" instead. In the meantime as we started planning the 50th Anniversary, issue #700, and the Marvel NOW! launches, Dan's story grew to something even bigger that we felt could help launch the next 50 years of Spidey.
Tom, you're best known as the editor of the Avengers titles, and Spider-Man has been an Avenger for the past several years. Your role as Executive Editor and SVP of Publishing means you're often involved with books outside of the Avengers franchise. Not to mention that you both wrote and edited Spider-Man stories in the '90s. What was your initial reaction when you heard what Dan wanted to do with "Amazing Spider-Man" #700?
Tom Brevoort: Dan is a friend of mine and we'll talk fairly regularly about stuff he's working on and ideas he's had. This was the case long before he was working on Spider-Man. This goes back to the days he was working with other companies. I was one of the folks in his brain trust, who he would bounce ideas off of or use as a sounding board. So I don't honestly remember when I first heard the full on idea for what happens in "Amazing Spider-Man" #700. I know that it's been kicking around in one iteration or another since his Doc Ock story started with "Amazing" #600.â€¨At that point I don't know that the plan specifically was, "We'll bring it to a boil in #700." It was more, "I'm doing this and I have these two ideas for down the line; the idea that became "Ends of the Earth" and the idea that became this story "Dying Wish."â€¨Those weren't necessarily earmarked for the anniversary issue when they were first sort of put on to the table. The trajectory sort of led there as Dan became the sole Spider-Man writer and he and Steve began to shape their plans for the series.
So when I first heard the idea it wasn't for the anniversary story and I had no reservations whatsoever. It got bigger once we got to the anniversary story though. The fact that this wasn't just a one-off thing, but something that would change the status quo going forward was a new element that got introduced into the process at some point between Steve and Dan. Even that didn't make me blink or flinch. This is the sort of thing we do routinely at Marvel and should be doing, which is stories where stuff doesn't remain absolutely constant. If these characters are frozen in amber they lose their life. They lose their edge.
The fact that things happen to them good and bad is a part of why people are interested in reading about them. I have trust and faith in Dan, Wacker, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli and all the guys involved in this. I believe that they'll pull off exciting, engaging and surprising Spider-Man stories; Spider-Man stories that you haven't read before, where you don't know all the beats. That play in a slightly different way.
This team and this crew knows what it's doing. They've proven themselves for, at this point, several years. So if you've been enjoying the Spidey books I would say put your faith in Dan Slott and the guys that told those stories. They know what they're doing.
Axel, what about you? When we've talked before about story ideas you mentioned that you always like to consider something and look at its problems and merits instead of dismissing it out right. What did you think when you heard about the way Dan wanted to end "Amazing Spider-Man" #700?
Axel Alonso: My initial reaction was less than positive. [Laughs] But that was before I heard exactly where Dan would be taking the story, the twists and turns and surprises. At that point, Dan had me on the hook. This story is risky. It was bound to be controversial, but it's going to be riveting for Spider-Man fans.
Steve, once the decision was made to do this story in "Amazing Spider-Man" #700, what was it like putting this issue together? You've done a Spidey milestone issue with #600, but I imagine putting together this issue was different. As an editor, what did you want "ASM" #700 to be and what did it need to be?
Wacker: I knew I wanted a big comic and I wanted it to be ALL-NEW content. I'm not a huge fan of putting reprints in anniversary issues. We did a similar sized celebration with #600 and even with the end of the Web-Heads run in 2010. Love or hate our comic, I like readers to feel like they got value out of it.
With Humberto Ramos, who has become, I feel, one of the definitive Spidey artists along for the ride, I knew we could go with a big emotional story that would end the 700-issue run of "Amazing Spider-Man" on a high note.
And getting one of the classic Spidey writers in J.M. DeMatteis involved in a backup story was a treat, as well as [a] Stan Lee letter column, which I think will be a blast for some fans who got their letters answered. All year we've been showcasing new stories from a lot of the great Spidey writers from the book's history (including Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco), so the issue is also a celebration of the shoulders we stand on.
Plus, I should mention the gorgeous Black Cat story from Jen Van Meter and Stephanie Buscema which is there because fans always ask for more Black Cat and because I just love Stephanie's art.
I wanted #700 to be a lot of comic and something that did justice to 50 years of the greatest comic ever. I hope we at least got close to the mark.
Ultimately, why do you think it was a good idea to have Doc Ock/Peter become the new "Superior Spider-Man" at the end of issue #700? What does it add to the larger Spider-Man story and how does it stay true to the core of what Spider-Man is?
Wacker: I think seeing the power/responsibility lesson learned from a different angle is where we'll get the biggest addition to Spidey's legend. Fact is Peter has learned that lesson time and again and to just keep rehashing that doesn't seem like the best choice story-wise. I like Dan's move here because we get to see someone who grew up without Uncle Ben or Aunt May to help light the way, so thematically we get into a "nurture vs. nature" area that I think is intriguing.
Axel, doing a story where Peter Parker appears to die and a new Spider-Man takes over has been done and done successfully over in the UltimateUniverse. Did Miles Morales becoming Spider-Man help pave the way for this story? Do you think the end of "Dying Wish" and "Superior Spider-Man" could have been done before the Ultimate Universe's "Death of Spider-Man" story line and new volume of "Ultimate Spider-Man?"
Alonso: Not really. In fact, that's one of the areas I pushed back on when Dan and Steve laid out the initial pitch. But the story Dan is going to tell, and the story that [Ultimate Comics Spider-Man writer] Brian [Michael Bendis] told are very, very different. For starters, Otto Octavius is no Miles Morales! [Laughs]
One of the things about the Ultimate Universe is it's a place where consequences are more severe and you're able to tell more experimental and risky stories. Does transforming Doctor Octopus into Spider-Man and the apparent death of Peter Parker mean we're going to see more big -- and perhaps unexpected -- stories in other Marvel books? Should readers feel that there's a status quo safety net in the Marvel Universe line?
Alonso: I sure hope not! When I said "Dead means dead" in the Ultimate Universe, I wasn't saying that permanent death was off-limits in the Marvel Universe. And any Editor-in-Chief that would discourage his editors or writers from taking creative chances isn't doing their job. Nothing good results from playing it safe. The passion that fans have shown toward this story-positive and negative-speaks volumes about the popularity of this character.
The last time there was major change with Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe happened when Ben Reilly became Spider-Man and it happened right around the time Tom was in the Spider-Office. My initial remembrance was that a lot of fans were angry at the time, but flash forward to now and it seems like you have a lot of fans who fondly remember Ben. Tom, what was it like watching that originally unfold? And is what happened with Ben comparable to what you're doing now?
Brevoort: It's not the same thing obviously, but in Spider-Man terms it's probably the closest analogy that you could draw. And saying that people were upset about it is putting it mildly. The internet was really sort of in its infancy at that point in terms of being a gathering place for comic book readers. It existed in the form of a prototypic CompuServe style boards, but it wasn't really a force. And even without that instantaneous communication across geography and miles a lot of fans were really, really pissed. [Laughs]â€¨
So this current reaction to the stuff happening in issue #700 does not touch it -- yet. It's similar because we're making a change to Spider-Man. Something's happening's in Spidey's life; something big and people are responding very emotionally and very rawly. I have to imagine that if the 2012 internet existed back then in 1994 it would have been even worse because without it was bad. It was immediately controversial and stayed controversial.
That said, even the people who didn't like it, were scared of it, or uncertain found things they liked in the stories that those creators did. And now years later, there's a great deal of nostalgia for that era of Spider-Man and not just for Ben Reilly, but Kaine and a bunch of the other characters and situations that were in the book at that point. A number of those elements have come back into the Spidey fold in recent years with Kaine becoming the Scarlet Spider as the most obvious one. We've also got things though like the Phil Urich Green Goblin returning to the book as the Hobgoblin.â€¨So that's a period that was a turbulent time for the people working on Spider-Man and probably for the people reading the books, but not all of the readers hated it. The people most likely to be unrelentingly vocal are the people who don't like something. If they like it they tend to say, "I like it" and then go about their business and read the next issue. Whereas the people who don't like it tend to be activists who want to create change. So they're out there stumping digitally with signs, pitchforks and whatever. I reckon this will be sort of the same thing.
The other night I read a really funny comment on Twitter. Gerry Conway having become aware of all the stuff flying around said, "I'm so happy that we threw Gwen off that bridge in a day where there wasn't Twitter." I have to agree. I only know about that stuff by reputation, but the amount of vitriol, anguish, angst and anger when that happened in the '70s was perhaps as great if not greater than the Ben Reilly stuff. We all forget because it's been so long and because all you have to look back on is the old letter columns and maybe you can dig up a fanzine or two that was published in that era, but there was such a massive out cry that they did that first "Clone Saga" in an attempt to kind of pacify people; "You want Gwen back? Here you go. Please stop now!" Now you look back and that's maybe the quintessential Spider-Man story. If it's not the best one or the most well known one, it's certainly number two.
So I think this sort of thing is woven into the DNA of Spider-Man and every so often we should do something like this to turn the apple cart over, stir the pot, and make people emotionally invested in what's going on in the life of Peter Parker -- or the death of Peter Parker.
Doc Ock's consciousness is in Peter Parker's body, has all of Peter's memories and a genuine desire to use his power responsibly. So he's Peter Parker for all intents and purposes and that raises some interesting questions. First, will he try to live Peter's live and interact with Pete's friends and family? And second, will this new "Superior Spider-Man" wrestle with Doc Ock's ruthless streak and megalomania?
Wacker: We will see right away in "Superior Spider-Man" #1 that Doc's path is rife with moments where his more evil, ruthless nature is striving for control. Of course, at the same time he'll need to juggle the various relationships in Pete's life -- which means it's really the first time Dock Ock will have ever had to worry about other people. But while he might have Pete's memories, Doc ain't gonna be a nice guy. We see the results of that very early on.
Axel, from the story you shared in "Amazing" #700 I know you've been a Spider-Man fan since you were a kid and I imagine those feelings only grew stronger when you were editing his book and then became Editor-in-Chief. How did it feel as a Spider-Man fan to read "Amazing" #700? What was it like for you see Doc Ock experiencing Pete's memories and vowing to do what's right?
Alonso: The closing scene took me by surprise. It was powerful and quite poignant. The notion that Peter's memories might embed themselves in Otto's conscience sets up a fascinating road for the future. Is he capable of being "responsible?" The fact that Doc Ock happens to be my favorite Spider-Man villain because he was the villain in the very first Spider-Man comic I read as a kid, "Amazing Spider-Man" #131, probably factors into that a bit.
Tom, we know you've been a Spidey fan for quite some time as well. So what about you? What was it like to read "Amazing Spider-Man" #700 and see the new "Superior Spider-Man" walking away from a dying Peter Parker/Doc Ock?
Brevoort: Again, in essence it's sort of an unfair question in that I didn't read "Amazing Spider-Man" #700 as a reader. I read it as an editor. I read those books as they come out. I read about half the line out on a regular basis. So I saw it at a point where I was able to say, "I don't know that this moment quite works. Or I think you maybe should tweak this line of dialogue." Then Steve would go off and do whatever with the feedback that I gave him. So I wasn't really reading it like somebody who would pick it off up the stands.
That having been said, Dan has done some great work on Spider-Man, but I think that "Amazing" #700 and in fact the last three issues, #698-700, are the strongest and the best Spidey story that he has done. Those three issues are powerful, raw and pure, and the very fact that people are so on edge about it, and clamoring to the point where they're breaking the law to try and get the book earlier because they want to know what happens shows that. If this is the last Peter Parker story that these guys are going to do and we're going to do, it's a good note to go out on. I think "Dying Wish" is a terrific three-parter.
I've read "Superior Spider-Man" #1 as well because I'm ahead of everybody else, and I think that it's a really strong read. In a couple of weeks in early January people will be able to get a sense of what this new Spider-Man is like, what this series is going to be like, and how it's going to operate. I think it will surprise people. I think they'll have a lot of fun with it and I think if people let go of their tension a little bit and enjoy the ride they will have a good time. And I'm dead certain that what you were talking about before will be the case. 20 years from now people will be saying, "Isn't there some way we could bring back the Superior Spider-Man? I dug all those comics."
Alonso: I predict that many of the same fans that are screaming disapproval right now will soon be cheering on the edge of their seats.
"Amazing Spider-Man" #700, the final issue of the series, is on sale now. "Superior Spider-Man" #1 by Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman goes on sale January 9.