Tuesday, January 1, 2013

direct message 007: the amazing spider-man #700

by Alec Berry and Chad Nevett

It’s an anniversary edition of Direct Message. We hit our 7th column right when Amazing Spider-man hits its 700th issue. Get it?

sigh …

Alec Berry: So, Chad, this comic book ushered in death threats and another round of USA Today articles. It’s “controversial,” scandalous even. How do we respond?

We have our individual takes on the major idea at work here as well as the coming status quo, but for now let’s discuss The Amazing Spider-man #700 as a comic book and judge it as so.

I get it, Internet. Dan Slott “knows” Peter Parker. He understands him. He’s faithful to the core. That’s great, but Dan Slott didn’t write a good comic book here, and Edgar Delgado didn’t color one, either. Instead, what’s here is cheap and sloppy. Not horrible, but neither is there anything special about the execution or the attitude. Instead, it’s another issue - not the FINAL issue.

I know, I know … it’s not really the final issue, and it’d be simply ignorant of me to expect anything other than a sales grab from a comic book of this ilk, but could I not at least expect it to be well produced? Probably not, because that isn’t the point, right? The point is that final page catapulting readers to the next thing; it’s about a plot point; it’s about an illusion of change. Which, really, has been Slott’s run all along.

My main problem with the issue is that it flounders those key moments (like the actual death or the rescue of the cast). They feel cheap, in most instances, because there’s either not a whole lot put behind them or they come a little expected and on cue. The kiss really holds this tone because it’s sooooo transparent and on beat. Slott tries to earn it by dredging up the history of that relationship, but really he makes it all the more typical by doing so. As a reader, it’s pretty understood where those characters stand. The kiss isn’t a necessary action. Granted, it’s not really Peter under that mask, but even then it feels forced (which is creepy in its own way).

The Jonah father/son scene reads like a TV-movie-of-the-week moment: tacky as fuck.

And, honestly, actually putting Peter in heaven comes off as lazy, like it’s playing for that easy applause. Is that necessary? Smarter storytelling could have suggested the character’s fate and Uncle Ben’s approval without going there.

I don’t know how else to say it, but The Amazing Spider-man #700 just exemplifies the adjective “cheap,” even without the big upheaval. The story’s colorist, Edgar Delgado, really pushes that for me. His style  resembles the sugary gloss of fruit-flavored candy, amplifying the Subway-advertisement tone of this whole thing. It’s bright and too smooth. A product lacking heart.

And that’s what all this should have been about: the heart. This should be a celebration of something, but really the issue is in a rush, trying to leave before midnight rather than tearing on, abusing the mini bar and reveling in the party until dawn. This issue’s just another beat. A beat we both paid $8 for.

We’re smarter than this. I’m not shocked by what I got, maybe not even disappointed. I’m just surprised the industry feels it can still get by on these death stunts and hallmark issue numbers. That’s been the trend for a few years now, and it’s clear that at least the critics and online-centric readers see past this. But we all still buy, don’t we? Shelling out money for bullshit we know we’re paying for. God forbid we feel left out.  

Chad, express your general reaction. You’re on board for Superior Spider-man. Tell me why.

Chad Nevett: Easy: I like the idea. At least enough to give it an issue of this ‘new’ Spider-Man to see if it looks like it will have legs.

But, getting back to issue 700... it didn’t really do much for me as a comic either. There seemed to be some inconsistency in how Octavius in Peter’s body acts. In issue 698, he never did anything evil. He seemed rather excited about not being burdened by his old life and exploring the potential of what he can do as Peter Parker. Obviously, Peter would assume him to be evil, but there was no indication of that. After all, why mess up a good life because you took a bad turn in your previous one? And that seemed to run through the following issues except when it was convenient for Octavius to play a heel a bit more. That uncertainty of who this character is and what he wants bothers me. It didn’t seem like he needed those memory breakthroughs to not be bad, because the thing about Dr. Octopus is that he wasn’t always fully evil. He was the dark side of Spider-Man in that things happened and choices were made that put him down a bad path. He wasn’t necessarily bad, he was in a context that made him act that way more often than not. That’s a big difference from other bad guys. As we saw in 698, he seemed ready from the get go to continue with Spider-Man as a hero -- he merely wanted to live Peter Parker’s life to the fullest and, part of that, was being the best Spider-Man he could be.

The heaven scene was tacky as hell. The art on the whole didn’t impress me. I don’t find Humberto Ramos to be the best fit for Slott’s writing nor this character and his world. I’ve always seen Spider-Man being rooted a bit more in reality visually.

I do love the idea. I loved the idea of issue 698 where Octavius demonstrates that Peter Parker’s life as Spider-Man doesn’t have to be one of misery. To a degree, he brings a lot of his pain and suffering on himself. All of the tools are there to be a wonderfully happy and content person, and Octavius sees that. It’s a great criticism of Peter Parker, of his flaws -- and, through, Octavius, introduce new flaws. In the Ultimate Universe, they went with another kid as Spider-Man. Someone even younger and more inexperienced. I like that, here, we have the opposite. It’s still the body of Spider-Man, but with another brilliant man with experience in superhuman matters who will bring a new perspective to what being both Peter Parker and Spider-Man means. There’s a lot of potential in that idea. I’m not sure Dan Slott is the writer I want to see try to realise that potential, but I’ll give him a shot since it’s him or no one.

Did you also get Avenging Spider-Man #15.1? I found it to be a better introduction/teaser for this new Spider-Man concept and it sold me on trying Superior Spider-Man #1 more than Amazing #700 did.

AB: I didn’t. I was unaware.

I agree with you. The idea itself intrigues me and makes sense. Ock and Peter are very similar and have always been opposite sides of the same coin, so the symmetry between the characters really kills any argument of this direction not making sense.

The notion of pushing the character forward - making him a superior super hero - also intrigues me. Granted, fucking up is sort of the soul, but Spider-man stories could benefit and flex under the premise of having the character at the top of his game. That pushes a writer to break the usual formula behind a Spider-man comic, and the expected cliches fall away. Will that happen? Possibly, but I suspect the arc of this tale is that Ock, now possessing Peter’s memories, will fail to commit superior actions under the old Parker trope of “guilt.” Plus, he makes a promise to protect Peter’s family and friends, which has always been the crux of the character’s seemingly sub-par performance. He’s too responsible, unable to truly meet a potential.

The illusion of change, but under it the same, old story. That’s Dan Slott’s success.

Do you like the choice of killing Peter? I don’t exactly care, but it seems a more entertaining story exists with keeping Peter alive in Ock’s body, having him live that experience while the characters really switch roles. Maybe that reveals something about each character we didn’t know before. There would also be room to play with structure and voice, I think. I don’t know, just an idea.

Also, how did you feel about Ock’s push to bed MJ? That seemed out of place, and as a writer I wouldn’t place my attention there. Not that, under the right execution, that couldn’t be interesting. The focus just felt wrong for this tale, like a side-tracked thought. The character’s racing against the clock, it seems, trying to ensure that the other character is dead, but Slott must stop and jarringly jam in a few creepy sexual scenes. Obviously, yeah, MJ must be covered at some point, but why not hold that off for later? As a writer, you know Ock’s keeping that body, so save yourself a story.

Also, MJ’s short-shifted to basically being a supportive wife. Where’s that spunk?    

CN: I think it’s hard to avoid, mostly because Octavius spent his life as this overweight, nerdy outcast and, as I think you know, something that often fuels genius is that sense of rejection from the opposite sex. Now, here, he’s put in the body of a man who was intimately involved with a model, an actress, an object of men’s desires... for him to ignore that would ring hollow. I think there’s room in that part of the story to see his growth as he struggles to move past simply satisfying all of his base urges and becoming a genuinely good, heroic person. Then again, I tend to view very little as off limits, even in Spider-Man comics. If they were to simply gloss over the conflict at play here, it would be terrible, dreadful writing. But, if they were to explore the implications of what it means to be in possession of another person’s body, how you can violate others in unspeakable ways without their knowledge... It’s another angle on “With great power comes great responsibility.” Otto Octavius has gained the power of people thinking he is Peter Parker and Spider-Man, so what will he do with the responsibility that comes with that power? That seems to be the central question of Superior Spider-Man. Or, if it’s not, it should be.

I don’t mind ‘killing’ Peter, because it was accomplished in a way where it is incredibly easy to bring him back. Octavius has overwritten his mind, but it’s not hard to present comic book science where the body fights back and Peter’s consciousness slowly comes back until, finally, Peter Parker is Peter Parker. It’s a story with an obvious exit strategy -- and I like that. If only because there’s also the potential for a period where Spider-Man is basically Firestorm, Peter and Otto both rattling around inside that head, trying to work together (and against one another at times). Isn’t that fantastic? Spider-Man ripping off a Spider-Man rip-off?

AB: Well, the story rips-off “Kraven’s Last Hunt” without any of the craft. It even includes this moment: 

“Kraven’s Last Hunt” offered a complete picture, a change in pace, tone and structure and an effort to push those characters until they arrived somewhere new. Even when Spider-man was “killed,” the gimmick was turned into something worthwhile.

Slott’s isn’t that kind of comics creator, though. He’s a writer who writes for the thrill of hitting those cool moments (which is fine), yet he ignores the form almost entirely. That’s why he’s such a success on Spider-man because that’s what the audience wants (and why he drives me up a wall).

I don’t know. That’s really all I can say about this comic. It wasn’t absolutely terrible, and the idea is fine enough and may provide a few sparks. It just feels cheap and represents the wrong of comics.

Plus, those colors are so bright and polished that they’re dull and forgettable.

CN: So... no Superior Spider-Man Direct Message, then?

AB: ‘Fraid not.

Somewhere, Dan Slott gives his order. A message board will soon be soaked in blood. For now, sweat and saliva stew, lubricating the crevices between his keyboard keys.

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