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By now you’ve already read Amazing Spider-Man #700 or had it spoiled by twitter or even CNN. I was extremely surprised by Dan Slott’s conclusion - I was sure that Spidey would prevail over Doctor Octopus. But, no, Slott stuck to his guns. Of course, as Spidey’s life flashed before his eyes, Doc Ock felt the burden of Uncle Ben dying and is presumably now a good guy. Is this good for the Spider-Man franchise?
On the negative side this is one of the most comic-book-y of plots. A brain swap between the hero and villain. And because Octavius sees Spidey’s life flash before his eyes now he’s persuaded to act like a good guy. As I tried to explain the plot to my wife (who, while not a comic book reader, is very into the comic book mythos via the old cartoon and new movies) and saw her incomprehension followed by disgust followed by the quote: “This isn’t Spider-Man anymore, it’s The Adventures of Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man” I feared that this could be a pretty alienating plot to those not deep into comics. Those of us who have been around long enough to be hardened against the soap-opera-like plot of comics will stick around. At worst people will wait for Slott to be off Spider duties before returning, but the fact remains that we almost never leave when we threaten to. But for those who are semi-new to comics or who saw the movies or just know the story of Spider-Man from pop culture references it might be a bridge too far.
Additionally, while Amazing Spider-Man was rated “A” way more often than “T” in recent years, there are still hints of adult themes throughout - such as Mary Jane being semi-immune from the Spider-Island virus because of “sharing a toothbrush” with Peter Parker. The thought of Doc Ock getting with MJ (they’ve been moving towards it throughout Slott’s run and she confesses her love in 700) is just gross and wrong and evil. I really cringed when it almost happened in issue #700.
On the positive side, it’ll be nice to have Spider-Man go to new places as a character. Rather than another Satanic reboot a la One More Day, this change is plot-motivated and Slott has been laying the groundwork for at least a year. It will be very interesting to see a Spidey that, at least at first, is willing to go a little further than the previous one. He might also have some inside intel on the villains having been one himself. As I’ve read more and more creator-owned and independent comics recently I’ve come to see that sometimes we only THINK we want our heroes to take a tougher stance against the criminals. When creators properly deal with the consequences of tougher heroes, it can reveal that perhaps we are better off with our boy scout-like heroes. Other times it can show that violence needs to be met with violence. Comics are in a renaissance right now and I think even the big two companies are more willing to invest in creative stories that are a little less “safe”.
I’m curious to see whether Slott keeps the Octavius in Parker swap a secret or not. That could really affect how the stories are told either for the better or worse. In issue #700 Peter in Ock’s body tells Carlie about the swap. She was one of the few to puzzle out his identity as Spider-Man and she’s also now good friends with Mary Jane. So that could lead to some complexity if Dan Slott chooses to go there.
And what about undoing the swap? I also have to give Dan Slott credit there. The way he’s done the swap with each retaining the other’s memories allows for a clean break without the need to retcon. You don’t need to say that Pete survived somehow in Ock’s body or anything. If who we are is our memories, then we just need Pete’s memories to be stronger than Ock’s and we have Pete back. (Of course, that glosses over how souls work in the Marvel universe)
In the end I think Dan Slott’s plot point will turn out to be a good thing for Spider-Man. He’s given us a fresh take on the super hero and the ability to have a great, new set of stories. There’s a dark side to what happens and the potential for the ex and current girlfriend to figure things out. (Not to mention other super heroes) Slott also gave future writers an easy out in the way he did the swap. Finally, while this may be hard for non-comic readers to swallow - I’m not sure how big an audience that truly is and they need to be indoctrinated into comics’ crazy world sometime, anyway.