REVIEW: “Amazing Spider-Man #700” and The Quest for Heroism

asm_700_coverIn the annals of comic book events, there have been few instances that have drawn as much attention as the 700th nd final (?) issue of one Marvel Comics’ flagship titles: Amazing Spider-Man.

This review contains spoilers. If you do not want to have the details of the story revealed, then you should return to the home page immediately.

When the book begins, the body of Peter Parker is still inhabited by the consciousness of Otto “Doc Ock” Octavius, while Parker’s own consciousness is trapped in the rapidly decaying body of Octavius himself.

It is obvious from the start that, despite having access to the sum total of Peter’s memories and experience, the personality of Octavius is in full control. He is egocentric, chauvinistic, arrogant, and concerned only with his own glory. He is vulnerable to mockery, abasement, and ego-stroking. For reasons which I’ll go into later, this characterization of Otto is quite compelling. It stands in stark contrast to Peter. Our long-time hero seems debilitated, a sense which is helped immensely by the way in which Chris Eliopoulos works his magic on lettering duties. His compressed word balloons and shaky text give a real sense of how truly weak the body he’s inhabiting is, and how exhausted he is from the story’s trials.

The tale moves swiftly back and forth from Otto trying to greedily grasp Peter’s life and scenes of the near-dead Peter attempting to draw Otto out so as to reclaim his body. As this journey progresses, we see Peter come to terms with those things that have driven him over the years; his lost parents, the dept of responsiblity to his Uncle Ben, and the friends and allies he has failed to save over the years.

Even if one had steered clear of the mass of spoilers that permeated the internet in the last several weeks, the eventual outcome would have been readily apparent to any reader. Peter’s near-death encounters with friends and family, complete with cathartic “you’ve done well”-type moments,  clear signal that Peter is approaching the end of his path. A scene set in the afterlife so strongly echoed Adventures of Superman #500 that I half-expected to see four differently clad pretenders to the Spider-Man mantle in the final pages.

That obviousness does not take away from the impact of these scenes, however. Peter’s emotional exhaustion is on full display, lending power to the moment when he screws his courage to the proverbial sticking place and sets out to defeat his nemesis one final time.

The best thing about the tale itself is the mind game that Dan Slott sets up between the displaced psyches of Peter and Otto. Each has access to the other’s bag of tricks, and a lifetime of battles have left them with intimate knowledge of how the other operates. Watching the “I knew you’d know I know what you knew” antics play out is delightful, tense, and often quite funny. It was quite refreshing to see that even with the tremendously high stakes and emotionally charged nature of the story, the book retained its sense of humor.

Okay, if you’ve read this far, you’ve realized that you have not seen the aforementioned spoilers. This is your last chance. Point of no return. Turn back now.

Still here? Okay, let’s discuss this.

Odds are, if you’re still reading, you know what happens in the end. Peter’s desperate plan to regain control of his body fails. He is defeated in battle by Spider-Octavius, but manages to force his thoughts to greater prominence in Otto’s mind before he dies.

I have to say, the moment in which Otto held Peter up to get one last look at his loved ones touched me deeply. It is not a moment of exultant triumph, but one of sorrow and acceptance. It is Peter’s acceptance of his fate, and Otto’s acceptance of his new duty to live up to the mantle he has stolen.

It is the upcoming path that Otto will take which makes this story so compelling. We have seen him for who he is over the years. What we have not seen is him with a fierce determination to do the right thing. His is an astounding intellect and his drive is beyond question. What will be most fascinating to see is his struggle against his own selfish nature. In many ways, it is an echo of Peter’s own adventure, something that I’m sure is entirely by design on that part of Dan Slott. Peter’s journey to being a hero was largely complete a long time ago. By grafting Otto’s personality onto that base, Slott has created an opportunity to explore that course anew, while flavoring it with a hint of a redemption song.

What remains to be seen is how much of the new Superior Spider-Man that Otto intends to become will be defined by the memories and experience of Peter Parker, and how much will be directed by Octavius’ own consciousness. Throughout the issue, there are hints that the host body’s personality asserts at least some level of influence, as we see Peter falling into Otto’s speech patterns repeatedly. The effect is somewhat less pronounced where Otto is concerned, but whether the condition is progressive or not is sure to define much of the character’s development.

In the final analysis, Amazing Spider-Man #700 was a heartfelt sendoff to an everyman superhero whose journey reflected the best and worst in all of us. It is moving, exciting, and teases big things for the future. An excellent read, a great finale, and a promising beginning.

Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.

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