Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #698 review

It's a good day to be Peter Parker. As Spider-Man he's keeping the city safe and is a respected member of the Avengers. Out of costume he has his dream science job and the chance to win back true love Mary Jane Watson.

It's not such a good day to be Otto Octavius. Dr Octopus is in prison, dying. But he's muttering one name, again and again: 'Peter Parker'.

This is the big one, readers, or so Marvel says. Writer Dan Slott's been joking for ages that he'll have to go into hiding after this issue, because we'll all hate its revelation.

Nah. There can't be any comics savvy reader who'll be particularly perturbed by the idea that >gasp< Octopus has somehow swapped minds with Peter. It's been done to heroes previously, for example in Detective Comics' excellent Blind Justice storyline. And Spider-Man readers are tough cookies - we lived through One More Day (Peter and MJ's marriage history is changed by Mephisto) and Sins of the Past (Gwen Stacey had twins with Norman Osborn. Hang on, that deserves italics and a screamer ... Gwen Stacey had twins with Norman Osborn!).

What I hate is all the hype that had me reading this issue trying to anticipate the shocker. It's impossible to just go with the flow, relax and be taken aback by the climax, when Slott and Marvel have been telling us for ages to not miss this comic nudge nudge wink wink (it worked, I've been off this book for awhile - it's $3.99, twice a month - and here I am).

Given the unnatural reading experience, it's to Slott's credit that I didn't guess the ending. It was only afterwards that I recalled seeing the mind swap idea posited in various places. I had noticed that Peter was off, strangely unconcerned about his Aunt May being in hospital. His speech patterns were slightly different, he dons a suit to go to MJ's club, he checks out girls ...

So the deft reveal is appreciated; suddenly the little changes in 'Peter' add up, and I'm immediately re-reading, with the knowledge of Octopus's occupancy putting everything into a new light. It's just good craft from Slott.
Drawing this key issue, Brit Richard Elson skews towards the classic John Romita and Ross Andru runs with his Peter, and it's entirely my cup of tea. While fan favourite artist Humberto Ramos has his strengths, I'm not a fan of his Spidey; to my eyes his webslinger looks awkward rather than agile. Elson, though, gives us a graceful Spider-Man (mind, given that Octavius doesn't have Peter's years of webslinging experience, a lumpen Spider-Man might have made sense). Peter's facial expressions are a pleasure on the first go-round; on second read they prove pitch perfect. And Elson may even be the first Spider-Man artist since Steve Ditko to know how a suit hangs ... it sounds like a tiny thing, but it's shocking how few illustrators bother to/are able to draw street clothes that convince. Plus, his layouts are spot-on for the pace of Slott's tale.
I wonder if this panel is foreshadowing: it's Spider-Man arriving at The Raft prison, with a quartet of Avengers hugged by sea mist. But all those members have died at one time or another, and the mist could be read as clouds and the looming entrance as the Pearly Gates - the image is hinting that Spider-Man is already dead. I know, I'm reaching, but the thought struck me.

Antonio Fabela is credited with 'color art' rather than the more usual 'colors' so it could be that he's doing more work than your average hewer of hues. Whatever the ratio of labour, he and Elson make a fine team.

Paulo Rivera's cover is icky and creepy, all the more so once you know that this is Peter we're looking at. And I love that the Spider-Man 50 Years symbol is shattered here, it's a clever, subtle, appropriate touch.

So, Dr Octopus is Spider-Man and Peter is dead. Or is he? Spider-Pus leaves the prison cell as a medic fights to save his old body. We see neither his death called, nor a flatline. And earlier in the book an octobot escapes The Raft, muttering 'Peter Parker'. Hmm.

Anyway, it's a very good issue. I'll likely check out the next couple before this title wraps with #700, prior to a Marvel Now relaunch, and see where this story goes. I'm not thrilled at the concept of the relaunch, Superior Spider-Man, not starring Peter (the speculation has Spider-Man 2099 in the role), but that's a stunt for another day.

5 comments:

  1. Wait...Richard Elson is the artist on Spider-Man now? Huh!

    And speaking of long ago B-APA contributors, I got a big laugh out of seeing none other than Lew Stringer predicted this exact twist in a blog comment over a month ago. I can only assume that he did it first in Brickman...

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    1. He's a sharp lad, that Lew Stringer. Doesn't even know I'm alive!,

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  2. So Slott has "Done A Doctor Bashir"? I would also point out that Spidey leaving as medics try to revive otto is a direct copy of the end of an episode of Joss Whedon's Angel where the main character is mind-swapped with an old, sick, gnarly dude. Coincidence, I am sure, as is the similarity to that story arc in Spider-Girl where the evil adult version of Arana mind-swaps with Spider-Girl, who then dies in someone else's body...

    No, as you rightly point out, Martin, there is nothing new here but the hype surrounding the event telling us all about the emperor's newest clothes. Fans have already postulated about a half-dozen perfectly plausible resolutions to events and I dare say one or more of them will prove to be accurate, though sadly the timeline of this body-swap doesn't seem to negate Spider-Man's condoning torture, which is a shame.

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    1. Hiya Brigonos, I'm not familiar with whichever Star Trek episode that was (I can't recall which series Bashir was on - Voyager?), but I'll have a bash at finding it. I remember the Angel business though, I should have remembered that one.

      Spidey and I were on a break during the torture sequence, but it really is pretty appalling - I was sucked to read about it over at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics.

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    2. It was Deep Space 9, but it happened offscreen, in between episodes, much as Spidey's body-swap has done. The same problems with suddenly announcing that a main character has been a replacement for X amount of time applies in both cases, though - how many books has Spidey been in since Ends of the Earth?

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