As everyone in the comics community knows, Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 come out today, and the transformation revealed in Amazing Spider-Man #698 is confirmed: Otto Octavius, aka Doc Ock, is now aka Spider-Man, having successfully switched minds with Peter Parker in a well laid-out plan over the last year (in our time). Peter made a valiant effort to reverse the switch, but Doc Ock anticipated his every move, and at the end of the main story in ASM #700, Peter (in Doc Ock’s body) breathes his last breath.
I was both impressed and disappointed by the way ASM #700 played out. I thought Dan Slott’s script was very well written and paced, with more than a few moments where I thought Peter would pull it off… but then Doc Ock would one-up him. But I was disappointed that the story ended with little more than a confirmation of what we learned in ASM #698. In ASM #699, we saw Peter, trapped in Doc Ock’s failing body, being the brilliant Peter we know and love, crafting a plan and setting up his return. Since we were promised an ever bigger surprise in #700 than we got in #698, I expected Peter to defeat Doc Ock and reverse the switch, only to have something else—or someone else—step in at the last moment and foil things up, and then that person would be the Superior Spider-Man starting next year. For me, the surprise ending was that there was no surprise: Doc Ock is (still) the new Spider-Man (for now).
If there was a surprise ending to #700, it was the transformation of character Doc Ock goes through, first by instinctively protecting Aunt May from the Scorpion, and then after Peter uses the weak mindlink that he was able to establish with the gold octobot to force certain key memories into Otto’s conscious mind. After this, Octavius comes to realize why Peter used his powers for good and how precious life is, and at the end of ASM #700 he vows to become a hero himself. (Literally.)
Farewell, Peter Parker. Know this, I will carry on in your name. You may be leaving this world, but you are not leaving it to a villain. I swear. I will be Spider-Man. Better yet, with my unparalleled genius--and my boundless ambition--I'll be a better Spider-Man than you ever were. From this day forth, I shall become... the Superior Spider-Man!
He decides to be the Spider-Man the world deserves, not what he comes to see in Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 as the scatterbrained Spidey that Peter Parker was while trying to balance a personal life with superheroics. This is where Avenging #15.1 fleshes out Amazing Spider-Man #700, laying out more of Doc Ock’s thinking going forward after he comes to the realization of his heroic destiny. In that book, written by Chris Yost, we see Otto sizing up all the aspects of Peter’s life, from his costume and equipment, his relationship with MJ, his work at Horizon, and most importantly how he fought against Spidey time and time again—and how Spidey always won. It is then that Otto realizes that Doc Ock, for all his genius, was a “pontificating, weak-chinned fool,” and that he will not only be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker was, but he will also be a better man than Doctor Octopus was.
It’s this transformation of Otto Octavius, with overlapping themes of responsibility, redemption, and renewal, that will have me buying Superior Spider-Man when it launches in 2013. I was planning to dropping Spidey after #700 and picking it up again after the inevitable Peter Parker Reborn event in 2014. But the premise that Slott has set up interests me, so I’ll see where he goes with it. (Hey, I’m as surprised as anyone!)
Some random thoughts:
1. The Superior Spider-Man is also the Brutal Spider-Man, as shown by how he takes the Scorpion’s jaw off while defending Aunt May, which adds a bit of Knightfall flavor to the proceedings. (The fact that J. Jonah Jameson takes a liking to this new Spidey is a bad sign in and of itself.) I imagine we'll see this impulse be tempered by friends like Daredevil (in whose book he'll appear soon) and various memories of Peter's as well (though certainly not this one).
2. I’m no neuroscientist, but as I understand it, intelligence has more to do with physical brain architecture than personality and memories do. Just in terms of the overly simplistic “software/hardware” analogy to mind and brain, switching personalities and memories between the two men would entail swapping “programs,” while swapping their respective “geniuses” would require more extensive rewiring of neurons and whatnot. (Note the subtle use of vernacular to distract from my whopping ignorance.) Of course, mental swaps are de rigeur in comics, so we shouldn’t nitpick, but since Otto makes such a big deal about how his genius surpasses Peter’s—although his personality resides in Peter’s physical brain—it raises the question anew.
3. Of course, we all know that we haven’t seen the last of Peter—the obvious way to bring him back is for his brain patterns to have been stored in the gold octobot when Peter tried to return things to normal at the end of ASM #700. (Hey, it worked for Tony Stark after his protracted self-lobotomy, right?) Any other ideas?
4. Doc Ock and MJ—eww.
But seriously, the first time he calls her “woman,” she should’ve known something was up, not to mention all his other odd behavior. It would have been appropriate if MJ could have saved Peter from Doc Ock at after realizing that something was amiss—but she'll have her chance once “Just One More Day, We Promise” happens.