This Wednesday morning saw the release of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, the last issue of Marvel's long-running series that has followed the friendly neighborhood webslinger since 1962. The lead-up is absolutely bonkers (in the way the best comic arcs are): after swapping bodies with Doctor Octopus, Peter Parker must assemble the classic villain's gang of costumed baddies and reverse the physical damage — before Doc Ock uses Spider-Man's powers and life to destroy him forever.
Written by fan favorite Dan Slott, the book weaves in Spidey's vast ensemble — from Mary Jane to now-Mayor J. Jonah Jameson to Aunt May and even a few characters from the past — while keeping the action dangerous and colorful. The book, only a few hours after release, is making people lose their minds — and in a way that rarely happens on the big screen.
This summer's The Amazing Spider-Man movie had a tough battle in the summer of 2012. Not only was it a reboot of a successful franchise that concluded a mere five years ago (2007's Spider-Man 3), it rubbed shoulders with the maximized fun of The Avengers and the triumphant trilogy-ender The Dark Knight Rises.
As it turns out, the comic book movie was also far from perfect. Andrew Garfield made a great Peter Parker: sharp, caring, and emotional in a way that's all too familiar for anyone who survived high school. Where the movie fell flat was in the big picture. It repeated Parker's origin story, tinkered with it to add in mysterious overtones, and padded it with an over-the-top villain who had little connection to Peter's life. A muddled story without any of the flare seen in the source material.
The Avengers is evidence that comic book movies don't have to lose much of their weird and wild qualities in the transition to the big screen. This endeavor takes hard work and a vivid vision, but it's not impossible. Joss Whedon, a lover and occasional writer of comics, drew language and tone from modern Avengers books, and it made a team of silly costumed heroes fighting aliens palatable. The Amazing Spider-Man opted for a darker, realistic tone. Reading The Amazing Spider-Man #700, that feels like the wrong choice.
Beware: spoilers of The Amazing Spider-Man #700 to follow.
Along with Slott's snappy writing is dazzling artwork from the team of Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, and Edgar Delgado. Their mutated Doc Ock looks like an I Am Legend zombie on steroids. Spider-Man (with an internal monologue of Doctor Octopus) finds fluidity in still illustrations against an exaggeratedly humungous Scorpion. Everything pops, even the quiet moments when the real Peter Parker momentarily dies in the lifeless shell body of Doc Ock and "crosses over" to see Gwen Stacey, his parents, and Uncle Ben. It's emotional material that reappears as Peter Parker's memories begin to flood the mind of Doctor-Octopus-as-Spider-Man.
This could be tricky to follow, but not when in the hands of Slott, who paces the story evenly until its radical conclusion. "Peter Parker" dies, but Spider-Man lives on with a now reformed Doctor Octopus, who can't help but feel the weight of great power and great responsibility. Ock, believing his vast scientific intellect combined with Peter Parker's physical powers, declares himself a new hero: the Superior Spider-Man!
Sure, it took Spider-Man 700 issues to get to this moment — although the character also died last year, in 2011's outside continuity series Ultimate Spider-Man — but Avengers is the perfect example of how to build right. Whedon's film couldn't have been as bright and loony without Thor establishing the larger than life God, Captain America playing up its pulp fiction roots, or Iron Man letting Robert Downey Jr. go bananas with humor. The Amazing Spider-Man could be as amazing as daring as its comic book counterpart if it was ready to take chances. Fans would throw up their arms at the insanity of it all as they do with the books, but that's part of the fun too. Comic book fans don't want the expected, they want the adventure that only comic books can get away with. Movies have that potential too.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is currently in the works with Garfield returning, alongside the villains Electro (Jamie Foxx) and high school friend (or foe?) Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Will it take a cue from Slott and let things a bit "comic booky"? We're crossing our webslingers.
[Photo Credit: Marvel Comics]
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