While there are plenty of fans up in arms about the developments in today’s issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s pretty clear to anybody who’s been paying attention to comics for the last twenty or so years that it’s not a story that’s built to last.
Whether it’s the death of Superman, the “permanent paralysis suffered by Batman following his first major fight with Bane, Hal Jordan’s madness or the replacement of Peter Parker with a clone who was, apparently, the real Peter all along, virtually every time a major superhero character has been replaced in one of these big “world-changing” stories, he was back in his cape and tights not too long after.
And then, of course, there’s Steve Rogers, the hero whose death probably inspired this change considering how well it did for Marvel.
What are some of the clues we have that this particular story isn’t a long-term change?
We discussed this at some length before, but the whole “Can Octavius be redeemed?” thread is just not compelling to many fans who will think of him as the guy who killed their beloved main character.
He was the villain with the master plan who believed himself (wrongly, we saw many times) to be smarter than the hero. If his master plan works out for him in the end, that seems to validate his delusions, and that’s just sloppy storytelling.
If you look at any number of stories–but we chose to use The Lion King as an example–this is something that happens all the time, and the bad guy never actually comes out on top at the end of the third act. This story is clearly just the beginning of something.
This might sound like the most cynical reason on the list, but it’s probably the most compelling. There’s a movie coming out in 2014, and the fact of the matter is, there’s a next-to-zero chance that they’re actually going to leave Peter Parker dead when his big-screen counterpart is making hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.
For anyone who doubts this, just take a good, long look at what happened with Captain America. Steve Rogers was killed, and everyone cynically joked that “Well, there’s a movie coming out. He’ll be back in time for that!” Even though Brubaker’s run turned out to be a fan-favorite one and Bucky Barnes was a perfectly good Captain America, Steve Rogers was, indeed, alive and walking around by the time Captain America: The First Avenger made its way to theaters.
And Steve’s story has a lot of things in common with some of the arguments we make below; it was a rather undignified death for a character of his stature, after all, and it increased the number of books you had to read for the monthly comic to make sense.
How many of these guys are still in the game?
Okay, so the answer is two–that means that exactly 20% of the “best” replacement heroes haven’t ceded their title back to the original sooner than later. And NONE of them was replaced by a hated enemy. You do the math.
As the demographics of comic book fans have changed and there are so many more people who have been reading for decades, it’s radically changed the face of “replacing” a character. In the Silver Age, DC introduced a handful of characters (and Marvel a few themselves) that were riffing on the concept of some of the long-out-of-print Golden Age heroes they owned.
Since about the mid-’80s, though, long-term replacements have been borderline impossible because there’s a vocal contingent of fans, including some who work at the publishers, advocating on behalf of any character killed or replaced.
Look at The Flash: the Silver Age reinvention of Jay Garrick as Barry Allen seems to have stuck for good, while the more recent replacement of Barry (during Crisis on Infinite Earths) with his sidekick Wally West, a far less radical change and one backed up with twenty years of stories before they undid it, had to go.
For that matter, when they replaced Wally himself (with Bart Allen, after Wally decided to retire and spend his well-earned happy ending with his wife and kids), that lasted all of about nine months before it reverted to Wally, and then reverted again to Barry a year later.
“The biggest issue I have, if the end of Amazing Spider-Man #700 is indeed the status quo, is that it complicates the character more than it improves upon him,” wrote Craig Byrne of Green Arrow TV in our review roundtable earlier today.
And that’s toxic when you’re trying to attract new readers, sell toys to kids, make movies, etc.
Those are all things that Disney/Marvel are incredibly interested in, in case you were wondering.
There’s a story that Dan DiDio told in an interview ages ago, that basically holds that the fan-favorite, Peter David-written “earthbound angel” take on Supergirl (which began as an extradimensional shape-shifter who took the shape of a female Superman in the ’90s) was tossed into the dustbin of continuity because when DiDio was visiting the Six Flags theme park where they had the Superman roller coaster, he was reading Supergirl’s origin and decided that it was not at all new reader-friendly–”there was once a Supergirl but she doesn’t exist anymore and now there’s an extradimensional being who replaced her but nobody remembers the one replaced and then the extradimensional being turned out to be an angel and…”.
DiDio opted for the easier-to-understand “She’s Superman’s cousin who does all the same stuff he does.” It’s easy and, even if some readers may not find the character as engaging, “easy” is easier to sell to Warner Brothers.
Here’s another thing that came up in our roundtable, this time from retailer Martin Kinney: “What I do know is that Peter’s send-off seemed lacking.”
He ain’t kidding. Peter’s hail mary pass feels pretty hollow, leaving fans with the impression that he just kind of gave up. And, frankly, the idea of just kind of collapsing to the ground while trapped in the aging, decrepit body of his worst enemy is just not a death worthy of a hero like Peter.
If this truly is the final chapter in his story, it would be just an absolutely terrible ending, and would fly in the face of the kind of stories generally told with Spider-Man.