I have been reading comics since I was twelve years old. And the reason I keep reading them is simple: I read stories there that I can’t read anywhere else. Movies and television have too much of a budget to try anything too daring most of the time. Studio and network notes water down what might otherwise be a challenging story. Even novels put out by major publishers rarely push into uncomfortable territory. But the right comic book will blow you away in ways that you won’t expect.
As much fun as the Avengers movie was and as much fun as I’m sure Avengers 2 will be, I know that the purple guy at the end of Avengers shines best in the comic book he comes from because Thanos’ story is fairly screwed up on a level that you won’t see anywhere but a comic book.
I think my favorite thing about comic books is that unlike other media, it isn’t just the small indies taking risks, though the independent comic book scene these days is incredible. Marvel Comics this week ended Amazing Spider-Man with issue #700 and the ending was absolutely shocking for those who didn’t read about the leak online first. It’s the sort of thing they’d never do in a Spider-Man movie. And the most incredible thing to me is that this is Disney-owned Marvel Comics. If ever there was a company you might expect to play it safe, it’d be this one.
There’s no way to talk about this without spoiling things so if you plan on reading Amazing Spider-Man #700 and haven’t yet, stop reading and come back.
For everyone else, here is the basic story. Doctor Octopus (you may remember him from Spider-Man 2) switches bodies with Peter Parker. There are a couple of things that make this significantly different than your standard body-swap story. One is that each of them retains the other’s memories. So not only is Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s skin, but he knows everything about Peter Parker. The other bit is that Doc Ock’s body is hours away from death. The story culminates with Peter Parker in Doc Ock’s body trying valiantly to switch back and being unable to. And so he uses the link between them to share with Ock what it’s been like to actually be Peter Parker. Suddenly the villainous Doctor Octopus gets it. He suddenly understands that ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’. And then, Peter Parker, the Peter Parker who has had comic book adventures since 1962 dies, still stuck in Doc Ock’s body.
Doctor Octopus vows to become an even better Spider-Man and Peter Parker than the original ever was. It’s a powerful story that is expertly told through great writing and great art. And it’s managed to piss off Spider-Man fans the world over. Dan Slott, the writer, has even received death threats.
It should be noted, that another reason that Marvel (and comic books in general) get away with this stuff is that absolutely everything that happens in a comic can be taken back. A few years ago Captain America was shot and killed. He came back. Even more recently Human Torch was killed. He came back too. Other lesser known characters such as Cable and Colossus and Scarlet Witch and Wasp have all died and come back in the last few years. Death at Marvel is a bit of a revolving door.
And with Spider-Man being a major movie property, the odds of Doc Ock-Spidey sticking around past the premiere of Amazing Spider-Man 2 aren’t particularly good. But none of that detracts from the great story that Dan Slott has managed to tell. Issues like Amazing Spider-Man #700 are why I read comics.
– Jack Cameron