I understand that it’s a bad idea to get overly sentimental about the ever-changing world of modern day comics; I get that. I understand that one of the most compelling aspects about reading comics is how the stories and characters change, grow and adapt, often in response to real world events and trends (and movie openings). I get that sometimes, one needs to make a huge change to a character or a character’s world to jolt both the comic book universe and the comic book audience.
All that being said, considered, and understood, I still have to ask: what’s Marvel’s problem with Peter Parker?
(Clearly, this article assumes you are caught up with what happened in The Amazing Spider-Man #700, and while I may sound like the bruised and horrified readers that Jim refers to in his great article, it’s about more than that, promise.)
It’s very easy to point to the fan reaction on Twitter and laugh at comic book people (over)reacting to this stuff, but I think that’s only part of the conversation. I am not able to be on Twitter throughout the day and chart the madness the ebbs and flows from moment to moment about who is irritated by what in comics. I find myself more in the “more engaged than casual” fan of comics, someone who understands the medium and the business but very much not aware of the politics, bickering, and various personality disorders that seem to the subject of many a comic book argument. So, when I talk about how irritated I was at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man, I am truly irritated, despite knowing that nothing is permanent in comics, dead characters come back to life, etc etc, and without any knowledge of how how permanent this new paradigm will last.
Now, of all of the various alter-egos in comics, Peter Parker is the one that I have always related to the most. This is hardly surprising, of course — he’s basically designed to be that way, the prototypical “shy person with a powerful secret” that fits so well with the, “if s/he only knew ___ about me, then s/he would go out with me/be my friend” yearning that kept so many a daydream rolling in our youth.
Being a fan of Peter Parker is hardly original, but that just underscores how universal and important the character is. He was the logical step up from Charlie Brown — another universal loser — but, just like so many other high school kids, he was actively figuring out who he was in the world. Even later, as as adult, he was still balancing the various needs of his day job, his hero gig, and his personal relationships — just like all of us found ourselves doing once we entered our working lives. I’m an actor, and I can honestly tell you, there doesn’t feel like that much of a difference between changing from shorts and t-shirt to a full suit and tie in your car on a hot July afternoon for a Burger King commercial audition and changing into a super hero costume behind a smelly dumpster to help foil a bank robbery — awkward and terrible, but necessary if you’re gonna get the job done.
Another reason I think so many people have reacted so strongly to this second Peter Parker “death” is the fact that Peter’s regular life has always been, well, regular. He wasn’t a top reporter like Clark Kent. He wasn’t rich like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne. He wasn’t a smart crime investigator like Barry Allen or a test pilot like Hal Jordan. He was a smart kid who got bullied in school and then a young adult trying desperately to juggle two careers and was usually straight up broke, being raised by his aunt, having to be both a kid and the man of the house. In Queens.
I guess I may be part of a chorus of frustrated people who are upset about Peter’s death, but it’s not just because I am losing a character I grew up with — and let’s just for the moment assume that we are supposed to take his death at face value, shall we? — my big issue is that I already went through all this with Peter in the Ultimate universe and, by the way, I do not like how it has turned out. For whatever reason, I still don’t really care about Miles Morales. I don’t dislike him, I think he’s just fine, but I just don’t find him particularly compelling.
To be fair, it’s not really his fault, I don’t think. Like Peter, Miles did not choose to become Spider-Man. He is doing his best trying to figure out his role in the world, blah blah, but he just seems like he’s almost inconsequential in his own story. He just seems to get pulled into other people’s problems, into larger struggles and less involved with moving his own story forward. You may not feel the same way, but when I think about Miles I think about this kid who is just kind of getting pinballed from one story to the next and I just find it tiresome.
This is, of course, because I am comparing him to a character I have known for years and have a history with. Miles may be able to have a “deeper” storyline years from now, but that’s not what I was reading Spider-Man for. I was reading Spider-Man because I like the world of Peter Parker just as much as, if not more than, the world of Spider-Man.
Until a few weeks ago, one would just roll their eyes and say, “No problem, just read the regular Spider-Man books, dork!”
Poor me, I can’t do that now. I can read the old books, sure, but that’s not the point.
My big problem with this is that Marvel is asking me to trust them, again, as they kill of Peter Parker, again, that they’ll be able to tell really cool stories with this new Spider-Man character.
Well, Marvel, I don’t trust you.
And why should I? Look, I can see that Doc Ock-as-Spider-Man being a cool idea if they went ahead and made Spider-Man an actual bad guy, but I am really supposed to believe that Doctor Octopus is going to be a good guy because he had some flashback of a bunch of memories that were somehow that much more poignant than his own messed up life that made him turn to evil in the first place? Gimme a break.
I don’t buy it — I won’t buy it. I won’t buy it because it’s a half-assed attempt for Marvel to have their cake and eat it, too. The promise of a bad guy taking over Spider-Man is that Spider-Man is now a bad guy. That’s the deal; not following through with it is not only lame and cowardly, but it’s manipulative as well, and, I would argue, demeans Peter’s death that much more.
Marvel, of course, has been all about manipulation these days, from the death of Ultimate Peter Parker to killing off Johnny Storm to Cyclops murdering Xavier to the utter fan service that was the Spider-Men miniseries. I just feel used, to be honest with you. Yes, Marvel has shared some compelling moments, but at what cost? And, I will reiterate that I understand that this is what comics is about, to some extent, but I would argue that killing off Peter Parker twice just reeks of desperation and represents a fair amount of disrespect to the comic book reader.
Yes, Marvel made a buck and a lot of news by killing Peter Parker off again. And yes, I guess it is fun for comic book insiders to make fun of how angry and upset people are about the killing off of a fundamental character. But I think in killing off Peter (and the Amazing Spider-Man title), Marvel is not only getting rid of an important character and a cherished legacy, they are trashing the trust that they might have engendered with generations of comic book fans. Sure, the comic book intelligentsia all know that Peter Parker is going to come back (like Bruce Wayne and Human Torch before him), I am not all sure that his readers will. You know the saying, “Kill Peter once, shame on you, kill Peter twice, shame on me?”
You do now.
Have fun being superior, Marvel.