All good things must come to an end, and so it is with Marvel Comics' web-slinging, wise-cracking superhero. Spider-Man is no more. Well, to be more precise, Peter Parker is no more.
In the 700th and final issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, writer Dan Slott's controversial story saw Spider-Man's mind switched with that of his dying arch-foe Dr. Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus. The twist is that with his final effort, Spidey was able to give all of his memories and morals to his body-stealing enemy.
For all intents and purposes, however, Spider-Man as we know him is dead. Slott explained to Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Linda Wertheimer why Doctor Octopus was the right person to "become" Spider-Man.
"Doc Ock is on some level the shadow Peter Parker," Slott says. "Peter Parker ... was very resentful of all of his peers. [But] it was the ethics and things that Aunt May and Uncle Ben taught Peter that in the end made him a hero."
"With great power comes great responsibility," Uncle Ben famously told Peter, setting him off on his path for justice and duty.
In his formative years, Doctor Octopus was a similarly bespectacled nerd and outcast, much like Peter. Not having those moral guideposts following his own radioactive accident that turned him into an analog of an eight-legged creature, he adopted the path of the villain instead.
Slott's storyline now gives him a second chance. Doctor Octopus, now in the body of Spider-Man but imbued with Parker's "great responsibility," renounces his evil ways and vows to become a better, nay, a "superior Spider-Man!"
"He kind of realizes that he wasted his life on villainy," Slott says.
When word of the story started to spread, Internet Spidey senses began tingling and even prompted death threats against Slott. To Wired Magazine, he joked he was going to have to pull a "Salman Rushdie" when the issue came out.
But Slott says there's also been mix of positive reaction as well.
"There's a lot of people that realize that over 50 years of Spider-Man, that some of the best stories involve loss," he says.
Slott says that when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man in the 1960s, they created a hero who was like us and who "made mistakes all the time." The loss of Peter Parker, in a way, is just the furthering of the story of Spider-Man's vulnerabilities.
Real loss in comic books is pretty rare, however, and many major characters, including Captain America, Superman and Batman have all been "killed" before, only to return some time later. The comic book death has become a bit of a genre trope.
So if history is any indication, we might not have seen the last of Peter Parker — he just might return as an alien, a robot or perhaps even a version of himself from the future.
Peter might have come to an amazing ending, but Superior Spider-Man goes on sale in January, starring the villain-formerly-known-as-Doctor-Octopus as Spider-Man.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...
WERTHEIMER: The 700th issue of "The Amazing Spider-Man" hit the shelves this week. Dan Slott is the comic book's writer. And for this long-awaited installment, he did the unthinkable. Now, turn your radio down if you don't want to hear this spoiler because it is big.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WERTHEIMER: He killed off Peter Parker - the handsome, virtuous teenager behind the famous red mask. Dan Slott joins me now. Good morning, Dan.
DAN SLOTT: Morning, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: So, how exactly does Peter's death play out in this installment?
SLOTT: Spider-Man, Peter Parker's - one of his longest and greatest enemies, the evil Otto Octavius, also known as Doctor Octopus, back in issue 600 found out he was dying. And since then he's been going on the super-villain equivalent of a bucket list, doing one evil scheme after another before he runs out the clock. And his greatest and final act of vengeance was he found a way to switch minds with Peter so that he would be in the body of Spider-Man and Spider-Man would be in the destroyed and diseased body of Doctor Octopus with hours left to live.
WERTHEIMER: But why pick Doctor Octopus to take over this identity?
SLOTT: Doc Ock, one some level, is the shadow Peter Parker. Peter Parker was a bespectacled nerd as a teenager who was very resentful of all of his peers. One of his first lines ever in a comic book is they'll be sorry they laughed at me.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Peter Parker) One day I'll get even. Bookworm, shookworm, I'll get even.
SLOTT: That's something a villain says. And it was the ethics and things that Aunt May and Uncle Ben taught Peter, in the end made him a hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Peter Parker) With great power, there must also always be great responsibility. And so long as I live, Spider-Man will never shirk his duty again.
SLOTT: When you first meet Doc Ock, he's this adult bespectacled nerd who has a radioactive accident that makes him the analogue of an eight-legged creature. And one of the things that happens in "Amazing Spider-Man" 700 is Peter is able to valiantly in his last act imbue Doc Ock with his memories and feelings.
WERTHEIMER: So, instead of being one of the comic's main bad guys, as he's been for years, he turns out to be somebody better and different?
SLOTT: That is the hope. He kind of realizes that he's wasted his life on villainy. Then, as the camera keeps rolling, Doc Ock goes: And with my unparalleled genius and my boundless ambition, I'll be a better Spider-Man than you ever were. In fact, I shall become the superior Spider-Man.
WERTHEIMER: So, how are your fans handling this?
SLOTT: It is an incredible mix. There's a lot of people that realize that over 50 years of Spider-Man, some of the best stories involve loss. Every hero out there, when you think of who and what superheroes are, like Superman and Batman - they're all square-jawed Adonises with perfect teeth and standing arms akimbo and they never lose. And what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did when they came up with Spider-Man in "Amazing Fantasy" 15 was they broke the mold. They made a hero who is like us, a hero with feet of clay, a guy who made mistakes all the time.
WERTHEIMER: We should probably say happy birthday to Stan Lee.
SLOTT: Ninetieth birthday this week. Just the other day, I wished him a happy early birthday. And he responded to me: Dan, most people would give you a watch or a nice cigar. But for my birthday, you gave me a dead Peter Parker. Thanks, my friend.
WERTHEIMER: Dan Slott is writer of the comic series "The Amazing Spider-Man," which is now called "The Superior Spider-Man." Dan, thank you very much.
SLOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.