By Henry Hanks
Editor’s note: SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this story if you don’t want to know what happens in “Amazing Spider-Man” #700.
(CNN) — For decades, comic books have had major shakeups in their pages, with varying degrees of fan support — and outrage.
In 1992, well before the advent of social media, Superman was killed and comic books went flying off the shelves.
In 2007, social media like Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy when Captain America died.
And now — due in part to the abundance of social media and the intense interest in Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker — a firestorm has erupted, after Marvel revealed that Parker will die, and the role of Spider-Man will be taken over by his archenemy, Doctor Octopus.
The just-released “Amazing Spider-Man” #700 marks the end of one of the most popular comic book series of all time after 50 years. All parties involved maintain that the changes are quite permanent, and next month, the saga begins anew with the release of “The Superior Spider-Man” #1, with the Doc, Otto Octavius, stepping into the Spidey suit.
Otto believes that with the combination of his intelligence and Parker’s inherited memories and spider powers, he can be an uber-Spider-Man. He can live Parker’s life better than Peter could — from fighting crime to getting back together with on-again, off-again girlfriend Mary Jane Watson.
When issue #700 was leaked early, fan reaction — both positive and negative — went into overdrive, with a few posted death threats directed at the issue’s writer, Dan Slott.
Slott reacted on his Twitter and Facebook by saying he would report any threats: “Reality check: There is NO such thing as a ‘funny death threat.’ Especially if you TAG someone in it.”
Slott later noted that the reactions were getting more civil as time went on.
CNN spoke separately to Slott and to Marvel editor Stephen Wacker about the controversial comic.
CNN: Why did you choose Doc Ock as the next Spider-Man?
Dan Slott: When we first met Peter Parker, he was a teenage bespectacled nerd who resented all the other kids. One of his first lines was, “Some day I’ll show them all! Some day they’ll be sorry they ever laughed at me.” That’s not something a hero would say. If Peter had never learned the lesson of “great power and great responsibility,” there’s every chance he would have become a supervillain.
And then you have Otto Octavius, a bespectacled scientist who, after his radioactive accident, became the eight-legged Doctor Octopus. For all intents and purposes, he was the adult Peter could have become, Spider-Man’s dark reflection. So what if we flipped it? What if we gave him a second chance? Peter’s final, heroic act was giving Doc all the memories and experiences that kept him on the right path. But is that enough? Can that overcome Ock’s true nature?
CNN: How did this idea originate?
Stephen Wacker: This was an idea Dan had when he came onto the book. It changed shape as we went. It wasn’t originally going to be in the 700th issue, but as the story grew, we realized maybe it was time to change up the makeup of Spider-Man for good, to make a permanent change. With that and the fact that the 50th anniversary was approaching, we thought, let’s go out with a bang.
CNN: Did the word spread around Marvel quickly when this was first discussed?
Wacker: Three times a year we have editorial retreats, where we bring in our writers and discuss every single book. Anytime we talk about Spider-Man, it’s a big deal. There were certainly some loud opinions in the room.
Our editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso, was one of the louder voices not buying it originally. All the things Axel poked at toughened the story up and made us look at things differently.
CNN: Was that a sneak preview of how fans might react?
Wacker: The fan reaction never really surprises me. Anything you do with any of our characters, there’s a big vocal fan base, particularly online. It gets more magnified with Spidey. You find people of all stripes reacting — people who have been reading it for 50 years and love it, and others who say they’re quitting Marvel forever.
I keep all the fan mail. You can see some of the same people who have written about six things over the past six years that made them drop Marvel forever.
There are not a lot of storytelling opportunities in the world where you get such an immediate, visceral reaction. That’s a part of the job I like.
Slott: I’ve actually gotten a fair amount of “This is awesome!” (reactions to the story), but it’s been very polarizing. No one has a middling review. No one has a take of, “It was all right.” People are very split.
I got an angry tweet saying, “I don’t like seeing bad things happen to good people.” I’m like, good luck reading Charles Dickens, Mark Twain — anything in literature!
Now people are saying, “Nooooo! Why are you being mean to (Peter)?” The answer is two words: “Dra. Ma.”
CNN: Have you learned anything in dealing with the reaction to this particular issue on social media?
Slott: We have the most passionate fans in the world! Everyone knows who Spider-Man is– and everyone cares about him!
In the world of comics, thanks to (newspaper publisher) J. Jonah Jameson, everyone thinks he’s a menace. But in our world, he’s beloved. Now we’re going to flip that too. The readers are Jonah. They aren’t ready to cut this guy a break. They think he’s a menace! This is going to be the most meta Spider-Man of them all! And going from everything I’ve seen on social media, I am so up for that challenge!
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