It’s funny how these things work. I will always remember the day that I bought Amazing Spider-Man #698, the first issue reprinted in the Spider-Man: Dying Wish Premiere Hardcover. It’s not because I was anticipating this issue all that much, or even because I had been following Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man run all that closely. To tell you the truth, I was at least two years behind on my Spidey reading, having read the first three collections of the “Brand New Day” era, but few of his recent adventures. It wasn’t that I hadn’t enjoyed that stuff, it was more that I only had room in my life (and budget) for so many superhero comics at the time. But Slott had been hinting for days (if not weeks) on Twitter that big things were in store for Amazing Spider-Man #698, and for some reason, I decided to believe him. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I justified the purchase of a title I hadn’t kept up with for years by telling myself that I had a long train ride ahead of me for the holiday weekend, and needed extra reading material. Oh, the things we tell ourselves for comics…
The thing is, when you kill a major superhero off, there are expectations. Chief among these expectations is that the hero will eventually return. Since everyone comes back in comics, in order for the story to carry any weight at all, that superhero’s death had better matter. It needs to mean something. They’d better go out in a way in which they lived their life. If you’re croaking, not just any clown in a cape, but one of the most recognizable characters in popular culture, then you’d really better be on the ball! Here’s the other thing: whenever a writer or comic company implies that “huge changes” are in store, especially as a title approaches a milestone issue, the immediate reaction is to assume that a death/rebirth is on the way. I never, for one second, actually believed that Peter Parker would die at the end of “Dying Wish” (imagine that!) when I picked up that first chapter. By the last page of Amazing Spider-Man #698, I wasn’t so sure.
After all the attention and controversy surrounding this story and the subsequent Superior Spider-Man series, it’s tough to ask a reader to approach “Dying Wish” cold. You all know how it ends. But like any good story, “Dying Wish” is about the journey. If you know the “what” but not the “how” of this story, then perhaps you’re first response to the first chapter of this will be something like mine was. It’s a hell of a feeling to have your expectations completely subverted, especially in superhero comics, but that’s what Dan Slott did here.
Ask yourself this: How many times, in all of the high-profile superhero death stories we’ve seen come and go in the last twenty-five years, how many times has the end of our hero come at the hands of one of his greatest foes? Doomsday was a nothing when he took out Superman, and Darkseid, while arguably the greatest villain in the DC Universe, isn’t exactly a foe you associate with Batman. But Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man? If there’s anyone in Spidey’s rogue’s gallery that fits the “dark mirror” mold, it’s Otto Octavius. Peter and Otto both had extraordinary intellects that alienated them from many of their peers and they both endured unfortunate and painful accidents that granted them extraordinary abilities. I’m not about to do the math on this, but I’d be willing to bet Spidey has tangled with Doc Ock more than any other villain if you add up the total number of comics, cartoons, and films he’s appeared in. Spidey and Doc Ock were destined to come together with some kind of finality…I just never expected it to be like this. Things might get a little spoiler-y for the rest of this piece, so if you somehow don’t know how all this turned out, you might want to stop reading this, and go pick up a copy of “Dying Wish.”
While Doc Ock’s plan is revealed by the end of the first chapter, it’s Peter’s response to it that drives the rest of “Dying Wish.” The tables are turned in more subtle ways than the body-swapping plot device indicates, as Slott explores what it really means to have a consciousness become dominant in another’s mind and body. Spider-Man really gets an idea of the consequences of HIS actions, as he now has access to all of Octavius’ memories, and realizes that yes, it’s tough being in a body that’s been continually whupped on by superheroes for years. Despite Ock now inhabiting Spider-Man’s body, this is never a physical superhero story. The battle between Peter and Otto is almost entirely on the intellectual level. And, y’know what? When you really get down to it, Peter loses this one. Ock thought of everything. Well…almost everything.
By the time you reach the climax, which appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #700 (the “final issue” of the series), there’s an awful finality about everything. I knew that Slott had already taken us too far to turn back, and there wasn’t going to be some tidy resolution to the proceedings. Would it have been more iconic for Peter to go out in his Spider-Man togs, throwing punches until his dying breath, valiantly protecting a city that fears him, before expiring, bloodied and battered, in Mary Jane’s arms, a whispered “I love you” on his lips? Certainly. But is that really how Peter Parker should die, given what we know about him? Of course not! The “Old Parker Luck ™” holds out to the very end, and Peter dies in agony, trapped in the body of his greatest foe, knowing that he lost. That is the very definition of a hellish defeat. Peter manages to “give back” a little, and clearly the effects of this scene are still being felt in Superior Spider-Man (and this scene will, of course, be front and center when it’s time to bring Peter back), but Spidey’s victories are often difficult, or fleeting…when they’re victories at all.
Spider-Man: Dying Wish is essential reading for anyone following Superior Spider-Man, but it might also be one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of the modern era. When you ignore the shouts about “gimmick storytelling” or the inevitablity of Peter’s eventual return, you can see that Slott and Ramos (with an assist from Richard Elson on the first chapter), have really crafted something remarkable. In fact, during the initial run of “Dying Wish” Slott was continually tweeting out free digital copies, courtesy of readers who wanted other fans to see for themselves what a tremendous story this was! Revisiting this story for the first time since Superior Spider-Man #1 hit stands was pretty rewarding, and I look forward to seeing how this is going to continue to evolve. Who says these stories can’t be good?