Peter Parker is dead. Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man. And it's all our faults.
I know that many Spider-Fans are angry over the revelation of Amazing Spider-Man #700. "How can Marvel just do this, all of the sudden?" you may ask. "Where did they get the idea that we would buy a Spider-Man book without Peter Parker in it?"
As a close watcher of upcoming news for Marvel, I can surely tell you that Marvel isn't stupid. They make mistakes that many of us do not agree with, but they are anything but stupid. Usually, in the long run, what we see as mistakes makes them money. As a striving industry, they use many corporate strategies, even though we may not spot them at first.
For example, the first part of Dying Wish, in Amazing Spider-Man #698, was illustrated by a fairly foreign artist to readers of the Amazing Spider-Man, Richard Elson. In that arc, the infamous Spider-Man anti-hero, Michael Morbius the Living Vampire, escaped from prison. Next thing we know, Richard Elson is revealed to be illustrating the new series, Morbius the Living Vampire. Obviously, Marvel wanted to expose us to his artwork to give us reason to buy the new Marvel NOW! series. Also, it helped to give them an idea of what our reaction would be to the new artist (which was fairly positive).
Now, Marvel knew that it was a risky move to kill Peter Parker and replace him with his greatest enemy. How did they know that fans would accept it? How do they know that a book like this would sell? There's a reason why Dan Slott seemed so cool about all of the negative fan backlash. Marvel used their favorite corporate strategy, trial and error. And their trials got positive and reassuring feedback from none other than...us! Here are the five main elements that many of us supported that led to the Superior Spider-Man:
1.Red Headed Stranger:
Do you remember the story, Red Headed Stranger? It started in Amazing Spider-Man #602 and ended in Amazing Spider-Man #604. The Chameleon, Master of Disguise, (supposedly) killed Peter Parker and took over his life in attempt to get close to J. Jonah Jameson, the new mayor of New York. All while doing this, he, because of some twisted sense of goodness, decided that he wanted to fix Peter's life while he was at it. Sound familiar?
Marvel really hid this arc. It came between two major revelations in the Spider-verse, the return of Mary Jane and the beginning of The Gauntlet. From the beginning, it was obvious that the change was temporary. Chameleon never discovered that Peter is Spider-Man and nothing was breathtakingly altered afterwards. (Or not followed up, in Flash's case.) In the end, Peter came back and took back his rightful identity.
Essentially, the story was about a villain taking over Peter's life just like our current predicament. It was masterfully written by Fred Van Lente and was really fun. The story got positive reaction, even from the most negative of sites. The fact that we liked the story gave Marvel the idea that replacing Peter with a villain could be accepted by fans. But that is a big, mighty COULD. How did they know how to handle Peter Parker in the whole situation? Well...
2.Ultimate Death of Peter Parker:
The Ultimate universe is a great thing for Marvel. It is part of the actual company of Marvel, but it is a completely different world from the Marvel universe that we know and love. Everybody is younger, those bad storylines that ruined our favorite heroes are nonexistent, and the characters are fresh. It is practically a completely different company. And Marvel totally uses it for experimenting to find how fans will react to things in the 616 universe. The last crossover event, Divided We Fall\ United We Stand, was clearly a test to see how we might react to the next Marvel crossover event, Age of Ultron, so soon after Avengers vs. X-Men.
Therefore, when Peter Parker was killed and replaced in the Ultimate universe, it's obvious that they were using trial-and-error yet again. Many people were angered by Ultimate Peter's death. Not as many if the regular Peter was killed but there was still much reaction. But, in the end, everybody loves his replacement, Miles Morales. Really, Miles isn't much of a step up from the Ultimate Peter Parker, who was also insecure and shy.
So right about now, they know that we are okay with Peter Parker death and villain replacements. Question is, who should they replace him with? Dan Slott said that he knew who it should be when he saw Doc Ock's new design but let's just assume that he was just saying that. Marvel needed to know who would be best to take his place. For this, they didn't use trial-and-error. Rather, prior knowledge helped them with the next one...
3.Doctor Octopus Positive Reaction
Doctor Octopus, as Dan Slott put it, has always been Spidey Villain #2, behind Norman Osborn. But, now that Osborn is officially an Avenger villain, Ock has been upgraded to #1. "How is an obese man with four robotic arms Spider-Man's greatest villain?" those who don't read Spider-Man may ask. Well, it has almost nothing to do with his fighting skills and more about his personality.
Doctor Octopus is an egotistic master-planner. Essentially, he has a new plot of world domination every week. But he isn't necessarily heartless. His origin story isn't quite like that of a regular villain of his kind. He wasn't a bad guy before the experiment that mended his metal arms to his body. In fact he was a lot like another young boy with the aspiring dream to become a scientist. And, funny enough, he has treated Aunt May (and others) like a gentleman, even attempting to marry her. (But that is a whole other story.)
As Doctor Octopus, he was just a really mentally unstable guy who was just crazy. That is, until Spider-Man got really pissed and unleashed his rage on him. After that, Ock grew a terrible phobia for spiders and started to become sane again. Sadly, he got over his fear and turned back to his old ways. This shows that the old Otto Octavius is still there, just buried really deep and that arc has altered my point of view ever since.
About five years later, in the arc Web of Death, Doctor Octopus noticed that Spider-Man was not than the Spider-Man he knows. (This was during his dark I-Am-The-Spider phase.) He decided that he should figure out what's up and finds that Spidey was poisoned by the Vulture and about to die. Doc Ock saw Spidey as everything he could have been, the holy side of him, and was not pleased at his new less-holy attitude. Ock cured Spider-Man and was then killed by Kaine. (Don't worry. He's obviously back now.) But it is still amazing that he wouldn't kill the man that he despises so much when he got the opportunity...
Lastly, and the greatest representation of this, is in the critically acclaimed movie, Spider-Man 2. Otto Octavius was a good man at first, a friend of Peter Parker. Sadly, an experiment messed up his brain and he went crazy to remake the experiment that had malfunctioned before. Right as it was about to destroy the world, he sacrificed his life to stop it. This is considered, to many, as the best super hero film of all time.Emotional stuff.
Obviously, Doctor Octopus is not like those two-dimensional slaughter-everybody villains. Like the Kingpin, he is capable of goodness. Therefore, many fans enjoy him and his 90% evil and 10% good personality. The reason that he could possibly be a hero, even one that isn't quite right all of the time, would make him an interesting replacement for Spider-Man. And Marvel identified it. Now, Marvel has that all figured out, but how should they approach the situation that will not offend too many fans? Here both trial-and-error and prior feedback from us was used for the encouragement for Ock/Spidey to be...
4.Dark Story/Anti-Hero Mayhem:
People love dark stories. "Why are stories like Batman: The Killing Joke and Watchmen so popular?" you may ask. Well, it certainly isn't because the superheroes have cute costumes. As a regular reader of about half of the titles that Marvel churns out every week, I have recognized that darker stories are usually favored by critics more than a happy story. Also, they obviously sell better, according to the statistics online.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Marvel released Venom Vol. 2, an overall dark title. The Venom symbiote was given to Flash Thompson but his new look resembled a dark Spider-Man much more than Venom. That title received overall good ratings and just crossed the 30th issue mark, farther than any Venom series has ever gotten before.
About nine months after that, a series devoted to Kaine, the clone of Spider-Man was released and titled Scarlet Spider Vol. 2. Kaine is practically a more dark and violent version of Spider-Man that once made a purse snatcher wet himself in fear. That book, like Venom, has been getting great reviews and has just passed it's fourteenth issue.
Marvel has been monitoring these books. They are both darker anti-hero web-slingers and, so far, are a lot like Superior Spider-Man. Heck, the opening artist for Scarlet Spider, Ryan Stegman, was the artist for the first three issues of Superior Spider-Man! Marvel has kind of combined the dark story with the anti-hero story to make Superior Spider-Man. At this point, Marvel knows from our reactions to many things how to go about replacing Peter Parker, but...should they replace what may have never been broken? Believe it or not, there are statistics for that too!
5.Message Board Feedback:
Marvel has a bad habit of taking negative message boarders too seriously. The editor of Spider-Man, Stephen Wacker, is a regular commenter on many of the popular review sites. On more than one occasion, he has been offended by a raging fan that is angry about practically everything associated with Spider-Man. Many of those on sites with commenting sections are very negative and enjoy complaining about things. Plus, it's usually the same dozen people ranting anyways. That's nothing compared to how many people actually buy that title, so many people may actually enjoy it but would rather not comment on it. Sadly, Wacker lets those few negative people get to him and it ruins it for everybody.
Many have been mad about Spider-Man since One More Day. Many say that Spider-Man has never been the same since that terrible arc. Personally, I disagree after reading Dan Slott's Big Time run, but many dropped the title after that fateful story arc. Marvel is all about getting new readers (if you didn't figure it out after the fourth issue #1 of the Avengers) and Stephen Wacker is angry about message boarders ranting about Peter Parker. So, why not start fresh and replace Peter Parker?
If you are not involved in these sites in any way, I applaud you. This doesn't include you, then. This is directed to those of us who are always ranting online. Don't play coy if you know you do. In fact, the ones of us complaining about it now are probably the ones who were complaining about Peter Parker before. I hope some of us have learned a valuable lesson from all of this. Things you say online will surely backfire on you.
So, in conclusion, Marvel has been testing things out. They know what we like before we realize it. Superior Spider-Man has been developing since Red Headed Stranger and Marvel has been setting all of the cards up these past few years. I'm sure that each of us are guilty of at least one of these five points.
For one, I have loved the Superior Spider-Man (with the exception of Peter's return in astral form) and I hope the Spidey titles stay this way for a long time. If you are still angry about what happened in 700, you must realize that Marvel has been planning this. They have been using us to figure out how to approach this situation. If you don't like it, read Venom or Scarlet Spider.
Statistics have shown that Superior Spider-Man is a hit. The first issue topped all comic book sales in January at about 188,158. The second issue was the fifth most selling comic book of the month, losing about 75,627 readers. So, in Marvel's eyes, it worked.
Sales went up and a ton of new stories are in the making. This is certainly one of the most successful uses of trial-and-error in Marvel's eyes. And it certainly isn't the last time they'll use it. You've been warned. (Cue mysterious vanishing into the shadows.)