The Man Who Killed Spider-Man

Dan Slott faces his fans. Plus: Spidey's New York!

The Man Who Killed Spider-Man
Illustration by Edel Rodriguez

Think of a smart kid retelling a favorite adventure story. The breathless investment in each beat of the narrative, the tendency to linger over the suspenseful parts, the full, fresh excitement in a form grown-ups dismiss as predictable. That's Dan Slott, leaning in over a late Le Pain Quotidien lunch, telling me all the terrible things he has done to Spider-Man—and all the hell he's getting for it.

"This is 'Oh, my God, John Wilkes Booth is inside Lincoln!'" Slott says. "It's Moriarty inside Sherlock Holmes!"

He's describing the latest, maddest peril he has crafted to torment the now-50-year-old hero and his fans, and he's as giddy as they are agitated. (And, Jesus, they're agitated.) At the cliff-hanger ending of the supersize, gorgeously drawn, surprisingly expensive ($7.99!) Amazing Spider-Man #700, out the last week of December, Spider-Man's brain is trapped in the dying body of Doctor Octopus—while Doctor Octopus's brain has taken over the virile, swinging body of young Spider-Man. And, as always, "swinging" has a dual meaning in the soap opera life of this most lovelorn of superheroes: Access to Spider-Man's body and life also grants Doc Ock access to Peter Parker's, which naturally includes Parker's supermodel ex, Mary Jane Watson.

Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott, in full geek regalia, gets ready to catch his mind if it blows.
Doug Zawisza
Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott, in full geek regalia, gets ready to catch his mind if it blows.
The Amazing Spider-Man #175 (drawn by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney).
Courtesy Marvel Comics Inc.
The Amazing Spider-Man #175 (drawn by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney).

"They have a date!" Slott says. "And it gets worse!"

Spider-Man pairing up again with Mary Jane has been a cause taken up bitterly by the comic-shop faithful for 155 issues now, ever since Marvel Comics dissolved the couple's marriage with a bit of hocus-pocus in Amazing Spider-Man #545. Reluctant to have a divorced hero, but also tired of having a drearily married one whose wife was forever getting kidnapped, the company contrived to have Mary Jane do a deal with a (literal) devil to scrap the marriage to save the life of Peter Parker's truest longtime love: his doting Aunt May.

So the death threats Slott has lately been receiving on Twitter and YouTube are as much about what he has done to poor Spider-Man as they are about what he's doing to fans dedicated to Spider-Man's 1990s status quo: He's salting the wounds. On Twitter, a reader expressed a desire to "shove a pencil" in Slott's eye; to less playful threats, he tweeted back: "I'm middle-aged and out of shape. I can't take someone in a fight. But I can sue them."

Forking at his quiche lorraine, Slott seems unshaken. "I read them as a positive thing," he says. "We've got them this hooked. A friend showed me this YouTube video that is the equivalent of 'Leave Britney Alone.' This guy is screaming, 'Why have you done this to Spider-Man?' I'm a horrible human being. I've taken fiendish delight in everyone's pain and suffering."

That delight is apparent throughout the 70-odd issues Slott has written since joining the staff of The Amazing Spider-Man. (He is now the comic's head writer.) What's strange about the fanboy outrage Slott has stirred this time is that even his detractors admit the actual comics themselves are good. A typical review of issue 700, on Ain't It Cool News, acknowledges that "the story was handled fairly well" and "hit on some very emotional levels" and even conceded "Maybe, just maybe, it's possible that Dan Slott isn't a total douchebag." Still, the post's author snarls, "Killing off Peter Parker and replacing him with a megalomaniac is quite possibly the worst idea since the clone saga." (If you don't know about Spidey's "clone saga," we'll spare you.)

"We're a crazy medium where people put on skintight costumes, climb up walls, fly, and shoot things out of their eyes," Slott says. "If there's any part of you that goes, 'You can't do a brain swap!' then you should go read Great Expectations." He rattles off a list of other fantastic story lines from his run on Amazing: "If you say, 'You can't give everyone in Manhattan superpowers!' or 'You can't create a doorway that takes you 24 hours into a future where Manhattan is destroyed!' remember, this is the Marvel Universe. We have mutant children raised by talking cows. We have teleporting dogs. It's fun."

It's somewhat fitting that the masked vigilante's 50th anniversary is marked with such discord. After all, in the comics, TV shows, and movies, Spider-Man is perennially detested by the powers that be. (Although "real" New Yorkers, usually central casting construction workers and crane operators, are always there to shout that he's all right.) Here, it is the fans howling for Slott's head and/or eye, fulminating with the recklessness of Spidey-hating newspaper coot J. Jonah Jameson, the flat-topped editor played by J.K. Simmons in the Sam Raimi films. Just as Jameson's Daily Bugle rages that Spider-Man is a "menace," these fans insist that "douchebag" Slott—a man whose apartment is as decked out with Spidey swag as a 10-year-old's bedroom—must hate Spider-Man.

The high-profile cock-up of Julie Taymor's Broadway Spider-Man didn't elicit this crowd's fury. Neither did Hollywood's recent re-re-telling of the hero's origin story. (How many times have even non-Spidey fans had to sit through Uncle Ben's death?) But movies and musicals are less intimate pop experiences than a comic crafted by a handful of creators. As an audience, the couple hundred thousand still ponying up $3.99 per issue are probably closer to the producers of their culture than any other—save maybe those Game of Thrones fans George R. R. Martin has knighted at barbecues.

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7 comments
JiminNYC
JiminNYC

It isn't that you can't do brain-swap stories.  It's that they've been done.  Repeatedly.  Ad infinitum, ad nauseum, ad vomitum.  As for stealing Spider-Man's identity, three words:  Kraven's Last Hunt.


Also, why does a comic book need a "head writer"--implying that there are secondary ones?  How many people does it take to write a 50-pages-or-fewer comic book, particularly since the modern style disdains such "archaic" conventions as narration and thought balloons, leaving only dialogue?

Vincenzo
Vincenzo

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...


No, I won't torture you with that, but I will regale you with my history. I believe my first actual comic ever was Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #34, with the Lizard and his creation, the Iguana.

I grew up a science geek, just like Pete...well, not exactly like Pete. I was already very tall and made lots of friends by my formative years. I wasn't really shy around girls; in fact, I managed to make friends with the most beautiful girls in school since sixth grade on. Yes - I mean all of your, my dear women friends.

I got an aeronautics kit for Christmas one year - and what a fantastic year that was! The next year, I got a scientific kit, and I may still have the microscope from said kit - no slides, however.

Still, with my scientific acumen, I could imagine being the wall-crawling hero, wisecracks and all. One of the highlights of my life was being invited to the Marvel Comics offices (when they were still located at 287 Park Avenue South) to participate in a round table to discuss the future of comic books - and I got to take a picture with Spider-Man! I still have it, along with my over 15,000 comic collection, which, unfortunately, is languishing in a storage unit in Naples, Florida as we speak. At this point, I'd be interested in either establishing a comic book museum or donating them to a library - if anyone has any ideas along these lines, please write to me at masterkhan69@hotmail.com and let's see what develops. I do wish to hold on to a couple of books; namely, my copy of Amazing Spider-Man 252 autographed by Stan "The Man" Lee, along with X-Men vs. Micronauts #1, autographed by the great Bill Mantlo, who I just ran into at Jugger Grimrod's shop back in the 80's. 

As you can see, I'm a real comics buff. There's something unique to the comics art form that you cannot get anywhere else - in sequential art, you get to control the media. You can study the panel for as long as you like. To use the example of Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons turned a murder mystery into one of the richest examples of what could b done with a blank piece of paper - and gave us something in which each subsequent reading unpeels yet another layer of the onion that is the story of Edward Morgan Blake, who has been murdered before you have opened the cover of the book. Or try out The Coyote Gospel, featuring Buddy Baker, also known as Animal Man, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Charles "Chas" Truog and Doug Hazlewood - if you are a fan of the Warner Brothers family of cartoons, as I am, you'll delight in the nuances of this story. If you want to start easy, pick up a Sandman trade paperback by Neil Gaiman. If you've ever pondered how a utopia forced upon its citizens would work out, look no further than Squadron Supreme, written by the dearly departed Mark Gruenwald, illustrated by Bob Hall, Paul Ryan and the also departed John Buscema, aided by a host of inkers, colorists, letterers and assistants. 

I've met so many creators - I even had the pleasure of having Walt and Weezie as the special guests at the Science Fiction Club (thanks for the Thor/Beta Ray Bill drawing, Uncle Walt!), and I have a number of books in my collection signed by said creators. I would love to get at a couple of key books - the rest can be up for grabs. Write to me at the above listed address - let's see what we can do.

Now, I mentioned what many people know as the cream of the crop of the comic book art form, but Spider-Man is an icon. Spider-Man is a voice. Spider-Man could be YOU. Spider-Man could be ME.

That's what Dan Slott maybe sees in Spider-Man. That's why he's having the time of his life chronicling the adventures of Peter Parker...even though he's not quite Peter Parker right now, right? After all, it's what's this article is about. 

But Dan has a point - Peter Parker is a scientist; and yet, besides the mostly minor inventions used to tackle separate cases, before joining Horizon Labs, Peter had missed his calling.

Here is why Stan and Steve (Ditko) are great - after 50 years in existence, the formerly Amazing (and now Superior) Spider-Man still has room for growth.

So...to Dan Slott - I hope that the morning you wake up dreading to have to write Spider-Man is indeed far off. Let me say it now - if I run into you at a convention, I'll owe you a hearty handshake and some good conversation to offer. Ask Peter David - he got me to caress James Fry's dreads, and we're all still pals.

Right, guys?

Binkconn
Binkconn topcommenter

Great article. Comics don't get enough credit for creating an advanced literacy in kids that school curriculums don't provide. Slott's changes are bold and the reboot the character deserves.  Nice job, Scherstul!

Binkconn
Binkconn topcommenter

@Vincenzo Was this a comment on the article or a personal memoir?

 
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