***This article contains major spoilers for Superior Spider-Man #9, released last week.***
First, a near-death Doctor Octopus switched bodies with Peter Parker, only for Doc Ock's decaying frame to expire in December's Amazing Spider-Man #700, and seemingly Pete's consciousness along with it.
Things looked bleak for Spider-Man, but the end of Superior Spider-Man #1 — a series starring Doc Ock running around in Peter's body, using his powers to dispense his own brutal brand of vigilante justice — showed that a ghostly shred of Peter was still left inside his body, fighting for control.
That was a glimmer of hope for not only Peter Parker, but for fans hoping for Doc Ock to be out of the Spidey picture sooner rather than later. That hope was at least temporarily dashed with last week's Superior Spider-Man #9, a highly touted issue from Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman featuring mental warfare between Peter and Otto Octavius — which ended with Ock as the victor, at least for now, and Peter Parker's consciousness apparently deleted from his body.
Following our chat with Superior Spider-Man series editor Stephen Wacker about the issue, we talked in-depth with Slott about the latest setback for Peter Parker, a particularly controversial moment of weakness, and what's next for the now unencumbered Doctor Octopus.
Newsarama: Dan, clearly you've been dealing with a very interesting reaction to Superior Spider-Man #9 — is it better or worse than after Amazing Spider-Man #700? Or just different?
Dan Slott: It's different in that I think everybody's reined it in a little. Everyone's in the realm of the reasonable, as opposed to the complete and utter freakout of #700. They're all talking in normal terms, instead of guttural grunts and profanity-laced expletives. It's refreshing.
Nrama: And there are of course some people out their whose reactions are so over the top that it seems like they have to be joking.
Slott: There was a point after #700 where you just couldn't tell anymore, whether it was hyperbole or the end of the world.
Just like with #700, the response has been very polarized. You either love it or you hate it. Anyone who saw my Twitter feed the day the book came out, it was a sea of glowing praise and ultimate rage, there's this one tweet in the dead center that went, "I kind of found it 'meh.'" Pal, you were the only one! That cracked me up.
End of the day, I'm excited that so many people were this invested in it. We've been here before, and not just with #700. I remember seeing the waves of hatred for Spidey #649, where for all intents and purposes, it looked like we chopped off Roderick Kingsley's head. I always knew from day one that wasn't Kingsley; that was his twin brother, Daniel. But oh, the rage from fans, especially from Roger Stern fans. "How dare you do this?" You just have to sit back and go, "You just saw Empire Strikes Back. Han just got frozen in the Carbonite. Luke got his hand cut off. It's not the end of the story." This is serialized fiction. Have any of you people read comic books? You've just got to hang in there.
Nrama: Crazy to think that Amazing Spider-Man #649 came out only two and a half years ago, and there's been 60 issues since.
Slott: And there's been a lot of things along the way that have ticked people off. It's all good.
That said, Montana, from the Enforcers? Still dead!
Nrama: Not fishing for spoilers here, but obviously the end of #9 looks to change things in a big way. How different will the series be going forward?
Slott: The training wheels are off. At one of our creative retreats, the first time the Spidey team told the room about this, Axel was the first to go, "No, you can't do that. You can't kill Peter Parker. You're going to do a Spider-Man book about Doc Ock, with no Peter Parker?" "Yeah." "And Peter's dead, he's gone?" "Yeah, he's gone, he's dead." It became this big thing in the room. The compromise that was reached was, if you're going to launch a Spider-Man book, Peter Parker's got to be in there. Axel threw out some ideas, and Mark Waid threw out some ideas, and Matt Fraction threw some out, too, and what we settled on was the ghost. If we'd gone with my original plan, there wouldn't have been a ghost. And I would've regretted it! Big time!
When the insane reaction started coming in from #700, and I knew that Superior #1 was two weeks away, with the cliffhanger ending with Ghost Pete — I was so glad. I was like, "Thank you, Axel Alonso!" It really was a way to hold fans' hands and go, "It's going to be OK. Look, Peter's still there. He's still lingering, as a ghost." And then, later, we ripped that out! [Laughs.]
Now let's see what kind of Spider-Man Doc Ock is going to be without Peter Parker on his shoulder as a Jiminy Cricket. This is still a Doc Ock Spider-Man that has experienced, because of the sacrifice Peter Parker made in #700, all the things that gave Peter the lessons of Great Power and Great Responsibility. And especially after his hero turn in issue #8, he realizes he wasted his previous life on villainy, and there are deeper rewards to being a hero. He does want to give this a shot. But now he's going to do it his way. And it's going to get crazy. Everything you've experienced up till now in Superior Spider-Man has been with the parking brake on — and now the parking brake gets ripped out of the car, and the foot is just about to slam down on the accelerator. People are going to be like, "What the hell? What's going on?" It's going to get very cool very fast.
Nrama: What it also seems to do is remove the perceived predictable ending that many fans might have assumed would happen — Peter is going to eventually get control of his body back — and, as a result, the future seems more wide open at this point then it might have felt before.
Slott: I love the fact that we bring the gold Octobot back on frame. "Oh, look, there's the back-up Peter Parker personality. Let's delete that, too." You know the thing you thought was a lifeboat? We burn it! [Laughs.] Mind wiped out, back-up wiped out, gone, done, boom. Now let's move forward. New age. New Spider-Man.
Nrama: Wanted to ask about one scene in particular in issue #9…
Slott: Here it comes. I know the scene you're going to talk about. It's the one that Tom Brevoort said, after he read it, "This is my favorite part." And it's mine, too.
Nrama: … where it's revealed that Peter Parker's defeat is effectively secured by the revelation that he wanted to prevent Doc Ock from performing surgery on the girl in #8, because he feared it would lead to him being discovered.
Slott: Yep. It's that one moment where he goes, "I knew the minute you did that, you'd get that helmet, and I'd be on your radar, and I'd be in trouble. And for a moment, I hesitated." In the end, he doesn't. But he has that moment. Maybe it was for a nanosecond. Maybe it was for a billionth of a nanosecond. But it was there.
There's a legion of fans that have grown up with Peter — especially the last 20 years — where they look at Peter Parker as a paragon of humanity. As a saint, who would never make the wrong choice. Would never do anything less than true heroism. Who would never have a dark thought or impulse — even for a billionth of a nanosecond. Somewhere down the line, people starting thinking of Pete as Steve Rogers with spider-powers.
Sorry, that's not Peter Parker. Peter Parker is that guy in Amazing Fantasy #15 who has all the powers of Spider-Man, and is going to selfishly use them for him and his family, and to hell with the rest of the world. He goes right into showbiz, and that burglar runs right past him, and he could have stopped him a million ways, and he couldn't be bothered. And then that guy goes on to kill Uncle Ben, and that's when it resonates. That's when he learns that with Great Power Must Come Great Responsibility. If that burglar had shot someone else's uncle, Peter would just be going along jim-dandy, two shows a night, matinees off on weekends.
But he did learn that lesson, and from that moment on, it does not mean he's perfect. It doesn't mean he's suddenly baptized, and born again as a saint. What it means is, over the years, when he has those moments — when he has that moment of human imperfection that all Marvel characters have — even for a billionth of a nanosecond — the guilt slams down. But he still has that moment.
In the '60s, you get these moments where boy, does he want to punch Flash Thompson. And he's fantasizing about it, and he's ready to do it. And there's that time where Flash dresses up as Spider-Man, and Doctor Doom kidnaps him. And Peter Parker is walking down the street, whistling about it. "This is great! Flash got kidnapped by Doctor Doom! That'll show him! Hahaha!" And then the guilt slams down. "Aw crap, I gotta go save him." But for one moment, he's a horrible human being. This is Doctor Doom we're talking about! He could atomize Flash Thompson in that moment! A moment where Peter gave into that thing that we'd all love to give into, for a moment.
And it keeps happening. This isn't some adolescent flaw. This is his nature. People can talk about "growing up" and "maturing" — but if that were the case, every old person in the world would be a paragon of humanity. There are some truths to us that go all the way to our cores.
In the '70s, Gwen Stacy's going to have a birthday party, and poor Peter Parker can't afford to get her a good present. He breaks into a jewelry store! He busts right in. He's ripping the doors off the hinges off the safe, and he's pulling out this great necklace. "I'll give Gwen this!" And for a moment, he's a thief. He's a horrible person. And then the guilt slams down. He goes, "What am I doing?" And he leaves, and he puts the stuff back. But he still busted up a guy's safe, and broke into his jewelry store. Does he leave money for that? No.
And then, after Norman and Gwen die, J. Jonah Jameson's running all these anti-Spider-Man articles, because he's so mad his pal Norman Osborn is dead. And no one knows he's the Goblin, they all think Spider-Man's a killer. Jameson's running all these pieces, and at one point Spidey, who's still reeling from losing Gwen, loses it. He just goes apesh*t, and he puts on the costume, and he's racing to the Bugle, because he's going to f*ck Jameson up. He's not going to web him to a chair, or web his mouth shut. Jameson is going to lose some teeth. Jameson is going to get some ribs kicked in. It is going to be nasty. The only thing that stops Spidey from doing this is Man-Wolf jumping in. And then suddenly all the correct thoughts pop into his head. "You know what? I gotta protect Jonah." But the whole reason he was on his way — was to do this man serious bodily harm. That's Peter Parker's dark side.
In the '80s, the Beyonder turns an entire building into gold. Peter Parker takes a gold notebook. "This will solve all my problems. This is great!" And then he thinks about it and changes his mind. But he holds on to that notebook for a hell of a long time. Way longer than a billionth of a nanosecond. And then the guilt pops in. This isn't the responsible thing to do, and he knows he can't keep it.
Peter Parker is allowed to be a horrible person for a moment. And then guilt kicks in. And that's what happened in issue #8. For a moment in time, he was horrible.
Nrama: And it's relevant that he was in a uniquely desperate position.
Slott: Oh, totally. Never been more desperate. He's frickin' Sam Wheat in Ghost. He can't do anything, and this is like the one tiny thing he can do to try to stop himself from being wiped out completely.
Someone on my feed asked a very sincere question: "How could Peter Parker be guilted into believing something that Doc Ock argued?" Then I went: Stop right there. If you're asking, "How could Peter Parker be guilted," you don't have to compete the sentence. Peter Parker can be guilted by a strong breeze. That's who he is. Doc's got a list of sins infinitely larger than Peter Parker. He's the guy that tried to burn the world. But that's not the way Peter's thinking. Peter's so self-absorbed, and so in his own head — in this case, literally — that he looks at that one mistake he made, for one tiny moment, and he damns himself, because that's who Peter Parker is. Peter Parker is the man who would damn himself. Doc Ock would never do that, in a million years. His ego wouldn't allow it. But Peter Parker, king of guilt? Yeah. That's who Pete is.
Everyone always focuses on the panel before, where he's admitting to his sin, and everyone skips over the panel after, where he goes, 'It was only a moment." And it was. Because we're allowed to be horrible monsters in that one moment. We're allowed to consider the worst of us, and be the worst of us. As long as we don't act on it; as long as we fix it immediately. I think Superior Spider-Man, on the level of heroism, would be a much better hero with Peter Parker on his shoulder. As far as heroes go. But let's see how effective he's going to be without Peter there. Do you want a hero who's more heroic, or a hero who gets more heroic things done? Would you rather have the man or the results?
Nrama: Wanted to follow-up on the news coming out of C2E2 — now that we know when Spider-Man 2099 is coming to the series, does this development make this his role all the more important given that Peter Parker is out of the picture, and there will be a more traditionally heroic Spider-Man around?
Slott: You'll have to wait and see.
But before we even get to there, issue #10 is going to have the fallout of issue #9. We're going to see where the pieces fall. Issues #11, #12 and #13 are a big action thriller, where Otto's going to have to answer for a lot of the choices he's made in the series up 'til now. And there will be a massive status quo change, coming out of the "No Escape" arc that I am co-writing with Chris Gage, and with gorgeous art by Giuseppe Camuncoli. It's so big, that when you come back for issue #14, there'll be a new status quo and a new costume.
Nrama: Wanted to touch on the job Ryan Stegman did in issue #9 — couldn't be easy for either of you to construct an issue that basically takes place in the characters' heads.
Slott: Ryan killed on that issue. He was, and always is, fantastic! My favorite panel that Ryan has drawn to date is the anguished Peter Parker looking up when he can't remember Uncle Ben's name. That's a gut punch, and it's all from the acting. It's all out of Ryan's pen. It's beautiful. What a tortured Peter Parker.