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Pop-Ed: The Death of Peter Parker

jonathan elliott looks at the end of one of marvel’s most iconic figures…


Once upon a time, Sherlock Holmes died.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invented an arch-villain for our hero because he was tired of working on the popular serial detective, and so the two nemeses wrestled themselves off a waterfall and killed one another.

And that, friends, was the intended end of the story.

But here’s the thing–and this is the crux of serial fiction, in novels, in comics, on television, in films, and so on–the power we have, as an audience, and our desire to want more, in whatever form that may come, is formidable. And so Sherlock Holmes returned, back by popular demand, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, as if he’d never left. And Doyle kept on writing.

And here’s where we bump on over to Spider-Man, and what happened in comics this week, where Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis Doctor Octopus, riddled with cancer, body-swapped with Peter Parker, leaving our hero to die in a withered husk of a villainous body–but not before Peter forced Ock to relive all of the sorrows and triumphs of a life of a hero, fundamentally changing Octopus into something closer to the wall-crawling hero we all love. And then, Peter, trapped in Ock’s body, actually died, leaving Doc Ock with all the resonance and emotional weight of really, finally understanding the adage: “with great power comes great responsibility.”

So, Peter Parker, Spider-Man is dead. And in his body is Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man–a guy who’s lived his life as a fairly horrific monster, now given a new set of morals and a second chance to do good, in this bizarre clean-slate scenario. He’s determined to use his vast intellect to be a “superior” Spider-Man compared to Peter’s–and that’s the title, in fact, of the new book launching January 9. The Superior Spider-Man.

Peter’s story is done, and now we get this interesting, deeply flawed new hero that is familiar enough for us to pick up but also eerie in the particulars of the story. It’s a big twist and it’s going to make for some fascinating reading.

And, well, it’s perhaps too much of a change for some. The book’s current writer, Dan Slott, has received death threats regarding this change. Which is nuts. And I’ll tell you why–it’s a fictional story, first and foremost, and that sort of admonishment and cheapening of human life is ridiculous.

It’s also just a waiting game, regardless of how crazy-pants you need to be to threaten someone’s life over a story–there’s a new Spider-Man movie coming out in the summer of 2014, starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. And there’s this little thing called “brand synergy,” meaning it’s good for comics if the guy in the suit at the time of the movie matches the guy on the screen, in order to get new readers into comic stores and hook them into buying the books regularly.


Peter Parker’s just gone for the moment, people. And we have, in his place, a new and different angle that might shed some new light on what it means to be heir to the legacy of our friendly neighborhood hero. When Peter inevitably comes back, it might just mean something. And meanwhile, we get to watch a dinged-up and heretofore irredeemable character learn to be a better man.

That’s a story I’m looking forward to reading. And I hope most of the diehard fans are reading with me.

And for those that are jumping ship — hey, Peter Parker’s waiting to come back. The waterfall didn’t kill Sherlock, and a body-swap can’t kill Peter.

This is the joy of serial fiction, friends–the story never really ends. And the characters we love can, and do, live forever. It’s a nice alternative to the bleaker, somehow weirder reality we’re stuck in.



  1. I remember when the Human Torch died last year and Marvel was all, “He’s totally gone for good.” It took them only a couple months to bring him back. Peter Parker is definitely returning.

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