Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
There’s a professional wrestler named Cody Rhodes. His family has been in the wrestling business for longer than he’s been alive, his father being the legendary Dusty Rhodes and his brother the offbeat Golddust, both working for the WWE. Following family tradition, he’s a fantastic wrestler, absolutely charming and has only recently gotten the crowd’s attention through a horrible-looking mustache.
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.
As I said, Cody Rhodes is fantastic. He’s worked with legends, played mostly heel roles and tried to work the crowd against him. He even had a stint with a Doctor Doom-esque look, complete with mask, dark hood, minions and a hatred for the ugliness of WWE fans. I thought it compelling, at least, but most crowds seemed to find it lukewarm at best. He brought a sense of prestige back to the Intercontinental Title; it’s already moved on and stagnated once more. Nothing seems to stick with a guy who has so much going for him … until this mustache. After some time off for an injury, he returned to a tag-team partnership with — gracious, just look at it. It’s horrible. It’s laughable. Patchy in places, it just doesn’t fit his face quite right, making him look less like Tom Selleck and more like a guy with candy in his unmarked van. The very night he returned, the audience seemed to wake up. A spontaneous chant of “Co-dy’s mus-tache!” broke out and has followed him since. Other wrestlers can poke fun at it, he can be angry and indignant about it, bad guy wrestlers can support this horrible decision and somewhere down the line, there can be a “Mustache Match” or something where the thing is removed and we have story line closure.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Superior Spider-Man is Cody Rhodes’ mustache.
Confused? Read on!
WARNING: We’ll be talking extensively about The Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 as well, so grab your copies and read along!
I will admit that after reading The Amazing Spider-Man #700, I was confused. All the hype, all the death threats and the change and “Oh, man, wait until you see this!” excitement boiled down to a scenario we’ve seen before? I won’t deny that the premise is clever and well written, but the ol’ mind swap story between villain and hero doesn’t exactly make me want to run screaming down the streets for or against the book, honestly. It’s an interesting twist, a storyline that might have been a little header typed above the tile logo back in the day, now blown up to massive-event status, complete with new titles and new numbers. Go figure, right?
I can at least say this in all confidence: It’s MUCH better than “One More Day.” That was a major change in Spider-Man’s status quo that was written horribly and, while somethings might have been changed for the better, it left a horrible taste in fans’ mouths that some just have not been able to leave behind. The Amazing Spider-Man #700 is well-written, touching, smart and seems aware that this battle is familiar to comic readers. It’s the heart of the story, that one person’s life could be changed by walking in the shoes of another that really makes it stand out.
Let’s look at the issue: Peter Parker (trapped in Doctor Octupus’ dying body) is trying to stop Otto Octavius (in the body of Spider-Man). Octavius is a criminal mastermind and shouldn’t get a new lease on life in the body of our hero, right? And at first, they can’t help but be themselves despite the trappings of their new positions: Peter-Octupus won’t kill and goes out of his way to keep his fellow supervillains in line; Otto-Spidey keeps making things more dangerous in the name of pride and victory. During the story, both act on instincts they didn’t intend: Peter-Octopus deflects a bullet, hitting the innocent Carlie; Otto-Spidey jumps in the path of Scorpion to protect Aunt May. While Peter-Octopus’ deflection is blamed on Doc Oc’s mechanical arms, Otto-Spidey’s selfless act is inspired by a distant memory of Aunt May being kind to Peter Parker. And here’s where things start to get weird.
Their battle, for the most part, seems entirely inconsequential. They even acknowledge early on that they’ve done this dance a thousand times. What is important and dead central in the last act is the emotional values inherent to being Peter Parker. Peter-Octopus’s last effort doesn’t succeed, but it does create a mind meld between the two of them to show Peter’s life flashing before Otto’s eyes. It’s pretty intense and a great summary of essential Spider-Man ideals (his origin, losing people he loves, never giving up, great power, great responsibility) and it seems like Otto Octavius is genuinely moved. So moved, he promises to protect Peter’s loved ones as he quietly passes away.
“Farewell, Parker,” he says. “Know this, I will carry on in your name. You may be leaving this world, but you are not leaving it to a villain. I swear. I will be Spider-Man.”
That is a stupendous change of heart from a man who was content to let him die in the name of victory. It almost seems forced; maybe the idea of having Spider-man turn into a villainous mastermind was where editorial drew the line. It seems awkward, but that’s probably because this isn’t Otto’s book. The Amazing Spider-Man is ending because Peter Parker is “ending,” so this is the point of view we’re given. And honestly, after the grand drama of the whole thing, to have Octavius just turn around and say, “Well, that just happened,” and go back to being his evil self would be even more of a letdown. Here, we’re just left wondering, why the change of heart?
Avenging Spider-man #15.1 does the confused one better and explains the shift in “morality” clearly and concisely. It’s an inner monologue from Octavius as he finally has a moment to crow about his victory. You see, he beat Spider-Man, so therefore he is the better man. Through fiddling with Spider-Man’s things and Peter Parker’s skills, he learns that Peter Parker hasn’t been living up to his full potential, bringing “being the better man” back into question. While trying to access one of his old super-villain laboratories, Otto is reminded that Spider-Man always beat Doctor Octopus. None of his grand plans ever worked … aside from this one. Now knowing he was beaten thoroughly by a hero only living at half potential, being the better man is no longer a foregone conclusion. The entire idea of winning is now called into question. So, he vows to be a better Spider-Man that Peter ever was, thereby retaining his win.
This version of motivation made a lot more sense to me; he may still feel the need to live up to Parker’s legacy, but he’s still retaining his own style and personality in doing so. Isn’t the best revenge living well? So we have a good story, a sound motivation, a bunch drama and story lines up ahead as Octavius tries to keep what he’s done a secret from his new friends and family, he can learn how the other half lives as a major super-hero and we’ll learn along with him how hard it really is to be Peter Parker as well as his alter ego. I see a lot of great comics up ahead in the new year and I can’t be the only one, right? Why is this death threat material and why are so many people, longtime comic fans, too, losing their minds on this?
It’s because we’re supposed to. Face value, this is a horrible idea. Who wants a villain, let alone one as honestly kind of dumpy as Doctor Octopus, in the body of the hero so many have grown up with? This is a travesty! As so many people are connected to the flagship character of the entire Marvel universe, we should be outraged! we should be mad! But we should keep reading too.
This is Cody Rhodes’ mustache, my friends. It’s a sour note, something that breaks up the flow of an otherwise stellar talent that makes you react. It changes the audience’s perception of a well-known character and breaks up that status quo for awhile. Mustaches can get shaved off. If you really think Peter Parker is for-realzies dead and we’ll never see him again, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. These are both gimmicks, serving their purpose and time before something else comes along. Cody’s mustache does not make him a new person, but it changes how we view him. Spider-Man will always be Spider-Man, but Octavius behind the wheel will change our perspective of him. Any actual outrage at this very well written and assuredly well planned out story line is what any professional wrestling fan would recognize as ‘heat’. Heat makes you root against the bad guy and more emphatically for the hero. Even if you’re not sold on Otto-Spidey, keep reading because when Peter Parker does return, we’ll be all the more glad to see him home.