Pop Culture

Death of Spider-Man’s alter ego has fans crawling up walls

Peter Parker has put on the Spider-Man suit for the last time, and it has fans of the iconic comic book hero crawling up the walls.

The alter ego of one of the most popular comics superheroes of the past 50 years meets his end in “Amazing Spider-Man’’ No. 700, which was released by Marvel on Wednesday. In the issue, Parker dies in a battle with one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes, the evil Doctor Octopus, aka Dr. Otto Octavius.

Now Doc Ock’s mind inhabits Parker’s body, and it will be up to the arch-villain to learn what Parker was taught by his Uncle Ben in issue No. 15, way back in 1962: With great power comes great responsibility.

Reaction to the tale among comicdom has been swift and passionate. “It’s been polarizing, but if you put it on the giant scale, the positive has been crushing the negative,’’ Marvel writer Dan Slott, who came up with the plotline, told TODAY.com. “I’m ecstatic that people are reading and digging it. I was anticipating (a strong reaction) and making jokes for months that I was going to have to pull a Salman Rushdie and go into hiding.’’

The release of “The Superior Spider-Man” #1 on Jan. 9 will kick off the new series with Doctor Octopus (in Peter Parker's body) donning the Spider-Man suit.

“When you hit the 700th issue of Spider-Man and you’re wrapping up the 50th anniversary of the comic, plus being in the middle of the ‘Marvel Now’ initiative with all the books getting a drastic makeover, you have to do something big, something that speaks of high opera,’’ Slott said.

Death threats

Some of the fringe members of the always vociferous comic community have not taken well to the latest twist in the web-spinner’s long saga. Slott received death threats on Twitter for killing off the geeky, smart-aleck teenager who has been integral to the comic since the 1960s.

“Reality check: There is NO such thing as a ‘funny death threat,’’’ Slott tweeted on Wednesday. “Especially if you TAG someone in it.’’

But the negativity has been more than counterbalanced by fans excited about the change, he added.

“Wanted to thank EVERYONE for all the positive feedback,’’ Slott tweeted Thursday morning. “THANK You! & Happy New Year!’’

Even the legendary Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics, couldn’t resist a fun dig at Slott on Twitter. Slott sent a congratulatory tweet to Lee on his birthday on Wednesday, and Lee replied by tweeting, “what a gift, some guys give a nice cigar, a watch, but no not you, I get a dead #PeterParker.Thanks for the bday wishes my friend!”

“That was vintage Stan, and, I’m not kidding, (his tweet) is up on the fridge,’’ Slott told TODAY.com. “One of the highlights of my life was that we had him write the answers to all the fans in the issue 700 letter column. He wrote, ‘Dan Slott and Spidey go together like ham and eggs!’ That is going to be on my tombstone.’’

‘Another trick up our sleeve’

Slott told TODAY.com he is going “Twitter dark’’ for the first time in three years and will not be posting anything until the release of the first issue of the new series on Jan. 9. He also hinted at a potential plot surprise in “The Superior Spider-Man,’’ giving away nothing specific other than saying that Marvel “has another trick up our sleeve.’’

Slott has been the sole writer for “The Amazing Spider-Man’’ for the past 52 issues after working as part of a rotating team of four writers when he started in 2008. The wheels for the stunning ending to Peter Parker were set in motion back in issue 600, when Doctor Octopus was given only a year to live, his body withering. Before he took over Parker’s body, all of Parker’s memories and experiences were transferred into Doc Ock’s mind. Now the question is whether his impulse toward evil will outweigh his egocentric intention to become an even better version of Spider-Man than Parker was.

Peter Parker could have become a villain himself in the beginning: He took up fighting evil only after indifferently letting a fleeing burglar run right past him — a burglar who later killed his beloved uncle who had helped raise him. Now the question is what effect that lesson will have on a character that already is a super-villain. Doc Ock was chosen from the rogues’ gallery of Spider-Man’s enemies to fill his suit because he is like “the dark shadow’’ of Parker, according to Slott.

“When we first met Peter, he was a bespectacled nerd who was treated as an outcast and said about his peers, ‘Someday they’ll be sorry they laughed at me,’’’ Slott said. “When we first meet Doc Ock, he’s a bespectacled nerd adult who also had a radioactive accident. He was everything Spider-Man would be if he hadn’t learned the lesson from Uncle Ben and Aunt May.”

Prominent superheroes have met their demise before, only to return. Superman died in 1992, Captain America was killed off in 2007, and Bruce Wayne stopped serving as Batman’s alter ego for a time. Slott maintains that Parker is not coming back.

“He’s dead,’’ he said.