DAN SLOTT'S DYING WISH
This video does not represent the entire fanbase of the Spider Man franchise. Please do not take this video as a template for how everyone feels for the franchise. We are simply giving a voice to those who are troubled by the direction the series, and more importantly the editorial, has taken.
December, 2012. The amazing spider man finally reaches its 700th issue. The storyline is yet another controversial move- the main character will no longer be Peter Parker, but Doctor Octopus, who has trapped Peter in his own dying body. Eventually, Peter dies, but not before transferring his memories to Doc Ock in a last ditch attempt to make him understand what it means to be Spider Man. Ock lives on as the new Peter Parker- dubbed the Superior Spider man.
Dan Slott, the writer of this tale, has not only received both praise and criticism, but has also received death threats as a result of this revelation. In spite of these, newsites and Marvel maintain that the book is selling well and Slott says he has had an overwhelming amount of praise sent to him, and this is allegedly also true of the new Superior Spider Man book.
Slott's case isn't special for a man in his position. Many people have received the same level of death threats before Slott, and many will receive them after he's done. The internet is made up of very unstable people, or at least people overly invested in comic book characters. Yet it's perhaps not wise to discount Marvel's part that has been played in making these actions possible.
Marvel had, right from the beginning, a letters page and series of ranks that readers could achieve for collecting many titles or spotting a mistake in the art. This made them feel a part of the marvel crowd, a tradition continued to this day. It's not only a smart way to get readers on board but also to make them feel connected with the Marvel universe. However, individual writers didn't particularly make personal contact with readers outside of letters and comic-cons until the widespread use of social networking websites. Enter Dan Slott, who created a very strong presence for himself online. Business wise this is an understandable choice, it builds up a connection between the writer and the readers. However, this also meant that Slott was more prone to scrutiny.
Slott joined the main comic as a writer after the controversial story created by James Michael Strazynski and Joe Quesada, One More Day. One More day was a story that was created to reverse the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane in order to keep the character single. Joe Quesada, editor in chief at the time, expressed his dislike of the marriage and said it was only done as a publicity stunt- and that he felt Peter being single was part of the characters essence. It is unclear in which way One More day was not a publicity stunt to many fans, as since that story the character has had a steady girlfriend, has remained closed to mary jane and even lived with her during their now non-marriage years, and the only major difference being that after the unmasking event in civil war, nobody now knew his identity again. New villains were introduced and then for the most part dropped from the title in favour of heralding all of Spidey's older enemies returning to the fold. It was a magic wand that resurrected a long dead character and eventually restored most of the original status quo-.The only exterior change appeared to be that it got everyone to apparently pick up a copy. Fans were openly upset and still are, even with Quesada's stepping down as editor in cheif, but are constantly dismissed because 'it's only a comic book', or because 'the status quo will be restored eventually.' When all of these reasons fly in the face of the original decision, why would Marvel not come out and find some way to satisfy their readership and admit to making a mistake? When CBR released a poll to see what fans felt, the majority agreed that it was a bad decision even after five years. Marvel may not appear to think its online fans or this poll are relevant, yet this discounts that these fans are just as willing as any others to invest themselves in the franchise and put their money where their mouth is. But let's get back to Slott.
Three years ago when a fan criticised Slott on how he felt that his run was something he only did for the money, Slott discovered the comment and replied, insulting the commentor. Sites leapt on the opportunity to question Slotts actions as a professional writer. While the incident was quickly dealt with, It was proof positive that Slott cared about what he was doing more than the paycheck- but it was also bait for his detractors to show that he was just as prone to instability as his fans. It would be easy to leave it at that and say that Slott was absolutely framed for this event, and Slott has openly admitted that he regrets ever responding so strongly. However, what doesn't seem to have been taken on board is how such a feeling had been allowed to be used as justification against Slott in the first place, and whether or not it's relevant to his time on the book or the dissatisfaction with Marvel from longtime fans in general.
Soon Slott had gained a reputation amongst some Spider man fans on the internet as unprofessional and unable to take criticism. Slott attested that he has effectively been victimised by these fans, in particular by the Fansite known as Crawlspace. Slott originally signed up as a member as a show of good will but eventually quit crawlspace in 2010, claiming that the moderators and members were insulting him and spinning a biasy against the current book, and that they were shutting down anyone who spoke favourably for it. This would have been the end of it, but later Slott accused Crawlspace, sometimes falsely, for defacing his wikipedia article, for negative and spiteful conduct against his co-workers, and for ignoring his positive press, only choosing to post negative news about him- a debate that, despite his claim that he had quit the site, reared its head again in 2012, where he opnely engaged in heated arguments with the members of the site over being portrayed in a negative light. This ignores all of the positive reviews Crawlspace has actually given Slott over the years in their podcasts and in their written work.
In none of these cases did Slott address any of the well thought out criticisms against the book, but also did not even acknowledge that the moderators he insulted were actually supporting his right to speak and were treating him as equally as any other member. He was promised by the administrator that the members would be policed by the mods to keep things civil, but Slott did not seem to believe that there was any validity in the satire made about story events, colleagues and decisions from his time on the book. This has given rise to the opinion that he is unable to take criticism for his writing skills and the recent spider man team in general, supported by his attitude that crops up on message boards and occasionally on twitter. It would seem that Slott is a victim, but Slott bites the bait on several occasions, and is the one who draws attention to these messages in the first place rather than ignoring them completely. The death threats are a good example. Slott admitted to retweeting the threats in order to make fun of them with his supporters before contacting the police. It's true that Slott also sometimes offers fans a chance to talk with him if they are unhappy- but it appears that's only to fans who want to discuss in-universe topics rather than the quality of his writing and the depth of his characters. Other fans aren't so lucky, and the book certainly does not currently reflect any change in perspective.
The hugboxing prevalent on Slotts twitter helps maintain that victim persona- the very persona he has accused the fans upset by the change of having over his latest story and his run on the book in general. When Slott does notice any negativity, he doesn't hesitate to use the praise he has given as a defense. As someone who is providing a product for others, he doesn't concern himself with the supposed minority of unsatisfied customers because clearly they're either lying and buying the book or their sales just don't count. Of course Slott has already admitted that he has no reason to listen to any dissent. In a comment on formspring, he put forward a post about how you can find anyone complaining about anything online, and therefore it wasn't valid. To Slott, nothing is valid but his own take on the character, because he is Spider Man's greatest fan, and has said so himself- so while he does not pander to his fans, it allows him to pander for himself. That's why Spider Man's girlfriend can do no wrong. That's why the jackal and the queen, two widely unwanted characters, can walk in and cause a crazy mystical adventure that reminds fans of the worst aspects of the comics past. That's why he can toy with continuity and completely change the personalities of characters like Phil Urich and Mary Jane without any genuine development. With an attitude like this, it's no wonder that people are making a connection between him and the superior spider man and calling it a work of self insertion fanfiction- he feels as victimised as his doc ock character in making these changes that he enjoys.
But that's what he and Marvel want- to keep their boys club and enjoy writing these stories. They don't want a fanbase that will ask questions and criticise the actual writing of their stories. With all the profits they've been turning through shock tactics and the movie business, not to mention their merger with Disney, they have absolutely no reason to listen to what their fans are after. It must be understood, comics are, even after many years, an incredibly Niche business. Fans will often buy their material regardless of what's inside. That appears to be the attitude of Slott's editor, Steve Wacker. Unlike Slott, Wacker's insults are rough edged and while they may be a part of his own brand of tongue in cheek humour, they seem to only serve to alienate existing fans. Wacker claims the book has never sold Better, as does Dan Slott. This raises many questions. Why are the sales figures for the books so confidential? Why can we only see the subscriber counts publically? And if the book is truly doing so well, why does Wacker feel like he needs to take time out to scour forums and troll forumites when answers are asked for or when someone criticises him? It gets worse when the in-fighting begins. James michael strazynski, who wrote spider man before one more day and originally almost bargained to have his name removed from the story, posted an inflammatory chart showing how sales had declined since he left the comic. However, Steve Wacker suddenly got involved, angered that Strazynski had posted a false chart publically- a chart JMS had gotten from someone else in the first place. The incredibly hostile and defensive responses from both men are rather alarming- but Wackers response deserves reading into. Here he states that the sales did go down, but because the books are now released three times a month, the way the chart is being read is wrong. It also does not account for the european market. If this is the case and if the books are selling well, why does the staff continue to withold the real numbers and celebrate their success? I'd believe they wouldn't do it out of dignity if they weren't already confronting fans who disagree in their spare time.
The most troublesome aspect is they are directly risking people who really want to buy their stories. The Spider Man character is popular, and these people are their customers. Surely it makes sense to earn the trust of the fans? Not according to Wacker. Judging by his posts, as we have little else offered to go on, new fans and new blood are all that matter, and anyone else simply doesn't. Does this mean that it's okay that every story they publish is incendiary or relevant mainly to longtime fans? This image of the new superior Spider man kissing Mary Jane was shown with the clear implication from Slott that Peter and Mary Jane, split up after the previously mentioned One more day story, were not going to get back together in the way the fans had wanted for some time. It was clearly a very deliberate move on existing sentiments.
But while the online personas may be open for scrutiny, the question is if it should even reflect upon Slotts skills as a writer in the first place. Let's get one thing clear: nothing about this story is new or original as is being claimed, certainly not to superman or batman, and not even to the Spider Man franchise. The character was replaced by a clone (and at one point believed to be a clone) in the early to late nineties and was even killed off recently in the Ultimate series. The story in this case is slightly different, thanks to the mind swap aspect, another idea covered in all star superman and ultimate spider man. However, it should be understood that many are criticising not the story, which actually has solid support amongst fans, but the execution of this plot line.
For someone who claims to be incredibly supportive of continuity in Spider Man, Slott appears to be very selective in his character development. One scene in superior has the character of Mary Jane kiss Spider Man, professing her love for him right after he has called her inspirational speeches trite and insulted her- not to mention nearly risking his identity. This is the same character who longtime readers remember discovering that the chameleon was posing as her husband and who knew that it wasn't the same person- beating him with a baseball bat. Allegations of incoming rape aside, it feels as though Slott picks and chooses the continuity he desires to best suit his perspective and choice of dialogue, rather than using what is already available to expand on existing ideas. Actually, lets look at those allegations of rape again- Wacker very bluntly told fans that they were merely comic books and that nothing should be read into the matter. A very well written article by the onetrueBix on furious Nads notes that comic books and pop culture are new ways of discussing social and moral issues. In the same week the comic was released, a woman was victimised by a man who was pretending to be her boyfriend. Bix notes that
in a flagrant disregard for pop culture’s place in our ongoing moral conversation (his citation of soap opera being the functional equivalent of saying “it’s just a comic”), when readers openly discussed the potential implications of what was depicted in Amazing Spider-Man #700, Wacker ridiculed and dismissed that discussion. As we unfortunately see from this week’s news, that’s staggeringly irresponsible.
This is perhaps a very telltale sign that the current comics crew just isn't interested in telling stories that people can aspire to and get invested in. When fans are willing to discuss the issues surrounding their heroes, they are met with this rebuttal. Dan Slott once wrote for She Hulk, a character who in his run doubled as a lawyer and who dealt with these kinds of issues on a regular basis.
Slott denounced the critics in an interview for newsrama, saying that it's incredibly meta- the original spider man was considered a menace by the public, and now the same is happening to his superior spider man in real life. An interesting point, asides the fact that readers are reacting exactly because they have inside knowledge on the points of views and qualities held by both characters. Peter Parker, after experiencing the murder of his uncle Ben, becomes a strong willed and good natured super hero. Doctor Octopus, after experiencing the murder of Peter's uncle Ben, and after being told by Mary Jane that she loves him, continues to be a condescending playboy, and continues to beat criminals into near death experiences. However, Slott appears to have taken this back by having Peter Parkers ghost prevent Doctor Octopus from really killing anyone. So now we have a paradox- Slott is knowingly returning the characters to their original status yet has goaded fans for not sympathising with his character. He has thrown two unessercary curveballs in order to keep fans on their toes even though everything is reasonably easy to predict due to Slotts apparent inability to truly think outside of forced conveniences. This is probably a very well planned joke, as indicated by most of the imagery used, but fans are not necessarily all laughing at being taken for a ride.
(spider man- this is all beginning to sound like a bad comic book plot!)
But as mentioned, success continues to reign in Marvel's announcements. Slott and Wacker openly insult their readers, but they do not apply censorship outside of witholding information and blocking from their twitters. However, Marvel are more than capable of covering their backs. The Ultimate Spider Man facebook page was rumoured to have been removed due to the overwhelming amount of negative comments it has received, and with the page detailing this news suspiciously removed, and this was considered a form of censorship. To believe this, perhaps you would have to also believe that Marvel are that desperate to push the show as a success. Practically, they absolutely are. The rights to the movie franchise are owned by Sony, as were the rights to an animated series. Marvel naturally wanted to make back some money and credibility, and made a deal to buy those rights which lead to the cancellation of the Spectacular Spider Man show. While this was upfront, their attempts to advertise the show were not.
The Avengers: earths mightiest heroes series, which was recently cancelled, featured an episode where spider man appeared. The creative team cast Josh Keaton in the role. Keaton had voiced the character in the Spectacular Spider Man series and the creators of avengers, including Chris Yost, a writer of the main comics and an admitted fan of the spectacular spider man series, wanted to include the voice actor so that both series may be considered part of a shared universe. However, later on, Jeph Loeb had Drake Bell, the voice of Spider Man in the ultimate spider man show, re dub Keatons lines. Keaton only found out about the re-dub much later on, without being contacted by Marvel. Fans saw this as an obvious attempt to force a particular mandate upon them.
We have to look at this from a practical standpoint. The Marvel movies have done increasingly well for themselves, becoming more than just household names in the past year alone, and cross pollinating with their comics counterparts in order to help solidify the recognisability of their branding. However, Spider Man has had something of a turbulent ride, with the fanbase reasonably split over their feelings on the latest movie, which is not in conjunction with Marvel studios and therefore not actually a part of the same brand, and with a version of the character currently running in the ultimate comics who has not only also split opinion, but is, more importantly, not the same character as portrayed in the movies and television series. Oh, and that's another issue, the Ultimate Spider Man series which is also only very loosely based on its source material, which has little to do with the current ultimate or mainstream comics. While all versions of the comic have experimented continuously with the character, the movies tend to return for the most part to the original basis set down by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
However, the simple truth is that the character does not belong merely to Dan Slott, or to Marvel, but to the world. That's why Peter Parker will return in the next spider man movie. That's why the original backlog of comics still sells. That's why the argument of who created the character endures to this day. While the creators at Marvel suggest that the story is irreversible and will in fact last, it's undoubted that it will in fact return to normal sooner rather than later and already has- it would be foolish to express otherwise.
Marvel has essentially become a boys club, where Bendis, Waid, Slott, Wacker and others share ideas and keep the naysayers from their door. They claim that nobody should care, when what they're really saying is 'don't jeopardise our attempt to sell more comics.' They don't believe that their fanbase should be invested enough in these changes in policy and attitude because it will most likely ruin the illusion that they're running the greatest spider man ediotiral in its entire history. When other comics and the movie industry are providing more viable and interesting takes on how comic books should be perceived, there's no reason to take their assurances that they're making the best comic they can seriously at all.
Crawl Space posted two reviews based on the issue, and in their closing points the reviewers made some good observations. Erik Lexile noted that 'In a USA Today interview that just came out, Dan Slott made the most damning public statement of his time on the book: “Doc is kinda like me: He’s short and schlubby. This is a guy who now gets to be in the body of Peter Parker. This opens up whole new things.” It’s hard to read this statement any way but one. This is Dan Slott’s world now. Dan Slott now gets to be Spider-Man'
Even more poignantly, Donovan Grant summed it up thus, in his last review for the site-
Nothing ends, ever. Thus the narrative of Spider-Man is one of unending misery for the character, for he’ll have such a horrible event occur in his lifetime, even though years from now he’ll be laughing about it in some naked appeal for continuity gags by some eager comic fan-turned-author. This is the true reason of defeat for the character; the snapping of the rubber band. Most everything else dynamic that occurred in his life happened as a part of his life, in situations where he, like us, could move on and get past things. No one can believably get past or experience this. I cannot get past this story. Beyond this point the concept of Spider-Man can never again be considered “relatable” or “believable” by honest standards. It would be disingenuous to assert otherwise, and yet the series already has. This issue reiterates the kitsch nature of the genre, and to take it seriously would be like trying to deconstruct camp.
Who knows what will happen between now and the next milestone of Spider-Man? My guess at is that the more it changes, the more it will stay the same. After all, it's just another comic book.