My willingness to see flagship characters die and “remain dead” likely comes from growing up as a Green Lantern fan and being forced to accept the death of Hal Jordan. While 1993 saw headlines trumpeting the death of Superman it was insignificant when held up to the eventual fallout of Superman’s return. The original Superman returns, after only seven months “dead,” to find Jordan’s Coast City in ruins thanks to the combined forces of Cyborg Superman and Mogul. Jordan had been away from Earth during the destruction and finding the city destroyed begins a descent into madness. He seeks the power to restore Coast City by slaughtering the Green Lantern Corps. After taking their rings he becomes the villain Parallax for three years. His death finally comes in 1996 when, as Parallax, he sacrifices himself to reignite the Sun in “The Final Night.” Jordan remained dead until his soul returned as The Spectre in 1999 and eventually returning to his power ring in 2004.
Ten years is a longtime for such a well-known hero to not return to his namesake title (possibly topped only by Barry Allen). Prior to Peter Parker being purged from his body by Doctor Octopus at the end of 2012 the most recent gamble by Marvel was the death of Steve Rogers as Captain America in April of 2007. Impressively, Rogers stayed “dead” (he was actually frozen in time) for more than two years and when he did come back it wasn’t certain how soon he’d return to the shield. It was the first time since the death of Jordan that a major character known for carrying a title had been sacrificed for more than a year. Batman doesn’t count, because when DC “killed” Bruce Wayne at the end of 2009’s Final Crisis issue six it was only one week of wondering if he’d eventually return to the cowl (Wayne, much like Rogers, was also sent hurtling through time).
This is why the death and eventual return of Peter Parker is significant. Much to the chagrin of those calling for Dan Slott’s head Superior Spider-Man continues to be one of Marvel’s best-selling titles (you can read my previous defense of SSM here). It begs the question, do we need Peter Parker? That’s a hard question for me to write. Spider-Man was the first hero I ever made a monthly commitment to when my mother let me subscribe by direct mail to Web of Spider-Man in the late 80s. It’s difficult to comprehend a generation growing up without Parker and all of his idiosyncrasies behind the mask.
If we decide Peter Parker doesn’t necessarily need to come back it can’t be Otto Octavius forever. While he’s been taking strides to become a better person, including very noble advocacy on behalf of little people, he did kill Peter Parker and deserves to get his comeuppance. Who should take his place?
With the underrated Scarlet Spider coming to an end Kaine Parker would be available to step in for Peter. However, this seems unlikely as it would not only bring up memories of the heavily panned Clone Saga, but it seems out of character for the reformed Kaine to want to step into the Spider-Man role after everything he’s been through. Additionally, Kaine can at times be a brutal hero with questionable morals which may leave a continued bad taste in the mouths of Spider-Man fans who disapprove of Spidey-Ock’s style of crime fighting.
Miguel O’Hara, a.k.a. Spider-Man 2099, now stranded in the present day, would be a suitable stand-in for Peter Parker. He was inspired by the historical record of Spider-Man, so he holds many of the same values. O’Hara’s relationship with Alchemex could provide fertile ground for a new direction of Spider-Man trying to undermine the growth of megacorporations that he knows will one day oppress the world. O’Hara does have a sizable fan base who’d likely rally to defend the character from the very loud Peter Parker or Die crowd.
My personal preference would be Miles Morales, a.k.a. the Spider-Man who took over when Peter Parker died in the Ultimate Universe. The plot point is already in place to bring Morales into Earth-616 thanks to the original Mysterio being trapped on Earth-1610. Not only would it bring young blood into the role of Spider-Man we’d also have the opportunity to see Morales navigate and learn about Earth-616 with fresh eyes. An important subplot could be his desire to return to his Earth for his girlfriend Katherine Bishop. Bonus, it would be dirt in the eye of those who were aghast at the thought of Morales, who’s of Black Hispanic descent, replacing Peter Parker as Spider-Man (even though this was inaccurate due to it happening on a different Earth. Isn’t it interesting there hasn’t been similar outrage by these same talking heads regarding Peter Parker being replaced by a supervillain?).
I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how to bring Morales to Earth-616 and the following is how I’ve plotted it in my brain.
After the events of Goblin Nation the Avengers are convinced by evidence provided by Carlie Cooper that Peter Parker has been replaced by Otto Octavius. A battle ensues across Manhattan between the Avengers and Spider-Man’s minions which results in Doctor Octopus being taken into custody by the Avengers. They hold him prisoner while they try to find a way to bring back Peter.
Meanwhile, not knowing the Avengers have taken Spider-Ock into custody, O’Hara notices a Spider-Man sized void in New York City. O’Hara steps into the role on his own quest to find out what happened to Parker while also trying to find his way back to 2099. Readers follow O’Hara’s adventures for a few issues with each issue dropping hints that yet another Spider-Man is operating in the shadows. O’Hara sets out to track him down.
The other Spider-Man is Morales who’d also been trying to track down Parker, but for different reasons. He’d been sent to Earth-616 after Mysterio escaped from his prison on Earth-1610. He knew it would be a one way trip until he could find someone with the technology to send him back. He was willing to take the risk because Mysterio knows Spider-Man’s identity and needed to be warned. Unfortunately, he arrived toward the end of the events of Goblin Nation and was baffled when he witnessed the Avengers battling Spider-Man. He decided to hang back until he could gather more information on what was happening on this Earth.
When O’Hara and Morales meet they, of course, fight. Maybe during this first fight Morales isn’t revealed and the readers are left wondering who this shorter Spider-Man could be. It isn’t until Mysterio shows himself that the two Spider-Men clash again and team-up. Mysterio does create a flaw in my plot as we can’t have Mysterio hanging out on Earth-616 knowing Parker is Spider-Man. There will need to be some sort of trickery on the part of O’Hara and Morales to convince the illusionist that Parker isn’t Spider-Man (of course, Peter Parker has gone missing, so this might be easily achievable).
After the battle, O’Hara convinces Morales to continue on as Spider-Man and try to find out what happened to the original Spider-Man (neither of them know the Avengers took him) while he concentrates on not only finding a way back to 2099, but to also return Morales to Earth-1610.
This opens up two possibilities. They could both continue to be Spider-Man in some fashion, but in separate titles. Morales could be a more traditional Spider-Man while O’Hara could be a Spider-Man focused on corporate espionage and bringing down Alchemex. Maybe at some point O’Hara finds a way to send Morales home, but Morales, even though he’s homesick, chooses not to go until he finds Parker.
It also puts in place the opportunity for Spider-Ock to escape the Avengers and come face-to-face with Morales. Who knows, maybe after a long fight Doc Ock, who has been getting his ego checked rather harshly in the last handful of issues, may decide he isn’t “Superior” after all and gives Morales the keys to find Parker’s soul.
The biggest hole I see in this plot is that of Marvel and Sony struggling with having a new Peter Parker Spider-Man film in the theaters without having Parker in the comic. My plan would require at the least another full year of Earth-616 without Peter Parker. That’s a long time in comic years. The proprietor of one of my local comic shops told me an interesting story about a kid who only came into Spider-Man in the middle of 2013, so he only knows (and loves) Spidey-Ock. The thought of a new generation of comic readers not knowing Parker is likely troubling to those in charge of film marketing. Personally, I think people are smart enough to hold multiple universes in their heads (and it’s why I don’t have a problem with the Arrow and Flash television shows not being in the same Universe of the coming Justice League film).
No matter how this long running story arc is resolved I have complete faith that Dan Slott will pull it together in a way that leaves comic fans talking about it for years.