This is what we've been waiting to see. Amazing Spider-Man #700.
Here There Be Spoylers – you have been forewarned.
Months ago, writer Dan Slott publicly said that he'd likely have to go into hiding to avoid fan backlash for what he's done to Peter Parker in this landmark issue. Now we know what that thing is – he's killed him off.
Here's the scoop of the last few issues – the dying, imprisoned Dr. Otto Octavius, known to the reading public as Dr. Octopus, has managed to swap consciousnesses with Peter Parker, and is now running around in his virile body while his longtime superheroic adversary is wasting away in his old near-carcass, with time running out. The swap was not clean, though, and both of them have access to each other's memories and minds as well. Hence, Otto-in-Peter knows all about his relationships and is trying to hook up with Mary Jane Watson again (it stands to reason that Ock hasn't been laid in some time, but this is bordering on rapey here, and please don't go there, Mr. Slott, because you WILL have to go into hiding if you do), and Peter-in-Otto knows about all his crazy paranoid contingency plans.
Thus, P.I.O. has recruited Trapster, Scorpion and Hydro-Man to break him out of jail long enough to make one last play to get his real body back – but O.I.P. has all the advantages, and is outmaneuvering P.I.O. at every turn. ASM #700 is a long chess match between the two, until P.I.O. realizes that even if he can't make the switch back, their proximity to each other and the high-tech gold octobot that facilitated the switch still lets them establish a psychic link, and Peter can force Otto to relive every character-building tragedy in his life, which has the effect of forcing Otto away from his selfish ambitions, and to realize that essential Spider-maxim that with great power must come great responsibility (you always think that's going to get old, but when properly executed, it never does). Once Peter elicits a promise from Otto that the people he loves will be kept safe, he appears to die once Otto's old body fails, and Otto proceeds to monologue that he's seen the light, and Peter will not have left his body to a villain. However, acquiring a sense of responsibility does not mean one loses one's lifelong arrogance, and thus, Otto swears he'll be a better Spider-Man than Peter ever was – essentially, a Superior Spider-Man.
That is, coincidentally, the title of the Spider-Man series in the Marvel NOW era, and Otto Octavius is going to be the central character for the near future.
Before we get too reactionary here, which is what we as comic nerds tend to do, let's look at a few of the facts.
1.) Peter Parker will eventually be Spider-Man again, and the title will once again be Amazing Spider-Man once they get another 50 issues under their belt for the next landmark (and likely long before that). He knows Dr. Strange. He knows everybody who has crazy mental voodoo powers. You can probably also bett that Otto Octavius will be back in his portly bowl-cut body and being Dr. Octopus again somewhere down the line, too. Marketable Characters Never Die. This will last a year tops, but considering that this is a bi-monthly title, it probably won't even last half that.
2.) Slott told us when he guest-starred on The Book Report podcast that writing Spider-Man was his dream job and he could never burn out on it. However, the whole Marvel NOW stunt was centered around shuffling creative teams around and ending long runs. Slott would have wanted none of that, so it stands to reason that this arc he was coincidentally planning for #700 may have been expanded and extended to be just enough of a 'radical change' to satisfy the Marvel NOW publicity machine without forcing him to actually leave the title he's been knocking out of the park for so long.
3.) There's a supervillain in Spider-Man's body, living his life. This could be fascinating.
The downside is that Slott gave us some red herrings about what this plot twist actually would be, and one of them was teasing that Miguel O'Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099, could be the new guy. I would have flipped for that, but alas, it's not to be. I shouldn't have let him get my hopes up like that with his fake "accidental Tweet" about Miguel to his artists. The other drawback to this issue is that, as a farewell to Peter Parker (however temporary that will be), it inevitably had things reminiscent of the recent "Death of Spider-Man" arc over in Ultimate Comics. The 'into the light' dream sequence where everybody that ever died on Peter's watch was there to forgive him and say nice things to him was necessary, and yet a trifle trite. Not sure how he could have avoided it.
Other than that, though, Amazing Spider-Man #700 is pretty intense, with a lot of intriguing cognitive dissonance, seeing Spider-Man as the bad guy coming up with all the countermeasures for whatever Peter's trying to pull off in supervillain style. The stakes are life and death, and either way, the countdown clock was ticking down to the expiration of a major character. Humberto Ramos even draws Ock-Spidey with a different sort of demeanor, and while it looks like Spider-Man, it doesn't feel like him when we see him, and that takes some skill. Ramos also consistently goes for broke in depicting how gnarled and decrepit the Octavius body is.
So I'm cautiously optimistic about Superior Spider-Man, even though I've never been all that fascinated with Dr. Octopus as a character. As an idea, maybe. As the best Spidey-movie villain so far, certainly. But now, Otto Octavius is the star of his own series – part of a trend at Marvel I like (see also: Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk as longtime supporting cast members who have been elevated to main event status). Maybe this will be the thing that lets him officially replace Norman Osborn as Peter Parker's true arch-nemesis, now that Ol' Brillo-Head's moved up to full-on Avengers villain.
As a swan song to 50 years of Amazing Spider-Man, #700 does delve into a lot of what makes Peter Parker tick, what makes Spidey Spidey, and proves that strong core character is powerful enough to reform a supervillain once they truly understand it. I can't say this issue knocked my socks off, due to all the unanswered questions and my very real concern that an Otto/MJ skeeve-fest is in the offing, but it is a bold effort, a daring move and it will all probalby turn out just fine in the end.
It's not a grand finale. It's just a new story arc. Let's roll with it.
For a dissenting opinion, check out Iann Robinson's take on Amazing Spider-Man #700.