spoiler alert: do not read this if you haven't read AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 700
so let's begin with a story about a boy. a boy who was too brainy for his own good, who got good grades but wasn't always the most popular with his classmates.
this boy loved comic books, due largely to a secret crush on burt ward as “robin/dick greyson” in the sixties BATMAN series. an avid reader, when he discovered he could get his “robin” fix in book form, this boy found his local comic book shop and traded narnia and robinson crusoe for issues of BATMAN. the “robin” in this book had a different name, but to a kid, it was still “robin,” it didn’t matter. for months, he got a monthly dose of his favorite hero, a boy kinda like him except for the living with a handsome, rich guy part (and it would be years before he would even realize the subtextual significance of that.) and then…came BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY.
december 1988. i was turning nine. i picked up BATMAN 627 and was horrified to find “robin” trapped in a building that was about to blow up. at the end of the issue were 900-numbers (remember those?) set up for readers to decide “robin’s” fate. not knowing any better, i called no less than a kajillion times to keep my hero alive. the phone bill came and boy was i in trouble. i was grounded and wasn’t able to get the shop tip late january. my shop guy held my copy of BATMAN 628 for me and i read it in the shop and was devastated to find out that all my efforts were in vain. “robin” was dead. i was devastated and began to cry. my shop guy probably knew that this was coming and he asked if i was ok. between sobs, all i could muster was “robin’s dead.”
“what did you like about him?” he asked.
“that he was like me.” i said.
he came out from behind the counter, went to the wall, and pulled out AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 311 and said, “here you go. take it. i think you’ll find this guy is a lot like you too.”
i remembered loving the cartoon “Spider-Man and his amazing friends” but never gave the character much thought in book form. within those twenty-two pages, i found a guy who was too smart for his own good, who was funny, and saving lives. i began to save up my allowance and bought as many back issues as i could. back in school, Peter Parker was picked on for being too brainy and wasn’t very popular. and he had this secret that he couldn’t tell his friends or loved ones. sound familiar?
this boy who came into his own because of a certain spider-bite became my new hero because (like so many other fanboys) he was just like me. whenever things got tough, he got funny. he lived by a moral code that we could all live by: “with great power comes great responsibility.” he used his power to lift people up, not bring people down. he protected those he loved above all else. and as i grew up, Peter Parker grew up. he started teaching at his old high school when i began teaching theatre. he got fired from his day job at the same time i got laid off from the day job i wasn’t particularly fond of. when my father was dying, i recalled all the moments Peter had with uncle ben, especially PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN 33 (“Maybe Next Year.”) and we both suffer from the often-hilarious parker luck.
and Peter Parker’s had a great run in the fifty years that his book has been around. he’s had many epic battles in half a century so many wondered how they would the run of this iconic book with issue 700. i was nervous when writer dan slott teased on twitter that after fans read the last page of the last issue he’d have to go in hiding. the anxiety only grew when (at this year’s new york comic con) he announced that spidey would return in 2013 but “it ain’t Peter Parker.” and today, december 26, 2012, when issue 700 dropped, fans knew exactly what he meant.
long story short: roughly three issues ago, a dying doc ock managed to do a brain/body swap with our fearless Peter Parker. in the issues leading up to 700, things looked like they were going in favor for Peter as he fought in doc ock’s frail, dying body to regain his identity. but in the end, it wasn’t enough. as Peter Parker’s life flashed before both him and dock ock’s eyes (brain swap, remember?) Peter’s last ace in the pocket didn’t work. he lay dying, watching his arch nemesis wear his face/mask. begging him with his dying breath to protect those he loved. and then he was gone.
and i’m pissed. not that he’s dead (i’m sad and devastated that he’s dead.) i mean, i had a preview of how i would feel on this occasion with the death of Ultimate Spider-Man. but the big difference with the deaths of ultimate/mainstream Peter Parker is that his loved ones got closure. they mourned his death, celebrated his life, honored him as a hero. mainstream Peter Parker, my Peter Parker, gets no such tribute. as far as everyone else is concerned, Peter Parker is alive and well because doc ock is masquerading around with Peter’s body. no one will mourn Peter, no one will celebrate his life, honor his legacy. it’s tragic, it’s a slap in the face to all of us who love him, who identify with him. it’s not the same as jason todd’s robin dying. then, i mourned the mantle of robin. with this…i mourn the man. Peter Parker spent his whole life saving the world, doing the right thing, the man, the real man behind the mask must be honored. this is what this issue’s greatest disservice to the legacy of Peter Parker.
so this is my eulogy for Peter Parker. many posers have proved time and time again, it isn’t the powers that make the Spider-Man, but the man who possesses them. and Peter Parker was a great man. he was a great man, with great power, and he used it responsibly. he protected the people he loved, the people of new york city, hell, the people of the universe some times. he was just a guy getting by, just like me. somedays, he couldn’t afford rent but he was living and working in his calling (not unlike me and theatre.) Peter Parker gave me humor in the face of adversity, strength in the most dire of circumstances, and above all, the hope that no matter what, it will always get better. he taught me to be a better man, because when push came to shove, he always did the right thing, something that i always hope and aspire to do. Peter Parker will be greatly missed by many. especially me.
--Danny Bernardo is a Chicago-based theatre guy, geekologist, and adventurer. He is a theatre and geek columnist for GoPride.com. He will be assembling Chicago's geekiest to bring Geeks OUT events to the Windy City in 2013, so stay tuned!