Amazing Spider-Man #682-687:
"Ends of the Earth"
Plot Summary: Dr. Octopus is dying. But in his final days, he has developed technology to repair the ozone layer. He says all he wants is to be remembered forever as the human race's savior, and it seems the world is ready to play along with him and his Sinister Six. But not Spider-Man. Burned countless times in the past by his arch-nemesis, Spidey's not willing to accept Doc Ock as a selfless benefactor. Unfortunately, that sets him - not Octavius - as Global Enemy No. 1! How can Spider-Man save the day when Doc Ock, the Sinister Six and, indeed, the whole planet, are intent on hunting him down?
Release Date: May 2012 - Aug 2012
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Stefano Caselli
A while ago, I wrote a review for the "Spider-Island" story arc running from ASM #666-673. It was one of those fancy "crossover events" in Marvel (like Secret Wars or Civil War) that spanned across multiple different titles and guest-starred many characters from separate books. I had a lot to say about it, not just because it was a lengthy arc that ran for eight issues, but also because I had many problems with its writing. It really didn't help that there was such massive hype built around it.
In Spidey's own books, the event was marketed as a big deal for many issues prior to the actual story arc. There was even a side story within those issues called "Infested" that I briefly touched on in the review, acting as a prologue for the massive saga. However, what truly made this event special was that it was a story about New Yorkers suddenly getting powers exactly like those of Spider-Man. This meant that while many Marvel characters would be guest-starring in the event, Spidey would supposedly be in the spotlight dealing with other Spider-Men like him. Oftentimes, readers would find the opposite to be true, with the ol' Webhead playing a relatively small role in such a world-shaking event, so to have him finally be the main star, it truly seemed like an event dedicated to the iconic hero.
And it made sense too, considering the timing of it. "Spider-Island" was released in 2011, just one year before the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man's first appearance since "Amazing Fantasy #15".
Unfortunately, the event failed to live up to its hype for me. While the spotlight was on the webslinger, it didn't feel like he was the main player throughout many parts of the story, but a mere observer reacting to the happenstance around him, just as he did in other crossover events. While the story eventually gave him a more active role in the second-half, it had spent most of its time keeping him as a passive bystander, either lamenting how his participation was redundant to the event at large (an ironic meta-commentary perhaps) or doing investigations on a mastermind who became insignificant by the third act anyway. And because it's a crossover event, Spidey's own book had to make references to numerous Spider-Island subplots taking place in other books like Agent Venom and Clock & Dagger, further diluting the focus on the main story and Spider-Man himself.
On paper, the idea of Spider-Island sounded "awesome." When you look back at the many stories of Dan Slott, that seems to be the pattern: they are larger-than-life, and there is often some cool gimmick that makes the story special. Slott seems to prefer writing such "cool" and "awesome" stories that are colorful and attention-grabbing, but when it comes to writing about how the characters react to these plots and why they react that way, these "boring" but no less important details are often rushed or even absent. It's this focus on plot over characters that often makes his stories a hollow spectacle in the long run.
Today, I shall review "Ends of the Earth", another story that marked the milestone that was the 'Big 50'. Much like Spider-Island, it's another Dan Slott story with an interesting concept: Spidey leading the Avengers against Doc Ock in a battle of wits to stop the destruction of Earth. Very dramatic and big-scale like your typical blockbuster. But because the webslinger has a key role to play in the story this time, it forced Slott to focus a lot more on him and not be distracted. At least not till the end.
A CLEAR FOCUS
There were a number of reasons why this story worked for me better than Spider-Island ever did, but the key reason is focus. It's always focused on Spider-Man and his goal: stopping Dr. Octopus. Everything that happens in the story is directly related to this goal from start to finish. Nothing is unnecessary, even the cameos of other superheroes and the one promotional plug to another book.
For many parts of Spider-Island, it's a gimmick story. It relied on the gimmick that is the spider-powers, and its focus was turned towards the reaction of everyone to this cool and fancy gimmick. That's why Spidey became left out, because he wasn't part of the spectacle. He wasn't the big fireworks that drew in the readers. Those cameos by the Avengers, the awesome fight scenes between them and the other Spider-Men, those were the main attractions. Not Ends of the Earth.
Here, Spider-Man is the story, or more specifically, the story is centered on his battle against Dr. Octopus in a game of chess. The Avengers make an appearance here just as they did in Spider-Island, but it is Spider-Man who is leading them on the front line. There is also a promotional plug to another book tied-in with this story when Spidey calls to arms international heroes from across the planet, but the scene featuring the plug merely added to Spider-Man's character development, displaying his talent as a leader capable of bringing people together.
The result is a laser-sharp focus on a single element, which is the Webhead himself, and this clear direction is why the story didn't feel like just another passing fad that's all spectacle and no substance for the majority of the story.
BATTLE OF WITS
The most interesting part about Ends of the Earth is undeniably this, the 'hook' that made Slott want to write this story. It's not just another average fist-fight where Spidey either punches his villains or throws stuff at them. Such a 'battle of the minds' isn't just refreshing; it gives Slott a chance to remind readers just how intelligent Spidey can be as he comes up with various strategies on the battlefield. I've always enjoyed it when writers utilize Spidey's brain over his brawn, because the latter is just too easy, while the former allows writers to come up with creative ways to depict the villain's defeat. In an era where Peter Parker was finally working at a science lab, it was only appropriate that his best weapon during this period was his brilliant mind.
But that's not the best part. Ends of the Earth wasn't just an opportunity to showcase Spidey's tactical prowess; it also provided readers with an entertaining battle that kept us at the edge of our seats. That means Doc Ock has to match up against Spidey, or in this case, be far more superior.
Like any good battle of wits, neither combatant has the upper-hand for long, resulting in some very intense battles that leaves the readers wondering who would come out on top - which is frankly a pleasant surprise. In the many years prior to this story, the defeat of the Sinister Six had become somewhat predictable. But with Ends of the Earth, for the first time in a long while, the villains came prepared and even brought the Avengers down to their knees – the formidable Iron Man and Thor included. To be able to take down The Mighty Thor, now that's a feat worth respecting.
And because Dr. Octopus is literally a sociopath, the stakes of this battle can be high, as Otto has no qualms killing or even sacrificing the entire planet to achieve his goal.
Stakes can be an effective plot-device that gives a story urgency and a tight pacing. While both Spider-Island and Ends of the Earth have stakes that involve the fate of the entire Earth, the danger didn't feel real in the former story. Here's what I mean.
There were two major conflicts in Spider-Island that raised the stakes of the story: 1) The people with spider-powers were eventually turned into eight-legged spiders, and 2) J. Jonah Jameson, one of the victims who was also transformed, seemingly murdered someone in the process. Neither conflict seemed unsolvable when you think about it. We've seen people turning into monsters in Marvel before, and they would eventually turn back to normal. As for Jameson's "murder", unlike past deaths that were real, we didn't really see a dead body here, so it was unknown at the time if Jameson did kill that somebody, or merely injured him. The latter seemed more likely in that scene, as there's a very slim chance they would make Jameson a murderer. Compare this to Ends of the Earth.
Here, Slott turned his "dramatic" dial up to eleven. We were shown in the very first part of the story, #682, a small taste of what Doc Ock was capable of when he heated up half of the planet with his satellites (the picture above). It's a horrifying scene where people of Earth were literally cooked alive under the intense heat. Stefano Caselli's pencils gave this Hell on Earth a very silent atmosphere that made the fiery display even more dramatic. There were no screams or people running for their lives, for many had collapsed from the heat striking them down. Those who withstood it merely gazed above with squinted eyes as they awaited judgment from a higher power: Doc Ock himself, displayed on LCD screens everywhere. And because both Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson were among those frightened observers, we knew that this was actually happening and not just some power fantasy being imagined in Octavius' mind.
Thanks to the proper build-up, the impact of seeing the city on fire later on hit the readers like an explosion, as the frightful notion of Doc Ock blowing up the world became a reality. This was the impact and consequence Spider-Island lacked.
Although there was a revelation moments after this scene that rather invalidated all the impact I mentioned above, I would still say that at the moment when we first saw it happen, the emotions we felt witnessing that horror were real, regardless of what came after. It's not like the revelation arrived immediately either, so we were at least given time to absorb this living nightmare in all its fury.
By the time this "city on fire" had arrived, the story was suffering from a second act syndrome, so this dramatic scene that reminded the readers what's at stake was much needed, keeping the story from becoming dull. Unfortunately, this was also where Slott's writing began to suffer.
A RUSHED ENDING
Here's where something I said at the beginning of this review comes into importance: Slott likes to write the "fun" stories, but he doesn't like to do all the hard work that goes with them. Before I go on, let me give you an idea of what the ending to this story is like:
REVIEW TO BE CONTINUED...?
Just like that.
Ends of the Earth has been a great ride that gave us this epic confrontation between Spidey and Otto with the fate of the entire Earth on the line, but I've always been one of those believers in the way an ending can make or break a story. It's where all the elements in the story culminate into a satisfying conclusion that reflects our entire journey with these characters. This is true even for action stories. Just take a look at Terminator 2's final line, which describes the entire theme of the movie: learning the value of life and preserving it.
So what did Ends of the Earth conclude the story with? A cliffhanger. And not just any cliffhanger, but one that forced you to read the epilogue in another book (Avenging Spider-Man #8). By the way, the epilogue sucks as it turned to be a boring filler story with some semblance of resolution shoe-horned into the last few pages.
In a lot of ways, the ending to Ends of the Earth polarizes that of Spider-Island. The latter just wasn't that interesting 'till the final act of the story, when the main focus was finally honed in on the webslinger and how he dealt with the spider-powers situation, not the other heroes crammed into the book. In the former's final act, however, the focus ironically became scattered across multiple plot-threads that diluted the impact of the story, including an unnecessary battle against the Avengers that wasn't even that exciting to read, because it ended so quickly. The final part of the story, #687, should have been focused on Spidey's confrontation with Doc Ock alone, not set up future plot lines that wouldn't be resolved in this story. The result was a very lackluster final battle against Otto the mastermind that barely lasted five pages, tacked on with a death afterwards which wouldn't see its effects on Spider-Man 'till that lousy epilogue in ANOTHER book.
But the biggest problem with the ending is that particular death. Some time ago (a few issues prior to Spider-Island), Spidey made a proclamation that while he's around, no one dies. Here in Ends of the Earth, he was given a sadistic choice between the fate of the entire Earth or someone close to him. The compromise of his new code, the fact that a good person did die and the fact that Spidey ended up saving the bad guy instead (Doc Ock) should have a bigger payoff in the conclusion of the story. It should have been some moment of reflection, not something that was hand-waved away with some ambiguous cliffhanger. It's such a slap to the face and certainly not very satisfying.
Recommendation: Buy the trade paperback, but at a bargain store.
I'm going to try and use the above rating system from now on. Spiderfan.org uses it for their Spider-Man website, so I thought it might be fun to use these images in my future Spider-Man reviews. The above rating is a 3 and a half web out of 5 (3.5/5) by the way.
While Ends of the Earth might have a disappointing conclusion that really hurt the story, everything that came before it still made for an entertaining read where Spidey was fighting at his best, using brain over brawn. But because of that anticlimactic ending, I can't, in good faith, recommend buying the trade at full price. Look out for a discount, or just skip buying it altogether.
This wasn't the first and certainly not the last time Slott rushed out a story because he wanted to do the next fun thing with Spider-Man. Next time, I'll delve further into the flaws of Mr. Slott's writing as we take a look at how the webslinger's overhyped birthday came crashing down in one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories ever written:
Amazing Spider-Man #682-687: "Ends of the Earth" Review
A battle of wits! Spider-Man leading The Avengers! The end of the world as we know it! Reymous Fumes looks back at Dan Slott's 2012 blockbuster...