Here’s another question which presupposes that the Superior Spider-Man era will be temporary: Is it a good idea to shake up the status quo for a little while?
One concern is that a new temporary direction for the series could alienate potential readers. Someone looking for a comic book in which Peter Parker is Spider-Man is going to pick up a different type of product for the duration of this mega-arc. While there is certainly enough material available for anyone looking for comic books starring Peter Parker, in back issue bins, digital libraries and the Graphic Novel sections of comic book stores and regular book stores, the most likely purchase for a new reader remains the latest issue of Spider-Man. And in the months to come, those new issues are going to feature a villain who has triumphed over the hero.
There are two differing views on what type of material could be considered “new reader friendly.” My position is that as long as a reader understands what’s going on and why it’s important, the people who made the comic did their job. The reader who picked up a comic at Point B doesn’t need to know how the characters came to that place from Point A. However, some will want to know how it happened, even if it’s not essential to the story, and that can be convoluted. This can encourage a few new readers to pick up older comics to get the answers. And it will encourage others to just throw their Superior Spider-Man #1 in the trash, and decide that Spider-Man comics aren’t for them.
Current readers have different reasons for picking up Spider-Man comics. They may enjoy the world of the series, the character’s power-set or the talent associated with the titles (Dan Slott, Chris Yost, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, etc.) In that case, they’ll probably stick around with Superior Spider-Man, as that still offers what they’re looking for. If their main reason for buying the title is that they like Peter Parker as a lead, or want to see stories of a good man who always triumphs over adversity, this may not be the book for them. A few will stick around, and they may come to enjoy the title, just as they would enjoy any random well-produced Marvel monthly. Many of those who leave will return when Peter Parker comes back, but as they drop out of the habit of buying Spider-Man’s adventures on a regular basis, a few will never come back.
While I suspect that a majority of Spider-Man fans will still prefer Peter Parker as the lead, there are prone to be a few who will prefer Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s body. Perhaps he fits their temperament or worldview better. After hundreds of issues, they may also just be ready for something different. And these customers won’t be happy in the event that Peter Parker returns as the lead, although they could be the audience for a Superior Doctor Octopus spinoff title.
Marvel has done temporary status quos before in the Spider-Man comics. The Big Time era just came to an end. Spider-Man Unmasked lasted about half an year, before Back in Black, which also lasted for about half an year as Spider-Man’s identity was known to the world, and he was one of the most wanted fugitives in the United States. There was also the Clone Saga a few years ago, although that wasn’t meant to be temporary. And it’s worth noting that on Spider-Man message boards, there are common requests for Ben Reilly to return from the dead, as well as complaints that the Back in Black arc ended way too quickly.
Roger Stern and J Michael Straczynski also had atypical approaches to the rogues gallery when they were writing Amazing Spider-Man. So someone looking for Spider-Man fighting the classic villains usually had to look elsewhere. This did come at a time when readers had several monthly titles to choose from, so a problem with the approach of a writer wasn’t as discouraging. Right now, a fan interested in Peter Parker’s adventures can’t even pick up Ultimate Spider-Man. Until his inevitable return, they’re stuck with back issues to get new adventures of Peter Parker as Spider-Man.
The question of when it’s okay to deviate from the norm for a short period of time is a problem for any ongoing series. The smallest change can alienate the audience. The television ratings of Felicity, a 1990s program never recovered after actress Keri Russell got a haircut.
Keeping things exactly the same can get bland. One problem with the usual approach to the series is that it’s often been done better, a problem that becomes more significant the longer the series lasts. The average Spider-Man story will by definition be worse than the above-average story, and with a series that has lasted for fifty years, there is an incredible amount of above-average material in the past. Just offering more of the same doesn’t cut it. The longer new readers stick around, the better the chances they discover that for any given issue, someone else has told a better story on the same theme.