Robbing Peter: The Superior Spider-Man #1 Review

superior_spider_man_1_cover_promoEditor’s Note: I’ve come to say goodbye to my old life. A life wasted on spoilers and ruined plot twists. A man whose sole victory was cheating comic readers… by switching – ah, screw it. This review contains spoilers. Many. many spoilers.

I’m done. Done accepting things the way we are. I swear to you… from now on… whenever I’m around, wherever I am… …No one dies!
– Peter Parker

Okay, that’s one way to end a comic book. But we’ll talk about that later.

So here we are: the first issue of a Spider-Man comic with Otto Octavius riding the peak seat, and our first chance to see how he handles the, well, power and responsibility. And coming out of the events of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, that was a serious question; sure, we’ve known what Doctor Octopus is like for the past fifty years, and it seems unlikely that an arrogant megalomaniac like that is likely to turn over a new leaf just because he can suddenly see his dick for the first time since Eisenhower was President. But still, we’ve seen that Ock obtained access to all of Peter’s memories and experiences, which could have an effect on Otto. So the question is: how does he behave as Spider-Man?

A lot like a supervillain, actually. But not in the way that you’d think.

So Otto’s Spider-Man now, and he’s at least paying lip service toward seriously taking on the role by monitoring police broadcasts, where he learns that a team of supervillains calling themselves “The Sinister Six” are attacking a scientific facility. Otto, as the founding member of the group (which, frankly, has had so many members it makes Guns N’ Roses look like The Three Tenors. For all I know, I’m in The Sinister Six now. But I digress.), doesn’t take this news well. But rather than pulling a Roger Waters and making the name lift a matter for the courts, Otto instead puts on the Spidey suit and goes to kick their asses… right until it gets difficult. Then he bails… until some instinct makes him return to save a cop in danger. Otto, being the weaselly sort, plants some Spider-Tracers on Boomerang to eavesdrop on the Six’s upcoming plans, and use the downtime to hit on Mary Jane. Otto uses his knowledge of their plan to implement a detailed plot to stop them, which ends in Otto standing over the defeated Boomerang, fully prepared to kill him in front of the press… until something stops him. But we’ll get back to that.

Okay, let’s start with the most important thing: this is, almost without exception, a very good, character driven book that was clearly written with a great deal of care by Dan Slott. This book, as the introduction to Ock as Spider-Man, kinda had to be a character study of the man more than any kind of action or plot-driven story, and Slott delivers on that basis. Because this is, regardless of the suit or the name or the redhead he’s trying to bang, a story about Otto Octavius. And Peter’s memories or not, he is a self-centered supervillain. And Slott never forgets that.

And it’s not just the imperious attitude and the willingness to bail on a fight that’s become a pain in the ass, it’s his entire M.O. And the second battle with the Sinister Six is a perfect example; superheroes tend to go on patrol and react to situations as they occur… but Doc Ock is a villain. And villains spend their days planning crimes. So to see Ock doing homework on his adversary, putting together equipment and striking quickly, with overwhelming force and using the element of surprise makes complete sense; after all, this guy’s spent his life planning heists, for Christ’s sake. So to see Slott characterize Ock acting this way, even though he’s now Spider-Man, shows just how much thought he’s put into this plotline and the character of Otto Octavius. It is more interesting than the simple idea of, “What if a bad guy got Spider-Man’s body?” would lead you to believe.

The one area of concern I have is that, since Otto’s still acting like, well, Otto, someone had better start noticing that Peter ain’t right pretty soon. I am beginning to find the idea that nobody seems to notice that there is something very, very wrong with “Peter’s” behavior and speech a little difficult to believe. Even if you discount that fact this is a world full of mind-controlling mutants and body-possessing supervillains, you’d think that someone might ask if “Pete” hit his head or stared at a strobe light or smelled burning toast or something. Particularly difficult for me was the dinner scene between Otto and Mary Jane – someone who spent years being intimate with Peter – where MJ didn’t seem to notice anything was particularly wrong. I don’t know much, but I know this: if I suddenly started wearing a Bluetooth headset and calling Amanda “Dearest,” she’d either be shining a penlight into my eyes looking for dead spots, or else she’d be trying to shoe my nuts while screeching, “Who’s the bitch you call ‘Dearest,’ you pigfucker? Is she on that Goddamned Bluetooth now?” I’m willing to accept that people aren’t noticing the change in “Peter’s” behavior for now, but it had better be addressed relatively soon, because it’s already becoming distracting.

And then there’s the ending. And here there be spoilers.

So. Anyone who was pissed that Peter got the ick in The Amazing Spider-Man #700 will be happy to see him here at the end… although someone had better explain to me what the hell is going on, and in seriously Goddamned short order. Seeing what appears to be Peter’s ghost, hovering around Otto and directing his actions from beyond the grave while swearing that he will find his way back into his own body, works on the level that it should shut up the dipshits who threatened to blow up Slott’s car over Peter’s apparent fate, but it is one hell of a jolt for a Spider-Man story. And frankly, it gives me mixed feelings.

On one hand, I wasn’t expecting Peter’s reintroduction to take the form of a ghost story, and if he is, in fact, a ghost, I’m interested to see how this all plays out – does he seek out, say, Doctor Strange for assistance on the astral plane, or does he just keep working at Ock on his own? But on the other hand, seeing Peter so quickly – and I think it’s safe to say it is Peter, and not a figment of Ock’s imagination, since Ock doesn’t even see the shade – pretty much takes the urgency out of the long-term prospects for The Superior Spider-Man. Because if we know that Peter’s still potentially viable to take over his body this early in the game, we know that the Ock-As-Spider-Man status quo ain’t gonna stay status quo for long (I mean, we already knew, but we didn’t, you know, know know. You know? Why are you looking at me like that?), which robs The Superior Spider-Man of one hell of a lot of suspense before things even really get underway. At best, this ending is a calculated risk on Slott’s part; it means we know that this situation is temporary right out of the gate, but at least Slott can now probably safely fire the kid he’s (probably) been paying to start his car every morning.

Ryan Stegman’s art works pretty well for a Spider-Man story, because he clearly is at least partially influenced by Todd McFarlane. Not so much in the action sequences, which rather than being as heavily stylized with ridiculous anatomy as McFarlane’s, is actually pretty fluid and well-choreographed, but in his facial expressions. Particularly in the eyebrows. Of which there are many. And of those many, most are thick. But generally, Stegman works in a fine line, with a somewhat cartoony style, including many facial expressions that are expressive, but exaggerated – there’s a panel of Peter at dinner where he is happy… happy in the way of a man who has either done a rail of meth or is busily ejaculating into his pants.  So what we have here is pretty stylized, but in a way that is appropriate for a Spider-Man story.

In the final analysis, The Superior Spider-Man #1 is a weird book. The characterization of Otto as Spider-Man, and his methodology in taking that role, was extremely well-written and compelling. It shows that The Superior Spider-Man isn’t just a gimmick, quickie storyline that Slott whipped together; he’s put some real time and thought into the whole thing, and it was pretty damn delightful to read. However, I really want to see someone, anyone, notice that “Peter’s” acting funny pretty soon, and I really kinda think Slott shot his wad by tipping off that Peter is still around in some shape or form. But on the whole, there’s a hell of a lot to like in this issue. Give it a shot, if only assuage the feeling that last month, Peter apparently went out like a chump.