***Be wary of spoilers for Marvel Now’s Superior Spider-man, for they can be found herein***
It’s been six months since Dan Slott changed the spider-mythos in ways that many of us thought could never happen. The strange death of Peter Parker. The rise of a new Spider-Man, one that was less “friendly neighborhood” and more… let’s say “proactive.” A story arc that seems to be flipping the core concept of the web slinger on its head and doesn’t seem to be letting up on the pressure. But after reading the issues of Superior Spider-Man, after seeing this new personality pop up in other books like Avengers and the Age of Ultron event, we can finally ask the question – is this a good ride?
For those who don’t know, back in Amazing Spider-Man #700, Doctor Octopus’ body was ravaged by disease brought about by the radiation that fused his arms to his body. Desperate to continue not dying he switched minds with Peter Parker in what Pete probably thought was the worst rendition of Freaky Friday he’d ever seen. Now Doc Ock’s mind was in Parker’s healthy super powered body, and Peter was in the failing husk that was once Octavius. After trying to switch minds back to where they should be, Parker failed, and his new frail body gave out on him.
Worried about what Octavius would do with his spider powers, he used the latent connection they still had through the mind transfer to push his lifetime of experience and sense of responsibility into Otto’s mind, teaching him the age-old lesson, with great power comes great responsibility. And with that, “Doctor Octopus” died in front of a crowd of reporters, while Spider-Man declared the threat of Doctor Octopus over… but armed with (or cursed by, depending on how you look at it) Peter’s sense of right and wrong, and overwhelming drive to protect others, Otto decides that Parker was doing a horrible job at being spider-man. He could protect New York far better than before – using his genius and willingness to push farther that Parker ever could, he would become a—no, THE—Superior Spider-Man!
So, where does this leave us? We have a darker Spidey, one that will go to any lengths to protect the city. We have seen him kill his foes, save lives, and blackmail the mayor. We’ve also seen him save children’s lives and stop madmen from killing crowds of people. But we aren’t going to talk about the character’s methods, or the job he’s doing keeping a fictional New York safe.
The question is – is this a comic that is enjoyable to read? Is it worth the money we plunk down every week at our local store?
The overwhelming answer that comes to my mind is… I don’t know. I was skeptical about the whole thing when I saw the previews for it – and to be honest, with the darker costume and the talons, I thought it was going to be one of my favorite heroes: Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of the year 2099.
The methods employed by Spider-Ock (whom I hereby dub “Spock”) are pretty brutal, which can be hard to take for longtime fans. We have seen Spidey go to dark places (see: back in black) but even in those harsher times we never lost sight of the type of guy he is – someone who reaches for the light even when he gets trapped in the dark. Spock, however, revels in it. He has a job to do and, come hell or high water, he’s going to do it. And not only will he get it done, it’ll be better than the world has ever seen. His ego still remains a large force in his life, and it will not allow him to let up even for a second. And even that, in itself, is an interesting take on the character. Gone are the days of giving mercy, little calling cards, and webbed up crooks. We have a man who has a singular mission, and focus like a laser beam. But I think we’ve lost something in the process: a character with a soul.
When I read comics about superheroes, the main feeling I want is entertainment. I want escapism. Not to say I want four-color heroes doing heroic things and then enjoying a fruit cake with a laugh at the end – I want to be engaged in the story. I want to care about the character; who they are, why they are doing what they’re doing. In the beginning we actually got a bit of that – we saw an Otto growing up, his life peppered with bullies and abuse. His intellect shunned because he was a bit awkward, a bit dumpy. He was the boy who no one saw, and that festered and helped create the man he was today.
We saw the effect Peter’s life had on him. His memories were intertwined with his, so he finally knew what it was like to have a loving family that was taken from him. The kind advice of an uncle that shaped his morality. I was immediately hooked – how will this affect him? Will he be as brutal as he was as Doc Ock, or will Peter’s thoughts keep him from going too far? I was hoping for at least a few issues exploring a man who is in a completely new body with what is basically a rewritten psyche. Unfortunately we saw a lot of pontificating, ego stroking, and basically a guy who can ignore his moral compass completely when it suits him. I don’t know if I can get behind something like that. It’s no longer escapism for me anymore – and it doesn’t delve deep enough into who Spock is and what kind of hero he might become. And while the “what happens when a mad scientist tries to be a hero” thing is interesting, we already have one of those.
What it all boils down to is – this is a story not about the new Spider-Man or about his adventures, but a very long build up to an eventual ego-fueled fall from grace, and the eventual return of Peter Parker to a life that he might not even recognize. All of it, the mind switch, the new style, the new use of his powers, the way he talks down to or demeans other characters… it all seems like it doesn’t belong in the Marvel Universe. Releasing him into the large scope of the MU turns the whole thing into folly – the fact that there are dozens of telepaths that know Spidey and would be able to tell that he isn’t right in the head kills any shred of my suspension of disbelief. More to the point, there are so many missed chances to grow the character into someone who I’d want to read about. A hero who is flawed deeply. One who is an ass, but with reason. Possibly without regret! That would be great too!
This would make a perfect original graphic novel. The arc, the characters, the way that its being represented – it cries out to be formed into a thick book, one that takes place away from the greater MU; one that gives the story room to breathe. Give it a sandbox, and let Spock kick over all the toys. Blow up part of Manhattan in his pursuit of a safer New York. I’d read that all day every day. But what we’re given is a rushed tale that feels more like Slott writing a really well polished fan-fiction; and the biggest thing I feel after reading the issues is a want to know more – to have a deeper understanding of what is really going on in this guy’s head.
The story isn’t done, not by a longshot. We’ve just seen Spidey attacking the Shadowland, and Kingpin of all people realizing that something truly isn’t right with the ol’web head. Pieces are falling into place. The final countdown has begun. Maybe by next January everyone will get what they want out of this series. The only thing I want now is something that finally grabs my attention, something that draws me in.
Give me something more than how crazy everything is, and I’ll be one happy Marvel Zombie.