Friday, January 11, 2013

My So-Called Review: The Superior Spider-Man #1

 Note: the following contains spoilers so read at your own risk.

You have to give the folks at Marvel some credit; no matter what you may think of the comics they produce, they know how to play with the emotions and expectations of their audience like a Stradivarius.  Case in point, the controversial, overly hyped Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Superior Spider-Man #1, in which long-time Spidey villain, Dr. Otto Octavious, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus, having successfully taken over Peter Parker’s body, becomes the new Spider-Man upon Peter’s untimely and undignified death.

Many, including myself, weren’t particularly pleased with these turn of events, and yet you still couldn’t help but be drawn into the web that writer Dan Slott wove.  Even long time comic book readers who knew that Peter’s death was most likely temporary couldn’t help themselves.  The result is that the supposed last issue of Amazing Spider-Man sold, just within it’s first printing, a quarter of a million copies (not counting digital sales), is already in it’s second printing, and is the fourth best-selling comic of 2012 (the top three being The Walking Dead #100, Uncanny Avengers #1, and Avengers vs. X-Men #1).  Let’s face it--getting people good and mad is what sells.

So of course with Superior Spider-Man #1, all of us angry and easily provoked readers just have to see what insane "travesty" Dan Slott has in store for us, and how much more he’s going to "ruin" Marvel’s flagship character.  Thus when we pick the issue and flip through it’s colorful pages and over-the-top dialogue, with bated breath or gritted teeth, we come to the last two pages and…

Superior Spider-Man #1, ps. 21-22

That’s right: after just one issue, Peter Parker is back.  Sort of.  Actually, he’s a ghost now.  Well, maybe he’s not technically a ghost, perhaps, but rather sharing his own mind and body with Doc Ock on a subconscious level.  In any case, he still looks as if pulled an Obi-Wan Kenobi and is now playing the part of Jiminy Cricket to Doc Ock’s Pinocchio.1

However, like the titular character now is, I find myself of two minds about this.  As a Spidey fan, I’m glad to see that Peter is still alive (of sorts) and that Dan Slott didn’t drag out his eventual return like so many other comic book stories have done in which they’ve “killed off” the main hero.  It also potentially curbs--but in no way makes it any less unnerving and repellent--the possibility of Mary Jane becoming the unknowing victim of Doc Ock’s creepy, lustful aspirations; after all, if Ghost Peter can prevent SpOck (as some are now calling him) from killing super-villains or can force him to save innocent bystanders, surely he's capable of preventing him from having sex with the woman he loves…I hope.

At the same time, not only does the reveal come across unintentionally ridiculous 2, it also, paradoxically, seems far too soon and serves to undercut the supposed premise behind the Superior Spider-Man that Marvel and Slott himself billed it as.  Instead of getting a story of one of Spidey’s great villains seeking redemption by taking up his legacy, it now appears we’re getting the superhero equivalent of All of Me, in that now Ghost Peter and SpOck will fight for control over Peter’s body.  Clearly, this story was intended to be an ongoing plot for the Amazing Spider-Man, not the set-up to launch a brand new series.

Which leads me to the second aspect of Superior Spider-Man that I’m of two minds about: the supposed protagonist and titular character, Otto Octavious himself.

Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 16
As I said in my review of Amazing Spider-Man #700, I thought Doc Ock’s “conversion” wasn’t only unearned but strained all credulity, given who Doc Ock is as a character and the circumstances behind how he became “Peter” and “Spider-Man” in the first place.  Well, apparently, Slott himself thought the same way because Doc Ock, even though he’s now a “good guy,” is still the arrogant and petulant megalomaniac he always has been.  Likewise, he address the problem I also raised in my review about Doc Ock wanting to even take over Peter’s life as everything he would do from here on out would essentially be giving Peter the credit for his own accomplishments.  As it turns out, Otto is fully aware of this very dilemma he’s put himself in, and barely manages to contain his frustration over the idea that his actions will now serve to enhance Peter’s legacy instead of his own, again keeping with his true character.  Also, the issue effectively shows that Doc Ock is a far more meticulous and strategic thinker than Peter, as shown by his injecting “nano-spider-tracers” in one of new members of the Sinister Six and the eventual trap he lays for them when they attempt a second robbery.  After all, Doc Ock isn’t also known as “the Master Planner” for nothing.

And yet, this also proves that, quite the contrary, that Doc Ock didn’t actually learn the lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” and that Peter’s “final sacrifice” in Amazing Spider-Man #700 really was all for naught.  In fact, Peter’s attempt at rehabilitation have made things all the worse.

Last year, Slott penned a story about a new “sidekick” for Spidey named Alpha, who, after gaining his powers as a result of one of Peter’s scientific experiments, Peter felt compelled to take under his wing out of a sense of responsibility.  The thing was, Alpha was deliberately depicted as an obnoxious, self-important jerk that no one, not even Spidey, could stand.  And it was a portrayal that worked too well because the readers absolutely despised the character and wanted him gone as soon as possible because he was such a one-note obnoxious, self-important jerk.  Well, it appears history may repeat itself because Doc Ock as “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” comes across exactly the same way, the only difference being he has a greater vocabulary and Batman’s “prep time.”  I mean, just look at how he’s depicted in this panel during his dinner date with Mary Jane:

Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 14
Now if you saw someone like this in real life, would you want to see this person succeed?  Would you want to be in this person’s company if you could help it?   Would you want to root for and support such a self-important, pompous ass like this?  Of course not.  If you couldn’t do it yourself, you would wish someone--anyone--would have the guts to give this jerk a series of repeated smacks across his smug puss like Tyrion does to Joffrey in Game of Thrones until he sobs like a baby.  With this one panel, Dan Slott and artist Ryan Stegman have given us the perfect illustration of SpOck as the quintessential douche bag.  Like Slott’s Alpha story beforehand, it’s a portrayal that’s too one-note, and in case is potentially more alienating since Doc Ock is also supposed to be the main character we’re being asked to follow month-in and month-out.
Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 13

This also leads to the other major problem this issue has, one that has carried over from Amazing Spider-Man #700--even though Doc Ock makes no attempt at obfuscating his true personality and demeanor, none of the other characters still find it the least bit suspicious that “Peter” is no longer acting like himself.  And once again, we have a scene of Mary Jane putting up with Doc Ock’s misogynistic treatment towards her, this time with him wrapped up in his own thoughts and ogling MJ’s cleavage as he listens to the Sinister Six plan their heist on his now ever-present Bluetooth instead of what she‘s saying.  Even if you buy into the notion that MJ somehow hasn’t figured out that “Peter” isn’t really Peter (when she really should’ve long before this point), you’d still think, based on how she’s been portrayed in the past, she’d have left him right then and there, saying their getting back together was a mistake and for him to never call her again until he cleaned up his act.  Because the one thing Mary Jane should never be is a clueless doormat.

Finally, I’m even of two minds about Ryan Stegman’s artwork.  In the past, his work has been both vibrant and energetic, and one cannot resist being lured into the page as the various colorfully characters seem to leap out from the panel.  It’s an art style that is perfect for a comic like Spider-Man, and that’s still the case here; I love, for example, how Stegman illustrates Doc Ock in his new and slightly tweaked Spidey costume, and how he depicts Doc Ock as Peter looking like Neil Patrick Harris’ Dr. Horrible with his 1930s style lab coat and upraised goggles.  Even so, his illustrations don’t seem to be of the same quality as they have been.  Maybe it’s because he’s also doing his own inking, but his illustrations in this issue have a sketchy, unpolished look that, in some panels, don’t make his work as clear as they could be.  Though, admittedly, this is more of minor quibble than anything detrimental.

All in all, I must admit that some my concerns about where Slott was taking Peter Parker and Spider-Man have been somewhat ameliorated, and I do have a morbid curiosity about where things will go with Superior Spider-Man from this point.  Nevertheless, my feelings about Amazing Spider-Man #700 have remained unchanged, and the entire premise of the new series feels incredibly flawed from the start.  Granted, seeing how long before Doc Ock screws up and reveals himself, or how Peter can get his body back is part of the suspense driving the narrative forward, but I wonder if even those who enjoy the issue are unable to ignore a little voice in the back of their minds asking if Peter can get back in the webs, and soon.

Superior Spider-Man #1, p. 10

1 And yes, considering that Disney now owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm, the comparison I made was deliberate. 

2 Then again, considering how Peter died and came back during The Other, in which he molted his own skin, wove himself a web cocoon, experienced a trippy dream sequence involving totemic spider gods, and then was rejuvenated with a new body and new powers--which included having retractable Wolverine-style bone spears--maybe him coming back looking like a Jedi Force Ghost isn't quite so bad by comparison.