Review: Superior Spider-man

In Brief:  Superior Spider-man, written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Ryan Stegman, takes Spidey in new directions with a bold narrative twist.  Volume 1, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, and Volume 2, ‘A Troubled Mind’, collect the first 10 issues of this ongoing series.  Books like this one continue to show that Marvel  is more than a marketing arm – they still produce great comics stories.

Pros:  Slott picks up from the historic events Amazing Spider-Man #700 and continue with strong storytelling involving major changes to Spider-man and his world.  It’s a much different kind of story, but that makes it no less effective.  Stegman’s panel work and ability with the action and staging are first rate.

Cons:  Well, this is a major shift.  It certainly has the potential to put long-time Spider-man fans, especially if you haven’t been keeping up with the comic books.  You just have to give it a chance.

SPOILERS —-  SPOILERS  —- SPOILERS

Do we still do spoilers?  Anyway…

Review:  So what’s the big change, the bold narrative twist?  In Amazing #700, Doctor Octopus made another attempt at world domination, and he came very close.  Spidey managed to save the day, but the cost was dire indeed.  To do so, he had to switch his psyche into Doc Ock’s body as Ock lie mortally wounded.  Peter made him promise to continue as Spider-man.  And so Otto Octavius found himself in Spider-man’s body – along with Peter Parker’s memories.  Including, the memories of what made Peter a hero:  “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Thus, the Superior Spider-man.

It’s a big-time switch.  In fact, when I picked the book up the first time, not knowing much of what had transpired with Spidey in recent years, well, I had to put it down for a moment.  Doc Ock?  What?  Still, half-way through the first issue, I was intrigued enough to continue.  Ock-Spidey is dedicated to the promise he made to Peter Parker – and he’s trying to be a better man, trying to be a hero, to atone for past villainy.  Having all of Parker’s memories in there seems to help.

But Ock-Spidey is more devious, more organized, and certainly more brutal.  He beats the bad-guys down hard – more reminiscent of the Dark Knight than Spider-man – and he immediately embarks on a series of improvements to Parker’s life.  Designing Spider-bots to keep eyes on the city, alerting  him to dangers and criminals.  Charming and then manipulating J. Jonah Jameson to make his life easier.  Taking down the Sinister Six in a strategic fashion.  Trying to woo Mary Jane.

Ock-Spidey’s mad scientist behavior is at constant odds with Peter’s memories and promise, and we soon learn a pscyhic echo of Peter still exists within his body.  He can’t do much other than observe and access Octavius’s own memories.  The people who know Spidey best – like Mary Jane – seem able to sense the change.  Still, Ock-Spidey is driven and meticulous in his organization.  Crime is down.  He’s back attending classes to earn that long-neglected PhD.  And this set-up provides plenty of chances for little doses of subtle humor.

Dan Slott keeps the pressure on his protagonist, though.  When psychotic villain B-list villain, Massacre escapes from prison, he quickly murders a number of people, including an old friend of Peter’s.  Ock-Spidey, engages Massacre, and comes to the conclusion (methodically and scientifically), that the only way to deal with this villain is to put him down to keep him from escaping and killing again.  So Ock does just that, with a hand-gun, as ghost-Peter looks on, aghast.

Volume 2, A Troubled Mind, picks up from this point, as Octavius faces suspicion from his fellow Avengers, yet continues to make small choices here and there to make you think he may turn the corner.  He spends quality-time with Aunt May, for example.  But his mad scientist mania remains, which will keeps him in conflict with ghost-Peter, leading to an eventual subconscious showdown.

Slott and Stegman (and Ramos in later issues) are a formidable team.  The small bits of humor, the in-depth knowledge of the characters and their interactions, the way Octavius becomes more self-aware of past follies even as he makes new ones.  The panels flow naturally, the action is Marvel-rific in its best tradition.  You get a mix of classic Spidey poses and fighting moves, along with more sinister renderings – panels showing him as conflicted and over-confident and deadly.

As Volume 2 ended, I knew, I knew, I would have to get out to the shop and pick up Volume 3 soon.   For a grizzled (and sometimes cynical) comic book guy such as myself, this is a welcome admission; it’s important that Marvel Comics continues to provide quality books and compelling stories, to remind those higher up the corporate food chain that they’re more than a licensing and tie-in factory.

Bottom Line:  The premise did not hook me initially, but the quality of the story, the characterization, and the art soon did.  I’m looking forward to picking up the next volumes and seeing where Dan Slott takes Spidey next.

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