September 29, 2022

Gabbing Geek

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Comic Review: The Superior Spider-Man Volume 1

One of Spider-Man's worst villains became him

CONTROVERSY WEEK continues as I potentially push my way into Jimmy Impossible’s territory with a look at The Superior Spider-Man.

The Controversy:  This time around, it’s pretty straightforward.  It isn’t a lot of behind-the-scenes drama or a creator who has raised a lot of eyebrows, either intentionally or not, it’s simply this:  one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes, Dr. Octopus, managed to switch bodies with Peter Parker, the Octavius body died, and Otto is now Spider-Man with all of Peter’s memories and responsibilities.  And though a body swap story where the villain tries to ruin the hero’s life may be standard for this sort of thing, Doc Ock is actually trying to be a better person.

The work:  As near as I can make out, the controversy came from the announcement the change was coming and not the actual change.  Fans liked this from what I heard, and it’s easy to see why.  This is some good stuff.

Yes, Otto Octavius has taken over Peter Parker’s life, both in and out of costume, and what makes this story different than others is how writer Dan Slott approached this story.  This isn’t the standard villain reformed story where the villain mostly has to deal with heroes who have a hard time believing said villain is no longer a villain.  There have been plenty of reformed bad guys, many of whom stayed reformed.  Heck, Spidey himself saw his longtime foe the Sandman go straight to the point where Sandman was even a reserve Avenger before someone decided for some stupid reason he had to be evil again.

No, what makes this one different is that while Octavius is actually trying to be a hero, he’s trying to do it in part out of a sense of proving himself better than Peter Parker.  Otto’s general arrogance means his Spider-Man is more anti-hero than hero, someone who wants to use his scientific knowledge to make himself better at, oh, everything.  That means that while Otto’s take on Spider-Man uses excessive force, calls ahead to the press and the police to get himself good press, and uses his scientific genius to build inventions that work out well for his employer and Aunt May, there are problems.  One of them is Peter’s ghost seems to be hanging around Otto’s subconscious, urging him to do better while occasionally acknowledging some of Otto’s ideas are actually pretty good.

But this is still a barely reformed villain with a ton of arrogance and less-than-noble intentions.  He dates Mary Jane solely looking to get laid, he routinely dismisses other people in the snootiest way possible, and much of the attire he wears sure does point towards Dr. Octopus instead of Spider-Man in small ways.  This is a Spider-Man who defeats a new Sinister Six not out of a sense of responsibility but partially out of a sense of outrage that a bunch of lesser villains took the name of the supervillain team he originally founded, and even when he goes after his onetime comrade the Vulture, he responds far more harshly than he ever had before in part because of a previously unmentioned abusive childhood.

And then at the end of this volume, he performs an action that Spider-Man would never do.

Now, obviously this status quo was never meant to last.  Peter Parker would be Spider-Man again, and even if I didn’t know that already happened, I would still know it was coming.  But comics do that sort of thing all the time where something changes, we’re told it’s permanent, and then it isn’t.  That said, there’s something a bit unique about how much Otto Octavius supplanted Peter Parker here.  The closest storyline I can remember to this one is Knightfall, where Bane broke Batman’s back and Azrael took his place for a period.  Part of the reasoning behind that storyline was to show readers why Bruce Wayne had to be Batman in the middle of the 90s when violent anti-heroes were at their height.  The creators gave them a darker and more violent Batman, and then made him as unlikable as possible to show why what they were asking for wasn’t Batman.  Something like this almost certainly has a the same effect by showing, once and for all, why Peter Parker makes Spider-Man special.  9 out of 10 J Jonah Jameson seals of approval.

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