Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s The Superior Spider-Man #1. Written by Dan Slott (The Amazing Spider-Man, She-Hulk) and drawn by Ryan Stegman (Scarlet Spider, Fantastic Four), this issue adds a new wrinkle to a storyline that has Spider-fans up in arms. Warning: major spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man #698-#700 and Superior Spider-Man #1.
Comic-book fans can be a hyperbolic bunch, and none more so than the fiercely devoted followers of Spider-Man, who have had to deal with some truly ridiculous plotlines over the last 20 years. There was the abysmal “Clone Saga,” still the lowest point in Spider-history; then “One More Day,” which ended with Peter Parker and Mary Jane having their marriage erased by the devilish Mephisto; and most recently, “Dying Wish,” which found Peter getting his mind swapped with Dr. Otto Octavius, leaving the hero in a dying body while one of his greatest villains paraded around in the Spider-Man costume. Last month’s Amazing Spider-Man #700 found Peter Parker meeting his end in a schmaltzy story where he meets all the people he’s lost in heaven, but not before he teaches Octavius a lesson about power and responsibility, pushing the bad guy to the side of the angels for The Superior Spider-Man #1.
After spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man #700 leaked online, Spider-Man fans grossly overreacted, sending writer Dan Slott death threats over social media because apparently it’s totally appropriate to want to kill someone over a lame-brained comic-book plot. Beyond the fact that this is a fictional character people are getting so worked up over, there’s no way that Marvel would permanently kill off Peter Parker. With a recently re-launched film franchise, Spider-Man remains one of the company’s most profitable characters, so it’s a foregone conclusion that by the time The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hits theaters, Peter Parker will be back in the red and blue spandex.
The same thing happened with Captain America in 2007 and Batman in 2009, with Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison killing their respective heroes so that their protégés could briefly take on their mantles. Sure enough, Steve Rogers was back before Captain America: The First Avenger hit theaters and Bruce Wayne returned before The Dark Knight Rises. In that short time when the heroes were dead, readers were treated to stories that tried to actually do something different and rejuvenate the properties. Death means next to nothing in superhero comics, and it’s absurd for fans to become unhinged when a major hero dies, especially if he has a considerable presence on the big screen. Thor died in Fear Itself and was revived the following month. Granted, Thor’s an immortal god, but death is just another plot device in superhero comics, not any sort of final statement. The big exception is Peter Parker’s death in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, but that’s an alternate universe and the event was used as a launch pad for the media-grabbing debut of biracial Spidey Miles Morales, who is a fantastic character that will hopefully stick around for a long time.
Fans can calm down after reading Superior Spider-Man #1, because, as expected, Peter Parker hasn’t really gone anywhere. Despite taking over Peter’s body, Octavius still has all of his old enemy’s memories and experiences, meaning that Peter still exists, he’s just buried underneath a separate dominant psyche. That changes at the end of this issue, when it’s revealed that Peter is able to push through and exert minimal control over his body, preventing Octavius from murdering Boomerang in front of a crowd of flashing cameras. So Spider-Man is now the Marvel equivalent of Firestorm, the puffy-sleeved DC superhero with two personalities that are constantly fighting for control. The twist at the end of this issue opens up a lot of storytelling possibilities while keeping the Peter Parker that fans know and love as a part of the book, and it’s an especially welcome turn of events that helps quell some of the nausea induced by the uncomfortable romance brewing between Octavius-Peter and Mary Jane Watson.
Octavius is a grade-A scumbag whose favorite thing about having Peter’s body is the view of Mary Jane’s breasts, and he’s taking advantage of his new body to rekindle the flames between Peter and MJ. But if they have sex, that’s tricking Mary Jane into consenting, which is basically rape. Ideally, Peter’s presence will prevent that from happening, because even if Peter is in control when he gets intimate with his ex-fiancée, the fact that Octavius will be there enjoying every second of it would make it an exceedingly unsavory development. Marvel caught a lot of flak when Chameleon, disguised as Peter Parker, had sex with Peter’s roommate, and hopefully the publisher has learned its lesson.
Control of Peter’s body means that Octavius has access to Horizon Labs, and he’s using that as an opportunity to amp up Spider-Man’s arsenal, adding claws on his fingertips that transfer nano-spider-tracers onto whatever they touch and installing power-dampening fields around Horizon that take out the weaponry of the new Sinister Six. Octavius is a more aggressive fighter than Peter Parker, but also has a diminished sense of duty, and he has no problem running from a fight if things aren’t going his way. He also talks like a maniacal supervillain, so it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the Marvel Universe realizes that something is up with Spidey. (The second arc of Superior will apparently focus on Spider-Man being fired from the Avengers.)
Ryan Stegman was born to draw Spider-Man, with a keen eye for fluid action that moves briskly across the page. His style falls somewhere between Batman’s Greg Capullo and rotating Superior artist Humberto Ramos, exaggerated but not to the point that it sacrifices clarity. The page of Spider-Man beating Boomerang to a bloody pulp is appropriately brutal, deftly capturing the rage that rises to the surface when Octavius loses control. Out of costume, his Peter Parker has a constant look that he’s intensely proud of himself, providing a much different image of the character than his usual down-and-out depiction.
Dan Slott has been writing Spider-Man since 2008, and despite the controversial way he’s gotten to this point in the story, there’s no denying that the new status quo has given this book a boost in momentum. There’s a lot of potential in the dynamic of a superhero and one of his biggest enemies sharing the same body, and it will be interesting to see how long Slott is able to keep it going. In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Slott said, “[Octavius] had to be a hero in his own eyes, and on some level Otto Octavius is facing that struggle not with Spider-Man’s world but with the readership.” With this first issue, Slott does strong work building faith for the future of this series, and before Spider-fans start huffing and puffing about the surface developments of the story, they should give Superior Spider-Man a chance.