Thursday, January 31, 2013


(w) Dan Slott (a) Ryan Stegman


With The Superior Spider-Man, Dan Slott is exploring uncharted territory with the character: critical thinking. Peter Parker has always been a smart person. Incredibly smart, in fact. Unfortunately, that genius was usually squandered by Peter's one-track mind when it came to being Spider-Man -- the mask always took precedent, no matter the cost. And when we take an unbiased look at Peter Parker's entire career as a vigilante superhero, we can see that many of the tragedies and heartaches in his life were a result of unpreparedness or simple miscommunication. This may sound harsh, but it's one of the many truths the ghost of Peter Parker is forced to learn as he watches his own life being lived by someone else. The Superior Spider-Man #2 builds upon the events of the first issue without the storyline feeling like a Brian Michael Bendis super-decompression. Octavius isn't as righteous or 'good' as readers want him to be in Peter's body, but the switch has proved to be a fantastic source for new types of Spider-Man storytelling, and that's the best thing to happen to the character in years.

"He's saying super villain stuff! How can no one see through this?" ponders the Ghost of Peter Passed as he watches everyone in his life fall for Octavius' deception. I was worried Ghost Peter would only be popping up every once in a while when Otto needed a good kick in the pants to do the right thing, like a guardian angel with some alternative agenda. Having Peter float around aimlessly only to be unseen, unheard, and unknown to the world is fun because it lets Dan Slott convey the difference between the Amazing and Superior Spider-Men. Otto is doing things with the concept of being Spider-Man that Peter wouldn't have thought of in years. Like actively figuring out ways to balance an actual social life against crime-fighting, or being smarter about patrolling the city by employing spider-bots that connect with a tablet app to relay information about various incidents that require Spider-Man's attention. He makes nice with J. Jonah Jameson so the press isn't constantly on Spider-Man's case, and he actually dates Mary Jane Watson (or "the Watson woman"), something that hasn't happened in a great many years. Of course, it's not really Peter doing these things.

Ghost Peter isn't too fond of Otto's new ways, but just because Peter doesn't understand something doesn't make it bad. It happens a lot (in movies, at least) -- one scientist discovering the final solution to the chagrin and over-analysis of the other scientists out of jealousy and a feeling of failure. In the case of The Superior Spider-Man #2, ghost Peter mentions, on more than one occasion, that Otto isn't doing things like Spider-Man would do, and Mary Jane makes the same observation. This sequence feels like the first of many that will put Otto Parker's identity and reputation up to the test with Peter's personal relationships. Otto explains that he's trying to be "a smarter Spider-Man" by evolving the way he looks at being a superhero and a man in general. The most interesting part about Otto's drive to be better is that -- at least in this issue -- it's primarily fueled by his desire for Mary Jane. Otto takes MJ on multiple dates with little more payoff than pecks on the cheek and the cold shoulder one particular night. It's in the frustration of not even getting to first base that causes Otto to have his greatest revelation about Spider-Man as Spider-Man so far: Mary Jane and Peter's relationship is dependent on the Spider-Man aspect to keep it alive and healthy -- without the mask, there is no spark and no deep connection.

It could be argued that Slott has effectively cheapened decades of history between these characters by implying that their love was little more than some weird superhero/damsel-in-distress relationship that was only good when the world was going bad, or vice versa. Really, it's an astute observation on the nature of a super hero being in love with someone who isn't. In the beginning, Peter and Mary Jane had a relationship built upon a mutual respect and love for one another, but as time went on and Spider-Man's life began to affect Peter's, Mary Jane was often caught in the crossfire as the one who needed saving, with all the whirlwind emotions that come with being held hostage by a mutated thug or international crime syndicate. Otto's decision to break things off with MJ is one that merits significance because it's a decision that shocks ghost Peter because it's something he could never do, no matter how much sense it made. Otto understands how Peter and Mary Jane's relationship became dysfunctional and he puts a stop to it before it can even start back up.

The Superior Spider-Man #2 continues Dan Slott's fantastic look at a villain turned hero. Otto Octavius has a chance to change his life completely (and for the better) without sacrificing who he is at the core, which is something many of us wish we could have done at some point in our lives. The addition of ghost Peter into the mix is risky, and the jury is still out on how that element of the storytelling will play out, but for now, it's enjoyable and provides the Peter Parker presence fans really want. Giving Otto the chance to make Spider-Man into a better hero was a stroke of genius for Slott because it allows Otto to transfer his mad scientist ideas into competent tech with practical uses. I mentioned it in my review of the first issue and I'll say it again here: for me, The Superior Spider-Man is a whole lot more fun and interesting than Spider-Man has been in a while.


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