A new era begins. Otto Octavius inhabits Peter Parker’s body, and this first issue gives a pretty clear taste of what his particular brand of web slinging is like as he goes up against a brand new Sinister Six and starts to settle into his new life. By setting up a completely new premise, Slott has really placed himself in his own element, and it shows. But he will have to walk a tight line in order to keep the attention of estranged readers.
Another big spoiler in this review, so beware!
The Superior Spider-Man #1
Words by Dan Slott
Art by Ryan Stegman
Colors by Edgar Delgado
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
The fatal flaw in the setup of Superior Spider-Man has always been that, within the world Spider-Man inhabits, it’s just not a believable basis for an ongoing series. In order to make his idea a reality Slott has ignored too many common sense questions for me to buy into the premise. Inevitably these questions all revolve around the characterization of Otto as Peter. The dilemma Slott must have faced when writing this story was whether to make Otto very much like Peter or very much like himself, and he went with the only choice he could have — if there wasn’t a very noticeable change in behavior, readers wouldn’t be experiencing anything different. But the alternative is problematic.
This new Peter is a dick. There’s simply no other way to put it. The book opens with a confrontation between him and a new Sinister Six made up of Overdrive, Boomerang, Shocker, Living Brain, Beetle, and Speed Demon. Very few readers will be familiar with all or most of these characters — I certainly wasn’t — but artist Ryan Stegman does a very nice job of making them identifiable, illustrating their powers and crafting an eye-pleasing fight sequence. The most notable aspect of the battle is that Otto decides to bolt as soon as he takes some hits, declaring that he “can’t believe Parker put up with this.”
Otto’s further adventures are along similar lines. At work, he brushes off Max’s concerns about the tech he’s developing in a distinctly non-Peter fashion. He goes to dinner with Mary Jane and blatantly stares at her chest while ignoring what she’s saying to listen in on his bugged enemies. Later, when facing the Sinister Six again after developing a set of countermeasures to their abilities, he fights with a brutality that nearly leads to murder.
All of this is to be expected of Otto in Peter’s body. But it’s also one of the biggest problems with the book. Max never comments on the dismissive tone Peter has suddenly begun to take with him. Mary Jane barely registers his behavior. No one among the press or police objects to the savage and completely unnecessary beating he delivers. The longer this behavior goes unchallenged, the harder it’s going to be for readers to accept what’s happening. There are indications that coming issues will address this, but it’s still pretty hard to accept here, especially from Mary Jane, whose continuing to date him after the way he’s treated her is borderline pathetic.
Yet there’s a problem with Otto himself, as well. The whole basis for Superior was supposed to be that, as his dying move, Peter showed his enemy what it really means to be a hero and changed him. That scene was powerful and really seemed to suggest that the weight of Peter’s memories had an impact. Yet in Superior #1, there is no discernible difference from the behavior Otto exhibited prior to his epiphany at the end of ASM #700. He’s still dating Mary Jane without telling her who he is. He’s still not respecting the sanctity of life. He still struts about arrogantly and acts condescending to everyone around him. After reading through this, I’m left wondering what I am supposed to think or feel about this character at all, and why Slott even bothered to end Amazing the way he did. The only conclusion I can come to is that he was genuinely trying to fool readers into believing he was going to make Doc Ock a hero. But that questionable motive, if real, doesn’t justify the inconsistency of the story and the bizarre characterization it’s forcing on the supporting cast.
While I’ve probably given a negative impression so far focusing on the implausibility of the story, Superior #1 has its strengths as well. Slott has basically shed the responsibility of working with 50 years of continuity, at least to an extent, and has more breathing room to tell the kinds of chaotic and campy stories he likes to without diverging too heavily from anything. Both confrontations with the Sinister Six are extremely well executed, and the second one in particular really showcases the clinical, well-planned approach Otto takes to dealing with his enemies as opposed to Peter’s more improvisational style. Stegman’s art is gorgeous, expressive and highly dynamic. I found myself reading over both fight scenes multiple times just to take in all the action.
Most importantly, Slott has made a wise decision here that may help win back some some portion of the readers that were dismayed at the way Amazing ended. The issue’s final page finally offers an explanation for the sudden, unintentional acts of goodness Otto’s been surprising himself by performing — Peter Parker, as a ghost or spirit of some kind, is still very much present in the pages of this book, and it appears that he retains a little more influence over his body than Otto realized. The gesture is appreciated — we may all have known that Peter would be making a return sooner or later, but it makes a world of difference to have Slott talk to us about it instead of act like we’re wrong. With a simple vow of, “I will find a way back!” Peter’s given us the sense that we’re in the middle of one more story in the character’s life, and not solely a bloated work of fanfiction turned publicity stunt.
Pros: Ryan Stegman has got to be the best artist to appear on Spider-Man since Stefano Caselli. Otto’s battles with the new Sinister Six are prime examples of well-executed comic book action scenes and the reader is treated to an appearance of the spirit of Peter Parker at the end, assuring us that he’s still watching over his body and that he won’t stay dead.
Cons: It’s really difficult to swallow that no one has questioned this new Peter more heavily, especially in Mary Jane’s case. Otto still seems to ultimately regard himself as Otto and definitely still behaves as Otto, rendering the powerful breakdown he experienced from Peter’s memories virtually meaningless and calling into question the legitimacy of this whole enterprise. I’m still waiting for Slott to write something that explains to me why this character needs his own series and why I’m supposed to want to read about him as Spider-Man instead of Peter.