Christos Gage takes the reins again for a post-apocalyptic What If where Otto tries to revive civilization on his own and eats some humble pie. Not having read any of the main AoU series, I can’t comment on this issue in its larger context. As a diversion from the main Superior book, it has some interesting moments, but I can’t really recommend buying it unless you’re already invested in the larger story.
The Superior Spider-Man #6AU
Words by Christos Gage
Art by Dexter Soy
Cover by Marco Checchetto
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna
It seems Gage is modeling his approach after Slott here, as the issue opens on a note I’m positively fed up with hearing: Otto internally monologuing about how he’s the Superior Spider-Man, everyone look how Superior he is.
Granted, this is a side story, so it needs to set things up a little for readers who haven’t been following Superior. But it’s the kind of thing that, in my opinion, works much better as a brief summary blurb prior to the beginning of the issue anyway, and just because some people may not have been exposed to it yet doesn’t make the speech any less tired and trite for this reviewer.
Otto continues to move the story through internal exposition, but it’s fine once we get through the intro because it’s stuff we haven’t heard before. Most of Gage’s super hero work has been team-oriented, and he really thrives in this environment because he’s great at moving stories and character development forward through dialogue. But this issue revolves entirely around Otto, so it’s understandable he would have to adapt his usual approach to a heavy reliance on internal dialogue.
The story begins to move when Tony Stark asks Otto to try striking out against Ultron with some equipment left in the now-abandoned Horizon Labs. The flimsy excuse for sending Otto and not someone else is that he knows the layout, though I’m not sure why this means he has to go alone. This scene also bugged me a little because Peter is unmasked, and I was under the impression that the magic spell that had wiped everyone’s memory of his identity was supposed to be breaking and could be shattered altogether if he let the secret out. I think there should be some acknowledgement in this scene of what happened between him and Tony during Civil War, but instead Tony never even uses his name. That’s a minor quibble, but it stuck out to me because it’s just one more reminder of why the whole mind wipe spell was a terrible plot device in the first place.
The issue starts to get a lot more interesting once Otto’s inside the remains of Horizon. True to form, he ignores Tony’s plan and goes for his own, an attempt to override Ultron’s robotic minions and ultimately Ultron himself, then take over the world and turn it into “a paradise” as opposed to the wasteland it has become. I really liked the way Gage points out that Otto is not only a scientific genius but also as adept as anyone could be at controlling machines with his mind. Even better, this is a great way of showing that Otto is still fundamentally Otto while agreeing with the change he’s supposed to have undergone: instead of aspiring to destroy the world like he did in Ends of the Earth, he’s now hoping to heal it, yet with the same world domination approach, and the same unbridled hubris he’s always had.
Predictably, Otto’s plan is thwarted by Ultron’s superior resources and planning. While this was the only possible outcome of the story, I liked how it was handled: Otto actually admits to himself that he failed because in his overconfidence, he ignored the assets his allies brought to the table, and even acknowledges this was an area where Peter was in fact superior to him. Despite being in an alternate reality story, this was actually the first time we’ve seen Otto make any kind of significant character progression, which is quite refreshing. I think that character development is Gage’s strength as a writer, so it’s not surprising to me he’d make this move before anybody else did.
One more thing has to be said about this issue, and that is its beautiful art, which is probably the best argument to be made in favor of buying it even if you don’t read AoU. I detect a slight manga influence in Dexter Soy’s style, but it’s not overt and it’s backed up by very solid fundamentals, creating the perfect combination of style and accuracy. His characters are highly expressive but all look appropriately weary and hardened by the ordeal of having the world fall apart around them, and everything has a slightly painted look to it, which very appropriately throws a little element of the surreal in.
As pretty as it is, and as nice as it is to see Otto learn something for once, the book is not pushing any storytelling boundaries here and it’s got nothing to do with the main Superior story, so I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone who wasn’t planning on following the AoU storyline. Unless, like me, you love Christos Gage and will buy anything with his name on it, or you just have to have everything Spidey. It’s not a bad read at all, it’s just not going to leave you feeling very filled.
Pros: Very impressive artwork from Mr. Soy, and a well-written Otto who goes through a nice little arc over the course of the issue.
Cons: Excessive reliance on internal monologuing, though this is only a serious complaint in the opening. The basis for Tony’s plan is a pretty flimsy excuse to set the story up on. Superior readers who haven’t been following AoU won’t know what’s going on, and it won’t have any bearing on what they’ve been reading.