“Troubled Mind Part 2: Gray Matters”
Writer: Dan Slott
Penciller: Ryan Stegman
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
THE PLOT: After finding an anomaly in his brain waves, Ock has found Ghost Peter’s being and attacks him in what appears to be part of Peter’s mind.
LONG STORY SHORT: After battling with morals, supporting cast members and villains, Ock gains the upper hand when confronting Peter on attempting to sacrifice the little girl from last issue to make his presence known. Peter begins to lose his memory and is buried under a pile of rubble.
MY THOUGHTS: Before I start, a fond farewell is owed to Erik Lexie. For the past year and a half, he’s been providing the Crawlspace with some of the best reviews of ASM and SSM on the internet. He was one of my personal favorite reviewers and he will be sorely missed.
One of the things Erik ascribed to Dan Slott’s run on Spider-Man is that much of the high concept ideas aren’t so much stories as they are fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants storytelling that makes up whatever happens from issue to issue. This issue is indicative of that, as the subplot of Ghost Peter attempting to regain his body comes to its close, leaving the series in the hands of Doctor Octopus yet again. Not only is this a three-peat of the endings from ASM #698 and #700, but the issue occupies itself with a battle between Peter’s friends and villains and a war of words between him and Ock. Ultimately nothing of real significance is gained aside from a sense that Otto Octavius is morally superior than Peter and the implication that evil has won out yet again.
I am legitimately confused as to how we’re supposed to take Ock in this role as Superior Spidey. At the end of ASM #700, it was implied that he would be a bit more righteous in his new life. Yet every issue that’s come after has played up the hook that this is a villain masquerading as a hero. While that’s admittedly more interesting, it makes the ending to #700 seem like a Hail Mary thrown in to assuage fears that Marvel had lost their damn minds. We’re left with a repugnant wretch whose appeal seems to derive from how bad he makes Peter Parker look or how insane he makes Spider-Man look. Again, the idea itself isn’t awful. The problem comes from how much the character has been allowed to behave in the manner he has without hardly anyone either noticing (Mary Jane) or doing much about it (Avengers up to a point). All throughout the Superior title, we’ve had the assumed ghost of Peter Parker poke his head in the background, presumably to reveal the true conflict of the title being the loss of his life and his struggle to reclaim it. Once again it’s a fair and straightforward conflict, even if it’s a bit, to this reviewer’s mind, silly. So when we see Doc Ock do things that are clearly wrong and immoral, we’re kept in check by having Ghost Peter’s presence espouse the notion that the better Spider-Man is not present and that we’re watching the antics of a fake. Even if much of Ock’s achievements in crime-fighting surpass Peter’s, he’s still not the character we should be rooting for.
This issue plays up that concept to the hilt. In this story, Doctor Octopus is an egotistical, savage, gleefully evil SOB who is every bit the villain that Peter sees him as. Conversely, Peter’s portrayed as a flawed, mewing, cowardly yet determined person who acts as though he’s been mugged and wants his wallet back. While Doc Ock comes off as the antagonist in his own book, Peter really looks bad in this issue, being ultimately defeated because his revealed cowardice infers that his self-appointed heroism is false. At the end of the day, this issue is about as Crazy Chris once described it “A douchebag” fighting “a jackass”.
There are good bits to this issue. Slott allows himself more moments to flaunt his knowledge of characters and continuity trivia with mentions of Nick Katzenberg, Joy Mercado and the infamous “Parker/Palmer” slip from the Stan Lee era. It’s hard for me not to see the writer puffing out his chest with pride with moments like these, but they work well for the story. Peter’s losing his memories and, were he a real person, tries to run through the memory databanks and keep his head together.
The art from Ryan Stegman is also quite strong. He reins himself in during the small moments, and explodes with energy during the action scenes. Panels such as the Superior vs. Amazing Spider-Men fight suck you in, especially with the nice touch of having the background bleed into all black, making the fight more intimate and personal.
By the end however, this issue just leaves a bad taste in my mouth with it’s implication that Peter Parker would risk a child’s well being to save his own skin. There are multiple theories on this, ranging from excusing to reasonable. A popular one is the idea that what we’re seeing isn’t Peter Parker at all, but a manifestation of Peter’s memories in Ock’s brainwaves that has created itself. It’s essentially Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing. Others have commented that if this is the real Peter, trying to save himself at the cost of a little girl is actually a humane, natural thing for someone to do.
My thought is that no matter what the real explanation for the scene, we are supposed to be left with the idea that Ock is morally superior than Peter. After everything we’ve seen Ock do as Spider-Man, this insinuation is particularly damning. It’s another example of why I don’t like Slott’s take on Peter. He can write the character well enough when he wants too, but if he’s not writing him as hyperbolic and spastic, he writes him as whiny and reactionary to the point where it stops being the character. The idea of Peter being a relatable everyman has in my opinion been used as an excuse to make him less and less of the hero the past 50 years of history have forged him to be. This to me seems like another instance where someone is trying to keep him in step with that notion of relatability and making him unlikable compared to how we’ve seen the character portrayed in the past.
When this issue was first solicited, Marvel advertised it as a more anger-inducing story than #700. I don’t know if they were referring to the fact that Peter predictably lost or that the way he lost revealed him to be an utter wuss. The fact remains that this story, as it always has been, was sold on sensationalism to the point where its storytelling has forgone established characterization whenever convenient and varies from issue to issue. The reason I left reviewing the title after #700 is that based on reading Dan Slott’s run up to that point I figured the potential of Ock running around as Spider-Man would be lost in a cloud of nonsense and style over substance. Several months later, I have yet to be proven wrong.