It’s the penultimate issue of The Superior Spider-Man, and based on this issue’s cover, you can probably take a wild guess who “dies” this time. Or perhaps this person might have died much, much earlier without our realizing it…maybe.
“Goblin Nation, Part 4”
PLOT: Dan Slott
SCRIPT: Christos Gage
PENCILS: Giuseppe Camuncoli
INKS: John Dell & Terry Pallot
COLOR: Antonio Fabela
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: SpOck and Miquel O’Hara (Spider-Man 2099) continue fighting the Alchemax Spider-Slayers hacked by the Green Goblin, who may or may not have revealed himself to still be Norman Osborn. The Green Goblin then shows SpOck that he has Anna Maria Marconi as a hostage and offers him a choice: either save her or save Miquel. SpOck, of course, chooses to go save Anna Maria, leaving Miquel to angrily declare, “I knew you were a poser!” as he’s overwhelmed by the Slayers. As SpOck swings through the city, blaming himself for all the chaos, the Avengers, along with the Wraith, fight against the combined forces of the Goblin Army, Roderick Kingley’s former franchise villains, and the Slayers. Captain America also vows to arrest “Spider-Man” for funding Cardiac and his “illegal medical facility.” The media demands J. Jonah Jameson resignation as Alchemax CEO, Liz Allan, put all the blame on him for deploying the Spider-Slayers before they were properly tested. However, as Liz tries to shuffle her son, Normie, out of her office, we see that she is attempting to conceal…a Green Goblin mask!
During his search for Anna Maria, SpOck gets amushed by Menace, and she leads him into an abandoned subway, where the Green Goblin is about to run over Anna Maria with a train. Only it’s not Ana Maria but Amy Chen–the little girl with brain damage SpOck operated on and whose life he saved back in Superior Spider-Man #8. SpOck hesitates, afraid that if he either misses Amy or gets hit by the train, no one will be able to save Ana Maria. But a voice shouts for SpOck to “jump!” and SpOck grabs Amy before she’s run over. The identity of the voice? It’s the ghost of Peter Parker. For while Ghost Peter was trapped reliving all of Otto’s memories, he arrived at the moment from Amazing Spider-Man #700 in which Peter shared Otto his memories during his death. This not only allowed Ghost Peter to remember who he was but also has all of his memories restored.
Now aware of Peter’s presence and realizing he almost had another death on his hands, SpOck at last understands just how much a failure he has been, and decides it must be Peter who must stop the Green Goblin. So SpOck returns to Parker Industries and, using his neurolitic scanner, proceeds to erase himself and his memories from Peter’s mind, ensuring that Peter will not have any distractions or further confusion about his identity. This also includes Otto’s love for Anna Maria, and as he fades away, Otto’s last words to Peter are, “Only you can save her…for you are the Superior Spider-Man.” Thus Peter, fully returned to his body, puts on his signature red and blues and declares “my turn.”
THOUGHTS: And so, Otto Octavious is “Spider-Man no more,” and Peter Parker, the real Superior Spider-Man, has finally returned. This, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is a call for celebration, a time for Spider-Man fans everywhere to rejoice and sing with praise that the “Hero who could be you” has risen from the grave.
So then why does this feel so underwhelming and anti-climatic?
Granted, considering how nobody except Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy (so far) ever stays dead in comics, and taking into account Marvel’s own announcements about the relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man, everyone knew Peter Parker was coming back. So this might be the reason some may not feel as elated and overjoyed as they otherwise would be. I, on the other hand, suggest my particular lack of enthusiasm is due to something far more radical: that the way Peter Parker returns in this comic is ham-fisted, poorly executed, badly paced, and nonsensical even by the standards of comic book logic.
Right now, you’re probably saying, “There you go, Stillanerd. First you whine and complain about how Peter Parker was killed off like a chump and Doc Ock becoming Spider-Man. And now, after finally getting Peter Parker back like you wanted, you’re still whining and complaining. There’s just no pleasing you, is there?” Or, you might be saying (and I’d agree with you if you did), “Come on, Stillanerd. The way Peter comes back here is infinitely better than that one time he turned into a giant-spider and gave birth to himself in that Avengers: Dissembled tie-in. Or that other time he molted his skin, went into a web-cocoon, and was tripping about totemic spider-gods in The Other: Evolve or Die.” Well, my dear readers, allow me to elaborate.
Consider how Peter is able to have all his memories restored. If you recall in Amazing Spider-Man #700, Doc Ock already had access to Peter’s memories and that Peter, just before he died, was forcing Otto to experience specific memories, not all of them. The proof is in Superior Spider-Man #19, #26, and #27, in which we are informed that after Otto tried to erase Peter back in Superior Spider-Man #9, the only memories Peter had left are those Otto already “peaked at and committed to memory” and “the ones [Peter] shared with [Otto]” which totaled to only 31 memories. Yet somehow, Peter is able regain memories that Otto never experienced, never accessed, had systematically erased, and therefore should no longer have. Are we supposed to surmise the memories Otto erased got stored in some “trash can icon” deep within his subconscious? Ordinarily, I would overlook something like this were it not for the fact the entire story hinges upon this moment. And I’m sorry, but from a storytelling standpoint, Dan Slott and Christos Gage cannot just arbitrarily violate the very rules about Peter’s memories that they established over and over again to have the resolution they want. After all, cheating is still cheating, and it makes the entire subplot of Peter only having 31 memories feel like a complete waste of time.
Then there’s the matter of how Peter retrieves his body from Otto, which amounts to Otto just giving up and committing “suicide.” From the way the scene is written—complete with SpOck shedding tears and reaching out for ghostly images of Anna Maria as she fades into the ether—we’re obviously meant to interpret this as Otto, having come to the realization that Peter was the better man all along, choosing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and that in his last moments, he truly redeemed himself. That is until you realize that Otto is also avoiding having to deal directly with the consequences of his own actions. Couple this with how no one—including the Avengers or Mary Jane—will likely believe Peter when he tries to tell them what really happened, then Otto really hasn’t done Peter any real favors here. And last time I checked, passing the buck to someone else in the hopes they will fix your own mistakes is nowhere near being heroic or noble. So instead, the scene comes off as being manipulative and false instead of being genuine or deserved. Plus, you know this isn’t the last bow of Doc Ock. There’s still his body that’s missing and uncounted for, after all.
Moreover, it’s still vague as to whether this is even the real Peter that’s come back. We’re shown, via Peter reliving Otto’s memories, that before “Ends of the Earth,” Doc Ock uploaded his mind into the gold octobot as a contingency. This implies that the Otto Octavious we’ve read about ever since Amazing Spider-Man #698 is not, in fact, the real Doc Ock, but is, for lack of a better term, a “clone” of Doc Ock (and if that’s the case, shouldn’t we be calling SpOck “ClOck” instead?). This would also mean that, technically, Doc Ock, not Peter, died in Amazing Spider-Man #700, and that “Ghost Peter” was the real Peter Parker all along. Which would have been acceptable on its own were we not also reminded both in the story and in the recap page that “Ghost Peter” is only a “memory fragment” of Peter Parker, not the real Peter Parker. Which would mean Peter’s “return” is actually “Ghost Peter” having claimed Peter’s body for himself, not the return of the real Peter Parker.
Thus we’re left with one of two options: either SpOck was really just a brainwashed Peter reprogrammed to believe he was Otto, or that the real Peter is still dead. If this was attempt by Slott and Gage to appease both fans of Peter and SpOck, it, like most efforts at appeasement, satisfies no one and cannot be simply hand-waved away and forgotten about. If Marvel plans on going forward, this is a matter that needs clarity, not ambiguity.
But if you think I‘m being entirely negative here, rest assured that are still moments of sheer brilliance within this issue, along with a few unexpected surprises. The lead-up to and the moment where Peter forces SpOck into action to save Amy Chen, for example, is full of genuine suspense and nerve-wracking tension, and it’s fitting that Otto’s journey as Spider-Man comes full circle over having his one decent act as Spider-Man almost undone. And just how great was the Green Goblin’s “I’ve done bridges. This time I thought I’d go with tunnels” line?
There’s also the following scene where Otto admits to his own arrogance and says Peter is “superior” because of his humility. It’s a fascinating comparison between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus as characters while developing them in fundamental and meaningful ways. Plus, Peter’s reaction to finding out he now had his own company, and SpOck telling Sajani Jaffrey to “shut up” when she tried to tell him what happened were just classic. So it’s all the more frustrating that we haven’t had more scenes like this during “Goblin Nation.” Can you imagine that, instead of having randomly placed interludes of Peter reliving Otto’s memories, we instead had Peter and Otto forced to work together to stop the Green Goblin and his army? Scenes where the two of them would argue over what course of action to take, or compliment each other over something unexpected and brilliant they came up with? It would’ve made Otto’s decision for Peter reclaim his identity and body truly earned instead of being rushed and crammed together within a mere five pages.
As it has all throughout “Goblin Nation,” Giuseppe Camuncoli’s penciling is sublime, raised even further thanks to John Dell and Terry Pallot’s inking, and Antonio Fabela’s coloring. For as much as I’ve criticized the moments where Peter regains his memories and when Otto relinquishes control back to Peter, there is no question that, from a visual standpoint, these scenes look gorgeous and are truly powerful in their imagery. The two-page spread showing Peter haloed in light and surrounded by a literal web of memories (all taken from scenes from various comics) with Peter declaring he wants to take back the good and the bad is worthy of being made into a commissioned poster. In spite of the particulars of how Peter arrived at this moment, Camuncoli is still able to convey a sense of triumph.
Finally, there’s the surprising revelation that Liz Allen may, in fact, have been in cahoots with the Green Goblin all along, if not posed as the Green Goblin himself…or rather, herself. One of the theories about the identity of the Goblin King is that he was still Norman Osborn disguised as Liz Allen’s nondescript personal assistant, Mason Banks, and that he and Liz Allen were working together. After all, there were twomystery figures, one of whom was the Green Goblin, shown in Superior Spider-Man#15, and, based on what the out-of-costume Green Goblin was wearing, it did look like the business suit worn by Alchemax employees. So on the surface, the scene with Liz does indeed seem all but a conformation of this theory. Moreover, Liz’s “I’m doing this for you” statement gives her motive and could explain why, if the Green Goblin is still Norman Osborn, she would put her hatred for her ex-father-in-law aside and be his accomplice. Remember, Liz was shown to be a financially struggling, divorced single mom during Dan Slott’s own Brand New Day story, “Mind on Fire.” So it’s possible that Liz’s unprecedented rise in the corporate world is due a devil’s bargain with Norman Osborn to secure her son’s future and financial well-being.
On the other hand, I believe there’s a different interpretation of this scene: this is really a red herring designed to hide the true identity of the Green Goblin: Lil’ Normie Osborn. Notice how Normie tells his mom “can I come backin” and explains he’s “misplaced” something in that very room. Given how Liz finds a Goblin mask, this could very well mean thisis what Normie was looking for. Liz may be simply hiding the mask from her son because she doesn’t want him to be reminded about his grandpa, Norman, not realizing that her son is the new Green Goblin. Or she does know that her son is the Green Goblin, and has been trying to protect him. Regardless of which ever theory is correct (or if neither one is), this scene does, at the very least, sets up both a connection between Alchemax and the Green Goblin, and that Liz is somehow involved.
Make no mistake, this is still a very enjoyable read, and I’m more than happy to see Peter (if it’s really him) back in webs again Peter, as my excitement to see him take the Green Goblin and his underground army down in the final issue builds. However, I believe we must look past whatever feelings we have about Peter’s return and ask ourselves this: how does Peter Parker’s return compare to other comic book resurrections? How does it stack up to the return of Bucky Barnes? Or Steve Rodgers? Or Colossus? Or Hal Jordan? Or Superman? Or Batman, for that matter? If you, in good conscience, believe that Peter’s resurrection is on par or even better than those, then that’s certainly your prerogative. I, however, cannot overlook how flawed his return actually is. And while there is plenty positive aspects which still give this part of “Goblin Nation” a decent grade, I can only imagine what this issue, and Peter’s return, might have been.
- So as far as the Avengers are concerned, as long as SpOck was committing murder, assault, torture, hiring mercenaries, using unsanctioned military-grade weaponry, violated people’s Constitutional rights, turned New York into a police state, brainwashed the original Sinister Six, and hacked into their own computers and erased files, it only amounts to him being put on probation and let off with repeated warnings. But when it comes to SpOck funding Cardiac’s medical treatments that have not been approved by the FDA? Why it’s “Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200” as far as the Avengers are concerned. As if the irony couldn’t get any more thick, let’s not forget that Tony Stark’s life was saved and is being kept alive through an experimental medical procedure; or that Steve Rodgers received his super-powers through an experimental medical procedure. And unlike what Iron Man claims, we have seen that Cardiac’s supposedly “unproven procedures” are actually proven to save lives. The Avengers might as well go ahead and rename themselves “The League of Extraordinary Hypocrites and Morons” from here on out.
- First, Jonah demands Alchemax build “Spider-Slayers” even though he’s reminded of the fact Alistar Smythe killed Jonah’s wife. Then, when he insists a month later for them to be activated, he’s told by Liz there’s still some “safety checks” that need to be run, but otherwise, she gives him the green-light. Then, after holding a press conference announcing their creation and that will be used to stop the Green Goblin’s army, Jonah instead decides not to deploy the “Goblin Slayers” because he wants to wait until “Spider-Man” shows up so he can sic the Slayers on him. This gets Jonah all kinds of grief—including from Glory Grant who resigns in protest—for not protecting the city from the Goblin Army by activating the Slayers. So when Jonah does the very thing those around him demanded that he do, and the Slayers wind up getting hacked and reprogrammed by the Green Goblin, Jonah gets blamed for launching them before they were ready. Welcome to politics, in which everyone talks out of both sides of their mouth, and the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” is a way of life.
- “When there’s time, you weigh options. When there’s not, you act. And you always do the right thing. Even if it means giving up the advantage…like I just did.” Yeah, Pete! You tell that cowardly, Otto Octavious! I mean, it’s not like you ever put your own needs above that same little girl’s, especially when Otto was trying to perform delicate neurosurgery to save her life during Superior Spider-Man #8. Oh, wait…you did, didn’t you? I suppose we we’re supposed to forget about all that little moment of hesitation you had back then, huh? Too bad the handy-handy editorial footnote told us which issue for us to look up.
- Also, if Otto crying and admitting his love for Anna Maria wasn’t enough to show what a sentimental guy Otto really is, we learn he kept Peter’s old Spider-Man costume as a trophy. Either that or he anticipated the day Peter would return from beyond the grave to get it back and was holding it on for safe keeping. Cause if Peter didn’t conveniently find his costume in that closet, he might have had to fight the Goblin Army as “the Amazing Bag-Man.”