Superior Spider-Man is hardly a flawless comic book series, but I think it’s a very good one, especially when the focus of the story is more on Otto Octavius combating Peter Parker’s instincts and ethics as Spider-Man, rather than physically combating some astral form of Peter instead. Of the first three installments of this series (actually, the first four since I’ve just read it), Superior #3 is the strongest issue, in large part because Dan Slott is really starting to define Spider-Ock under the mask. And while I may not necessarily like Spider-Ock as a person, I certainly like Slott’s characterization of him.
Noticeably gone in Superior #3 are some of the distractions that kept this title from doing what it does best – superhero action with equal parts humor and thought-provoking moments. Thankfully, the Mary Jane-romance has been put to bed. Dealing with the potential ramifications of Spidey-Ock “tricking” MJ into some kind of relationship was something I really didn’t want to deal with so early in Superior’s run. Slott has also toned down the interjections of Astral Parker (that’s my official name of Peter’s “spirit” following Ock around. Hashtag it now and make it a thing!). Astral Peter is still there but his presence is much less pivotal to the advancement of the story. Sending him off to explore the recesses of Otto’s mind is a really smart device used by Slott to get Astral Peter out of the way for a few pages. I understand the nerd rage after ASM #700 more or less dictated that Peter HAD to be a part of this new series in some shape and form, but it just felt like it was being laid on too thick in Superior #2. On second thought, maybe Slott did that on purpose so readers would become more interested in Spidey-Ock’s rather than Peter. I’m on to you Slott …
The confrontation between Spidey-Ock and Vulture is some of the best stuff I’ve read in a Spider-Man comic book in some time. I’ve been saying from the get-go that in order for the Spidey-Ock premise to really take off, Slott and Co. were going to have to intelligently explore Otto’s past relationships with heroes and villains. While Spidey-Ock’s pretentious putdowns of the poor-man’s “Sinister Six” in Superior #1 were good for a few yuks, using Adrian Toomes’ Vulture was really the perfect choice to help Otto’s turn as Spider-Man gain more steam.
The Vulture is obviously a part of “old guard” of Spider-Man villains, who really hasn’t gotten a proper run on the book in years. In my post reflecting on Amazing Spider-Man #674, I mentioned that using Toomes as a “Fagin” of sorts to disenfranchised youths was as good of a use as any in the contemporary comics. Astral Peter himself admits in Superior #3 that at Vulture’s advanced age, he has to go easy on the guy or risk really hurting him. If Marvel is going to be that blatant about the fact that they regard the guy as a physical B- or C-lister, how can they expect readers to accept Toomes as anything other the villain-fodder to Spidey?
But juxtaposing Vulture’s recent character turn with Spidey-Ock is an even better use for the character. Considering both debuted in ASM within one issue of another, it’s fun as a long-time reader to compare the divergent paths Toomes and Otto have traveled since the “good old days” of 1963. Through the use of Otto’s memories, Slott establishes that there’s a mutual respect based on intellect alone. But while Otto has continued to move up the ranks to establish himself as one of the most diabolical forces in the Marvel universe (he DID swap bodies and minds with his nemesis), Toomes has backslid into a life of petty crime where he’s stuck using children to do his dirty work. Otto’s disgust and rage towards Toomes over his use of little children is as much about Doc’s own tortured childhood, as it is about his disappointment in how far his former colleague has fallen. In a bit of dialogue that’s weirdly reminiscent of something I would have heard Avon Barksdale or Omar say on the Wire (would that make two Wire references in Marvel comics this month if you count Bunk and McNulty in Venom?), Toomes tells the outraged Spidey-Ock, “Don’t look so shocked … this is what I am” (“the game is the game”).
Of course, Spidey-Ock’s eventual aggression and beatdown of Toomes leads to the most shocking sequence of all. And while Astral Peter was able to stop Otto from making similar mistakes in past issues by divinely intervening, because he’s so busy exploring Doc’s mind, he misses his cue and Toomes is left very badly injured. While everyone knew from the get-go that Spidey-Ock was likely to go about the whole superhero thing much differently than Peter, his brutality of the Vulture is really the first instance where we get to see the Superior Spider-Man act exclusively on his own instinct rather than the lingering moral code of the person who preceded him in his body. It’s dark, and a little twisted – as list as twisted as any Spider-Man comic book post-McFarlane era has been – and I’m not afraid to say that I really liked it.
My biggest criticism in my write-up on ASM #700 was that I felt the transition from Peter to Otto felt a little too sudden and forced. I didn’t believe that Spidey-Ock would have a “come to Jesus” moment so quickly about adopting the “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra. But if the idea behind defining this moment so early was to have Spidey-Ock devolve from Peter’s moral center while the astral version of himself watches on in dismay, the potential for some really compelling storytelling remains.
All images from Superior Spider-Man #3: Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, Victor Olazaba & Edgar Delgado