Superior Spider-Man #11 and the Ties That Bind

Superior 11 coverIn two different scenes in Superior Spider-Man #11, Otto Octavius, finds himself “trapped” by the failings of his Spider-Man predecessor, Peter Parker. But in a comic issue that focuses on the inhabitants of the Raft – a state-of-the-art prison for supervillains that seems to frequently fail at doing what it’s designed to do – Otto’s entrapment runs deeper than he realizes. Christos Gage, who takes over on scripting duties for Dan Slott for Superior #11, crafts what may be the tonally most ominous issue of this young series for our titular “hero.”

Superior #11 reminds us again how Otto’s acceptance and understanding of Peter’s “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra is still superficial at best. Earlier in the series, Otto was incredulous by the fact that someone as intellectually capable as Peter was never able to attain his doctorate in physics – something that Octavius sets out to fix immediately as if Parker failed in the regard because he was lazy and never gave a hoot. Otto bemoans being lectured to by a professor who is his intellectual inferior and implies that he only shows up to class to steal flirtatious moments with his new girlfriend, Anna. But before he can continue any kind of sustained romance with Anna, Otto’s interrupted by an emergency call from Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, once again making Spider-Man business his focal point – as was very often the case with Peter during his time at Empire State University.

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Otto anguishes about Parker’s shortcomings again after being confronted by Horizon Lab’s Max Modell. Modell wants to know what “Peter” has been working on and after getting some sass from Otto, issues a stern warning about his tolerance for backtalk reaching a breaking point. Otto arrogantly sticks to his guns that he can just snap his fingers and invent something brilliant for Horizon – as Spider-Man he’s already shown how the use of satellite technology (aka, spying) has made him one of the city’s greatest assets on the war on crime. But what Doc Ock fails to grasp is that the Horizon gig is arguably Peter’s most successful sustained job over the course of 50 years of Spider-Man comics and without the resources of such a well-connected scientific institution, the opportunity to create cutting-edge crime fighting technology will fall by the wayside.

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Otto seems to forget that he’s no longer evil super genius Doctor Octopus, residing in abandoned warehouses or secluded Westchester County estates, creating devices that can level the island of Manhattan with the touch of a button. He is living the life of Peter Parker, who has relationships and responsibilities to friends and family that he cannot just brush aside without great consequences. And even if Otto’s ego and hubris allows him to think that he can continue to be the “superior” Spider-Man without the support of Modell, I’m willing to wager that he’s wrong. He instead will likely end up like pre-”Big Time” Peter – a loser who can’t keep a job or an apartment, who sleeps with his female roommate and makes things incredibly awkward (maybe not that last point).

After Otto has his moments of professional/education self-reflection and pity, he finds himself trapped inside a literal prison by the consequences of his own bad behavior. He attends the anticipated execution of Alistair Smythe per the request of JJJ (who may be a blowhard, but is smart enough to realize that the bad guy almost always finds a way to escape death when it’s coming in the Marvel universe).  Otto has flashbacks to his last days inside the Raft as the decrepit and dying Doctor Octopus and thinks about how his life has changed so dramatically since being behind bars, without considering how the carnage he’s left behind since he switched bodies with Peter may come back to bite him in a serious way.

When Smythe attempts to make his inevitable escape, Spider Ock arrogantly proclaims that he’s one step ahead of the villain, blocking off all major points of entrance and egress with various contraptions. Smythe responds that the only option he has left is to kill Spidey – which he intends to do by enlisting the help of Boomerang, the Scorpion and the Vulture, who have all endured serious injury at the hands of Spider Ock since the dawn of the Superior era in January.

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That sets the stage for a one-on-four battle between Spidey and a group of super-powered thugs who are laser focused on exacting retribution. While Spider Ock has previously been able to handle all of these villains, that was individually and before they realized that this new, hardened version of Spidey wasn’t pussy-footing around. Plus, with JJJ, Norah Jones, Glory Grant and other innocent people trapped with him at the Raft, Spider Ock is going to have to take care of things without any “regular” folks getting  hurt, or risk losing the support he’s miraculously been able to gain from some of his formerly harshest critics.

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I know I haven’t been terribly kind to Gage whenever he’s pinch hit on scripting Spidey stories in the past, but after Age of Ultron #6U and now this story, I honestly can’t question his handle on Superior Spider-Man/Spider Ock. Slott gets “story” credit for this issue, but the tone of the dialogue is clearly different from what Slott churned out the previous 10 issues without it sounding like a completely different character. I know, between my write-ups on Avenging Spider-Man and Deadpool #10 I’ve been banging on that drum quite a bit lately, but I can’t stress enough how critical it is to maintain a consistency in characterization when we’re still in the infancy of a brand new character.

Interestingly enough, I’ve never been much of a fan of Alistair Smythe or any of the countless iterations of the Spider Slayer as an antagonist (despite my overall favorable impressions of Amazing Spider-Man #655) – there’s just something about machines and Spider-Man that irrationally doesn’t gibe for me. But Superior Spider-Man marks a brave new world and an entirely new dynamic for all of the relationships I had come to understand about the Spidey universe in my 25+ years of reading experience. Dare I say, I’m intrigued about what’s to come in these next two issues as I would think an arc that focuses on what is basically a failed concept for a super prison is the perfect time to start exploring some of the darker themes of what the “superior” will bring forth on our “hero,” such as feelings of alienation and entrapment. And while I tend to enjoy the occasional cheekiness of Slott’s dialogue, the change of pace that Gage brings to the table is extremely well-timed by Marvel.

All images from Superior Spider-Man #11: Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell & Edgar Delgado. Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.

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