When the Superior Spider-Man era kicked off in January, I was certainly intrigued by a series that focused on long-time villain Otto Octavius learning how to be a “hero,” via the great power/great responsibility credo of his “sworn enemy” Peter Parker, but I also wondered if such a concept had the juice to keep me engaged over the long-term. Then, Superior Spider-Man #8 happened, followed with an even better Superior #9, and I was totally hooked for what Dan Slott and the rest of the creative team would throw at me next.
But a funny thing happened following Superior #9. The series moved away from the idea that Otto’s time masquerading as a superhero would somehow redeem the character. With the last remnants of Peter’s memories officially erased from his mind, Superior Spider-Man seemingly became more about Otto’s embrace of his twisted interpretation of Peter’s philosophy – power and responsibility equals “might makes right,” as Slott put it during the Superior Spider-Man panel at New York Comic Con two weekends ago. The evolution of the book’s tone was disconcerting to me. Otto had become more dominant and insufferable. In my write-up of Superior #18, I started to question whether or not I could continue to invest my time in a series where I don’t like many of the main characters.
Superior #19 is a demonstration that good storytelling is all about timing. For everything that transpires in this issue, if it were to happen two or three issues sooner, I would have undoubtedly complained that Slott seemed to be abandoning his premise too quickly. But if he waited another couple of issues, this write-up would have probably read like a fan who had completely lost patience and faith in a universe that he’s probably dedicated way too much time to in the first place. Instead, Slott lays out a premise in Superior #19 that I can absolutely get excited about, in what I’m assuming is the start of the series’ third and final act, while artist Ryan Stegman pencils the hell out of this issue in probably his best work since Superior #9.
In other words, you got me AGAIN, Slott!
For the record, my jubilation of this issue is not just centered around a certain double-page spread that shows Spider Ock accessing what he can recall from Peter’s memories (drawn masterfully by Stegman) while the silhouette of Peter claws his way through the rubble of his “Parker-ecthomy” in Superior #9 (this moment also validates a prediction made by my podcast partner Dan Gvozden in our second episode of Superior Spider-Talk). While I admitted in another post recently that I was starting to “miss Peter,” I also believe that Slott has a story to tell and shouldn’t be compelled to bring him back prematurely if it doesn’t fit into the whatever he’s planning. For all I know, what I just saw in Superior #19 is just a small window of hope that may not get paid off for another year. That’s fine, because the larger story Slott sets up here is certain to satisfy me if he stays on this course for the foreseeable future.
In other words, if Superior Spider-Man is evolving into a series that focuses on an unlikeable, insufferable character, learning the hard way that he is in fact NOT superior to his predecessor – which is the way I interpreted the events of Superior #19 – then let me get my bowl of popcorn ready and enjoy the show.
Sure, there are going to be awful, awful consequences because of Spider Ock’s actions to our good friend Peter. We’ve already started to see a number of them in this issue: his professional relationship with Horizon Labs is irreparably broken (and Horizon has been reduced to an underground operation on Max Modell’s boat); his friendship with Mary Jane has been obliterated.
Things have gotten so bad for Peter, that even if Carlie Cooper and Captain Watanabe are able to successfully present their evidence linking Spider-Man’s funding to Doc Ock’s overseas bank accounts, I don’t know if he’ll be truly vindicated in the eyes of some of these people (of course, there’s also that whole Peter is dead thing that might prevent any personal vindication for the character).
But me oh my I can’t think of a better scene in a 2013 Spider-Man comic than the one of Spider Ock failing to disarm the “time bomb” going off in Horizon Labs because he wasn’t able to successfully scour the information he needed from Peter’s memories to save the day. When Otto gets resurrected by Modell, he’s so disconnected from reality, he starts to question whether or not he should issue a press release or contact the Avengers.
That’s actually the scene that cinched things for me and my opinion on this series going forward. Otto’s post-death ramblings (I love how he references all the times Doc Ock died and came back) expose the fact that he just doesn’t “get it.” Otto Octavius as Spider-Man is. Not. A. Hero. Period, exclamation point! I suspect that we’re still going to get another dozen or so issues (or more, who knows) before Otto himself comes to that conclusion, but the narrative and tone of this series going would have to take another very hard right for me to believe that Otto’s fall from grace and shaming is not the focal point of Superior.
If I had a complaint about this comic, it’s that I would have liked to see Spider Ock’s confrontation with Miguel O’Hara, aka, Spider-Man 2099 resolve itself better (or really at all). After two issues promising a Spider-Man “fight” of sorts, the interaction between the two characters is very minimal in Superior #19 as Slott seems more interested in putting Miguel and Tiberius Stone in a situation where he can table the 2099 threads for some time and come back to them way down the road, or even as part of its own dedicated series (plus, seeing “Michael O’Mara” working as an assistant to Tiberius smacks of corny 80s sitcom spinoffs).
But it’s hard to quibble too much about this one plot point when Slott sets so many more delicious things into motion that will impact the Spider-verse on a much larger scale. After criticizing Superior #18 for feeling disjointed and scatterbrained, Superior #19 is the issue’s … superior … in every way, demonstrating that a laser-focused Slott, combined with a top-of-his-game Stegman are still capable of delivering some of the best Spider-stories in years.
All images from Superior Spider-Man #19: Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, John Livesay & Edgar Delgado