After the self-contained stories of Superior Spider-Man #20 and #21 and the slow-simmering set-up for the title’s next major arc in Superior #22, the creative team of Dan Slott, Christos Gage and Humberto Ramos slam their foot on the gas pedal in Superior #23, giving me a lot of information to latch on to and speculate about at breakneck speed. In one fell swoop, the issue shines a light on both the very best and very worst of the “Superior era,” such as thrilling/shocking plot reveals, bizarre/unlikeable character moments, and a feeding frenzy of Ramos’ love it or hate art (I’m very much in the “pro” Ramos camp for this issue).
It’s difficult to even determine where to start after an issue like this. On a broader scale, after seemingly giving Spider Ock a bit of a reprieve by allowing him to get his doctorate and starting up Parker Industries despite those “pesky” plagiarism accusations in Superior #21-22, Superior #23 goes back to the story we last saw in issues #19-20 of Otto’s world falling apart around him. Beyond the mobilization of the Green Goblin’s army, which we know will come home to roost as part of the “Goblin Nation” arc in February, Spider Ock has managed to make additional enemies in the form of J. Jonah Jameson and Flash Thompson/Agent Venom. I speculated after Spider Ock’s blackmail of JJJ in Superior #13 that Otto was playing with fire in trying to put Jonah in the corner (nobody puts Jonah in the corner), so let me pat myself on the back now that we see Jameson aligning himself with Liz Allen, Tiberius Stone and Alchemax in developing a new line of Spider Slayers (and lookie here, another Miguel O’Hara appearance. He still exists!).
Who cares that the Spider Slayer killed Jameson’s wife? Actually, I’m sure a lot of you do – and this is one of the many examples of just how simultaneously breathtaking and maddening Superior #23 is. On one hand, as someone who is now unashamedly rooting for the downfall of Spider Ock, I’m thrilled to see Jonah finally fighting back … but Spider Slayers? As emotionally unstable as Jameson has been portrayed over the years, would he REALLY go back to the Spider Slayer well again, especially when Marvel spent so much time and energy emphasizing just how broken Jonah was by Marla’s death?
Slott and Gage also use Superior #23 to tease a few more details about the Green Goblin subplot. It’s now clear after reading Carlie’s journal that New York City’s finest detective (cue our “Oh Carlie” slide whistle) was at least smart enough not to reveal Spider-Man’s identity. Whoever the Green Goblin is, talks about how he feels he SHOULD know the secret identity of Spider-Man and doesn’t. The Green Goblin then takes off to teach the “black sheep” of the Goblin family a lesson. This could all be some massive misdirection from the creative team, but these clues all point to Norman Osborn being the Goblin (since he at one point knew who Spidey was before the “One More Day” collective mind wipe), which means Harry Osborn probably needs to find a better disguise than Walter White if he wants to survive being ambushed (or could the Green Goblin be riding off to take on Roderick Kingsley’s Hobgoblin, as the solicitations for Superior Spider-Man #26 indicate?).
For those of you wondering what’s up with MJ, Superior #23 gives us a brief glimpse at her subplot (and Captain Watanabe, who seems to be taking lessons from Carlie in how to be terribly vague when describing a potentially catastrophic situation for everyone involved). We learn that MJ conveniently hasn’t checked her voicemail in a long time, and thus missed Carlie’s informative “stay away from Peter” voice mail, and now Watanabe wants to investigate Peter’s role in her colleague’s disappearance (rather than … I don’t know … going to the FRIGGIN AVENGERS. WHY DOESN’T ANYONE IN THIS SUBPLOT GO TO THE AVENGERS?).
Phew… Sorry about that.
As for Flash Thompson, as everyone suspected, he does live to see another day despite Slott/Gage’s cheeky conclusion last issue, but Spider Ock’s obsession with separating Parker’s old friend from the symbiote leads to some outright unlikeable behavior from both Spider-Man and “Peter.” Superior #23’s version Spider Ock is more in line with the character I’ve been venting about in Superior Spider-Man Team-Up (though the most recent issue of that has brought me back from the ledge – more on that later this week), i.e., a character that isn’t even trying to hide the fact that he’s a villain that has stolen a superhero’s identity. Spider Ock’s master plan of promising new prosthetic legs for Flash in order to capture him and remove the symbiote is one of the most diabolical things the character has done since this series started earlier this year. It’s difficult for me to argue that his actions were “out of character,” but I did expect a little more dexterity and grace from Otto.
But Otto’s bull in a china shop mentality comes across as being a very intentional narrative choice by Gage and Slott when all hell breaks loose and the symbiote bonds to Spider Ock, creating the “Superior” Venom. Again, in typical Superior Spider-Man fashion, I’m not a fan of how the creative team brought us from point A to point B, but now that we’re at point B, I’m very intrigued by the endless storyline possibilities of Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man as Venom. If Slott and Gage are going to keep pushing the larger Superior story in the direction of having Otto hit below rock bottom, then combining him with the notoriously unstable and evil symbiote is a sure-fire way to leave a trail of destruction for Peter to clean up once he returns from the “dead.”
Still, I haven’t even mentioned Superior #23’s most unsettling moment, the scene where Anna Maria “meets the parents,” and it goes about as well as Gaylord Focker’s initial meeting of Jack Byrnes (but with less cat milking jokes). I imagine this was the “cringe worthy” moment that Slott kept referring to over and over again during New York Comic Con in October, and in this issue’s solicitations, and May’s reaction to Anna Maria being a “little person” certainly lived up to the billing.
Sure, May’s reaction is wildly out of character from someone who has been presented for more than 50 years as being the beacon for tolerance, sympathy and understanding, but Slott and Gage clearly were going for another layer of drama to mix into their off-beat love story.
Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s that old “point A to point B” problem again. Slott and Gage needs their characters to be doing and thinking certain things in order for future pieces of the storyline puzzle to make sense. But rather than put these events into motion with characters acting like themselves, they resort to cheap little stunts to get there. I’m not about to anoint Aunt May a saint, as the character has clearly had some dark moments over the years, but to be totally blunt, she deserved a lot better than what Gage and Slott presented us in this story. I’m not even upset about her reservations with Peter and Anna Maria’s relationship, but similar to Spider Ock’s actions with Flash, I would have expected May to handle things with a little more tact and guile than she does here. Her behavior here is very disheartening, though I guess Slott needs “Peter” and May to be at odds with each other in order for whatever it is that’s about to come next to make sense.
Still, despite some of my dissatisfaction with this issue, in trademark Slott-fashion, I’m totally looking forward to the next issue so I can get a sense of which way this wild ride is going next. Obviously, the key to a good story is to create a narrative that keeps readers thirsting for more, and Slott and Gage do that in spades with Superior #23. I just wish that I felt a lot less schizophrenic about things when they unload these frenetically-paced issues at me.
All images from Superior Spider-Man #23: Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Humberto Ramos & Victor Olazaba