I’ve made no bones about the fact that I thought the Spider-Man team-up series du jour needed to move on from Chris Yost and find a new voice, and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9 does just that by kicking off the Kevin Shinick era on the book (which I anticipate will be rather short-lived with Peter Parker coming back in April). The difference in tone and approach between Yost and Shinick is palatable. And needless to say, after reading this one issue, I’m very interested to see what Shinick has in store over the next (and final?) three issues of Team-Up.
I became a fan of Shinick, who is most famous for his comedic writing for series like Robot Chicken, after his five issue Superior Carnage mini. I know a lot of hardcore Carnage fans were disappointed by the book because of its lack of Cletus Kasady, but it was Shinick’s fresh take on the wacky world of symbiotes that drew me into the series. Shinick is also responsible for writing an undeniably hilarious Avenging Spider-Man two-parter in 2012 featuring the Hypno Hustler of all characters. The Hypno Hustler, first introduced in a Bill Mantlo/Frank Springer issue of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man in the 1970s, is an AWFUL character. Trust me on this. But Shinick played him for laughs in his Avenging arc, and it worked marvelously.
In Superior Team-Up #9, Shinick is charged with writing a prologue of sorts for the upcoming “Goblin Nation” arc (though the end of the issue details that the story takes place between Superior Spider-Man issues #26-27). Immediately, Shinick successfully balances the tension, bordering on paranoia, triggered by the secretive rise of the Green Goblin’s army, with some very funny one-liners. Spider Ock is seen swinging through the city (can we once again stop and marvel at Marco Checchetto’s artwork?) talking about how eerily calm and quiet everything is. He likens the atmosphere to a calm before the storm, akin to Francis Ferdinand’s assassination which started World War I, or the murder of “Two Packs,” which started a “wrapping” war.
This is some top-notch mood-setting from Shinick, and a great demonstration of why I prefer this approach to Yost’s. Yost had his moments, and wrote some worthwhile stories, but there always seemed to be a darkness and dourness to how he approached Spider Ock. I almost felt like the Avenging/Superior Team-Up books took themselves too seriously under Yost’s pen, and never cut loose and had some fun. Much like how Dan Slott approaches the character in Superior, in just a few pages, Shinick creates a scene with the potential for some high-drama, but doesn’t forget that this is still a Spider-Man book. And even sans Peter, Spider-Man books have almost always had some humor to them. Where Peter would be the one cracking the jokes during his tenure as Spidey, with Spider Ock, the jokes should come at his expense. That’s exactly what we get from Shinick, who transitions from Otto’s “Two Packs” joke to a funny encounter/confrontation with Daredevil and Punisher.
Superior Team-Up #9 also has an “old-school” vibe to it in terms of how the team-up du jour is constructed and executed. When you look back at those old 1970s Marvel Team-Up stories, Spider-Man is typically dealing with his usual superhero business when he bumps into random Marvel hero A, B or C. The two then find common ground, and go about trying to save the day. If the story continued into the next issue, sometimes another hero would be roped into the situation.
Over the past six months, the Superior team-up stories haven’t even always been team-up books. There was the two-part S.H.I.E.L.D. story in Avenging that saw Spider Ock acting as a rogue agent in order to capture the Chameleon; an issue with Kaine that was as much as a confrontation against each other as it was a team-up against a common foe in the Jackal; and the most recent “Superior Six” arc, which, I guess, was a Sun Girl/Spider-Man team-up, but was really focused on Otto coming to grips with his shortcomings as a hero. The non-Spider heroes rarely got a moment to shine, and even when they did act assertively, like Sun Girl in the “Superior Six” arc, these actions always seemed to be defined by Spider Ock’s response, not by how they saved the day independently of the “superior” Spider-Man.
Daredevil, Punisher and Spider-Man are a definitive “team” in Team-Up #9, and while the Green Goblin is looking to specifically bring down Spidey, the villain makes certain that he doesn’t gloss over the powers and abilities of the Wall Crawler’s teammates. In fact, at one point, the Green Goblin makes sure not to speak audibly to a rogue Spider-minion because it could expose his identity if overheard by Daredevil and his heightened senses. It’s such a small detail, but a prime demonstration of why I really like Shinick working on this title. He gets how these superhero tandems change the dynamic between the good guys and the villains. In this instance, the Green Goblin can’t just do or say whatever he wants, however he wants it, because he needs to be wary of Daredevil in order to protect his identity.
The comic ends with an outstanding cliffhanger that sets the stage perfectly for the flat-out anarchy we should all expect from “Goblin Nation” within the main Superior series. Spider Ock’s own minions have turned against him (or have been compromised), and truly no one can be trusted. If that’s not a reason to become invested in the next major arc for Spider-Man, then I’m afraid you either don’t have a pulse, or never really gave a crap about Spider-Man.
Even with Otto Octavius being the one wearing the costume, these are the kinds of stories that made me a Spider-Man fan – this idea that the deck can be so fully and unmercifully stacked against my favorite superhero, leaving me to breathlessly read on to see how Spidey adapts or perishes. In Superior Team-Up #9, Shinick not only gets me amped for the coming fun and surprises of “Goblin Nation,” but he distinguishes himself as a potential long-term writer for the character.
All images from Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9: Kevin Shinick, Marco Checchetto & Rachelle Rosenberg