I have felt many things for the Superior Spider-Man since this series first launched last year: curiosity, frustration, disgust, shock, surprise, joy … pick your adjective. Except sympathy. As much as we are living an era filled with anti-heroes that we have been conditioned to cheer for like Walter White or Tony Soprano, I can’t say I’ve ever been able to transfer those feelings to Spider Ock. Despite enjoying the Superior Spider-Man immensely, I’ve still had a difficult time viewing Otto Octavius as anything but a villain, who used nefarious methods to steal life away from a true hero, Peter Parker.
I’m hesitating in saying that I finally got a pang of sympathy for Spider Ock in Superior Spider-Man #28, but Dan Slott’s script certainly has me leaning that way. The proverbial excrement is hitting the fan for Spider Ock in every way that’s conceivable, and there’s still a big part of me that understands that this entire mess that keeps getting messier by the page, is all of byproduct of Otto’s arrogance and hubris. But damn, the Goblin is one evil SOB, and the deck is so firmly stacked against Spider Ock right now, I can’t help but find myself cheering for him, hoping that he can channel a little bit of Peter’s spirit and overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds.
There are still some fundamental flaws in Superior #28’s construction that keep me from heaping lavish praise on it. But at the same time, I have to give Slott credit for creating a script that forces me to be emotionally invested in the titular character, whether I want to or not. Over the years, Doctor Octopus has murdered countless people, has threatened to blow up New York City, attempted to marry Aunt May for her inheritance and many, many other evil deeds. And yet my mouth is still agape as the Green Goblin’s army destroys Spider Island II (and even kills Otto’s favorite henchman No. 23), has transformed Carlie Cooper into a hideous monster (named “Monster”), and then abducts Spider Ock’s love, Anna Maria, on the comic’s last page in a scene that’s so ominous, I can’t envision a way this story doesn’t end with yet another woman in a refrigerator.
What has made the Green Goblin such a unique and special character is the fact that he has always found a way to strike at Spider-Man in the most personal ways possible – even when some of his schemes stretched the limits of plausibility (like hiring an actress to portray Aunt May and fake her death). So now that the Goblin knows that Spider-Man is Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s body, it’s only natural that …
When did the Green Goblin learn the Superior Spider-Man’s identity? Unless my reading comprehension skills have reached an all-time low (I am getting older and more absent-minded) based on the events in Superior #28, I’m assuming that this very critical revelation was made “off camera” so to speak, or perhaps during the mysterious “31 days later” period that transpired between issues #26 and #27. I’m sure that different people feel different things about something like this, but for me, off-screen reveals are a major pet peeve. I’m still a biit bitter by the fact that No Country for Old Men received so many accolades even though (*spoiler alert*) the main character is killed off-screen in unceremonious fashion.
My frustration with this storytelling device is enhanced by the fact that for a number of issues, the Goblin has been making such a point about trying to figure out who was under the Spider-Man ask. The character had an inkling that he should know, but he was unable to address that “itch.” Why make such a point of the Goblin’s desire to get this information when he just ends up learning about it in a scene that no one bothered to script or illustrate.
Unless of course this is more misdirection – though if that’s the case, the end of Superior #28 with Anna Maria is even more confusing. Plus we do get a scene between Carlie and “Peter” that more or less spells out the fact that the Green Goblin knows who Peter is and is gunning for him and everyone he knows.
As has been my suspicions for sometime, Carlie, regardless of her “Monster” status, is going to play a critical role in the conclusion of the Superior-era. Slott gives us a cake and eat it too moment with Carlie where its confirmed that her transformation into a Menace-like Goboin-villain is a very real thing, and not some kind of mind game she’s playing in order to throw the Green Goblin off her scent. But there is naturally a catch: Carlie’s a Goblin, but she has moments where she’s able to regain control of her old Carlie self. In Superior #28, she regains control long enough to warn “Peter” that the Goblins are going to strike at him any way possible.
After “Monster” was introduced in Superior #25, I mentioned that the whole plot twist had left me feeling uncomfortable. Even with the small glimmer of hope Slott attaches to the character during this issue (she asks Otto to access Peter to try and “fix” her), I still question in this day of age in comic books, why putting all the female characters through such extreme circumstances as a result of the failings of the male hero remains the default storyline template for writers. Carlie can be a frustrating character at time, in large part because she was characterized that way by Slott and others, but making her a supervillain – even one who is fighting it – is a very uncomfortable thing for me to process.
I also was a little nonplussed by the Mary Jane’s storyline. MJ’s characterization continues to change with every issue, from damsel in distress to assertive and independent and I can’t help but think that the character I’m most familiar with lies somewhere in the middle. When the Goblin children invade her apartment, MJ’s response – to grab Peter’s web shooters and string them up, aka spank them “Mary Jane Watson style” – comes across as being reckless and out of left field.
Meanwhile Astral Peter’s subplot touches on some of the ideas that I enjoyed from Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #10 earlier this week. We get some more flashback scenes to Otto’s childhood that demonstrate just how much Peter and Doc Ock have in common. When Peter struggles with remembering that he’s Peter Parker and not Otto Octavius it demonstrates not only Astral Peter’s wacky path through Otto’s mindscape, but also this fact that the two characters may have been cut from the same cloth, save for a couple of major life events (i.e. the death of Unlce Ben) that has caused them to deviate from each other and become a hero and villain respectively. Additionally, this material just gives readers even more of a reason to identity and potentially sympathize with Otto, as how can you root against someone who has so much in common with the recognized “good guy?”
One more thing I especially appreciated during the Astral Peter sequences – and something Superior Spider-Man has consistently done well since its inception – is Camuncoli’s visual interpretation of Doc Ock’s origin from Amazing Spider-Man #3. Seeing these classic scenes with modern aesthetical sensibilities is such a treat for long-time fans of Spider-Man comics. In nearly every instance Superior has shown a flashback scene like this, the current artist is careful to not try and “outshine” the classic artist, paying homage to the works of Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr. et al. This is how you celebrate a comic’s history and successfully merge past and present.
All images from Superior Spider-Man #28: Dan Slott, Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell & Antonio Fabela