“This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang, but with a whimper.”
For fans that were surprised by my effusiveness for Superior Spider-Man #30 in my last write-up, you’re probably going to think I’m either a hypocrite or schizophrenic for what I’m about to write.
What I praised about Superior #30 is how by bringing back Peter Parker and eliminating Doctor Octopus an issue earlier than expected, Dan Slott and Co. reintroduced a status quo that I was once again interested in reading about. In the weeks leading up to Superior #30, I was clearly getting anxious about the direction of Spider-Man, with storylines about amnesia and Otto still maintaining control over Spidey’s body being teased, and in some cases, overtly suggested. I’ve been upfront about my total lack of desire in reading these stories, so I was ready to greet Peter’s unencumbered return with flowers and candy, regardless of the clumsy way he was brought back.
But the events of Superior #31 have put things into a broader context, and I think if I had the luxury of reading the last two issues of this series one after the other, before formulating some semblance of a coherent opinion, my post from two weeks ago would have read much differently.
Let’s be totally clear about something – I do not “hate” Superior Spider-Man #31, nor do I think it’s an abjectly “bad” comic. Yet, I cannot deny that I’m grossly disappointed by how Slott went about wrapping up the most unpredictable and controversial Spider-Man story since the “Clone Saga.”
Superior Spider-Man #31 is the comic book equivalent of an Olympic Gold Medal-winning high diver belly-flopping into the pool. It lacks the grace, style and intrigue befitting a storyline that I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into defending and praising. Even when I wasn’t totally on board with something Slott was doing (like the magical “31 memories” routine, or the over-abundance of story over character in most issues), I chose to see the positive because I had trust that once this thing ended, I was going to be left with my jaw on the floor. Instead, I’m shrugging my shoulders almost apathetically and wondering if Slott truly has the juice to carry the flagship Spider-Man book for as long as Marvel continues to give him full reign over this fiefdom.
Perhaps the greatest flaw of Superior #31 is the way it wipes out all of the heart and consequences from the previous 30 issues almost as coldly and efficiently as Otto Octavius giving himself a “Parker-echtomy.” When Otto faded into the abyss last issue, tear in his eye, I wasn’t too upset because I figured Slott had one more surprise up his sleeve and the “Superior” Spider-Man would find a way into the final issue of his own series. Outside of the final panel of Superior #31’s first story, Otto’s presence is hardly felt, and even the emotional resonance of that image – a callback to “Spider-Man No More” – doesn’t land because of the clunky, heavy-handed text alongside it.
Beyond a lack of Otto, Superior #31 is filled with moments that are just begging to be defining moments that are instead blown through like a sprinter not realizing he’s in a relay race by forgetting to hand off the baton. Characters such as Carlie Cooper, Miguel O’Hara and the Avengers, are way too accepting and/or indifferent to the fact that Spider-Man is telling people that the reason why he’s been acting so weird the past few months is because his sworn enemy Doctor Octopus has switched brains with him. Why aren’t any of these characters acting sympathetic, or incredulous in the face of these claims? Even in the world of superhero comics, it’s pretty outrageous to have your mind switched with a supervillain for an extended period of time. And while we’re at it, why does Peter seem so nonchalant about it – almost like he’s systematically working through his rolodex to invite his colleagues to the company picnic this weekend.
Marvel has given us a series that has wreaked havoc on the life of one of its few uncompromised superheroes the past 16 months, and rather than give us a story of struggle and redemption, it has just hit the reset button and told us to ignore everything we’ve just been reading about. Outside of breaking the heart of Anna Maria Marconi, I cannot think of a single, legitimate consequence the Superior-era has wrought upon Spider-Man/Peter. If Marvel’s plan is to wait and address Otto’s mess once Amazing Spider-Man relaunches in two weeks, I think that’s a major creative misstep. At least use some of the extra-sized Superior #31 to let fans know that there’s trouble brewing.
As for the mystery of the Green Goblin, while this is something I admittedly lost interest in more than a month ago because of the way it was dragged out, a part of me was still holding out for Slott to do something creative with the reveal. Instead we get Norman – with a catch, as I suspected, though with a fairly trite and uninteresting one: he’s been changing his face so he looks like different people. A HA! I guess…
Sorry Marvel, but that’s just not all that compelling. And no, teasing Liz Allan and Normie Osborn as being somehow complicit in Norman’s master plan isn’t enough bait for me either. Superior #31 leaves us in a place where the Goblin is just waiting to strike again (and Spidey and Miguel casually let him get away to boot). The way things are going these days in the world of Marvel, I guess we’ll see his comeback around the time Chris Cooper dons the Goblin mask in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 or Sinister Six movies.
The final battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin features a number of bizarre moments. We get another callback to the “Death of Gwen Stacy” which is to be expected, but there’s one moment where Peter goes after the Goblin, leaving Anna Maria behind. When the Goblin calls Spidey out for this, Peter responds that Anna Maria is capable of taking care of herself … wha, wha what? This is coming from the man who was grandstanding with Otto last issue about always thinking quickly and doing the right thing? How many times in the span of a few months can Peter’s core characteristics be altered?
I did find the Christos Gage-written “B” story in this issue to be far more interesting than the main tale. Similar to what he pulled off in the last Superior Annual, Gage gives us some interesting character moments involving Mary Jane and J. Jonah Jameson. Those who are still holding out hope that Peter and MJ will one day get back together should probably just give up and pine for something else after what Gage wrote, but I did find Mary Jane’s reaction to Peter’s “reveal” about Otto to be the most interesting and realistic when compared to everyone else in this story.
Jonah, meanwhile, is the one character in this entire arc who truly has to deal with consequences. His failure to oversee the Alchemax-created Spider Slayers has led to his resignation as Mayor of New York City. Where Jonah goes next is anybody’s guess, so at least there’s some potential for some different kinds of JJJ stories now that he’s been untethered from his political office.
As much as I love the character, the potential of new JJJ is not a game-changer for me. Instead, I keep finding myself fixated on the fact that a arc I was ready to love and embrace and declare one of the “best ever” was instead just “okay.” The end of Superior was a letdown of great magnitude and one I suspect will have a profound impact on how I view and anticipate the next year or so of Spider-Man comics. Rather than getting excited or anxious when I read solicitations promising the return of “you know who” in ASM, or getting caught up in the hype of “every Spider-Man ever” in November’s Spider-Verse event, I’m resigned to being cautious and cynical.
What’s it going to take to get a Spider-Man story that has a perfectly executed beginning, middle AND end, that also manages to serve the fans and the front office? I could have sworn that Superior Spider-Man was going to be that story; it was a major risk for Marvel to introduce at the time, but along the way Slott and his creative team made the concept endearing to both new and old fans. Little did I know that the one big thing missing from Superior this whole time was a clear exit strategy.