Like an old friend you were secretly happy had left the country for good only to show up on your doorstep to ask for a place to sleep for the next month, Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man returned to the Spider-Verse this week in Superior Spider-man #32.
I’d like to say I missed Otto, but that would be a a bit of a lie. However, it was refreshing to read Dan Slott (and Christos Gage) working in their comfort zone again in terms of their superhero storytelling. My dissatisfaction with how Slott and Marvel ended the Superior-era a few months ago has already been well documented, so when I heard that the series would continue with two more comics that continuity-wise, take place around Superior #19, I was curious to read which version of Spider Ock which show up this time around. The winner appeared to be the overly-bombastic, obnoxious, self absorbed Spider Ock, which for a one or two-story arc, isn’t such a bad thing, as I like to think that Superior was at its best when he was being written that way.
In terms of the flow of the story, I actually thought that Superior #32 had a little bit of trouble getting out of the gate, as Slott and Gage seemeto be focusing more on establishing the Spider-Man 2099 universe, rather than establishing a narrative to drive forward a plot about Spider Ock. The cameos, name-drops and appearances by the likes of Tyler Stone, the Stark Fujikawa Corporation, hologram helpers, Venture and Gabriel O’Hara were all fun for fans of the original Peter David series, but almost felt a bit redundant when you consider that David is rebuilding this entire universe himself in the recently relaunched 2099 series.
Similar to some of the criticisms I’ve been levying towards the “Learning to Crawl” miniseries, I still fail to see the larger purpose of all of the continuity-referencing that goes on in some of Slott’s stories, especially when the script fails to provide additional context as to why these old plot points are important enough to show up in the modern comics again. It’s a nice little tip of the hat to those who have read the original source material, but what percentage of the current Superior Spider-Man readership actually remember Miguel O’Hara’s feud with Venture in the early/mid 1990s?
Fortunately, the futuristic setting does provide Slott and Gage with ample opportunity to dial Otto’s hubris up to 11, which is quite fun and entertaining in the context of this issue. Some of Spider Ock’s sneering and arrogance is probably a little bit over-the-top, but considering this is seemingly going to be just a two-part vacation with the character, I think it’s forgivable. Bits like Otto claiming to be 100 years ahead of modern technology and thereby finding the 2099 universe to be primitive in nature were standout sequences in this book.
Superior #32 picks up in the pace department once Otto starts timeline jumping after discovering that an evil force of some sort is picking off various Spider-Men from around the multiverse. However, we’re only in the prologue to “Spider-Verse” and I’m already having some questions about the “rules” of the universe that Slott and Gage are establishing. I’m admittedly not a Doctor Who person (and Slott very much is), so maybe I’m just being dense about a time-traveling/multiverse trope that others can just accept without question. But while I certainly understand how “Spider-Verse” will incorporate alternative Spider-Men from other timelines (i.e., Spider-Man Noir, 2099, House of M, or even a What If? version of Spider-Man since that series was set on a different timeline), I don’t grasp how Spider-Man showing up in an alternative costume (i.e., the Iron Spider or Spider Armor version that are killed off in this issue) can be appearing in this story. Aren’t those alternative costume versions all a part of the “mainstream” 616 timeline? And if those characters get killed off, shouldn’t that mean that the contemporary Peter Parker Spider-Man we are currently reading about in the pages of ASM should be dead too?
Just writing those last few sentence out has given me a bit of a headache. And I think that’s my biggest fear of all as it pertains to “Spider-Verse.” While it’s difficult to ask for such a fantastical plot to be rooted in any kind of reality, there at least needs to be some consistency in order to achieve the desire level of suspended disbelief. From my vantage, a representation of Earth-616 Peter wearing his black costume or stealth suit does not constitute a new timeline – unless the past is considered a timeline in this universe that also happens to be disconnected from the present timeline. And my simple-minded perspective just can’t accept the reality that something that happens to a Spider-Man of the past doesn’t affect his present form.
Again… a headache.
UPDATE: As many of you have pointed out to me in the comments and on Twitter, the “alternative costume” Spider-Men are not from a past-timeline but also from an alternative timeline in the multiverse. That still doesn’t change some of my general reservations about the lack of “rules” with “Spider-Verse’s” construction (to this point). This is obviously just my opinion but I think the invention of new timelines without any semblance of explanation or context could eventually reduce the flow of “Spider-Verse” to a state of lawlessness filled with deus ex machina moments and unfair plot twists based on the whims of the creators. Again, I understand that in a highly fictional superhero story, I can’t really expect much in terms of realism, but I think mining content from known alternative timelines will help maintain the story’s structure and keep it more streamlined. One of the biggest flaw’s with the “Clone Saga” in the 90s was when Marvel kept introducing new twist, after new twist, disregarding any sense of rules and order. As a result, once fans turned on the story, Marvel had to double reverse its reveals and render 3 1/2 years worth of story moot.
Anyway, now that I’ve traveled way off the reservation in terms of my thoughts on Superior #32, I do like the idea of Spider Ock trying to assemble a team of alternative timeline Spider-Men in his fight against this dangerous mystical force because it strikes me as something Otto Octavius would do (though, again, I need my Cliffs Notes to keep up with some of the characters appearing here, which means it’s going to be even worse for more casual readers). Otto has almost always been a strength in numbers guy (hello, Sinister Six), even if he ultimately believes his own way of doing things is the superior one. The fact that this issue takes place in the past does raise some possible red flags about how “Spider-Verse” is ultimately going to play out in terms of current continuity, but we have another issue of Superior, and a bunch of miniseries dropping next month that should hopefully resolve that possible conflict.