Sometimes, a big part of the fun in reading new comic books is that feeling of unexpected surprise when you open up an issue that you had little to no attachment to and you find yourself so emotionally satisfied by its contents. In the case of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up over the past few months, I’ve been quite upfront about the fact that I have truly enjoyed Kevin Shinick as a writer on the series. I’ve found his patter and sense of humor to be a needed boost for a title that I probably would have dropped months earlier if not for the fact that I find myself more and more becoming one of “those fans” who needs to buy every relevant Spider-Man book on the marketplace.
But even with my overwhelmingly positive feelings about the Shinick-era, I was still surprised by just how satisfying and conclusive his script for Superior Team-Up #12 ended up being. In fact, I go as far as to say that Superior Team-Up #12 marked the emotional send off for Otto Ocatvaius that I was almost certain would take place within the confines of Superior Spider-Man #31 (which, as I’ve noted, seemed to be more concerned with racing to the finish line than to bring any sense of sincere closure to anything).
In Superior Team-Up #12, Shinick – with a major boost from Ron Frenz, Marco Checchetto, Sal Buscema and the entire art team – delivers a story that is dramatic and heart breaking, while also providing a clear and concise explanation for some of Otto’s motivations and incentives. To be totally frank, I have no idea why Marvel just didn’t release this story as a precursor to “Goblin Nation” in February, because the creative team here sets up the blood feud between Doc Ock and Norman Osborn/Green Goblin so perfectly, it would have made their eventual confrontation in Superior #27 so much better.
I understand that there are elements to this story that could potentially spoil some of the events of the past two issues of Superior, but that’s why I’m just the critic who writes on a blog and everyone else involved with making this comic book are the professionals who get paid to make some tough editorial decisions. When a comic book directly feeds into a major arc your main title is publishing in a way that gives the whole narrative a sense of context and consequences, you have to find a way to make it work as a prologue of sorts. Otherwise, what could potentially be a very worthwhile and noteworthy story gets dismissed as a bit of an afterthought. How many people even went out and purchased Superior Team-Up #12 this week considering last week’s Superior #31 was marketed as a “finale” and next week’s Amazing Spider-Man #1 relaunch has been garnering so many headlines for its
overabundance of variants preorders?
Part of what makes Shinick’s script so effective is how Otto’s inner monologue reads as being true to both Doctor Octopus and the Superior Spider-Man. Even going back to the very beginning of the Superior status quo, I’ve always been a bit incredulous of this idea that a lifelong villain like Otto would somehow convince himself that conquering and defeating Peter wasn’t enough and that instead he wanted to become Spider-Man and prove himself as Spidey’s superior. As such, Spider Ock was a much trickier character to write than I think most people give credit because Otto as Spider-Man projects a sense of entitlement and villainy, while also exuding the characteristics of someone who wants to be accepted as good and heroic.
The way Shinick is able to marry these nuanced premises together is by making Otto so sympathetic and likeable as Doctor Octopus. The scenes involving Otto’s lament of his lost love Mary Alice and how she was brutally murdered by the sadistic Green Goblin are the kinds of character beats that should have ben established for Spider Ock at the very beginning of this arc in 2013. It’s that old “show vs tell” thing they tell writers about in school all the time – it’s better to show people what’s going on in your written world through the use of strong characters and descriptors than to just tell them.
For example, the double page spread that shows Otto attacking the Green Goblin at the hospital is just an excellent marriage of art and text that creates an emotionally fraught sequence that even gets my heart pounding a bit looking at it again as I write this. Frenz’s art here is just terrific (and do we have an homage to the cover of ASM #339 on this page?) and Shinick’s repetition of the phrase “and strike” manages to really drive home the magnitude and hysteria of Otto’s grief.
The pure, unbridled hate between Otto and Norman is ratcheted up another level when Doc Ock goes to Osborn’s secret lair looking to physically end things, only to discover that his adversary is “in another country.” Norman’s cold dismissal of Otto – “while this tragedy will forever shape your life … There’s a chance I won’t even remember it” – is a total gut punch line that is brilliantly crafted by Shinick. This is Norman at his Lex Luthorian best, a phase in his supervillain life that some people can take or leave but I’ve come around to enjoy because who doesn’t love a bad guy with both incredible madness and strong convictions?
And again, this is another instance where a scene from Superior Spider-Man #12 would have provided the events of “Goblin Nation” with so much more gravity and despair if this comic was released as a prologue rather than a coda. There are parallels between Anna Maria Marconi and Mary Alice throughout Superior Team-Up #12, and for one of our final images – a terrific “then and now” spread from Frenz and Checchetto – we see how Norman’s evil managed to dramatically impact both of Otto’s true loves. Seeing those two visuals side-by-side made it all sink home for me. Part of Otto’s desperation in Superior Spider-Man wasn’t just that Osborn had kidnapped Anna Maria but it was that this man had killed a love of his once before. It makes his decision to just relent and give his body back to Peter all the more sensible because Norman defeated him via his heart once before.
On first blush, Superior Spider-Man #12’s final two visuals might come across as if they were just tacked on at the end, but I actually found the combination of art and text on both to be much more conclusive and befitting of the ending of a status quo shift as dramatic as Superior’s.
First, there’s the ghost of Otto gazing at a memory of Anna Maria. It’s a bittersweet and poignant image that allows the reader to recognize that even though Otto Octavius is not a very nice person, there is inherent good and kindness there. Similar to how the “A” story in Superior #31 ends, the visual conveys that someone did in fact love Otto, but having this full page spread (from Frenz) makes this idea come across as being more sentimental and thoughtful when compared to the rushed, ASM #50 homage we got from Giuseppe Camuncoli last week.
Peter’s narration – “the real Peter Parker” – is a tad heavy handed, but also manages to bring up a couple of other points about Otto that I think got lost in the disappointment of Superior #31. I didn’t even consider that in creating a cure for Goblin Serum, Otto did in fact finally score a victory against Norman Osborn. And in a parallel to the core of Spider-Man comics during the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko hey-day, Otto “did it through science.”
Then there’s the final, final image of the comic, courtesy of Checchetto. It’s just Peter swinging through the skyline talking about the uphill journey he has in front of him. There are “a lot of consequences that need to be faced,” but Shinick’s script ends on a note of optimism: no matter what the road ahead may bring, Peter can at least look in the mirror and see himself for who he truly is for the first time in a long time.
It’s the kind of fade to black, close the book, last one out turn the lights off in the bar moment that Superior #31 desperately needed. There’s nothing necessarily groundbreaking happening on these two pages, and yet I feel absolutely fulfilled by what I just read. One chapter is ending and another is just beginning.