Book of the Week: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1
With the passage of Christmas and the end of 2012, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN seemingly came to an end with a 700th issue which had been promoted for roughly half a year. The promotional gears within Marvel's editorial board played it to the hilt, claiming that during Spider-Man's 50th anniversary year, his flagship title would come to an end and that Peter Parker would totally die for good. Naturally, not only did writer Dan Slott aid in this with his own interviews to various websites, when spoken to at the New York Comic Con back in October, a lot of it was likely his idea. To replace ASM in 2013 would be a superior Spider-Man called...SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN. And on this day it came, drawn by Ryan Stegman (SCARLET SPIDER, FANTASTIC FOUR), colored by Edgar Delgado, and sporting a collective eight different covers in total. It follows right on the heels of ASM #700 to the point that it easily could have been issue #701; and if one follows even recent Marvel Comics history, the odds of all of these SS-M issues being counted as potential ASM issues to reach another triple digit double priced issue is very high. However, once one attempts to subtract the comics itself from the promotional machinations, how does it read?
The supreme irony is that Slott himself has revealed his hand in regards to the fate of the "true" Peter Parker very quickly. The climax of this week's debut issue of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN all but paves the cement for the path for the return of the "true" Spider-Man; all which has to be determined are the details and time. If one considers this a chapter from the story which began with the last three issues of ASM, this is only the fourth issue of a long reaching arc; other writers could and would have stretched things another issue or two in terms of revelations. It is the promotional engine fueled by Slott and the editors which have sparked some of the fury of fans online and attempting to make them forget recent Marvel history - that a "reboot" of a major title with a new number one is as common as the seasons. After all, Johnny Storm was seemingly killed off during the 50th anniversary of FANTASTIC FOUR, only to return the next year. Both Thor and James Barnes were seemingly killed off in major events yet returned in months. Such manufactured frenzies are part of the advertising game to pump up sales, but it remains a strategy which risks being worn thin and promotes cynicism in the market.
Regardless, this issue picks up where ASM #700 left off; Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus has successfully swapped minds with that of his enemy Spider-Man to cheat death and finally gain revenge on the hero. The major twist was that it actually worked; Peter's mind/soul seemingly perished with Ock's mangled form, leaving Dr. Octopus as the new Spider-Man. However, a bombardment of Peter's memories and motivations in a last ditch attempt to survive inspired Ock enough to avoid being a tyrant and instead attempt to be a "better" Spider-Man. To this end Ock-as-Spidey has redesigned the costume, dove head first into inventing new gadgets at Horizon Labs and has full intentions to get hot and heavy with Mary Jane Watson. This issue is chock full of action as a new version of the Sinister Six arise, which naturally sparks Ock's personal ire. At the end of the issue, we learn that Peter's "soul" is somehow still tethered to his body and is able to prevent Ock from performing more intense acts (like murder), vowing to reclaim his life. One could imagine Dr. Strange could fix this in an hour, but that's likely too simple. Highlights include the currently incarnation of the Six, which include an oft neglected Lee/Ditko creation in the Living Brain, and some well paced and exciting battle scenes. Slott does wrest some decent perspective for Ock; while he has succeeded, he is frustrated that he is now merely improving the legacy of his "vanquished" adversary. The dialogue is interesting and the art by Stegman is as strong as ever - if one enjoys his scratchy, mid-90's style.
There are some hiccups, as there were with ASM #700. Naturally, while Ock has full access to Spider-Man's memories, powers, and skills, he doesn't act much like Peter Parker. Suddenly, "Peter Parker" is dressing like DR. HORRIBLE at work and is acting like a passive aggressive jerk to MJ, snapping at her using stock super-villain dialogue fresh out of a James Bond flick while switching to passively imbibing in alcohol. While one can perhaps forgive Peter's super genius friends at Horizon being fooled, someone who knows him as well as MJ should at least be suspicious by now. In contrast, Invisible Woman has been capable of figuring out when her husband is being mind controlled or impersonated within less than an issue - although in fairness that's happened far more to Reed Richards than Peter Parker. While some outside intervention is inevitable, it seems the detail is how soon things start to click into place, which can seem like a stalling tactic. Much as in the last issue, the angle of finally reuniting Peter with MJ for the first time in five years, only for Peter to be possessed by Doc Ock smirking with a date rapist's glee when thinking about MJ, is salt in the wound for some fans.
The bottom line is that this is a very entertaining arc of Spider-Man. However, that is all it is, and Slott's story itself even makes little attempt to hide this for longer than a few weeks. It is the promotion which has artificially pumped this story up. While it may be an obligation to sell comics, it is a shame, because without the pumped up fan rage in some corners, this is a perfectly entertaining arc. One only hopes it isn't prolonged to absurd lengths just for extra dollars, and reached at least a somewhat organic conclusion.
SCARLET SPIDER #13: A new year brings about a new story line for what has quickly become an exceptional spin off of ASM, courtesy of writer Chris Yost. Regular artist Khoi Pham is back on pencil art with two tinkers and a whopping three colorists in tow. This arc springs forth from issue #12.1 that it may as well have been a regular issue. Since the start of the series, the mysterious runaway youth Aracely that Kaine has liberated from a human trafficking ring (and defended from the deranged Salamander) has offered more questions than answers. She has no memory yet potent psychic powers, and is involved in Houston's seedy organized crime. This issue offers clues which tie into the Aztec pantheon of gods as well as dusts off more obscure WEB OF SPIDER-MAN villains in the Lobos family. During the Gerry Conway/Sal Buscema run of WEB OF SPIDER-MAN during the late 1980's, the Lobos Brothers emerged as Latin mobsters who also had werewolf like mutations. One of them perished back then, but now the surviving brother as well as a similarly powered sister are hot on Aracely's heels, with Scarlet Spider finding himself in the middle of their hunt. Rather than invent some disposable villains, Yost is often choosing to enhance ones that were neglected for years, if not decades, which is a shrewd move. This book continues to be a highlight in Marvel's line, offering a uniquely cynical and ambiguous anti-hero in a setting which isn't the same as NYC. The fact that this book has survived 2012 when many titles haven't is a blessing for wary Marvel readers, and one hopes it continues.
SECRET AVENGERS #36: This is not only the penultimate issue of Rick Remender's run on this title as solo writer, it is also the penultimate issue of this volume of what was once Marvel's fourth Avengers title. It will relaunched next month with a fresh #1 and former writer Nick Spencer at the helm. Remender has been on this title for roughly 16 issues worth of material, and barring a diversion during AVENGERS VS. X-MEN has stayed the course on one story line. A race of artificial life-forms called the Descendants see themselves as the future of humanity and seek to transform the rest of mankind into beings like them - feeling if they do not, they'll be attacked and wiped out as the mutants (almost) were. Evolved from Super-Adaptoids and aided in their creation by the father of team member Captain Britain, they have now launched their attack on humanity, beginning in NYC as per obligation. Half the team have acquired a MacGuffin needed to stop the Descendants, although it risks killing anyone who has been transformed into one unwillingly. The other half of the team struggle to breach the core of the invasion, and have to fight former team member Eric O'Grady, who has been transformed into the Black Ant. The art is by Matteo Scalera with colors by Matthew Wilson and as this is an action issue, that art gets to shine. In theory the story plays with elements as to what is considered true life, even if Remender does indulge in a lot of satisfying superhero action. Despite being launched by Ed Brubaker, Remender has been the best writer this series has known, and it will be a shame to see it end. Hopefully, this conclusion will be as good as his final issue of VENOM was.
Additional Good Reads: Action Comics #16 (DC Comics) & Guarding the Globe (Image Comics)
Read last week's reviews here!