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Picks of comic book week: Beware the Green Goblin's terrible mustache

The end of an era, and not a moment too soon.
The end of an era, and not a moment too soon.
Midtown Comics

Superior Spider-Man #31

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Book of the week: Superior Spider-Man #31

Fifteen and a half months and thirty-one issues later, the era of Dr. Octopus possessing the body of Spider-Man finally comes to an end after beginning, technically, at the end of "Amazing Spider-Man #700" back in December 2012. Although it was a resolution which was easy to figure once "Amazing Spider-Man 2" was slated to come out on the first week of May 2014, it was officially announced several months ago once solicitations for this month hit the web. This long experiment at a long term "mind-swap" plot was brought to a finale by longtime Spidey writer Dan Slott and sporadic co-writer Christos Gage, who has taken on scripting duties for this final arc, "Goblin War". Providing the art for this climax is Giuseppe Camuncoli, colorist Antonio Fabela and two inkers in tow, at least for the main story of this final, over sized issue.

Picking up from the previous issue, Green Goblin has exploited the brutal, short-sighted and ego maniacal tenure of Dr. Octopus as the "superior" Spider-Man to gather his "Goblin army", hack all of the web-slinger's and mayor J. Jonah Jameson's gadgets and waged war on New York City to create his own "nation" of Goblin mania. Ock found himself outwitted and completely overwhelmed just as the "spirit" of Peter Parker, who had survived their last psychic struggle for control and had now returned with twice as much vigor, rose to the fore. Now with full control of his own body again, the one true Spider-Man swings around the city fixing wrongs as quickly as Santa Claus does at the end of "Nightmare Before Christmas". He saves the time-traveling Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099 from Spider-Slayer robots, rescues some random civilians as well as the Avengers, and then swings into a final showdown with the Green Goblin to save the life of Anna Maria - the woman who Doc Ock loved (within Peter's body and usurping his identity, of course). The climatic battle has all of the wisecracks and dramatic beats that long term fans could expect, as even the Goblin himself notices that the "real" web-slinger is back. Unfortunately, the longer term plot involving the ominous rise of the Alchemax corporation remains as it seems that most of the Osborn family has united with Ty Stone and Norman Osborn himself for this scheme. Now, Peter Parker is left to rebuild his life from the mess that Otto has made of it. A back-up story written by Gage and drawn by Will Sliney (with Edgar Delgado's colors) starts the ball rolling on just that with a meeting with May, J.J. Sr., Mary Jane, and retiring mayor J. Jonah Jameson.

To be blunt, this is a mixed bag finale to a mixed bag series. There are some incredible highlights besides the new found thrill of seeing Peter Parker back in action as Spider-Man in his own series for the first time in almost a year and a half. Camuncoli's artwork is up to its' usual flair, excelling at the fast paced action scenes and yet another showdown between Spider-Man and Green Goblin. Considering that Norman Osborn has become a more general "Marvel Universe" threat since the end of "Civil War" in 2007, it felt especially energizing to see him once again serving as Spider-Man's foremost arch-nemesis in one of the biggest stories in years. The fact that this thrill was the result of a ploy similar to "New Coke" in the 1980's is irrelevant. The addition of Miguel has been a boon to the supporting cast, even if it also was a cynical ploy for another spin-off to come. The overall plot involving Osborn and the rise of the biggest corporate menace of the 2099 era is a fascinating one, and one can easily find ore for the next several months of "Amazing Spider-Man" stories from here. As the finale to "Goblin War", it's as good a finish as one could expect.

However, the take away from the entire run of "Superior Spider-Man" from January 2013 until now has not been as positive, and some longer term editorial issues raise their heads. In previous issues' letter columns it was acknowledged by the editor and/or the associate editor that Dan Slott's story was lengthened from its' original plan, and this last arc has made it seem very apparent. The gimmick of this series was taking a tired story trope such as "the mind swap plot" and playing with it in a serious manner for a long term arc for a major superhero. That is ambitious and for the first few months of the era it excelled. Unfortunately, the longer this story lasted, the more holes in logic required for it to do so began to emerge. It was a status quo which relied exclusively on the people who knew Peter Parker the best being the most clueless as to how he should act, especially in a universe which has clones, shape-shifting aliens (who launched a "Secret Invasion" not long ago) or mutants, robots, or even villains like the Chameleon who have impersonated Peter Parker before. "Superior Spider-Man" would have worked better had it been willing to take its' premise to a conclusion where Spidey-Ock had to flee from Peter's friends and family for fear of being uncovered, yet could have remained an anti-hero as they wouldn't have wanted to undo Peter's identity or risk losing his body entirely. Instead, "Superior Spider-Man" relied on Mary Jane, Aunt May, and the Avengers allowing a Spider-Man who often acted as obviously evil as Skeletor run wild for too long. The fact that this entire shebang could be brought to a head in about four issues merely enforces the idea that this premise may have been tight at twelve or fifteen issues, but at thirty-one was stretched far enough to snap.

This very issue also continues some lapses in the characterization to some well known figures. Liz Allen, Harry Osborn's ex wife and the mother of Norman's grandson "Normie" was once someone who feared the effect of the Goblin legacy over her son and family. In this issue, she's a willing accomplice to Norman's plan of a citywide bombing campaign along with mass murder and organized crime. The larger affront is in the back-up tale which essentially continues to justify the "One More Day" story from 2007 which did away with the Parker marriage via a deal with Mephisto. Mary Jane goes on a speech about how she can't handle the ups and downs of Peter's life and even being the ex of Spider-Man is too much weight to bare, and that it's true to her character to flee from it. Without mentioning that this flies in the face of no end of stories from 1987-2007 where MJ proved to be just as strong a partner to her superhero husband as DC Comics' Lois Lane was to her's, it merely reads as more justification for an editorial agenda disguised as character development. The fact that Slott and Gage seem to feel the need to craft scenes like this at least once a year for some time seems to fly in the face of the idea that ending that marriage was something the fans "demanded" and that it strengthened the Spider-Man franchise. Considering that the pair were wed in 1987 and MJ was featured as Spidey's main squeeze in two animated series and all three of Sam Raimi's films, not to mention no end of video games, a reader would literally have to be in their mid thirties to early forties to actually remember a time when MJ was not the center of Peter's romantic world. Is it still wise to push an editorial agenda onto readers when it may only resonate with readers who are along the older of the age spectrum? Often times when characters in a fictional narrative have to be written differently due to a new editorial agenda, it is often a sign that the agenda didn't serve the needs of the narrative properly.

The hideous irony of the post "One More Day" era is that it didn't even fix the "problem" that it intended to. The justification was that it wasn't in keeping with Peter's "every man" appeal to be "married to a super model" and not be able to dazzle readers with new romantic subplots. Yet all undoing the marriage did was issue the signal that Marvel Comics would not allow any heroine to get steady with Spider-Man for long if a twenty year marriage could be erased within one story line that involved a deal with the devil. What hope do Carlie Cooper or even Carol Danvers have if a far longer lasting love is no longer allowed to be? Dan Slott's solo run on the core Spider-Man title since the "Big Time" era began in November 2011 has excelled despite this hindrance due to having an imaginative mind for plots as well as capturing the voice of his lead well. "Superior Spider-Man" once stretched beyond its' natural length began to collapse under the weight of its' own plot as well as failing to capture the characters properly, caused in some part by the long term editorial agenda of the past six years. Despite its' highs and strengths, it was easily the most problematic run of Spider-Man comics that Slott oversaw since 2011 even though it did have a mostly satisfying finale.

"Amazing Spider-Man" relaunches at the end of the month with a fresh number one issue and what promises to be a new agenda. With Slott being stretched to the limits of his schedule by writing "Silver Surfer", Christos Gage may become a more regular co-writer, which could be to the benefit of all. The pair often do their best work together, as "Avengers: the Initiative" can attest. Now that all romantic subplots are neutered due to a short sighted editorial agenda, the strength of the web-head's book relies on its' lead and its' plots with the best rogues gallery in comics more than ever. "Superior Spider-Man" was an ambitious experiment that ended well but over the long haul was less than the sum of its' parts. Hopefully, the new year of "Amazing Spider-Man" brings Slott's tenure on this franchise to its' height once more.

Honorable mention:

Ms. Marvel #3: The "Captain Marvel" spin off which has taken ComiXology by storm continues along with the third installment of the five part origin sequence for its' star, Kamala Khan. Having gained shape-shifting powers due to a leftover subplot from "Infinity", Khan remains trapped between the paths of her devoted Muslim family and the appeals of the life of a teenager in Jersey City. A fan of Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel, Khan took her form to save some friends from a drunken disaster after a party last issue. Now, she continues to try to come to grips with her new powers as well as a life which seems to be falling apart around her. Although her experience with her powers continues to grow, she may have bitten off more than she can chew trying to save her friend Bruno from his gun-toting brother. The artwork by Adrian Alphona and colorist Ian Herring is absolutely dazzling and brings an already lush and deep script by G. Willow Wilson to life in ways one can't imagine another art team doing. Wilson seems to be writing from the heart in capturing the essence of what it feels like to be Kamala being torn between two aspects of life, with a power which acts as a representation of it. If the series has any flaws, it is that a five part origin may have been a bit long, as the inevitable revelation of her true "identity" as "her" version of Ms. Marvel has been ruined by every cover thus far, and the reader is expecting it any time. It is no longer 2002 and not every Marvel Comics origin story needs to be five or more issues for a trade collection anymore. Despite that, and especially for its' low cover price, "Ms. Marvel" has been yet another treat in a very successful launch of new or rebooted titles this quarter.