Book of the Week: Superior Spider-Man #2
Now that 2012 is behind us, it is official; Marvel Comics' strategy with "Amazing Spider-Man" has at least borne short term fruit. Sales for the so-called "final" 700th issue topped the month for December 2012 with almost 201,000 copies shipped and some $1.6 million in sales; aided no doubt by a ton of variant covers and a $7.99 cover price. The previous issue sold at a more realistic level within the top 15 sellers list at nearly 75,000 copies sold. While not selling anywhere near the peaks of the 1990's (as few comics do nowadays), "Amazing Spider-Man" has been one of Marvel's most consistent sellers for the past five years; every issue on average sells between 52,000 to 59,000 copies either twice or thrice a month since January 2008. Stories which receive extra promotion can spike well above this, as well as "event" style stories or flukes such as the "Obama Spidey" issue. Why summarize all this? Because now it is 2013, and Marvel has chosen to roll the dice with replacing ASM with "Superior Spider-Man" and promoting a storyline which is intentionally controversial. A short term spike is expected, but one would hope that sales remain at the levels that ASM maintained for years.
"Big Time" era writer Dan Slott and former "Scarlet Spider" artist Ryan Stegman launched this replacement title for the iconic ASM earlier in the month, and it will be interesting to see how well it stacks up and sells over time as 2013 wares on. Despite the over the top and at times needlessly divisive promotional strategy, the story actually laid its cards on the table with extraordinary speed. Dr. Octopus has still managed to cheat death by successfully swapping minds with Spider-Man, and is now enjoying his youth, powers, and job to attempt to become a "better" Spider-Man. However, the "soul" or "will" of Peter Parker is not dead, but somehow exists alongside his body-stealing nemesis as a "friendly ghost" attempting to steer "Spidey-Ock" on more noble paths even if his existence is unknown. This second issue focuses on another controversial subject; "Spidey-Ock" having an obsession with sleeping with Peter's ex-fiance/wife, MJ. This naturally appalls Peter the friendly ghost, but he is seemingly powerless to stop it. May the best hope for a resolution for this bizarre situation be in another ex of Peter's, police officer and CSI Carlie Cooper? And is the Vulture planning a new scheme behind the scenes?
This issue has less action and a bit more comedy than the last, with Peter quickly seeming to state the obvious; the absurdity of absolutely nobody in his cast from MJ to the geniuses at Horizon Lab noticing or being suspicious that his "body" is suddenly talking and dressing like a super villain (or at least a Stan Lee written character from 1965). Naturally longtime Spider-critic J. Jonah Jameson approves of this "superior" Spider-Man before news cameras, and the Living Brain is now the assistant of "Spidey-Ock" (who still dresses like Dr. Horrible at work). While Peter is appalled at what Ock desires to do to his cast, there are moments where Ock's brilliance and personality do shine through, such as with new gadgets or in breaking down a relationship to an equation. The art by Stegman with colors by Edgar Delgado may remind some of early 90's Image Comics house style, but it does work well for setting up the tone for this "new" Spider-Man. The Vulture subplot picks up from one of Slott's memorable arcs of ASM from 2011-2012 and every issue does offer a satisfying chunk of story without feeling like things are dragging. In fact the only quibble is the "moral" that perennial danger is why Spider-Man and MJ can never work long term, which is a lie; they worked together for a generation before the editorial team of 2007 decided to undo it for the sake of "younger" fans or nostalgia.
The balance is that this may be an interesting story arc, but it has all the trappings of just that - a story arc. Not something which can or should be drug out longer than intended for the sake of sales or promotional schemes. Yet that is the risk this title is taking, and it will be interesting to see whether that is a web it can maneuver from.
Batman Beyond Unlimited #12: DC Comics' anthology title which reprints digital-first material relating to their "Beyond" universe based on the cartoon from the turn of the century continues to impress and excite with reliable reads. The lead strip this month is the "Superman Beyond" one by J.T. Krul and Howard Porter; often the weakest link of the anthology, this current tale is better than the last. Much as interfering in the affairs and regimes of other countries can have unintended circumstances despite good intentions, it seems much the same occurs in regards to planets and Superman's intergalactic feats. Liberating a race of slaves from a world decades ago has now returned to haunt Superman as Lobo is sent to apprehend him for trial, and not even Martian Manhunter can save him. The tale is smarter than the last and may genuinely impress some. An additional highlight is the "Origin of Micron" strip by writers Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen with surprising art by "Saga" superstar Fiona Staples. The yarn is good enough but it is the unexpected yet brilliant art by Staples which is the most pleasant surprise. The final strip of the tome is the titular "Batman Beyond" one by Adam Beechen and artist Norm Breyfogle which continues the "10,000 Clowns" arc. While Batman/Terry McGinnis fights for his life against the insane Joker King (brother of his on and off again girlfriend, Dana), the middle aged Dick Grayson joins the fight as Max finds herself in the clutches of a hacker terrorist group. Terry's near death narration easily sums up the strip and provides ample focus into the mind of the character as he enters his most desperate struggle as a hero. Batman Beyond continues to be the best thing Beechen has written for DC and this continues to be an entertaining anthology well worth the four dollar cover price.
Invincible #100: Series co-creator and writer Robert Kirkman and longtime artist Ryan Ottley conclude their three part "Death of Everyone" arc which leads into the series' centennial issue nearly a decade in the making. The arc and in fact this issue appears to be a bit of satire on the "hype of death" that exists in comics, although it is something Kirkman himself feels the need to explain in his letter column; a bad sign. The previous issue needlessly drug things out by making every page a splash panel - perhaps in parody or homage to the final "Death of Superman" issue doing so. In this issue, Mark Grayson is seemingly killed by his deranged ally Dinosaurus for roughly eleven issues. It turns out to have been a massive gambit to fool the world and offer Mark a clean slate from responsibility, and in a rarity for the series, he actually talks one of his enemies into surrendering. What follows is a bit of a return to an old status quo and another soap opera revelation regarding Atom Eve in the final page. As always Ottley's art is outstanding, and John Rauch's colors flank it well. While this issue overall is a success in misleading the reader and making some fun at standard promotional tropes in superhero comics, this series still reeks too much of a creator desperately throwing things against a wall and seeing what sticks in terms of a long term story or direction. While such a thing is a freedom in a creator owned comic, especially one which has endured this long, it does lead to controversy and some missteps. It may be more impressive if "Invincible" stopped doubling as Kirkman's mouthpiece and criticism art piece of the comic book industry and got back into the swing of being "the best superhero book in the universe" again. This is especially true when an issue such as this hypocritically parodies superhero comic editorial strategies while employing a whopping eight variant covers to boost its own sales. At any rate, 2013 will certainly be a big year for this title.
Mediocre Read: Dark Avengers #186 (Marvel Comics)
Read last week's comic book reviews here!