Discovering the Relevance of Words
The Superior Spider-Man. An arrogant title. A fitting title for an arrogant comic.
I can imagine the braintrust at Marvel sitting around a table discussing the 50 years of success enjoyed by The Amazing Spider-Man.
“The wall-crawler is so loved we can throw any BS we want at readers and still watch the issues fly off the shelf?”
That’s not only ridiculous, that’s extremely arrogant, is it not?
Perhaps you’ve forgotten the entire Clone Saga.
“What is the most ludicrous thing we can do?”
Turn Doctor Octopus into Spider-Man?
Seriously, that is what happened. By way of setting the scene, I will tell you that in the “final issue” of The Amazing Spider-Man, ASM 700, Otto Octavius has swapped his mind and Peter Parker’s. Otto is in Parker’s body, Peter in Octavius’… and the Doc Ock body is dying.
But, The World’s Greatest Superhero, The Amazing Spider-Man is a myth built on altruism, and, like a true hero his final act is his most fitting and most heroic. In order to finally defeat his greatest enemy, he must not only allow the Octopus to take over his body and mind, he must show Otto was it means to suffer the yoke of great responsibility. Otto, flooded by Parker’s memories of overwhelming love, unquenchable guilt, and a duty to do all that he can to aid all those who he can, learns the true meaning of power and vows he will use his newly acquired powers for good.
But it doesn’t stop there.
As The Amazing Spider-Man was a tale of altruism, this new chapter is one of hubris.
Otto proclaims himself The Superior Spider-Man and a new chapter begins.
The entire arc of The Superior Spider-Man takes place over 31 issues or 6 trade paperbacks, yet for the sake of this review I am treating the series as one story.
Was SSM a horrible idea? Yes.
Was SSM, at best, a desperate attempt to shake up a storyline that had gone on so long it was in a Simpsons like been-there, done-that territory? Yes.
Would I recommend running to your local comic store and grabbing every issue? Certainly not.
Was it worth reading, though? Yes.
I started reading out of stubbornness and a slightly unhealthy addiction to all things Spider-Man.
I continued reading because, as much as I hated to admit it, I was drawn to the storyline. Dan Slott is an amazing (pun intended) writer whose bibliography is too notable to list, but know that he has written some brilliant story arcs in his career (including ASM:No One Dies –which will soon receive its own review here), and he was responsible for the entire run of SSM.
Perhaps it was the continuity of having one writer that helped SSM enjoy a worthy run, or perhaps it was the fact that book stopped after 31 issues before it could flog itself to death. Regardless of reason, it was an enjoyable moment.
Super villain Otto Octavius has learned the adage that “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”, but he has yet to learn what the true burden of responsibility is.
The first ten issues toy around with a “mindscape” battle between Peter and Otto as to who is really in control. Insert science, bye bye Peter. Ock… I mean… Spidey… I mean Otto is now fully in control and Peter is gone. Otto Octavius finally has the chance to prove once and for all that he is the superior intellect, the superior mind, the superior hero…
Spreading himself too thin to prove he is Superior to Parker in every way, Otto begins cutting corners, allowing minions and robots to do his menial work. Taking the personal touch out of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Estranging the Avengers, punishing evil doers without restraint, earning a PhD only to prove Doctor Parker superior to Peter, and suffering an insufferable five issue arc with the alien symbiote Venom, Otto is driven only by arrogance and a thirst to prove himself – the bane of all Super Villians.
But if this were simply a tale of super powers, aliens, and onomatopoetic fighting this would not be worth reading. Much like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and those two other directors’ Four Rooms, it is the resolution and denouement that make this tale worth experiencing. In the end, Otto learns the cost of pride. Like any good Greek, hubris is his downfall.
Only pride does not lose the day.
Selflessness wins the day. Peter Parker wins. The readers win.
Through the course of the series we learn aspects of Octavius’ personality that would never be intriguing while he is a super villain. Yet as a deeply flawed hero, we are drawn into his character and start rooting for him.
(now, don’t get me wrong – this “rooting” is a hope that he will learn the lesson he must learn and pass on, shedding the mantle and righting the universe)
In the body of Peter Parker, Otto is finally able to find love (no, not with Mary Jane), deep and profound. He truly learns what it means to live for another person and this lesson become evident in the final act.
The Green Goblin is back (has been back, but has literally been hidden from Doc/Spider-Man’s sight) and not only has defeated and outsmarted Dr. Spider-Man at every turn he has laid ruin to most of New York and kidnapped Otto’s love.
And the moment of clarity sinks in.
Otto is not superior. His only superiority was his arrogance and it was that arrogance that has blinded him to what was going on around him and lead him down this dangerous, inescapable path.
Insert noble sacrifice.
Otto banishes himself from Peter Parker’s body and mind, leaving Peter to go save the day once and for all.
Peter has now finally defeated his oldest enemy* by teaching a true lesson- humility.
Yep. That’s what happens. Bad science fiction and a lot of mind control.
And yet, the story is captivating, well developed, and something worth learning from. If you have a friend who collected all 31 issues, borrow them, the read will be worth the price. Otherwise, pick up the Trade Paperback Goblin Nation (issues #27-#31), it will be worth your while.