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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Superior Spider-man #8

Despite being perhaps the most controversial title Marvel is currently publishing, Superior Spider-man has done an excellent job of hitting its stride.  There have been a few problems with the art and an Age of Ultron tie-in that was complete crap, but, overall, Dan Slott has done a great job writing the title.  By having the comic only do 1-2 issue arcs, it makes the series as a whole feel more like a television show than a comic book.  Each issue brings something new, but it also does quite a bit to develop the story at large.  Dan Slott has teased that Superior Spider-man #9 is going to be a huge issue in terms of story, so lets see how issue 8 sets all of this up.

In Superior Spider-man #8, relatively unknown villain Cardiac continues to try to save lives in his secret hospital, this time using a brain scanning device created by none other than Otto Octavius.  Meanwhile, the Superior Spider-man (Octavius in the body of Peter Parker) battles against some of his teammates on The Avengers who have become suspicious of his recent actions.

To say this issue covers a lot of ground would be an understatement.  There is A LOT of story jam-packed into this one comic.  By making such a move in terms of writing, it can be very easy to make the story as a whole feel rushed.  Fortunately, Dan Slott does a masterful job of weaving a very intricate story within the issue.  Unfortunately, however, there is one aspect to the story which feels a bit under-developed: Spider-man's fight with The Avengers.

Teased at the end of the last issue, Spider-man had been asked to speak to his teammates about his decision to kill the villain Massacre as well as critically injuring several others.  It only took eight issues, but the Avengers seemed to have finally caught on to the fact that this may not be Peter anymore; or at least that Peter has not been acting like himself.  While a big fight with the Avengers may seem like something which could easily take up an entire issue on its own, Dan Slott relegates this fight to two pages.  Two.  Now, it is not necessarily a bad thing for Slott to not want his book to be too bogged down in traditional superhero punching action, but this feels a bit under-served.  These are the Avengers: a team that has had Spider-man as a pivotal member for 3 years.  Instead of going to an all out brawl, Dan Slott prefers to go the route of having Spider-man be completely surrounded by the Avengers.  As you can imagine, this is a short fight.  Distracted by the voice of Peter's ghost, Ock is knocked out by a blow to the head with Captain America's shield.

But the under-use of this Avengers sub-plot continues!  After being knocked out, Cap orders a scan of Spider-man.  With the use of sophisticated tools, Earth's Mightiest Heroes make a startling discovery: Spider-man is not a Skrull (or under the control of a plethora of potential super villains).  While this part of the story does make for a good laugh, it brings up a very odd point: Dan Slott must believe the Avengers are stupid.  It is certainly understandable that perhaps the Avengers had no technological means to see that Peter's brain waves are different (more on this later), but it makes absolutely no sense that, after the diagnosis, the Avengers believe that Peter is still himself and should be free to go.  Even if he is not a Skrull, that does not wipe away the actions of previous issues.  Sadly, Dan Slott has more important stories to tell and they do not involve the Avengers, so they had to written out of this story somehow.  The sub-plot ends with a brief conversation between Black Widow and Spider-man, where Peter's ghost humorously tries to tell Natasha the truth by doodling on a pad.  Black Widow makes a reference to having red on her ledger (a very unsubtle reference to last year's film The Avengers) and offers to help Spider-man get over the guilt of murder.  Despite the humor involved, this moment only serves to show how utterly ignorant and stupid the Avengers are about the changes to Spider-man.

Meanwhile, Cardiac is trying to save lives.  Fortunately, this issue largely deals with the Cardiac plot and it is a much more well-developed story than the stuff with the Avengers.  A young girl with brain damage desperately needs a cure and the only thing to save her is a machine doctors cannot figure out how to use.  This is overall a very interesting story idea for Slott to take on.  Slott being a staunch liberal, as evident by his Twitter feed, causes this story to all the more feel like a (well-deserved) attack on the healthcare system in the United States.  Yes, apparently our healthcare system is crappy even in a universe where superheroes exist.  You know your system cannot be good when former super-villains are opening secret hospitals to cure the sick and dying because insurance companies refuse to provide care.  Perhaps Dan Slott does not mean for this story to come off as such a critique of the healthcare system, but it is still a story which makes the reader ponder who is really the super villain.

After being the only one to realize his brain waves are abnormal, Ock decides to track down Cardiac and steal back his machine.  While a brief battle ensues, Cardiac ultimately confesses to Spider-man that his machine is needed to save a young girl's life. This makes for a very touching moment, where Ock decides to commit his first act of kindness in this series.  Sure, as Spider-man, Ock has done a lot of (questionable) things for the greater good, but this is the first genuinely nice thing the guy has done in this comic.  The motivation Slott gives Ock for wanting to help save the girl's life is believable and adds an extra sense of empathy for this over-arching plot of a super villain hoping to atone for his mistakes.  Once the girl's life is, surprise, saved, Slott gives us a touching moment between Spider-man and the girl.  Coupled with this is a brief realization that perhaps Ock was always meant to be the hero; always meant to be Spider-man.

In exchange for using his machine to save a life, Ock borrows the brain-scanning device to investigate his aforementioned brain wave abnormality.  Throughout the series, the ghost of Peter has been utilized to show more angry readers that, yes, some part of Peter Parker still lives.  While the character of Peter's ghost has sometimes been a bit over-used, he is once again utilized perfectly in this issue.  This review will not spoil what happens in the final moments of this book when Ock puts the device on his head, but it sets up an incredibly interesting conflict that looks to go down next issue.

Humberto Ramos' art is something that has been the ire of this reviewer (feel free to look back at previous Superior Spider-man reviews to see why).  With this issue, however, Ramos seems to really hit his stride.  There are still moments where his art seems too cartoon-like and far too similar to the art of John Romita Jr., but this issue does improve significantly.  Particularly the latter half of the issue, after Ock decides to help out Cardiac, has art that is incredibly well done.  Finding a great artist is something this title has struggled with a bit, but there would be hope for Ramos if he were staying on longer.

Despite the Avengers sub-plot being completely under-used, this is actually a worthwhile issue of Superior Spider-man.  The next issue of this series (out May 1) promises to be a game-changer with the conflict between Otto and Peter's Ghost finally coming to a head.  Therefore, in this issue, Dan Slott appears to be trying to make a last-ditch effort to pull some readers on to Ock's side before the big showdown.  Fortunately for Slott, this effort works.

Rating: A

Summary:  Superior Spider-man #8 does not develop on the Spidey vs Avengers fight as much it could have, but it still has some great character development coupled with surprisingly decent artwork.
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1 comment:

  1. The Avengers are made to appear stupid because it would undermine Spider-Ock. The one thing I never understood was why Jessica Drew wasn't immediately suspicious of Superior Spider-Man's behavior as much as the Black Widow when they both know Peter Parker very well? You would think that these two would pick out of the part where he called everyone fools, a manner in which Peter would never say.


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