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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Superior Spider-man #9



Once Dan Slott made the bold decision to have Otto Octavius (Doc Ock) inhabit the body of his arch-nemesis Peter Parker, he was met with an understandable amount of rage from the geek community.  As is to be expected when a popular character is killed off, fans have not reacted kindly to Slott, calling him every name under the sun with a select few even going as far as death threats (people really love Spider-man).  Many of these nay-sayers immediately wrote off Superior Spider-man before the book was even released.  Unfortunately for these people, they have been missing out on what has easily been one of the best Marvel NOW titles produced.  Now we have made our way to issue 9, which promises to make fans just as angry as they were at the end of Amazing Spider-man #700.  Time to see if those promises are fulfilled!


Within Superior Spider-man #9, it finally comes down to the fight everyone has been waiting for: Peter Parker vs Otto Octavius.  The location for this fight?  Inside the shared mind of Peter Parker.  After making the discovery that a part of Peter's consciousness still resides inside of him, Otto decides it is time to rid himself of Parker once and for all.  Peter is ready for this fight, however, and it makes for a tense scenario as the winner of this battle will gain control of Peter's body for good.

It is actually quite a relief that this battle is finally taking place between Peter and Otto as it has been a main source of tension since the beginning of the book.  For many fans who might have been upset that Peter Parker's body has been high-jacked, Dan Slott seemingly inserted the ghost of Peter as a nod to those readers that perhaps we have not seen the last of the old web head.  The use of such a plot device also seemed like a very convenient way for Slott to back out of this whole Superior Spider-man experiment if need be.  If the series had not taken off like it has, or if fans were still desperately pleading for the return of Peter Parker (assuredly some most likely still are), Slott would have a back-door to slip Peter back into his own body, solidifying that everything would be okay and we could act like this whole thing never happened.  Ghost Peter is also an interesting story-telling move in that the reader was able to get a running commentary on the actions of Otto within his body.  While most of us would probably agree that Otto was doing a number of morally questionable things, Ghost Peter allowed for this perspective to be kept within the story.  There were many times in the first eight issues, however, where Ghost Peter was wildly over-used, making for a character that tried too hard to be funny (making it seem like Slott knew the book would have very little humor with Doc Ock as the hero).  When used properly, however, Ghost Peter made for an interesting device in the story.  All hopes of that device being used as an escape route, however, are all but crushed in one fell swoop in this issue.

Despite Superior Spider-man usually being a very excellent comic, that does not mean it comes without its own set of problems.  In terms of writing, sometimes the comic has suffered from focusing on far too many plot threads.  While each of these threads may be covered well enough, at least one of them is usually left feeling a bit weaker and the book begins to feel unfocused.  Focus is not a problem with this issue at all, however, as Slott makes the smart decision to have the entirety of the story take place inside Peter's brain.  This focus of story not only serves to show just how important this fight between Peter and Otto will be going forward, but it also makes for an issue with incredibly high stakes.  No worries about some part of the story not getting enough focus here as the plot structure of this issue is damn near perfect for the story being told.

By having the issue take place in Peter's mind, this also makes for some very awesome story-telling devices.  As we are inside Peter's head, there is no reason for both of the lead characters to look the same.  For the first time in Superior Spider-man, Otto regains the classic Doctor Octopus look from the 1960's.  This move makes for a very clear fight that could have easily become as confusing as the last act of a Transformers movie had Otto and Peter both been represented as Peter's body.  Peter's mind being the epicenter of this battle also allows Ghost Peter to unleash an interesting counter-attack: the memories of his friends and family.  Things become so desperate, in fact, that Peter enlists the help of his memories of J. Jonah Jameson in this fight.  While these memories only appear briefly, Slott does a good job of making it obvious who is who (although, admittedly, this aspect of the fight may be confusing for those who are not steeped in Spider-man lore).  As he mentions, however, Otto has prepared an attack of his own, choosing to unleash the memories of Peter's most feared villains.  This not only makes for a great visual, but the choice of which villain is front and center in this onslaught is very key to notice: Uncle Ben's killer.  This only further proves that this issue is as much a celebration of Peter Parker and Spider-man as Amazing Spider-man #700 was.

The way Peter's mind is laid out is quite interesting.  Ever since being taken over by Otto Octavius, Peter's mind has become a desolate landscape which resembles, unsurprisingly, Manhattan.  As New York City is such an integral part of the Spider-man mythos, it only makes since that this would have to be the main arena for such a deciding fight.  Otto continues to destroy not only the memories Peter has, but the buildings which make up the background of his mind.  Everything here is metaphorical, however, as the destruction of a person or a building in this fight means the loss of that particular memory in Peter's mind.  One gets the idea that, if he wanted to, Otto could have probably used a much simpler approach to ridding himself of Peter's memories.  By taking this route, however, by destroying these memories one by one, Otto comes off as sadistic a super villain as he ever was.  There have been a lot of great Doc Ock stories in the past, but this issue may mark Otto's biggest victory to date, much to the anger of many fans.

While there is definitely a physical confrontation which happens in this issue, what really makes this such a great read is more of the psychological battle which takes place between the two foes.  The over-arching question of this issue is really this: who is the better Spider-man?  On the outside of things, it would seem that Peter would easily have the edge.  Not only has Spider-man been a superhero for over 50 years of comic books, but Peter has always fought to protect the innocent.  Peter Parker brings a certain amount of conviction to his role as Spider-man which has made him a fascinating character for decades.  In many ways, it is the reminder of this when Peter adorns the classic blue and red costume in this issue that makes this a celebration of the past 50 years.  Peter Parker has accomplished a lot during his tenure as Spider-man, and (almost) everyone loves him for it.  As much as this is a celebration of Peter, though, it is also very much a destruction of everything we know about Spider-man.  

On the other side of the debate happening in this book is whether Otto Octavius is really a Superior Spider-man.  Obviously he believes that he is, and he makes a very strong argument for why that is the case.  Not only have the last eight issues been a testament to Otto's effectiveness as Spider-man, but they have also shown that he is willing to cross morally ambiguous lines for the greater good that Peter would never have dreamed of crossing.  Peter makes the excellent point in this issue that Otto has caused the persona of Spider-man to lose all of his credibility with the Avengers and the general public.  Although the final blow in this heated debate is brought by Otto when he brings up point after point of how flawed Peter's approach to being Spider-man really is and how, in the previous issue, Peter's desire to cover his own skin could have potentially ended up with the death of sick little girl.  Physically and psychologically, Peter is completely destroyed in this match-up, and it makes for a triumphant Otto Octavius who will seemingly never be stopped.  Oh...and it's worth mentioning that this argument takes place with an awesome visual of Amazing Spider-man fighting Superior Spider-man, showing off how great both costumes truly are.

Art is one of the main things reviews on this site have complained about again and again with Superior Spider-man  In many cases, the art has caused any particular issue to get a slightly lower grade than normal.  Just as Humberto Ramos was starting to hit his stride on the comic, we are once again treated to the art of Ryan Stegman in this issue.  Perhaps Stegman was the perfect choice for this issue, as he does an excellent job of giving this fight the gravity which it needed.  Stegman was surely having a field day as he was getting the pages for this issue in as pretty much every major hero and villain from the Spider-man canon shows up, an artistic challenge that few Spider-man artists have been able to receive.  On the whole, Stegman really steps it up this issue.  The art is beautiful and it really adds to the enormity of the struggle being told in the writing.

In many ways, this is the defining issue of Superior Spider-man.  Many of the plot threads which had been hinted at since the beginning come to an end here.  The status quo set at the end of this issue will hopefully not be temprorary as it is going to make an incredibly intriguing comic book going forward.  Make no mistake: many fans will be very pissed off about this issue.  Dan Slott has crafted a fantastic comic here, though, so any hate he receives from fans will not have a ton of justification.  Will we ever truly see Peter Parker again?  That remains to be seen.  For the meantime, however, Otto Octavius is going to be getting into quite a few hijinks before his time in Peter's body is finished...and the series thus far seems to be a guarantee that it will be a fantastic ride.


Rating: A+

Summary: Superior Spider-man #9 lives up to its promise of being a game-changing issue that will upset many fans.  It is an excellent issue which both celebrates and destroys the idea of Peter Parker in a way that sets up an exciting future for Otto Octavius.
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