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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Superior Spider-man #11

Now that Peter Parker's consciousness no longer has any hold over his body, Superior Spider-man launched itself onto a potentially dangerous path as a comic book.  Without some remnant of Peter Parker, the comic could potentially lose not only any humor it had, but also any heart.  Thus far we are only two issues into Superior Spider-man post-Peter (including the latest issue) and it is safe to say the book definitely feels different.  In the previous issue, the comic returned to its frenzied pace of stuffing several storylines into one issue.  While this writing style works well most of the time for Dan Slott, easily the most memorable aspect of the previous issue was the return of the Green Goblin...a character who is absent yet again here.  So, the question remains, as Superior Spider-man begins its first true story arc since the loss of its emotional center, can it continue to remain one of Marvel's better books?  Find out after the jump!

In Superior Spider-man #11, Otto Octavius is beginning to become annoyed with all of the ties he must keep to the Peter Parker aspect of his new life.  Meanwhile, Mayor J. Jonah Jameson asks Spider-man to join him at the local super villain prison known as The Raft to witness the execution of Alistair Smythe, the Spider-Slayer.  As this is a comic book, and we are at a super villain prison, chaos is only just around the corner as the Spider-Slayer uses his execution as a last ditch effort to make an escape.  With the Superior Spider-man present, will the Spider-Slayer be able to leave The Raft alive?

Easily the most exceptional story-telling aspect of this entire issue may also be its most subtle moment.  Just before the execution is about to begin, Smythe claims that he is a reformed man and the he has found God and changed his ways.  Obviously such claims are to be expected as most criminals tend to make such comments after they have spent some time on death row and realize that their life is about to come to an end because of some mistake made in their past.  What makes this a great moment in this issue is Spider-man begins to make the comment that he does not believe what Smythe is saying because there is absolutely no way a criminal can become reformed.  To those sitting around Spidey, this does not seem like an out of the ordinary comment for a superhero to make.  When one remembers that the guy actually controlling Spider-man's body is Doctor Octopus, however, this becomes an incredible moment of subtlety for the book.  Up to this point in the series, Otto has not shown much remorse for his actions as a super villain or as Spider-man.  It has been mentioned a time or two before that becoming Peter Parker/Spider-man is a way for Otto to serve penance for the bad things he has done, to change his ways.  As we have seen thus far in this series, however, while Otto may make a much more efficient Spider-man than Peter, he does not do a whole lot to differ himself from a super villain aside from the people he is beating to a bloody pulp.  So, when Otto begins to make the comment that criminals can't reform only to stop himself, it seems like a Freudian slip of sorts.  Perhaps some small part of Otto Octavius believes what he was about to say, meaning that this philosophy must also extend to his actions as Spider-man.  It will be incredibly fascinating to see if Dan Slott chooses to capitalize on this small moment more.  Hopefully he will as it could make for an interesting evolution in Otto's ethos as he continues his role as the Superior Spider-man.

Another interesting character moment for Otto takes place at the very beginning.  While in class working on getting Peter Parker his doctorate, Otto makes the remark in his inner monologue that he is growing annoyed with constantly having to live the Peter Parker aspect of his life.  This complaint comes up again when Peter's boss at Horizon Labs pressures him to focus on his job more than helping out the now seemingly dangerous Spider-man.  What makes this an interesting moment is that it makes one ask the question: if Otto is not going to pose as Peter Parker when he isn't Spider-man, what will he do?  Once Otto has gotten his doctorate (again) will he potentially quit being Peter Parker and reduce himself to a life of exile when he isn't traipsing around in red and black tights?  Hopefully this development will also be explored further by Dan Slott as it could also make for an interesting status quo.  The reason it was always so difficult for Peter to balance his life as Spider-man is that he had so many tethers tying him to life as Peter Parker.  With Otto behind the wheel, however, the only seemingly enjoyable aspect of his life as Peter is his budding relationship with fellow student Anna Maria.  If Otto were to completely avoid any other obligations as Peter, it would be interesting to see how this would effect MJ and Carlie's suspicions about Peter not acting like himself.  No matter which way Dan Slott chooses to take this plot point, it is made abundantly clear that being Peter Parker is not all Otto thought it was cracked up to be, which makes the book immensely more fascinating.  There just may be a glimmer of hope that could return to the eyes of Peter Parker's mourners.

Throughout Superior Spider-man's short history, Dan Slott has taken advantage of a rather odd wheelhouse of Spider-man villains, most of them being C and D level  (ex. Cardiac, a villain not seen much since the 90s).  Knowing Slott's penchant for unsung villains, it was nice to see a more notable Spidey foe take center stage again in this issue with the Spider-Slayer.  Out of all of Spider-man's villains none have seen as many incarnations and redesigns as the Spider-Slayer.  While the current design looks a bit to much like a Thor villain for this reviewer's liking, he still makes for an interesting focal point to this story.  Initially, it seemed to not matter one bit who the villain for this Raft arc really was.  Sure, Smythe has a connection to Jameson in that he is responsible for his wife's death, but really any villain could have been used for a "super villain facing death escapes" story arc.  In fact, the initial idea for this story is a rather boring one.  Where Slott is able to add just enough different elements to make this interesting is the inclusion of villains we have already seen Otto utterly mutilate in the series.  At first this seemed like an oddly reflective moment in the series as we were finally being able to see the effects of the Superior Spider-man's wrath.  The twist towards the end of this issue which incorporates these out of commission villains and Smythe, however, is one that is going to need quite a bit of explaining in the next issue, but it is a very nice move on Slott's part.  That being said, the basic premise of this story arc still has a very "been there, done that" feel, so hopefully Slott has something more original on the way.

In many ways this issue is a State of the Union of Superior Spider-man thus far.  While also including some small moments that could indicate the future of the series, this is also an issue which takes the time to reflect on what it has accomplished thus far.  For better or worse, this makes the issue inadvertently serve as an indicator that this comic is starting to falter a bit.  As mentioned in the introduction, the wiping away of any traces of Peter's personality in this book may have felt like a good idea at the time (Ghost Peter was incredibly annoying), but that move just may be starting to come back to bite Dan Slott.  This is a shame as Peter has technically only been gone for two issues.  Sadly, though, this issue serves to show just how cruel the character of Spider-man has become under Otto's guidance.  While darker comic books are certainly fine, it is a well known fact that Spider-man is usually the brighter of superhero comics, even when it would take the time to be a bit more serious and introspective.  With the loss of Peter Parker, Superior Spider-man has taken a dive into becoming an incredibly dark comic.  Though the book has not completely lost its way yet, there is a very clear danger presented in this issue that if this comic does not find its heart sometime soon, it will not take very long for the edginess and attitude to wear off on readers.  Once you lose the readers, you've lost all hope for your continuation as a series.  Superior Spider-man can still be a good comic, but it needs to take the time to focus and then come back and redouble its efforts.  As an Ock fan, this reviewer would love to see this series truly take off. We have seen this comic do great things, but, as of right now, that greatness could possibly be waning.  Please, Dan Slott, you have lost the faith of a lot of fans, don't make this reader begin to question his own faith.

Christos Gage is on art duties again with this issue.  For the most part, Gage does a good job of working with Dan Slott's writing style.  What has been interesting to see with Superior Spider-man's constantly shifting roster of artists is the way each of them have been able to be unique while also feeling very similar.  Except for some of Humberto Ramos' early work on the series, most of the art transitions very smoothly with each change.  While Smythe's Spider-Slayer costume is a stupid design, Gage does a beautiful job drawing him.  Gage's style just has that perfect blend of cartoony with the serious nature of what is happening.  The only major negative with Gage's artwork is that his Spider-man is just a bit too buff.  Purists will note that Spider-man is supposed to be a very lanky individual, so making him too buff just brings back terrible flashbacks to the 90's.  Other than that, Gage's artwork makes this very bland issue easy to get through.

Perhaps it is a good thing that we got this pretty mediocre issue of Superior Spider-man.  This issue allows for the reader to take the time to reflect on this series thus far and decide if there is really much left to keep this a must-read.  Dan Slott does not do his best here, but he gets a lot of credit for having two brilliant character moments that, if expanded upon, could really be a turn around for the book as a whole.  Some changes most definitely need to be made on the comic, but, right now, it is somewhat easy to still hold out hope that things will improve.  Not every great comic is going to be perfect every single issue.  Next issue's story at least promises to be better than the snooze-fest we got this time around so at least there is that.  In the meantime, it may be worth it for Slott to decide what kind of story he really wants to tell and whether it is too far removed from Spider-man to make it worth telling.

Rating: C+

Summary: Superior Spider-man #11 has a pretty dull story with some nice art.  There are some subtle character moments that could be great character elements for future stories, but the issue as a whole is incredibly underwhelming.
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