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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Superior Spider-man #12

With the previous issue of Superior Spider-man, the chinks in the proverbial armor began to show quite a bit.  First of all, the comic is currently in the midst of a story whose entire premise (a villain escaping from jail, trapping the hero inside) feels completely uninspired.  For the first time in its run, Superior Spider-man was attempting to do a more traditional superhero story, but it was all feeling too familiar.  The other major sign of decline with the previous issue was the feeling that the book had lost its heart with the loss of Peter Parker.  While Otto Octavius has made for a very interesting Spider-man and an even more interesting take on what it means to be Spider-man, the book needs some kind of emotional pull in order to truly connect with audiences.  This was something earlier issues of the series had and it was better for it.  It also did not help that the book continued to juggle a number of storylines, with many of them feeling under-served.  As this issue continues the "No Escape" story arc, this reviewer opened the comic expecting more of this heartless title that is slowly beginning to waver.  Were these feelings justified after finishing the issue or was there enough here to still be excited about what the book has in store?  Find out after the jump!

As mentioned, Superior Spider-man #12 continues the story of the Spider-Slayer's attempted escape from the super villain prison known as The Raft.  With the Superior Spider-man on his heels, Smythe attempts to find some way of out-smarting the hero's clearly pre-planned measures to prevent any escape.  Smythe has a few surprises of his own, however, in the form of a few villains who have already met the wrath of the Superior Spider-man and cannot wait to have their chance at revenge.  Will Otto Octavius be able to prevent the Spider-Slayer's escape, stop these villains once again, and save any civilians left in the Raft?  Time is of the essence and Otto might not have all of the answers he needs.

Despite Superior Spider-man being an all around good comic, one of the most annoying, nit-picky aspects of the book's writing came from the constant juggling of multiple stories.  In any given issue, writer Dan Slott would give focus to at least four or five different stories in addition to whatever arc was currently taking place.  This made for a comic that had a very odd pace, and, while this multitude of stories worked most of the time, there were always a few stories which felt under-developed or unnecessary.  The more focused issues of this series thus far have easily been the better ones, and that is definitely an area where this issue actually succeeds.  Though Dan Slott plotted this book, Christos Gage took scripting duties for the issue.  Gage does a good enough job that one would not know Slott was not the writer if they did not take the time to look at the title page.  While it may have been Slott's plotting, Gage does a great job of keeping this issue focused on the plot of Smythe's attempted escape, making the issue flow much more smoothly with no elements feeling under-done.  Although the basic premise for this entire arc is very unoriginal, Slott and Gage throw in enough different elements in this issue so that it does not feel completely like something we have seen before.  By having this story set in a super villain prison, there were a lot of directions this story could go in terms of what villains show up, and Slott and Gage take full advantage of this.  When Smythe shuts the power down temporarily, it is a little confusing that the Lizard is the only villain we see leave his cell, but it is also enough of a wildcard to leave the element of surprise in the final act of this arc.  The civilians stuck behind a force field created by Otto's Spider-bots is a plot written quite well and includes a throwaway line about the Avengers that seems to hint that this story takes place on the cusp of the upcoming crossover "Infinity".  Much of this story still feels like a re-hash, but Gage gets points here for some very nice character moments and an example of the type of focused writing this comic sorely needs.

At the end of the previous issue, we were left with a tease that Otto would be coming face-to-face with the villains he had mutilated and maimed in his career as Spider-man thus far.  This makes for a fascinating bit of potential character development as Otto once again has to deal with the ramifications of his decisions.  While there is a small fight between Spider-man, Scorpion, Boomerang, and Vulture, it is sadly very short-lived.  It would appear Smythe's robots have some interesting powers as they have given each of these villains new costumes (Boomerang's boomerangs are in infinite supply) as well as restoring Scorpion's speech and Vulture's sight.  As these are super villains and they seem to have Spider-man right in their grasp, of course they are going to just take advantage of the situation without asking too many questions, but it does leave the reader to wonder how much control Smythe may have over them.  Though it can be forgiven that the reunion with these villains was not used as much of a character moment for Otto, it is still disappointing that this fight feels under-whelming as just a superhero fight.  Otto mostly takes advantage of the use of his webs through the fight and, while it is very effective in stopping Boomerang, it just feels like an easy way out of a hole for writer Christos Gage as it has been well established the Superior Spider-man has a number of deadly weapons in his arsenal.  Fortunately this pitiful fight scene is cut short as Smythe is able to simply order these villains around to dispose of the civilians which Otto has left vulnerable.  This drives home the point that the Spider-Slayer is our main antagonist here and it is a somewhat clever way to do it, even if it means sacrificing the clearly independent egos of these villains.  The design of the Spider-Slayer still looks incredibly stupid in this issue, but it was quite interesting to see how Smythe just might be Otto's most intellectual challenge yet.  In fact, their entire fight thus far is more of a contest of who is smarter than who is stronger, which is a great idea.  He may look ridiculous, but it's nice to see Slott give Otto an intellectual foe.  Hopefully this trend continues.

Out of all the side characters present in this book, J, Jonah Jameson has had perhaps the most interesting development.  Throughout the character's history he has been widely known as the first person to distrust Spider-man and the last person to ever give him praise.  With Otto being much more efficient at being Spider-man, however, it has been really fun to see the tables turn on the relationship between Spidey and JJJ.  Many people are beginning to distrust Spider-man and question his new found methods of stopping crime, but Jameson has been quick to come back with the merits of what he is doing as well as pointing out that he has been incredibly effective at stopping major crime in New York.  It only makes sense that when Spider-man switches bodies with a villain and begins to become more of an anti-hero that Jameson would see him as the hero for once.  As the series continues, it will be immensely intriguing to see the way the Jameson and Spider-man relationship is further explored.  In this issue, we get to see a slightly more sympathetic Jameson in that, despite his wife's dying wish that he would be less hateful, he wants nothing more than to see Smythe dead.  This wish makes Jameson irrational (more than usual) and this puts his life in danger big time as the Scorpion is sent to take him down.  But perhaps Jameson's biggest moment to come from this is one that just may change the course of this comic completely.  Before setting out to stop the Spider-Slayer again, Otto asks Jameson what he wants him to do if he catches Smythe.  Jonah's answer is very clear: Smythe is not going to leave the Raft alive.  In this small moment, both of these characters are developed in ways that we may not fully realize just yet.  Think about it: if Jameson can order the Superior Spider-man to take the life of one villain, what is to stop him from doing the same thing the next time a major threat comes along?  For that reason alone readers should be watching this character very closely as Dan Slott will undoubtedly take advantage of this scenario again.

In the review of the last issue, it was complained that the loss of Peter's ghost also meant the loss of any heart this comic had.  While the series has not regained its heart in this issue, it does further develop the madness growing inside the Superior Spider-man.  It could be argued that, by the end of this issue, Otto has gone from superhero with questionable ethics, skipped the anti-hero stage, and may just be standing on the precipice of flat out super villain.  Perhaps the adage is true that old habits die hard as Otto seems poised to forego morality in pursuit of murder.  This is illustrated clearly in what may be a controversial ending to this issue: Otto decides to not save any of the civilians from Vulture or Jameson from Scorpion, instead following Jameson's initial order to make sure Smythe dies.  As Spider-man, Otto has already tasted blood once before and it does not seem to be something he will have trouble doing again.  What questions really surround this is, if Spider-man kills another villain, will the public truly be able to trust him.  Sure, the Spider-Slayer is not exactly a great guy, but there are still many people in Peter/Spider-man's life that are questioning his decision to kill Massacre.  This seems at odds with Otto's initial promise to attempt to be a good person while inside Peter's body, and even more a willful ignorance of what Otto almost said in just the previous issue: criminals who murder will never be able to redeem themselves.  One can only wonder if something is going to happen to Otto to make him remember this, to show him that, even as Spider-man, he cannot seek redemption.  What happens after that is a little frightening to think about, even more so when one considers that the upcoming story of "Infinity" will be placing the Superior Spider-man on a new Avengers team whether the current Avengers like it or not.  Although this comic still needs to find its heart, the revelations made about Otto's character in this issue are enough to at least keep readers intrigued about what depravities he will sink to next.

Through the ever-rotating series of artists on Superior Spider-man, the wheel has landed once again on Giuseppe Camuncoli.  Previous reviews for this comic on here have made it abundantly clear that the more cartoon-like style of many of this comic's artists can get a bit annoying.  It would seem, though, that this reviewer has gotten used to the more cartoon look of the comic as Camuncoli's more traditional style feels very at odds with even just the previous issue.  Although now a less stylized tone to Superior Spider-man's artwork is something to get used to, it still works somewhat well for this issue (despite the Spider-Slayer's design being silly).  For the most part, the artwork in this issue is just fine, but it is not anything mind-blowing or amazing, just decent.  The only glaring issue with the art is the page featuring the Lizard's escape from his cell as the design of the character and the artwork feel much more hyper-realistic than any other moment in the issue.  Hopefully this will be improved once the Lizard takes a larger part in the final act of this story arc, but, knowing this book, it will probably be a different artist on the next issue.

There are many things which make this issue a lot better than the previous, but there are still some things to be concerned about.  While the more focused approach of Gage's writing was appreciated, the story still feels very common for any superhero comic book.  Though there are some interesting developments in Otto's character, this book still lacks any heart to it, making it feel very cold and stand offish to the reader.  It is worth noting that, as this is the twelfth issue, we have technically had a year's worth of comics from this series and it has been an interesting "year" in terms of the quality of the story.  With more focused issues, creative development to the more interesting aspects of the comic, and something for the readership to sympathize with, there is no doubt that Superior Spider-man could return to the greatness it almost achieved at one time.  Any such changes would make the title's second "year" to be even better.  For now, however, this good comic is sitting dangerously close to the fire and Dan Slott might want to do something before too many readers get burned.

Rating: B

Summary: Superior Spider-man #12 improves slightly by becoming a bit more focused, but there are still some things to be done on this comic before it can be a must-read again.
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