A few people both in last week’s open call and subsequently via email asked me for my opinion about Superior Spider-Man, and I think it’s probably one of the best comics Marvel’s put out in years,1 if only because it’s really incredibly daring on a number of levels and directly in opposition to much of the new paradigm Marvel has put forward for its superheroes over the past few years. Which, really, is what a good Spider-Man comic should do, but Superior Spider-Man is putting a knowing and even satiric slant on the whole thing.
Firstly, let us acknowledge that Marvel killed off Peter Parker. Not just sorta-killed him off, either: they’ve killed Peter as comprehensively as you can really kill a flagship character, and did it the right way by having his greatest enemy, Doctor Octopus, invade his body, destroy his mind, and steal his life.2 And they didn’t just kill him: they killed him, left a window in order to enable his return where he was sort-of-surviving within Otto-Spider-Man’s mind, and then killed him off in that. Which was both shocking and thrilling, because subverting the standard comics resurrection paradigm – even if we all know it is only temporarily – is kind of great.
But what’s really great about Superior Spider-Man is that it is, on a subtle level, active criticism of many Marvel comics’ current top-down model of heroism, where the heroic protagonist does What Is Necessary For The Greater Good. (See: Iron Man, Nick Fury, Cyclops’s renegade X-Men, the Illuminati, and so on and so forth.) And it’s trying to do so from as sympathetic a portrayal of Otto Octavius as is possible: we’re constantly reminded that Otto, before becoming a supervillain, had a really screwed up and horrible life, and he actually wants to do the right thing and be a hero. The problem is that because Otto has no faith in people’s inherent goodness (which is a very Spider-Man thing to have), it informs his entire approach towards being a hero, which is to completely control every situation: by installing spy robots all over New York so he can know in advance where to be heroing, by blackmailing Mayor Jonah so that he can install a base of operations, occasionally killing a baddie because if he didn’t then the baddie would have just killed more people – and now he’s assembling what is for all intents and purposes an army of henchmen, and he’s doing it because he thinks this is how good guys should be good guys because it’s more efficient (and he’s not wrong about that).
Going into D&D alignment terms, it’s very much a Lawful Evil approach to being Lawful Good; Otto’s flaw isn’t that he doesn’t want to do the right thing. He does. The problem is that Otto doesn’t understand what the right thing actually is. Which makes it an excellent tragic comics story, because while Otto is the antihero of this story, he’s an extremely compelling one. It’s just great superhero comics all around, and given the gravitas of what’s happening I’m amazed how well it works as an all-ages story.
And yeah, I think this eventually gets resolved by having the Ultimate Universe get destroyed by 616-Galactus (as was foreshadowed in “Age of Ultron”) and Miles Morales managing to escape to 616 and then defeating Otto-Spidey to become the new Amazing Spider-Man, because that would be kind of great3 and just as bold a story choice as the entire Otto-Spidey Saga was in the first place.
- And really, Marvel has put out a whole ton of good comics over the past few years, so that says something. [↩]
- Yes, Peter will be back eventually. Probably it will involve Mephisto in some way, because why not. Let us all take a moment to acknowledge that after semi-rebooting Spider-Man to end his marriage in order to tell all the stories they couldn’t tell with a married Spider-Man, the single best idea they had was “hey, let’s kill him.” [↩]
- Not least because the usual suspects would flip out over Spider-Man now being a blackity blackity black kid. [↩]