Superior Spider-Man 2

After what feels like forever, we’re back with our friendly neighborhood Spiderman. Well, maybe not our Spiderman… Obviously this review’s gonna be spoiling the new status quo for the Spider-Man titles so if you’re still unaware you should either wait it out, catch yourself up with my reviews of Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Superior Spider-Man #1, or dive right in.

When we last saw Peter Parktopus, he was trying to reignite things with Mary-Jane Watson, streamline the Spiderman business model, and defend his villainous copyrights. As this plays out, a helpless remnant of the real Peter Parker watches on able to influence his body in broad strokes but seen and heard by no one.

After an introductory issue, giving us a sense of how Otto’s redecorated Peter’s life, Dan Slott gives us an issue from Ghost Peter’s perspective. Just as the last issue played with Otto’s detachment from his former life, some of the best work on this issue focuses on the ways that Ghost Peter is, rightly and wrongly, attached to his life.

Slott is definitely living up to my hopes for the series’ concept. It doesn’t feel like a marketing ploy (well, it kind of does, but more than a marketing ploy), it feels like this is a natural evolution for both Peter and Otto.

Those who felt outraged that Slott was taking Spiderman away from Peter Parker need not worry, this is very much a continuation of Peter’s story. Slott is doing justice to the “world without a hero” concept that has been the excuse of choice for publishers looking to kill off their heroes since the Death of Superman pioneered it. This series reminds me of the Red-Headed Stranger arc from Amazing Spider-Man #602-604, one of my favorite Chameleon stories.  Both stories show how the things that Spidey’s villains don’t understand about Peter Parker make all the difference, but this book is willing to show that Peter’s flaws aren’t all to Spiderman’s benefit. What is essential to Spiderman and what’s essential to Peter aren’t necessarily the same.

Slott fully grasps the humor, dark as it is, of Peter’s situation. There’s something natural about Peter providing commentary on Ock’s attempts to live his life. His frustrations and quips, as ever, provide the heart of this Spiderman story. Those of us who complained about OctoPeter’s gross deviations from normal Parker behavior will also be happy to know that the real Peter is tearing his hair out trying to figure out how no one has noticed. And they say Spiderman doesn’t work as an everyman anymore…

We’re also treated to a glimpse of Doc Ock’s rather scientific way of viewing the world. As problematic as Doc’s plans are, it’s a long-held rule of comedy that even horrible things can be funny if the ineptitude of the wrongdoer is great enough. Seeing this side of Otto makes it clear why he and Peter ended up so differently, but it’s not the condemnation you might think. It’s funny because it’s sad. Like much of the best comedy, it’s laced with tragedy.

The price for all of this fun is a lack of progression. It’s too early to say if it will be the norm for the series, but the plot barely lurches ahead in any way that might belong in a summary of the arc. It’s all tone and character, and while that’s fine with me for now, I wouldn’t fault someone for feeling that superheroing should be a focus, not a distraction. It looks like we’ll do better next issue, but who knows from there.

Ryan Stegman continues to impress. Following the lengthy run of Humberto Ramos, Stegman delivers strong linework that catches the eye and takes the appropriate joy in its exaggerations. Detractors of Ramos’s work will be happy to know that two issues in Stegman has shown a clear consistency and technical skill that seems to be lacking from Ramos’ work. While something in Ramos’ pencils does a better job of expressing the energy and dynamism I look for in Spiderman (why does that sound familiar…?), even my limited knowledge of art informs me that Stegman seems more traditionally proficient (Oh god! It’s the Liefeld excuse! Have I become what I hate!?)

Stegman changes from slice of life, to melodrama, to physical comedy effortlessly. Ghost Peter’s expressions are especially fun. 

He also delivers some pages that just can’t be ignored. Stegman and his color artist, Edgar Delgato, are great together, representing Peter’s stolen memories through a sickly green in the same style as the chestnut flashes of ASM 700. And an early page featuring everyone’s least favorite Spider-ex is positively beautiful.

It’s not all perfect, some faces are a tad weird and some poses are stiff, but its nothing that stops you reading. Honestly, most of what bothers me are matters of personal preference. I still don’t like Stegman’s version of Peter, but maybe that’s the point. I feel like the layouts are a little boring at times, but it didn’t do too much to distract me. The highs outweigh the lows.

This is a good issue. It’s charming and full of character. The art is handsome and the colors are crisp. Yet somehow it feels lacking. The plot drips on and, as nice as it is to spend time getting to know these characters, that only makes it an above average issue. Before this series can truly live up to its potential, Dan Slott needs to find more ways to fit all of these great character moments into the cracks of a more exciting story. Still, it’s only the second issue and I just described it as above average. Slott hasn’t led me wrong since I picked up the first trade of the Big Time run; I trust where he’s going.

 

P.S. Dear Rob Liefeld fans,

I’m just messing with you, I don’t mind him that much. I mean, it confuses hipsters when he draws feet – who doesn’t love confusing hipsters (said the guy with a blog defending himself from perceptions of elitism)?

 

 

 

 

From here on out we’re in spoiler territory, if you don’t have the stomach for it you should turn back now.

 

 

Alright?

 

 

Alright.

 

 

There is of course one issue that I really couldn’t discuss without spoilers, and that’s the relationship between “Peter Parker” and Mary-Jane Watson. The internet has been freaking out ever since it was revealed that Otto might be the Superior Spiderman. The one positive thing about the whole reaction to this issue has been how reasonable it’s been, at least from my perspective. Earlier I mentioned a Chameleon story. That story, penned by Fred Van Lente, came under heavy fire for not addressing a clear breach of consent. While I was not personally troubled by the story, it was somewhat distressing to see the casual and insensitive way that Van Lente and Marvel handled the issue. I can respect the choice to, as a rule, spend ones time reading stories that don’t feature rape and sexual harassment. But for all the yelling that those issues sparked, the reaction I’ve seen to this story has mostly been more like ‘he knows that’s not cool right?’ And best of all I’ve seen a minimal amount of people playing devil’s advocate (or worse yet, seriously beleiving) and insisting that it wouldn’t be rape. By the way, it would be rape. So well done internet, a person spending a moderate amount of time on your comic book news and review websites didn’t see anything that crushed his optimism or made him fear for the future of his species (the internet: we take our wins where we can get them here).
One of the issues that came up in the Chameleon debate was whether or not rape was being used as shorthand for villainy. I actually came down pretty strongly on the negative side of that argument, but in Doc Ock’s case I see a much stronger argument. We have good Ghost Peter who would never dream of doing such a thing, and we have ‘evil’ OctoPeter scheming how to leverage Parker’s relationship with Mary-Jane into hot, hot makeouts, etc.

All the same, Slott sidesteps the issue as I knew he would. Dan Slott is a huge nerd, and a huge fan of Spiderman. He loves Mary-Jane. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he told me that Peter’s objections are so well written because he just writes what Otto would do and then unleashes his inner fan boy to complain how that’s not Spiderman. Slott knew the uneasy ground he was treading on, but unfortunately this left him in that no win situation where his only options were offensive or predictable.

Even so, the extreme scenario allows the characters to define themselves. Otto treats women like objects, status symbols to soothe a child’s bruised ego, but the love that Peter feels for MJ makes it impossible for him to act that way anymore. In his attempts to be ‘evil’ Otto realizes that he can’t bring himself to do it. I think it’s a really interesting look at Otto. I fully expect that Doc Ock will return at some point in the future. Someday some writer will want to use Spidey’s original arch-nemesis again. But the one to bring him back could be Dan Slott and, if it is, he’ll have the chance to define Ock in his new life. I wonder who that man would be, having reached down deep and found love: the love of a wonderful girlfriend, the love of his doting Aunt, the love of an Uncle who loved him more than anything, and the love that Peter held for them and every other sentient being. That evolution is promising, and as time goes on we’ll have more chances to see Otto be right, to see things that Peter’s memories tell him to do that he can’t, for better or worse.

Likewise, Peter, with palpable sadness, admits that Otto did something that he was just too weak to do. As much as I am rooting hard for team Spider-marriage, if it’s ever to be over it has to be over. We can’t have this will they/won’t they nonsense. Peter and MJ have to commit to each other, even though it’s hard, or they have to let each other go because they love one another. Peter, like many of our greatest modern heroes doesn’t take no for an answer, he believes in love and goodness till the last. But, perhaps more than any other superhero, Spiderman’s is a story where sometimes the world doesn’t care what you will accept, and handling that with some level of grace takes courage too.

Still, one can’t help but notice that Peter refers to Mary-Jane as his soulmate in this issue. After her confession in ASM 700, both Mary-Jane and Peter have admitted that they still love each other (Go Team Spider-Marriage!).

And on that front, another one of my hopes for this series seem to be coming true. I still can’t mention her around my girlfriend, a much more vocal fan of the spider-marriage than I, and I imagine there are plenty of fans who share that quirk, but it looks like we may have Carlie Cooper to thank for sorting this mess out.

A little over a year ago, at a talk about comics, I couldn’t help but notice a twinkle in Dan Slott’s eye as he admitted that Carlie was not, as many fans suggested, his ideal girl for Peter. At the time I thought that he was just enjoying that his set up for an ex with an interesting relationship with Peter was being so misconstrued, but, given that that was the first time I heard him talk about his big plans for issue 700, I’m starting to think that Carlie was designed to be a support character for Mary-Jane. Slott’s certainly enjoyed slowly building their little support group and if the Peter and MJ relationship is to return, its best hope seems to be young Ms. Cooper. And if that day should come I will think back on all of the hate and venom we fans spewed and smile.

No matter where we go from here, Slott has his own little universe set up and it’s got plenty of nooks and crannies for surprises to hide in. I’m still excited to be following this run and if you’ve liked Slott’s work, I expect you will be too.

 

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