Superior Spiderman 3

Right on the heels of its predecessor, here comes another installment in the adventures of your not-so friendly neighborhood Spiderman. Since taking over for Peter Parker, our new and ‘improved’ Spidey has taken on a D-list Sinister Six and saved MJ with a web net. That’s essential Spidey, but it’s all been rather tame. This week we finally get to see the superior Spiderman take on one of Peter’s true enemies.

Adrian Toomes was Spiderman’s second costumed adversary, appearing first in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 in 1963. The Vulture, if you’ll pardon a rather awful pun, hasn’t aged well. Like his predecessor, the Chameleon, Toomes never had the power to challenge Spidey head on, and, over the years, we’ve ceased to be terribly worried about the risk of Spiderman falling to his death. In fact, when Greg Weisman and Victor Cook needed a villain to introduce their Spectacular Spider-Man, they chose Toomes, pairing him with the Enforcers. It should be telling that he was chosen for the pilot. Pilots have only a small amount of time to establish a character’s entire world, and they often choose a low-level villain that won’t take up too much time and would seem less powerful in contrast to characters who will appear later. Now consider that he couldn’t even hold his own there, needing three other villains.

But doesn’t that just suit the old buzzard? He’s old, he’s missed out on the prime of his youth, yes, but there are some good things that come with age. He’s got character, history, and that’s how Dan Slott makes an excellent Vulture story.

The last we saw of old Mr. Toomes, he had roosted in an old nightclub, now owned by one Mary-Jane Watson, imagine that. He had developed a series of anti-gravity harnesses that he gave to disaffected teenagers, making them his Dark Angels, thieves who would steal for him in return for the power of flight. This version of the Vulture was restrained and precise, affecting a certain elegance, and, as Peter discovered, had managed to develop his anti-gravity technology far enough that he could control gravitational fields.

Despite it only being a few months ago and under the pen of the same writer, the Vulture’s changed. He has a new flock of underlings and a new air about him to match. It doesn’t seem like a retcon (it seems clear that Slott had this in mind when he penned his last Vulture story), but there’s definitely been some evolution. The art plays up not only the length but the sheer size of Toomes’ rather Roman nose and the writing abandons the gothic charade for an almost grandfatherly presence. In short, Slott somehow manages to drop one of the few interesting reinventions the Vulture has had, only to base a new characterization on his advanced age, and he succeeds.

Meanwhile, the rest of Spiderman’s world is changing too. Mayor Jameson is thrilled to be facilitating cooperation between Spidey and the NYPD. He’s even got him on speed dial! (Well, he will, anyway.) Otto continues to cut out all but the necessary from his web-slinging adventures. I’m still not convinced that he’s a “superior” Spiderman, but he’s definitely a more efficient one (What am I saying, he’s in the applied sciences, of course that makes him superior). In order to achieve this he’s using the NYPD labs to hunt down the Vulture’s gang.

Slott continues to build the new Spiderman’s world. It’s not all things we haven’t seen but, at the worst, it’s at least showing us new angles.

The build-up is kind of slow, but you probably won’t notice. Slott keeps his readers flipping the pages and Ryan Stegman makes that a pleasure, however, when the fight really starts you know you’ve hit the meat of the issue. Slott delivers a gut punch of a twist that changes the tone of the whole issue. It’s emotionally manipulative as anything and not all that original but, to his credit, it doesn’t really matter when you can feel the tension of the issue in your stomach.

Meanwhile, Slott continues to add wrinkles to the strange, strange afterlife of Peter Parker. It seems that we’re to get one new element for his story each issue. Technically this issue makes it a pattern, but I’m hoping that Slott won’t settling to just use Peter for humor as he builds up the rules of Ghost Peter’s new existence.

This week we discover that Peter can see Doc Ock’s memories when he’s reminiscing. I won’t spoil what we get to see, but each of these memories lead to a favorite element in the comic, both of which I’ll discuss past the spoiler barrier.

This is a very wide-screen comic. Static panels are as small as Stegman can get them and everything else is huge. That means that the art is a pretty huge part of this book. It’s very nice to see that Stegman doesn’t skimp on details in those smaller panels, the life of a comic book artist is a harried one and the temptation to just finish those panels no one will be looking at is probably powerful, but every panel in this issue seems to receive at least the baseline quality that we’ve come to expect from Stegman. That’s not to say that he’s without flaws, plenty of big panel s are kind of wonky in one way or another, but it’s all by his choice, and that’s impressive. Examples of the aforementioned wonkiness include, Otto’s lips; Jameson’s mustache looking more like a case of severely untrimmed nose hairs; and a very well rendered but slightly man-ish Carlie Cooper (hear that? It’s the sound of the internet not minding because it hates Carlie Cooper). It’s not Stegman’s finest work, but I can’t deny that he turns out consistently attractive comics.

It feels like Dan Slott finally feels comfortable enough to really settle in here. Now that people aren’t calling him a misogynist or sending him death threats, we get to see how far he can take this concept. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure that this is a critical issue of the Superior Spider-Man, but it continues the trend of clever moments and intelligent writing that’s defined Slott’s Spider-Man work. The whole creative team is pumping out quality week after week. Best of all, if you’re still not sure about this issue, as a third issue, you’re almost certain to have it available in trade before too long.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Now that we’re willing to discuss the issue thoroughly, I can be much more positive. This issue has a fine, traditional, narrative in place: the hero coordinates with his supporting case, tracks down the villain through his bumbling henchmen, discovers a dark secret , and; outraged; defeated the dastardly rogue. That’s fine, but it’s standard. What makes this an issue that I had to write about is the way that Slott characterizes Toomes and Octavius. As I said, the upside to age is history. Otto and Adrian have known each other since Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, when Otto assembled the first incarnation of the Sinister Six. It’s possible that the flashback in this issue actually takes place between the gutters of that one. Slott shows us, in a few brief panels, a simple friendship between two colleges. Particularly after following Otto’s journey in the last hundred issues of Amazing Spider-Man, it’s clear that, above all else, he values intelligence and inventiveness. Narcissist that he is, the good Doctor is capable of deep respect for others of similar intelligence, even if they will always be competing for second place. This is where the story finds Otto and Adrian.

I adore moments like these, and, I think, many out there feel the same. Like some bizarre version  of the Bechdel Test, friendships between villains help make a world seem alive and gives weight to their feelings and needs. We see them so often at their worst, but there is more to each character than their battles with Spiderman. Especially with two characters as similar as these two and with so much shared history (Toomes was a member of every incarnation of the Sinister Six until Ends of the Earth), it’s no surprise that Slott is able to write them as such convincing work buddies.

If ever there’s been a moment when I felt that Otto just might be a superior Spiderman to Peter Parker, it was in this issue. Knowing Adrian’s dreams and aspirations, OctoSpidey offers to buy him out. It’s really an ingenious solution, and one that shows Peter’s limitations. If Toomes is to be believed, a single failure to defeat him could have rid New York and Spiderman of the Vulture forever. Now I imagine that if this had been tried he would have wanted more, but I think Toomes is a stronger character when he is looking to nest.

I think its powerful that, while Toomes is motivated by an old man’s dream, Octavius finds himself pushed to his limit by memories of his childhood. As I said, this isn’t necessarily great writing, but it’s moving stuff. Something in the way that Octavius quietly mutters that Adrian “made [him] strike a child”, is constructed just right to make one sure that a young Otto Octavius once promised himself that that was a line he’d never cross as he nursed a bloody nose. It’s the kind of high intensity situation that you almost can’t help but have an emotional response to. This is a moment that this series needed. We need to see that Otto Octavius, not Spiderman, not Peter Parker or his memories, can be a hero and this is a step both towards and away from that which I think will pay off.

Toomes cements his moniker, almost confused as he tells Otto that he’s “always preyed on and lived off the young”, even justifying it “this is what I am.” Slott doesn’t do the best job of highlighting what’s important in this scene, but it is all there. In what I feel to be the emotional crux of this issue, Otto responds, “No. You’re Adrian Toomes. And it’s like I’m looking at you for the first time.”

The story of the modern superhero is one that explores the limits of individuality. In becoming something other, how far can we go from society without losing our humanity? The line between a superhero and their villains is the degree they remain responsible to society for their actions, and there’s no character in comics who better exemplifies the necessity of that responsibility than Spiderman.

Octavius denies Adrian’s excuse. The Vulture is Adrian Toomes, not the other way around; he cannot hide behind his totem. In this simple statement, Otto defeats the corrupting power of anonymity and breaks the bonds of friendship he once held with his partner-in-crime.

Slott and Stegman give us a workmanlike tale of a new Spiderman on the job, but there’s a tragedy playing out in the subtext of the issue. That’s what interests me and that’s what makes this an issue worth owning.

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