Superior Spiderman 9

Do you ever get nostalgic? That feeling of longing for a time gone by? Do you ever yearn to return to the good old days when you knew who your heroes were and Dan Slott was verbally assaulted on a regular basis – you know, this January?

Nine issues into this strange experiment, the Superior Spider-Man continues to plug along. The last two issues saw darling Parktopus tangle with Cardiac. They did lack some of the kick that earlier issues of the series possessed, but…CARDIAC!

In the end, though, the most important turn of events was Otto’s discovery that his triumph over Peter Parker was not as complete as he had thought. And that’s where we find ourselves now.

Issue nine of The Superior Spider-Man is an examination of a single confrontation, and a familiar one at that. Can this really be the end of the Spider-Ock experiment? Would Slott dare to kill Peter Parker again!? Though I came into this issue with strong and long-held opinions on such matters, Dan Slott did an admirable job of creating drama to get lost in, as well as planting the possibility in my mind that the outcome may not be a clear victory for either side.

The single scene issue (more or less) is really more of Brian Michael Bendis’ thing  but Slott makes able use of it. It seems like Slott is a bit out of his element, but he may well be. Slott’s Spider-Man stories have generally juggled the ever-present pressures of Spidey’s life/lives with the skill of a man with a spider-sense. This time there’s no b-story to catch you if you’re not interested or to build tension. Even so, I’m glad that he spent the time giving both parties such attention.

With the final confrontation between Peter and Otto already decided, this issue allows us to focus not on who would win in a fight, but who should. In a very literal fashion, we have here a battle of wills. It’s Peter’s principles against Otto’s, and I think you’ll find more reasons to second guess your preconceived notions than you might have expected.

I’ve long felt, and, on more than one occasion, written about my belief that Dan Slott has a real grasp of the dark side of Peter Parker. A brief glance through Spider-history will show that Peter’s never been the perfect hero that we often think of him as. He was violent, he got angry. He lashed out, hurt people, and opted to mock and fight others when he could have avoided conflict. Peter Parker was and is a deeply damaged individual. This journey to the center of the mind manages to celebrate Pete’s heroism, while never shrinking from the acknowledgement that his personal demons were many and powerful.

Indeed, I was shocked by the brutality of this issue. Not brutality in the normal sense that we use when discussing superhero comics, but in how viscerally I could feel the battle. Peter’s words cut deep, and when Doc Ock makes a point, you can feel the chill in his astral bones. There’s even one moment that goes far beyond what killing any individual character could manage.

Slott is a fan as well as a creator and his arguments reflect the complexity and the archetypal simplicity we attribute these four-color legends. The dialogue is strong, if occasionally obvious, and form seamlessly follows function.

In the end, Slott lives up to the promise of this controversial issue. While it’s not my favorite example of his writing, he gives Peter and Otto all the gravitas they deserve.

Ryan Stegman provides some beautiful artwork this month. He certainly has some fun images to draw, thanks to the nature of this week’s plot (for some reason I particularly adore the last panel of this page). Stegman’s best work is in the middle to end of the issue, the scenes where we’re entirely in Spidey’s mind and things start to get weird. Every bizarre and beautiful turn is represented with care and detail (it’s even easy to tell the two Spider-Men apart, though I would be remise if I didn’t give Edgar Delgato, the colorist, some credit for that). There are plenty of lovely big panels but much of the issue features pages with seven or more panels. Stegman’s clever layouts keep the book flowing and the ideas fresh.

Interestingly, Stegman also has a distinctly old-fashioned style when it comes to the characters that appear in this issue. Is it because they’re memories, or does he just really like the old costumes? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s definitely a sight.

You’ll hear a lot of hyperbole about this book. Some people think it’s fabulous. Others think that it’s atrocious and they’ll never read comics again. My opinion is that both sides are wrong.

The structure of the book leaves something to be desired on its own, but as a part of the story that Slott and Stegman are telling, this is about as good a comic as one can be while also being accurately described as a gut punch.

 

 

 

 

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 can talk openly…

Yes, it’s true. Peter Parker is dead.

Again.

I admit that it’s distressing to see Ghost-Peter written out of this series. On one hand, he was a fun device that added to the depth of both sides of Otto (the life he came from and the life he stole). On the other hand, he was Peter freakin’ Parker! That guy who you grew up with, the guy who taught me about electric insulation and how to make my hand do that…web-slingy thing.

If you’re upset about what went down this week, no one is forcing you to keep buying this series, but I will remind you of three things.

  1. Dan Slott has killed Peter Parker before. He’s the guy who set Doc Ock up to essentially date rape Mary Jane. But every time Superior Spider-Man has been set to ‘ruin everything forever’ Slott’s come through.
  2. Marvel hasn’t permanently gotten rid of any of their classic heroes, at least not the ones you’d know if you didn’t read comics. (Though they seem to have a recent fascination with killing off characters in time for their movies: Thor, Amazing Spider-Man 2, rumor has it The Wolverine will be next. It’s like some morbid refutation of the claim that Marvel’s movies mess up continuity for the sake of new readers.)
  3. As all comic fans know: if you don’t see a body, they’re not dead.

Admittedly, I’m cheating a little bit with that last one as Peter didn’t have a body to see in this instance, but the point is that Ghost Peter’s fate was very unclear and hardly the severing of the last possible way to ever have ‘our’ Spidey back again. Slott does make it very clear that the training wheels have come off – no more memory backups, but his insistence on pointing out that he’s covered all bases reads less like an affirmation that Peter is gone for good (for better or worse I fear that Marvel would eventually return to the tried and true) and more like a plea to accept that this is a story that’s going to get told.

As I said, no one has a gun to your head, but you’re wasting everyone’s time if you’re going to read this book, thinking only of how much better it ‘should be’.

Slott and Stegman paint a powerful picture that we are normally denied by the mandates of continuity. There’s something satisfying about seeing your hero brought to his lowest point, and while we naturally want to see a return to glory eventually, we can truly enjoy it here, knowing that Peter Parker won’t just be back to normal next arc. I don’t even know how to express my shock and horror when Otto destroyed Peter’s memories of Uncle Ben and the final moments of Ghost Peter are just great; frightening, poignant, and strangely reminiscent of Grant Morrison at his most poetic and apocalyptic (which is probably when I enjoy Morrison most).

This is a different side of Dan Slott than I’ve seen and, though I think I prefer it in small doses than as a new normal, it speaks well of him as a writer and of the future of this series.

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