* Note, Superior Spider-Man spoilers for issues #1-5 are below. These comics came out over a year ago, so seriously… should I even have to warn you there are spoilers?
Dan Slott's admittedly successful arc on our favorite wall-crawler has been nothing short of polarizing in the comic book world. Put it this way, I don't buy comic books on a regular basis anymore, and even I had heard the echoes of anger/adulation seemingly everywhere I went.
For those unaware, the decades-running long title The Amazing Spider-Man came to a stunning halt in December of 2012. Issue #700 was earmarked as a landmark event, and not just because it was bringing closure to a title that had been published since 1963. No, for issue #700, something monumental was about to happen, something that would shake up the Spider-Man universe for years to come.
My interest certainly buzzed with spidey-sense indicators. Spider-Man is my favorite comic book character of all time. On the occasion I do stroll into a *comic book shop, I usually head towards something Spidey or Batman related. Even with the excitement though, I had been down this road before. Hadn't all of us Spidey fans? Need I remind you of the infamous Clone Saga or One More Day?
I bought Amazing Spider-Man #700.
I read it.
I was angry.
Still irked at the dissolution of The Amazing Spider-Man as an actual published title, I reached seething levels of frustration when I learned that arguably Spider-Man's greatest foe, Doctor Octopus, had swapped minds with Peter Parker. Oh, I forgot to mention, Doc Ock then dies. With Peter Parker's mind in his body. Thus, "Peter" is dead, and what were left with is The Superior Spider-Man.
Doc Ock's mind was now firmly implanted into the body of Peter Parker's body, and The Amazing Spider-Man was no more.
I hated it. I hated everything about it. I cursed Dan Slott and vowed to stay as far away from Spider-Man as possible. Comic book arcs have shelf-lives, and I knew I'd check back in when the real Peter returned (this is a comic book people, it's an inevitability).
And so hence my stream of disdain-filled comments on the podcast. But along the way, something occurred to me, something that had been nagging the back of my head. To be frank, I wasn't being fair to Slott. As a storyteller myself, I'm well aware of the need to follow the path of a particular story deeper before making a subjective assessment. I was breaking a cardinal rule, spitting on something without even giving it a chance. It was fairly ignorant of me, and I was shamed inside at not giving the writer an opportunity to hook me.
Here's the thing, Spider-Man has been around for over 50 years. And as much as the kid in me wants Spidey thwarting Mysterio in perfectly drawn Steve Ditko lines and arcs, those days are long gone. Finding depth in a format that consistently hinders change on a larger scale is incredibly difficult. I've even thought about it myself. I don't write comic-books, but even trying to come up with fresh Spider-Man plots is exhausting. So for that reason alone, I commend Slott for taking a risk.
As a writer, I respect the challenges he faced. Moreover, I knew the creative side of me had to give his Superior Spider-Man arc a fair, unbiased look.
Last week, I purchased the first set of the series, "My Own Worst Enemy" in graphic novel form. It should be noted that Superior Spider-Man has been running since January 2013. It has racked up several accolades, is beloved by some fanboys, and does fantastically well on the sales chart.
Dan Slott, regardless of people like me, is doing just fine thank you.
What I promised myself going into SSM was that I'd be completely open to the story. It had been a year since I left Spider-Man in a disgusted spat of adolescent anger and fear. Time had waned my initial reaction, and colleagues I respected urged me to look into it for myself.
The only other parameter I gave myself was that I would read this first part, cover to cover, in a manner of days. I made no guarantees that I'd purchase the next SSM graphic novel thread, because while I fully believe giving a new direction the chance to grow on me is important, I do not believe that means you have to spend all of your money on a series for over a year.
I look at it like a television show. I'm not going to give you just the pilot to ensnare me, I'm going to give you 4-6 episodes. If I'm still not interested? I move on. Time is short, and hoping something is going to grow on you after a while becomes futile and wasteful. (I'm looking at you Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D).
By my standards, the first graphic novel for SSM was a fair indicator of whether I'd like Slott's take or not. If I did, I'd be loyal and see it through to the end. If not, no harm.
So what did I think?
Here's what I liked: First off, I liked it more than I thought I would. The word I'd use most when describing it was intriguing. Again, I appreciate Slott's efforts and some of it had me smiling. I particularly enjoyed a small moment that occurs when J. Jonah Jameson uses a giant spider-signal in the sky to alert Spider-Man of danger. The fact that Doc Ock points out how utterly stupid an idea that is was really clever.
"A giant beacon in the sky, announcing to all my enemies where they can find me. Only an idiot would put that into effect."
I consider myself a man of reasonable intelligence, and I have never once thought about how the bat-signal is truly stupid in that regard. So props for that exchange alone… and this lead to other things I liked about SSM- namely, the quest by Doc Ock to become a "better" Spider-Man. He employs new technology to make Spidey more efficient, and the results are so obvious that even the ghost/mind (?) of Peter Parker begrudgingly admits to it.
So as a whole, the concept of Otto as Spider-Man didn't bother me. As I said, it was intriguing. The human moments were most appealing to me, as when Doc Ock realizes that "Peter Parker" will get all the credit for his efforts, because of course that is now the body his mind is in.
I also liked the look of Spider-Man. Apparently, the artwork of SSM is also highly debated, but I thought the bug-eyed messy look this new Spider-Man possessed fit the tone of what lied underneath. In short, he didn't look like the cute & cuddly Macy's Day Float. He looked powerful, yet sinister. I also enjoyed the look of Peter in the lab, a weird sort of Doc Ock/Peter Parker hybrid. Along with the newly employed Spider-bots, there was a lot to smile about. Cool stuff indeed.
However, there were other things I truly disliked, and in some cases found downright repugnant.
First up was the interaction between Mary Jane and Peter. There's really no other way to say this, I found it creepy. Creepy, in a bad "this isn't right" sort of way. Perhaps that's the point, Otto, no matter what he does, will always be a villain. Regardless, it felt gratuitous and something out of a middle-aged man's fantasy. Yes, I'm aware that in context this makes sense.
I'm simply telling you I didn't like it. I found it fairly disgusting. If the book The Amazing Spider-Man had previously utilized this plot device in conjunction with a villain's efforts, maybe I'd give it more of a pass. But this is Spider-Man.
For better or worse, this is being presented as THE Spider-Man. Having a comic book panel focused squarely on Mary Jane's chest with the inner dialogue of Doctor Octopus saying the following: "Yes. Peter Parker's life will suit me just fine. And the best part of it? The view."
Sorry, I found it creepy. Especially considering Mary Jane thinks she's staring back at the love of her life, and not a nefarious villain. Think about that context for a moment.
Still, one moment wouldn't sink my collective interest.
Unfortunately, there were more to come. Spider-Man also gets somewhat creepy with Aunt May, as well as virtually every other female character he encounters during the first five issues.
Then there is the villain Massacre, who more than makes up for his name. He's seen gunning down dozens of people in a variety of exploitive panels over the course of two scenes. This isn't one panel shown to shock the reader. This isn't one panel meant to infer what we as adults know is happening.
This is the cold-blooded, straight murder of cops and innocent civilians.
Jesus Christ man, this is Spider-Man. Not The Punisher.
Sure, there's been dark episodes in the history of Spider-Man (Umm, Gwen Stacy anyone?), but this felt different.
I'm sorry though, I'm not done.
The conclusion of these collected comic books features our fearless hero, Spider-Man, shooting a defenseless Massacre right in the head.
He simply picks up a gun, points it at his head, and in front of crowds of people, shoots.
In the course of five issues, Dan Slott has turned Spider-Man into not only a perv, but also a murderer.
No matter how intriguing the idea, I simply can't get behind this new series. It's too much for me.
I keep thinking of the kids AND adults who might be picking up Spider-Man for the first time, interested to see who this guy is.
Instead of the wise-cracking, flawed but beautiful Peter Parker, they get this guy.
I gave it a chance. I really did.
I don't hate Dan Slott. I'm sure he's laughing all the way to the bank. I'm sure he's jumping up and down, screaming, "But he's NOT Spider-Man, THAT'S the point! He's really a villain!"
Dan is obviously a talented writer, and having any ill-will towards him is silly and childish. A LOT of people love this incarnation. I simply don't.
I'd sum it up like this, I can only respond in a way that reads like seemingly every dialogue blurb inside Superior Spider-Man, fixated on STRESSING certain words, OVER and OVER, as if WE are the REAL idiots.
The FACT is that THIS is our current Spider-Man. He is PRESENTED as such, and now has been at the FRONT of Spider-Man comics for OVER A YEAR. So CALL him a villain all you want, BUT there is no HERO to root for in this book. No PROTAGONIST to get behind. You KILLED Peter Parker. TWICE. So from where I stand, YOU'VE killed Spider-Man.
In closing, this wasn't for me, but it may be for you. If you're a longtime fan of Spider-Man, then by all means give it a chance and see if you dig it. You can buy Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy by clicking this link.
If you have never checked out Spider-Man, and want to… It's simple people. Ditko. Always go with Ditko.