Saturday, 15 June 2013

Superior Spider-Man Volume 1 Review

Prior to this series, a dying Doc Ock managed to switch bodies with Peter Parker so that his mind was transferred to Peter’s body and Peter’s mind was in Ock’s body. Doc Ock’s mind coupled with Peter Parker’s body makes him, in his words, the Superior Spider-man while Peter in Doc Ock’s body is “dead” though his spirit is still hanging around, stupefied at the way events have turned out. Crucially though, Peter was able to give Ock his memories and a measure of his personality so it’s not totally Doc Ock in control of Spider-man - he isn’t 100% supervillain, and he does save lives, think of others, and generally behave in a more or less civilised way than he normally would, much to his chagrin. 

So how does Doc Ock do as Spider-man? Actually really well, both as a character and as a concept for this series. He’s still selfish, arrogant and ruthless but his Spider-man is incredibly effective. He creates hundreds of mini-spiders with cameras inside and sets them loose on New York providing him with a spy network that eliminates the need for Spidey to go out on patrol - if a spider-camera picks up a crime, the app on his phone beeps and he can get to the scene exactly. Pretty smart, if somewhat Big-Brother-ish, and an idea that’s a great blend of Spidey and Ock. 

There are lots of little things like that that separate this Spider-man from the real Spidey, like the brilliant way he deals with the new Sinister Six in the opening issue, setting the tone for the series that this is a very different Spider-man than the one we’ve all read before. The focus is on Ock's more cerebral approach to crime-fighting, incorporating traps and gadgets to accomplish his goals more effectively. This Spider-man is definitely a new and interesting version of Spidey that we've never seen before and makes for a more exciting story as we can't predict what he's going to do next. 

It is strange that no-one picks up on Spidey being different - his voice is definitely Doc Ock’s, using phrases like “everything’s proceeding according to plan” in everyday vernacular - especially MJ. Issue #2 deals with the disturbing consequence of Doc Ock in Peter’s body - that he might end up trying to rape MJ, or she would sleep with him not knowing he’s not Peter. Thankfully, Dan Slott deals with it tastefully and in a way that it doesn’t need to be addressed again in other issues. 

There’s a brilliant scene that parodies Batman where Mayor J. Jonah Jameson sets up a Spider-man spotlight that shines into the sky whenever he needs him - a light that Spidey quickly destroys, telling him it’s like a beacon for every bad guy in the city to target. Which raised the interesting question of why more Batman villains haven’t tried sabotaging the light atop the GCPD more often? Batman shows up on the building whenever the light is shone after all. I thought it was a great observation from Slott anyway.

Despite the jokey nature of the first couple of issues, things get very dark in the latter half of the book with Peter’s grip of Ock’s mind slipping (he follows Ock everywhere as a kind of one-man disembodied Greek chorus) and sees the Superior Spider-man becoming much more harsh in his approach to Spidey’s rogues gallery, specifically in his treatment of the Vulture and Massacre. In fact, the way Spidey deals with Massacre might be a dealbreaker for many long-time Spider-man readers - but just remember it’s not Peter. 

There really isn’t a single thing about the book I can fault. I even liked the sub-plot where Ock discovers Peter doesn’t have a doctorate and, his ego enraged, re-enrols in university to get his PhD. and gets tutored by a little person with excellent Italian cooking skills. Amid everything that’s happening, it should be a sidetrack that feels unnecessary but instead adds to the overall richness of the storyline. 

Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman and Guiseppe Camuncoli have re-invigorated Spider-man with this storyline, giving the character a fresh perspective and creating new avenues of storytelling with all sorts of possibilities. Superior Spider-man is a fantastic series and a must-read for both old and new fans of the character.

Superior Spider-Man, Volume 1: My Own Worst Enemy

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