I’ve always been reluctant to discuss Superior Spider-Man. For the most part, it is one of the few story arcs that longtime fans actually appreciate. More than that, they seem reverential about the whole experience saying such things as “It revitalized the character” and “At last, a change from the same old thing”. Okay, admittedly nobody said these exact phrases but that’s always the tone I was able to glean when the topic was brought up. I personally avoided the story because I thought the ham fisted way it was initiated was so pants on head stupid that anything that followed would be tainted with the stench. It wasn’t until recently that I went back and actually investigated the book, picking up the first volume from the shop and seeing how good Superior Spider-Man is, perhaps with the impending retcon I could be free to talk about the story with no consequences. And you know what? I found it teeth gnashingly terrible.
I already espoused at great length on what I thought of the Peter Parker/Otto Octavius brain swap. But you know what? Over time I’ve softened to it. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s more full of crap than a colostomy bag; but I no longer have rage blackouts when I think about it. Comics are full of crap plot twists that make little to no sense and are simply there to get Person A to Event B. So let’s move on to the actual concept, what happens when Doc Ock tries to be Spider-Man. And you know what? It’s a good story idea, or at least the ember of an idea. At least it’s an interesting premise that has the potential to explore the psyche of both Otto and Peter. I opened the pages expecting a story comparing cold, hard logic to compassion; the brain versus the heart. After all, Spider-Man is well known as the hero who throws himself into the fray even when he knows it’s a losing battle or maybe there’s a better way but he has to help the innocents, the victims. Perhaps Otto would do more “Good” but at the cost of compassion and humanity. I opened the book and instead was immediately bombarded with the “Otto is so Cool” show.
Reading through Superior Spider-Man, one thing became abundantly clear—Peter Parker isn’t good at anything. Or at least that’s what the story seemed to be telling me. The plot didn’t work hard to show Otto doing things different from Peter, he simply did them better and made Peter look like a shlub for not doing better. Issue number one opens with a new Sinister Six committing a robbery. Police are having a lot of trouble trying to stop them until Spider-Man swings onto the scene. Immediately it becomes clear this isn’t the same Spider-Man. He’s more brutal and there isn’t a single joke to be heard.
The Sinister Six are able to repel Spider-Man that day but that’s not important; he ends up taking down the entire group later with a series of ingenious traps. What is important is that after Spider-Man takes down the Sinister Six, the entire city of New York celebrates his victory, throwing him a celebration. And I mean the entire city including now mayor J. Jonah Jameson. The man gives Spider-Man a hearty hand shake and stops just short of giving him a hug and taking him to a ball game so they can be best friends. Whoah, if Otto can get Jonah on his side he must be better than Peter. Only that’s not what happened. Spider-Man has defeated the Sinister Six more than a dozen times. Every time not only did the city not give a shit, Jonah would always follow it up with a smear piece. Now though, Spider-Man defeats the group and not a single detractor can be heard. Did Otto defeat the Sinister Six and then add a narcotic to New York’s drinking water? The entire book feels like this insane fan fiction dedicated to how cool Otto is and how much better than Peter he is—not just at being Spider-Man but also at being Peter!
So not only does Otto stop the Sinister Six and win over the entire city but then he proceeds to live Peter’s life but better. First he successfully wins back Mary Jane Watson only to break up with her like a page later. Then he wins over Aunt May, spending more time with her and causing her to remark that he’s been such a better son as of late. Then to top it off, Otto finds out that Peter doesn’t have his doctorate. This is an outrage and he simply must remedy the situation and then proceeds to get a doctorate over the course of a few months. Okay, I realize that Otto is a genius, he is indisputably smarter than Peter. But if Stephen Hawking started work on a new doctorate degree today it would still take over a year for the university to even give him an honorary degree. The thing is that the book is trying to play Otto off as this uber human being, able to achieve far beyond what puny Parker could ever do. But two things came to mind as I read this. A, where’s the time machine that Otto clearly invented in order to perform all of these achievements? B, not only is Peter apparently a complete nincompoop, but Otto isn’t that great either. Think about it, Otto achieves all of these great things but all of them he could have easily done with his own body—a body I might remind you that had four extra limbs for increased productivity. If Otto is such a genius, why did it take Peter Parker’s body in order to be great?
The truth about Sinister Spider-Man is that, like so many Spider-Man stories, it’s a great idea with poor execution. They had a chance to show Otto as an opposing ideology and instead they showed Peter Parker is kind of a dunce. Which is tragic, so much of Peter’s story is how he is struggling so hard to simply stay above water. All of that effort is blasted away because look how easy it was for Otto. It’s like if you were playing a video game and got stuck at one particular part. You played it over and over and no matter what you just couldn’t get past. Then a friend sees you struggling and offers to help. You hand over the controller and he immediately goes to settings, lowers the difficulty, and does the same thing you were trying, passing with flying colors. Yeah, technically he did what you couldn’t, but would you look at his achievement as a great accomplishment or kind of a cheat? Right now the point is kind of moot. The Marvel universe is relaunching and it’s likely none of Superior will follow into the new frontier. However, I would like to end on this thought. Throughout Superior Spider-Man, Spider-Man still made appearances in other books and he was very much Otto. So suddenly this character that was a warm, comedic relief was just an asshole—completely unenjoyable to read. That was eventually fixed only for them to announce a new book, Superior Iron Man. Marvel? Stop making heroes into ass holes. It’s not fun to read and doesn’t prove anything. I want my heroes to save the day, to be that beacon of hope, and to be a role model for a greater good. Anything else should be dumped into an alternate universe where it belongs.