Welcome to the all-new Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week we focus on the much talked about Superior Spider-Man, and if writer Dan Slott is giving us something that finally feels worthy of the Spider-Man legacy, or is the book still just spinning its wheels? Enjoy!
Dan Slott has done something I didn't think possible, not at this juncture at least- He's made Spider-man interesting for the first time in years, at least since Michael J. Straczynski was at the helm, and many would argue it's been longer still. As you may have read in this very column- I dug Amazing Spider-man #700, but wasn't fond of Superior Spider-man #1. Seven issues and a few months later, Dan Slot has made me a believer. I still think the book has a few problems, but on the whole it may just be the most fun I've had, and the most surprised I've been, reading a big Superhero comic in a while (the exception being Scott Snyder's Batman).
What has ended up working so well is Slott finding ways to make this Freaky Friday switch more interesting than the obvious, and he's getting the obvious right too. Doc Ock is finding new ways to improve the Spider-man crime fighting formula on a regular basis- from an upgraded costume (the new, dome-like, eye pieces look fantastically bug-like), to a legion of city-wide spider bots that report any suspicious activity or Police matters right to his smart phone. Those are fun additions, but Ock getting outraged when he finds out Peter Parker never completed his doctorate was a stroke of genius. Ock literally re-enrolls at Empire State University because he can't bear to be stuck in a body that does not have the title of "Dr.". Things take a turn for the dark when Ock mathematically decides killing villain "Massacre" is the smartest course of action, and dispatches him in cold and calculated fashion. Even harmless pranksters get beaten within an inch of their life at the hands of the Superior Spider-man, and refreshingly we get reasons for it other than the fact that Ock is simply a villain (or was). We're getting a deeper look into Doc Ock's psyche as the displaced Peter Parker is witnessing some of Ock's tragic past. An abusive father and schoolyard bullying are par for the course, but how they are directly tied to Ock's present day anger works very well. Revealing from the beginning that sprit (soul? Conscience?) of Peter Parker still resides somewhere in e body and mind of Spider-man was a risky one. It instantly put a clock on how long this switch would last. Leading up to issue #8, Peter is gaining more and more control of his body, and getting back into his own head. Is the end of this storyline nigh? I think issue #8 finally gives us a very good answer.
Issue #8 opens with SpideyOck about to be manhandled by the Avengers. They're performing an intervention after Spidey crossed the line with Massacre, and to determine if it really is good ole' webhead under the mask. In a interesting twist- they not only determine that Ock is indeed the Spider-man they know and love, but Black Widow even offers her emotional support by taking a cue from last summer's Avengers movie- She knows what it's like to have "red in your ledger" . Spidey may have left Avengers tower on probation, but possibly also with a new love interest. I mean, why not? After all- they're both spiders. Ock has been getting suspicious of Peter still lingering in his brainwaves, as Peter has managed to briefly take control of his body, and some of the things he "says" Ock can hear. Lucky for Ock, Tony stark and Hank Pym were away, and not part of the "Avengers intervention" (guaranteed to be the name of the next big crossover!), because if they were, they would actually have noticed something fishy with Spidey's grey matter, but as it stands only the superior SpideyOck picks up on it. Ock needs to run a much more thorough test on his brain to confirm his suspicions, and he knows just how to do it- recover one of his old devices from his days as Otto Octavius. The problem is a villain from the past currently has it- Cardiac. Now Slott is playing at my nostalgia, I have a soft spot in my heart for Cardiac (ba dum dum). He is in some ways a cheesy villain who peaked in the late 80's/early 90's, with a costume that only looks god on paper. However, there is an interesting twist with Cardiac-- he's not exactly a villain, he just goes to extreme measures to help people, and in Superior Spider-man he's running yet another underground clinic to help those in desperate need that hospitals and insurance companies have tossed aside. The device Cardiac took from Ock's personal effects is actually helping to cure a young girl, and the story is set up for Ock to pull his most heartless feat yet. But he doesn't. Not only does he realize what he is doing is selfish and wrong, but he even takes it one step further and helps perform the necessary surgery to save the girl's life. Afterward, Cardiac and Ock actually bond, and Ock vows to support Cardiac in his mission to help the needy. Decades of spidey clashing with a villain- wash, rinse, repeat, and suddenly here we are with something completely new, and our mouth tastes minty fresh. This is the potential of Superior Spider-man, and Slott, along with Humberto Ramos's excellent art, are realizing it. Peter Parker coming back so soon seems to be just a ruse, I think we are in for a longer haul with Ock at the helm, and as of now I actually prefer it that way.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.