Marc Alan Fishman: The Superior Spider-Ploy
SPOILER ALERT: To be fair… if you’ve not read Amazing Spider-Man #700, and care about the ending, and haven’t scoured the interwebs for spoilers previously? Please don’t read this week. Go read Dennis O’Neil’s article instead. It’s better than mine anyway.
Awhile back Michael Davis and I got into a heated argument over balls. Not kickballs. Not softballs. Not soccer balls. Balls. Juevos. Or Huevos, depending on how you look at it. We bickered a bit on whether DC’s New52 was a move made with testicular fortitude. Well, I’d like to think ultimately I won. I said they didn’t use enough man-juice. They got the bump in sales they wanted, but I don’t believe for a second they “changed the industry,” “changed the game,” or did anything more than what they did after the first Crisis on Infinite Earths – but in a significantly more watered down way. But I digress. This week, I’m not here to chastise DC. This week. I’m here to celebrate a bold and ballsy move by none other than Dan Slott. His Superior Spider-Man is a gutsy concept that deserves recognition.
Slott started in on his run on Amazing Spider-Man way back at issue #546. One-two-skip-a-few-ninety-nine-six-hundred. At issue #600 Dan started what would lead to a hundred issue long game wherein he would eventually do the (mostly) unthinkable: he would kill Peter Parker, and in true comic fashion mind-swap Otto Octavious into the titular hero’s body. And he’d keep it that way. Thus, when Marvel launches Superior Spider-Man with Doc Ock as Peter Parker… we have a new(ish) Spider-Man in the 616. Balls, kiddos.
The ideology here is simple. Thwarted time and again, Octavious decided to play one of the longest cons in comic history. In bits and pieces and dribs and drabs, Doc Ock found ways into Peter Parker’s head. And after his nefarious plan succeeds, in very a Ozymandias’ way, we are left with Spider-Ock. But instead of proclaiming potential world domination, instead Slott aims Octavious towards a goal that makes him more a shade of gray than previously thought. To paraphrase: all Otto’s ever wanted (aside from a dead nemesis for years and years, and maybe a better haircut) was to improve the world. Now, with this newfound great power will come great solutions. He has proclaimed that he will be the superior Spider-Man. Natch.
Now, the whole body swap thing has been done before. As has the “replace the title character with character X.” Bucky-Cap. Dick Grayson-Bats. Frog-Thor. And yes, we know that Spidey-Classic will no doubt be back in his own body safe and sound. And let’s even be so bold as to suggest somehow Otto will get himself a new body too. Younger. Stronger. Designed with 100% more lines and angst. It’s just the nature of this business. Don’t believe me? Go look at Frank Castle. Bloodstone my Jewish ass. But that’s a whole ‘nother show, as Alton Brown might say. The key here, and the reason I’m so excited about this, is because of the sheer novelty.
It’s widely known my favorite book of 2011 was Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics, starring Dick Grayson under the cape and cowl. I had not purchased a Batman book for eight years prior. Thank you, Hush. Why did I return? Especially when I didn’t know Scott from a hole in the wall? Because of the opportunity to give me something new. And whereas seemingly all other Marvel titles being brought into the “NOW,” here Slott decided to end his pre-now run with a big bang. Everyone else put the toys neatly back on the shelf. Balls. Of course, it may be a bit unfair to say that. Slott leaves Amazing Spider-Man to go to… Superior Spider-Man. So, perhaps he’s only semi-ballsy? Nay. To start a new number one with such a concept – for however long it goes on for – is a calculated risk.
Most of us in comic land know that a shiny new #1 on the shelf is an invitation to hop on board the bandwagon before it’s too late. I missed the boat (er… wagon) already on Daredevil, Hawkeye, and a few others outside the big two. To start a book by throwing out the previously known characteristics of your lead hero is something even more refreshing that Bucky-Cap and the like. Octo-Spidey has a cold and calculating mind behind the bright spandex. He has knowledge of the underworld other heroes would not be privy to. And he has all of Peter’s knowledge on top of his own. That’s two super-scientists for the price of one, for those counting. All of these things contribute to an amazing (superior? Nah, too easy) amount of potential energy. So long as Slott can convert that to kinetic energy he has an opportunity to redefine a hero with decades of backstory (and a ton of it truly despised). Goodbye clone saga. Goodbye “One More Day.” Hello new stories. For however long they last.
Speaking of that length, I cite Señor Miguel Oro. “…It’s not merely a matter of execution: eventually, the readers’ patience will wear out. The trick it to make the arc so compelling you don’t want it to revert. That’s some trick. But even then, you’re racing against the reader’s expectations.”
And therein lies the ultimate question. How long can Dan Slott keep the ball in the air. The longer he does it, the more attention will gather around the book. I mean, with a major motion picture looming not too far off in the distance, can Slott successfully maintain a Spider-Man that isn’t? Only one way to tell. And while I only read “Ends of the Earth” on his Amazing Spider-Man run before being lured elsewhere… I for one will jump on board as long as he delivers.
Dan Slott, the balls are in your court. Now (heh), use them.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander