No, it has nothing to do with the whole Doctor Octopus is in Peter Parker’s body while Peter is apparently dead, even though some remnant of Peter’s morality is making Ock try to prove he can be a Spider-Man. A superior Spider-Man, even. No, that doesn’t bother me. I mean I never thought that status would remain quo for long.
Ever since the days of Stan Lee, Marvel Comics has operated on the principle of “the appearance of change,” but that’s not even the real reason. The real reason I expected Peter Parker back in control just about now is because in a few short weeks the movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out. Anybody who thought the Disney suits would want a comic book where Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man out at the same time as the movie where Peter Parker is Spider-Man could use a lesson in marketing. And I don’t mean a refresher course at your local Kwik-E-Mart.
So why is The Superior Spider-Man not a good comic for me? Well, let’s look at the latest example of what bothers Bob about The Superior Spider-Man and then we’ll discuss.
Blackout wants to reestablish his rep as a hired killer and how he chose to do it is the subject of this week’s SPOILER ALERT. You know those really big spoilers on cars that resemble the blades of a ventilation fan? They look silly. Don’t use them. And don’t continue reading this column, unless you want the beginning, middle and end of The Superior Spider-Man Annual # 1 spoiled. (more…)
[[[Fifty shades of grey]]] isn’t just a runaway best-seller of debatable literary merit soon to be a major motion picture of, probably, even more debatable merit. It’s also the world we live in.
No, I don’t mean it’s a world of erotic fantasies, BDSM role-playing games, and dominance. Although if it were, can you imagine how that would change the popular Disney attraction “It’s a Small World?” (And I apologize for having put that now unwashable image into your minds.)
What I mean is that the world isn’t just “white hats” and “black hats,” good or evil. It’s a world of grey tones where everyone has some good and some evil, where everyone is grey. Some people are more good than evil, while others are more evil than good, which is why there are shades of grey; at least fifty of them if bad literature can be believed.
Otto Octavius, the former Doctor Octopus and now the controlling mentality in the body of Peter Parker, who is trying to prove he’s a “white hat” by being a superior Spider-Man is proving instead that, like Batman in [[[The Lego Movie]]], he “only work[s] in black. And sometimes, very, very dark grey.” And the world around him is trending darker too, like it’s got some sort of Goth hashtag.
Okay, Marvel, let me see if I’ve got this straight? The bad guy wins. That’s how you celebrate the 700th issue of your flagship character, by killing him and letting the bad guy win?
Assuming you haven’t been in a cave and know about the events of The Amazing Spider-Man #700 and the subsequent issues of [[[The Superior Spider-Man]]] – and in case you have and you don’t: SPOILER WARNING – you know that Dr. Octopus put Peter Parker’s mind into his own dying body and his mind into Peter Parker’s body. You also know that Doc Ock’s body died with Peter’s mind still in it and that Ock, whose mind is in Peter’s body, is now proving that with his “unparalleled genius” he can be a superior Spider-Man. Well, I like a good redemption story as well as the next guy – and for me that’s the only thing that makes this storyline interesting; can Doc Ock actually find redemption by being a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker was?
A week or so ago I was talking about how in the Man of Steel movie they had Superman kill someone. No spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s your own damn fault. It did violate one of the traditional tenets that marked Superman as Superman – he doesn’t kill. Lots of innocent bystanders must have also died during his battle with Kryptonians in Smallville and Metropolis but hey – collateral damage.
I did note, however, that characters that have been around a lot need an updating to keep them relevant to the times in which they are being read/watched. The question to me is – how much change is acceptable before you’ve altered the character so much that they are no longer really that character. What defines each character? What are the essentials?
I read in a recent Entertainment Weekly that Andrew Garfield, the current movie Peter Parker/Spider-Man, suggested that the next Mary Jane actually be a guy. Have Peter explore his sexuality with a guy. Even the director, Marc Webb, when asked if he had heard Garfield’s idea, seemed to do an eye roll.
That idea certainly isn’t traditional Peter Parker and got some discussion, but is it that far off? I’m not saying I endorse the idea but wouldn’t it make Peter more contemporary, something to which younger readers/viewers might relate? Would a bi-sexual Peter Parker be any less Spider-Man? Would a Peter Parker in a lip lock with a guy be more shocking than a Superman who kills?
The comics’ Spider-Man has taken it further. In the book, Spider-Man’s old foe Doctor Octopus has taken over Peter’s body and life and identity of Spider-Man with Peter looking real dead and gone. Otto Octavius is now Spider-Man. WTF?
The powers are the same, but the character sure isn’t. Is it the powers that define who Spider-Man is or is it the man behind the mask? If the latter, is this really Spider-Man?
This isn’t the only character to which this has happened. Iron Man has had people other than Tony Stark in the armor. Batman has had a couple of people under the cowl. And let’s not start on Robin. Or Batgirl.
The stories of Sherlock Holmes have also lent themselves to numerous interpretations. There are currently two TV series that put Holmes into modern day. I only really know the BBC series, Sherlock, but despite changing the era it feels so Holmesian to me. It feels like they got the essentials right.
I did it myself with my own character GrimJack. First I killed off the main character, John Gaunt, then I brought his soul back into a clone of himself and then, eventually, I had him reborn into another person, James Edgar Twilley, although again, it was the same soul. Munden’s Bar remained but the supporting cast was different and I had bounced the whole thing down the time line a hundred years or so and the setting of Cynosure was also changed.
I knew why I did it at the time. I felt my writing was getting stale and the character was as well. We hadn’t been around all that long but I felt we were getting tripped up on our own continuity. Sales were eroding. My editor asked me to come up with some way of making the book dangerous again. That’s how I chose to do it.
Was it still GrimJack? Yes, I felt it was – in its essentials. An alienated and violent loner in a strange city living by his own code. Same soul, two lives. It still felt like GrimJack.
I’m willing to bet that most re-examinations of a given character or concept stems from that – to look at it all with fresh eyes, to make the reader/viewer do the same. To me, that’s trying to get to the essentials.
Maybe we aren’t all agreed as to what the essentials are in any given character or concept. That may vary from person o person, fan to fan. I think that’s why there are quibbles right now about Man of Steel; if Superman not killing is essential to the character, there’s a problem with the newest version. On the other hand, if “do not kill” rule is just like wearing red trunks, then it’s not essential. Is the Man of Steel Superman?
OK, I admit it: I’m a pro-wrestling fan. I’ll even do you one better. I’m a smart-mark. Yeah, I’m not only a fan, I’m a fan of the business behind the product. I know the difference between an Irish whip, a German suplex, and an inverted front face buster into a crossbar arm-breaker. I’ve tried hard to bury this part of my nerd-quilt for a very long time. Almost six years. But here on the precipice of Wrestlemania, I find myself DVR’ing episodes and instigating debates with fellow fans. There is no denying, kiddos. Pin my shoulders to the mat. I’m not kicking out of this one.
Like most fans of the sport (and yeah, I use the term loosely), I was introduced to it while I was but a wee one. My father, devoid of any other real hobby or vice, would every-so-often bring home a taped pay-per-view from a friend or co-worker. And I would be allowed, even on a school night, to stay up and watch it to the end. It led me to watch the Saturday morning recap shows (as we didn’t have cable back then). It led me when I got the Internet, to seek message boards, news groups, and the like. When I got to college (and got cable), it was a twice a week obsession. The real question of course being simple: after the ‘nostalgia was gone well into my teen years, what kept me a fan? The sport and the business.
Behind the scenes, wrestling is a fascinating machine. Bookers and top-brass give shots to up and coming talent, challenging them to connect with fans. The talent themselves, having spent years on the road honing their craft (both being able to perform the moves, and project a character), are tasked with becoming stars and elevating the company that gave them the chance in the first place. Merchandise is made, and product is eternally analyzed. The art itself isn’t just on a TV screen, or a bingo hall… it’s in a board room, and in the locker rooms; where creative minds meet all for the sake of entertaining the niche-market built specifically around itself. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Look down on it all you want, but for the money, pro-wrestling is a living breathing comic book presented for the masses every week. Hulking super men and woman battle one-another endlessly. They become heroes, turn villainous, unite to stop larger threats, and every couple years things reset. Some stories are played for high drama while others are strictly slapstick. Continuity is cited, forgotten, and brought back into the fold when it serves a higher purpose. Vintage characters come back for cheap applause and shock value. Most people hold the independent presentations to be “better, and closer to what the medium should be.” And my favorite similarity? Every smart fan thinks he knows what’s going to happen; and that he could write it better if someone would just listen.
That sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
And how about I cite a little topical note to boot! This past week, we all saw DC implode just a little as the curtain drew back and spat out several creators running for the hills due to creative differences. Back in 2011, angered over his own creative differences with his contract and character, CM Punk walked out to the stage and took over the last few minutes of the weekly WWF show Raw. He proceeded to air his grievances about the business, and broke the 4th wall like it was made of paper.
Now, this could all have been a work (fake…) but it was treated just like Gail Simone’s exit off of Batgirl. Of course Gail bowed out gracefully, didn’t complain at all, and was genuinely amazing about the whole ordeal. Punk was a heel (a villain), so why not be a big baby about all of it, right? At the end of the day: Punk got the spotlight like he’d always wanted. Gail Simone is back on Batgirl. And as I type this, I’m betting dollars to maple-glazed bacon donuts… that DC editorial is saving the life of John Stewart.
Suffice to say I’m finding a way to let my freak flag fly again. Wrestling may very well be scripted, but so are my favorite comics. And just like a great moment in comics like Otto Octavious successfully taking over Peter Parker’s body, so too can I enjoy John Cena using a never-seen before hurricanrana in his repertoire in order to defeat his opponent and earn his title shot at the big pay-per-view. It’s serialized story telling, in either form. Replace super powers with inhuman tolerance for pain. Replace indulgent caption boxes and exposition dumps for long-winded promos littered with catch phrases. Don the t-shirts, and attend the conventions. Hell, if you think you can do better… maybe start doing it on your own, and sell your product in your backyard.
Wait, scratch that. Kids: don’t become backyard wrestlers. Or indie comic creators. You’ll end up on your back either way.
And for any of my smart-marks out there: I’m pulling for Punk to beat the streak. It won’t happen of course, but if he can destroy the Undertaker’s Urn after losing the match, he’ll keep all the heat, and it’ll give Taker and Punk one more match next month.
And for any of my comic-insiders out there: I’m personally hoping Otto dials back the megalomania just a skosh, and Slott keeps him under the mask for at least a year. And when it comes time to put Peter back in the drivers seat… Otto either gets a young new body or yields to death’s embrace for the greater good.
That last page is going to calm a LOT of people down.
With the seven hundred issue run of Amazing Spider-Man ended, Marvel has started this new odd hybrid Spider-Man in a new title, Superior Spider-Man, which premiered this week. Writer Dan Slott has presented one of the most controversial plot twists in comics in some time and set it up in a new book. And it works exceedingly well. (Spoilers ahead.)
SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1 by Dan Slott art by Ryan Stegman, color by Edgar Delgado
I already said in my discussion of Amazing Spider-Man 698 that I had utter faith in Dan Slott. Yes, the plot twist he’s spun here is, at the least, controversial. It proves, simply, that he’s got what it takes to sell real estate. This is a story he’s been setting up for several years. Slowly, deliberately, under our noses. He’s taken an almost standard plot twist, seen in countless comics, movies and TV shows, and built it into a firestorm.
And I want to go to the people who don’t like it and take their comics away. because if they don’t like this storyline, they just don’t like comics.
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.