The Superior Spider-Man 6

Alternating Currents: Superior Spider-Man 6, Drew and Freakin' Animal Man

Today, Drew and guest writer The Freakin’ Animal Man are discussing Superior Spider-Man 6, originally released March 20th, 2013.

Drew: Superheroes wear masks to protect their identities. The notion is that, by covering their faces, they will obscure who they really are. Of course, “who they really are” often has more to do with their actions than their names, which becomes readily apparent when another person steps behind the mask. The cops and villains of Gotham City all noticed a change in Batman when Dick took the reins, suggesting that much of the differences in Bruce and Dick’s personalities weren’t hidden by the cowl at all. At least Bruce and Dick are friends — imagine how apparent those changes might be if they were mortal enemies. That’s exactly the situation Superior Spider-Man finds itself in as the cracks in Otto’s facade continue to grow.

Issue 6 opens with Screwball and Jester — a pair of social-media-savvy pranksters — crashing a press conference at City Hall. The results aren’t so much threatening as they are embarrassing for J. Jonah Jameson, but he calls in Spider-Man, anyway. Otto isn’t inclined to devote his energies to something so trivial, but he does hate bullies, so he agrees to take the case. Bullying comes up again when “Peter” witnesses Anna Maria catching jeers from some lunkheads, which seems to bother Otto much more than her. Their meeting is cut short when he’s called away to apprehend Screwball and Jester, but he makes a pit stop to cram the lunkheads into the trunk of their own car. The folks in the area are rightly horrified, but not nearly as horrified as those watching Screwball and Jester’s live feed, where Spider-Man beats them mercilessly. Amongst those watching? The Avengers, who agree that they need to bring Spider-Man in.

Otto really flies off the handle at the end, but writer Dan Slott does a brilliant job of leading us there, step by step. Seeing Otto’s history with bullying makes his own actions more understandable (I was particularly enamored of his slip-up when he agreed with Jameson that Spider-Man is a bit of a menace), making him almost sympathetic. I can totally understand that Otto would have some revenge fantasies built up, but the thought of enacting them — or taking them out on other people — clearly crosses a line. Slott emphasizes this in the reaction shots to the video of Spider-Man beating Screwball and Jester.

WORST BARTENDER EVER

Jameson is totally cool with this, but Mary Jane is so disgusted, she seems to suspect that something is amiss. Anna Maria is also horrified at Spider-Man’s actions, though she doesn’t know he’s responsible (or that Peter is Spider-Man).

Actually, it seems that Otto’s impersonation of Peter isn’t holding up with the people that know him. On one end of the spectrum, you have Jameson, who doesn’t know or particularly care about Spider-Man, and who is willing to accept that everything Otto has done as the actions of the same man. On the other end, we have Mary Jane, who knows Peter well enough to know that he would never behave this way. Somewhere in between, we have the Avengers, who have noticed that something is up, but haven’t suspected anything close to a mind-swap — they seem to think he’s just a little unstable. In all the places where Peter’s personality might have shown through the mask, people are noticing that something is amiss.

What really fascinates me about this issue is the complexity of the morality at play. Yes, obviously Otto’s reaction is inappropriate, but he was actually pretty sympathetic for much of this issue. I don’t want to accuse all comic book fans of being victims of bullying, but I do think the kind of morality we’re used to getting from comics makes us empathize more with the victims of bullying rather than with the bullies — we respect the great responsibility that comes with great power. That is, Otto’s reactions here aren’t incorrect in type, just in degree, which is a lot harder to parse. Did he cross the line with punch one, punch ten, or punch fifty?

This may start to tilt at the limitations of superhero comics in proscribing moral actions — we might understand that violence is not an appropriate solution, but Superman’s got to punch something — but I think it also gets at a more universal moral of not becoming your own worst enemy. Otto agrees with Jameson that Spider-Man is a bit of a bully, but then goes on to become the bully himself, throwing around his power with little regard for the people he harms. It’s hard not to see the similarity between Otto at the end and the bully from his memory.Otto vs. Bully

Penciller Humberto Ramos makes the comparison quite explicit — he shoots both from a low angle, standing over their victims, both are brandishing their fists, heck, they both even have ghost-Peter staring over their right shoulders. There’s no indication that Otto yet sees the similarities, but the chance that he might does offer some hope for his character.

With that, I’ll turn things over to guest-writer Freakin’ Animal Man, who you might recognize from his previous guest appearances on Grifter 0 and the Superboy Annual. While your writing was great on those, the comics themselves were not, so I’m excited to hear what you thought about this one, which I actually liked quite a bit. Did you have as much fun with this issue as I did?

Freakin’ Animal Man: I’ve written a few articles for you folks here, and despite even getting to write an Animal Man article, this was my favorite review. I’m going to say right away, my first read through, I didn’t like this issue. It was moving really fast for me, and the sight of ghost Peter always rubs me the wrong way. So I’m going to start with my negatives.

I could be wrong, but I feel like I’m in the minority when I say I liked the end of Amazing Spider-Man #700. It was really a fun dive into trying something radically new. I liked the idea that Peter’s consciousness came with the body and that we’d see a change in Otto. It’d also give way to a new Spider-Man. In many ways we’ve gotten that. It seems, Drew, that you seem to like the pacing of Otto being revealed to Peter’s friends. If so, we might disagree. I felt this could’ve been stretched for a much longer time. I felt a year of Otto trying to make Peter’s mind a home could show his transformation of the conflicted character at the end of #700 to everyone’s favorite Octo-jerk hiding in Spidey’s tights. The thing is, we’re 6 issues into this series, and I’m skeptical we’ll get to 10 issues before good ole’ predictable Peter Parker is back in action.

And when it came to the inevitable return of Parker, I wanted to give the series some credit. When Peter died in Otto’s body, I can name a dozen people who called that he was hiding in the back of his own body’s mind as a spirit of some sort to hang around and find his way to gain control again.

Who you gonna call?

The only reason I didn’t share that prediction was that with such a neat twist at the end of #700 they wouldn’t go for such a obvious cop out. I feel he’s been the weakest aspect of the Superior series so far.

It’s time to stop being negative, because I sat down, read this issue a few more times after my initial look through, and I have to say this is probably my favorite issue of Superior Spider-Man. For the most part, Drew says a lot of why this is brilliant, but let me try to add some of my little touches. First off, I said before I’ve disliked Parker following along behind like he’s trying to get Otto to know the true meaning of Christmas. So, as if he was reading my mind, Dan Slott takes our bothersome ghosty and puts him through Otto’s mindscape. Instead of being a dull obvious narrative of admitting that Doc Oc’s Spider-Man is more clever but is definitely more immoral (to which every decent fan out there rolls their eyes and cries “duh”) he’s  deep in Doc’s memories of being a chubby nerdy kid. Using Ghost Parker as a device to reason with our criminal mastermind instead of being Captain Obvious to Doc’s every movement is an incredible improvement. It even makes the reveal of the broken and bruised villains at the end to Peter even more entertaining.

You talked about the necessary violence in super hero comics, Drew. This is true, you go too far, and you begin to sympathize for the enemy. In books like Punisher MAX, the goal is to realize why Punisher is so damn scary is no matter how little you were involved in the crime at hand, you’re boned. Spider-Man as a series has been great to remind us what separates people like Spidey from others like Punisher. Peter only fought as hard as he needed. To what I remember, Spider-Man’s enemies only really got bloodied if they caused him to spill any. Otto has gone too far and that ratio is greatly altered, which really shows that he’s gone off the deep end. In fact, look at that scene where Otto stands over Screwball and Jester. The imagery there is remarkable. Doc’s hands are caked in their blood, and he himself is covered in playful prankster paint, but otherwise untouched.

On the topic of imagery and art, I want to touch on this quickly. I used to dislike ASM art, I found it somewhat childish and a little too cartoony. But I’ve really come to realize that Humberto Ramos does two brilliant things at once. One, Spider-Man is in a different demographic, as he definitely appeals more to the younger kids as well as us older coots. This art is definitely less serious than, say, Fury MAX or Sin City, but Ramos keeps it stylized for us and approachable for the younger folk. Second, I constantly find myself complaining about the lack of expression in comics. It’s usually easy to find scorns and shocks of surprise, but finding a comic that can deliver laughing faces as expressive as the pissed off scowls deserves praise, and you find that in spades in #06.

LARF

Building on that, I want to end on this on my favorite part of this issue, the pacing. This issue really gives us a full platter. If you kept up with the series, then you start off very uneasy aware of Otto’s previous execution. Then we’re watching Hobgoblin brood like he’s getting ready to get his sinister on, followed immediately by Jameson getting a pie in the face. I’ll cut the overview short and tell you to read it. Try to recap it to someone and you’ll realize how much Mr. Slott and the gang were able to cram into this issue, and yet I never felt it was rushed. Any sense of being rushed was more because the life of Spider-Man is in constant motion, and that felt natural in this issue. I’ve had my gripes every now and then with this series, but really this is an incredibly satisfying issue.

Freakin’ Animal Man is a superhero with too much time on his hands. If he’s not saving the day from animal zombies, he’s reviewing comics and pretending to be vegetarian. You can read more of his material at @FreaknAnimalMan on the Twitter.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

18 comments on “The Superior Spider-Man 6

  1. Jester is a very old villain of Daredevil.
    When Daredevil used to be camp, his villains were campy too, and Jester was one of the campiest Daredevil villains ever. I love the fact that Slott made him come back from oblivion.
    Brubaker is another writer who likes to “resurrect” old villains, and, when he does it, usually he gives each of them a much deeper characterization.

    • I had a suspicion that Jester was a pre-existing villain, but I had no idea where from. One of my favorite things about the New York of the Marvel Universe is that different heroes might fight the same villain. It happens from time to time at DC (especially in Gotham, where half of their books are set, anyway), but not nearly as much as it seems to at Marvel.

      • Totally, and not that I actually care much about Superman anymore (thanks Lobdell!), I absolutely LOVE the cover to issue 21 of Superman featuring GL villain Hector Hammond. I’m curious to see him mix it up with Supes if only because I’ve never seen it before. So I guess that means I’ll keep reading Superman. DAMN IT!!! lol

      • It is one of my favorite things too.
        Also, this is something Lemire likes to do very much. For example, he took a Batman’s villain (Poison Ivy) and he threw her in Superboy; he took a Superman’s supporting character (Steel), and he threw him in Animal Man. And I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of other examples. Thank you for your reply! : )

        • Yeah, Lemire LOVES his cameos. He puts everyone in Justice League Dark and vice versa. Dude is single-handedly tying the DC universe together better than most of their crossover events.

  2. Ah, it’s always nice to see Humberto Ramos’ art get some credit. He’s not perfect, but he drew one of my favorite comic runs of all time (teaming up with Mark Waid to illustrate most of the first 25 issues of “Impulse”), so I have a huge soft spot for the guy and his work.

    • Another Spider Man penciller, Francisco Herrera, has an artistic style which is very similar to Ramos’ one.
      I do suggest you to read Herrera’s Spider Man issues if you can get them: not only because they’re very well drawn, but also because the story is at least as good as the art is.

    • I’m not biggest fan of him myself, but I do think he works best with the right story. This one was mostly light-hearted until the very end. Which was the part of the point I think, to have a pair of goofy and mostly harmless villains be beaten half to death by Spidey. So Ramos helped to establish the goofy tone which was really just a Red Herring for the conclusion. In that sense, Ramos was a great choice for this issue.

  3. Hey, so what do we make of the fact that Screwball and Jester were up to more than just pranks? Jameson sics Spidey on them without knowing this, and Otto never mentions it. Is it important that we know these are thieves in addition to pranksters? Like, what Otto does is out of line no matter what. I’m not totally sure why Slott wanted to include that information.

    • Hmm…that’s a good point. I hadn’t though about it but maybe it’s just something that hasn’t paid off yet? Hopefully we’ll see something come of it in the next issue, otherwise it would be fairly superfluous.

  4. F’n Animal Man, I’m totally with you on this issue and this series. I read back from ASM 682 to get into SSM and I find Otto as Spider-Man to be so refreshing, it makes him much more different from every other super-hero out there and although I know that Peter is bound to come back eventually, you reflected my worries that this experiment might be much more short lived than I would like. Also, you’re right, Peter’s ghost really needs to stfu (glad he mostly did in this issue).

    • I love this debate. I was also really hoping for something just RADICALLY different with SSM 1, and was disappointed to see the Ghost of Peter Parker show up in the first issue. But, I know that there are a BUNCH of Spider-purists that were FREAKING THE FUCK OUT when they thought Parker was gone forever. So I’m more than happy to give those people a little peace of mind.

      Also, while everyone is starting to get suspicious of Otto/Peter, I don’t think anyone is going to really be able to call him on it / exorcising Otto. Maybe Doc learns that he has to try harder to convince people he’s Peter? There’s something going on in Age of Ultron that makes him VERY Petery, but, naturally we don’t know if that’s because he’s Peter or what. I’m still hoping for the slow and not-traditionally-satisfying resolution of their personalities MERGING gradually and without any magical or science fiction explanation.

      But even if someone does magic him back to normal, I don’t expect it for a good long time.

      • I fully expect Peter Parker to come back eventually, I wouldn’t mind at all if he didn’t but I know companies won’t usually take a gamble on offing such a popular character for ever, so I understand that. I just hope that you’re right and that it take a good long while, I’d like a solid two years of this before it get back to more or less status quo.

        A side note about ghost Peter; I don’t mind the concept so much seeing as if they want to re-introduce Peter eventually they had to plant the idea somehow and as much as it would have been nice for it to be witheld for a few issues to really plant seeds of doubt, then people would have just bitched that it was shoe-horned in to tame purists who were too angry. I just hope that Slott keeps moving away from having Peter look over Otto’s shoulder and whine all the time to phase him out a bit and/or make him do/say more interesting things, such as right now reliving Otto’s memories seems pretty nifty.

  5. Pingback: The Superior Spider-Man 12 | Retcon Punch

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