Today, Ethan and Patrick are discussing Superior Spider-Man 6AU, originally released March 27th, 2013. This issue is part of the Age of Ultron crossover event. Click here for complete AU coverage.
Ethan: Familiarity is a funny thing. The exposure we have to a thing or activity, the more hard-wiring space our brains devote to it. That’s great when you need to do something quickly — like recognize and react to a baseball flying at your head — or when you do something the same way over and over — like driving a route to work every day. That hard-wiring can save you from injury, or save on processing power that could be put to other use. Automatic responses aren’t always helpful though; sometimes your conditioning assigns a label and to situation too quickly and funnels you into a course of action that almost always works, but not this time. In the Age of Ultron crossover Superior Spider-Man #6, writer Christos Gage and artist Dexter Soy demonstrate the folly of this kind of snap judgement as Otto Octavius (in the body of Spider-Man Peter Parker) faces off against the malicious artificial intelligence.
As we saw in Age of Ultron #1 and 2, Spider-Man managed to sleep through the swift invasion of New York City, get captured by a bunch of thugs, and was rescued by Hawkeye, who brought him back to the sewers where the surviving superheroes are hiding out. Tony Stark finds Spider-Man kicking himself for his failures, and Stark offers him a way to redeem himself: help construct and trigger a device to zap Ultron into the Negative Zone. Spider-Man agrees and works with Quicksilver to infiltrate Horizon Labs, ostensibly to retrieve some Negative Zone tech, but Otto has other plans. Bringing his spider-eyes network of spider-bots back online, he hijacks a few Ultron drones and reprograms them for his own control. He remotely drives one of the hacked Ultron drones into the core of the New York machine-hive in a bid to attack and subvert or kill the main intelligence. His attempt fails, his hacked drones are restored to their original programming, destroying the Negative Zone displacer. Barely escaping with his life when more drones arrive to level his lab, Spider-Man limps back to the sewer hide-out in defeat.
The greatest success of this terrific issue is the deftness with which Gage and Soy pull the reader into Otto’s mode of reasoning. Part of me always knew that Otto’s scheme couldn’t really kill Ultron — the Age of Ultron arc is clearly nowhere near to being finished — but the force of the storytelling actually had me thinking that his plan might actually do some damage to the evil A.I. Superior Spider-Man has done a pretty decent job at making Doc Ock a sympathetic — and occasionally even likable — character, and for me, this sympathy fed the spark of hope that he might have a chance of striking a major blow against Ultron.
The con of this hope is built on two damning assumptions, the first of which is that the surviving heroes are a beat-down, broken bunch, and they lack the drive they need to win. Granted, Otto is a bit handicapped here, since he’s A) a supervillain himself, very much in the habit of underestimating heroes, and B) approached by one of the biggest fellow narcissists of the group, Tony Stark. Stark is quick to write off the efforts of his fellow heroes, and Dexter Soy drives the nail into the coffin with the sterile, depressing lighting and downcast faces:
Those people don’t look like they could take on the B-list villains right now, much less Ultron. Unbeknownst to Tony, Spider-Man is taking those doubts and forwarding them on to apply to Stark, too. Just as the rest of the heroes are less than impressive just now, Stark’s ideas must be doomed to fail, too. Stark comes right out and says that the Negative Zone plan is a hail mary, making it simple for Otto – and the reader – to lump Iron Man in the sad/desperate category and secretly move on to the next idea.
Enter snap judgement #2: Otto can defeat, or at least damage, Ultron because Ultron is a robot, and Otto does robots. We get the first seed of this in the opening pages of the issue:
Then, once Octavius is reunited with his spider-bots in Horizon Labs, we’re treated to a stunning tour de force as he confronts a set of Ultron drones, out-performing them physically, tactically, and programmatically. I would love to post both pages of this fight, but I will settle for the latter one. Again, Soy does a tremendous job here with his jump-cut shifts in perspective along the top of the page and the manga-esque pose of the compromised drone at the bottom.
I practically expected to see a NERV logo to rise up through the metal of that thing’s shoulder. And I love the fact that the hacked Ultron drones spontaneously grow golden variants of Doc Ock’s signature arms.
Not only is this second assumption tempting as an idea – maybe the perfect foil to an evil A.I. is an evil human supervillain? But after all of the doom and gloom in Age of Ultron so far, it just feels really good to see someone bloodying that damn robot’s nose.
How’d you like this one, Patrick? Maybe you weren’t so easily duped as I was, but did it have you going even for a moment?
Patrick: If you’re asking for a second whether I thought Otto’s plan was going to work, the answer is “no.” But I did believe — and still do believe — that Tony Stark’s plan totally would have worked. I love your analysis that Otto, being a supervillain, is in the habit of underestimating superheroes. That is a building-block of superhero fiction so fundamental that it’s a treat to see Gage turn that systematic underestimation into something that harms the heroes.
I also just think this is a phenomenal issue for Otto as a character. Gage opts not to include any ghost of Peter Parker nonsense in this issue, which is a wild departure from every single one of Dan Slott’s issues of this series. Maybe Gage’s hand is forced by editorial to keep the nature of the Parker / Octavius shared-cranium ambiguous at this point in the non-specific future, but I found the effect to be liberating. It’s not even like Peter’s pleas for mercy have been heralded by Otto up to this point anyway, so why not just let Otto take the driver seat full time?
In fact, Gage and Soy still find ways to comment on Otto’s relationship with his former nemesis without resorting to taller-ghost-Peter. This moment early in the issue where Otto blames Peter for having a life that was too time-consuming to maintain, is just awesome. There’s a simple poetry to Spider-Man punching his own reflection.
There’s also a charming moment at the end of the issue when Otto embraces the help of his fellow heroes, because they are truly his peers. It’s nice to see a moment of humility from the Doc, but it also speaks to the different opportunities afforded to Otto and Peter. Peter was able to achieve a lot of great things working with Daredevil or the Avengers or whomever, but Otto’s always been stuck working with bumbling supervillains or — worse yet — henchmen. Being Otto has been good for Spider-Man in a lot of ways, but it’s fascinating to see that being Spider-Man has also been good for Otto.
Like Age of Ultron artist Bryan Hitch, Dexter Soy seems to delight in drawing ruined cityscapes – which is exactly what the issue calls for. Unlike Hitch, Soy lets his backgrounds become more abstract colors and shapes and there’s a lot more to find in his ruins than smashed buildings. Yellow taxis pop against the gray background, a jet engine — from some unknown plane — rests in the streets, even bodies litter the ground of Soy’s demolished New York. While I love Hitch’s maniacal devotion to detail, his drawings always seem to suggest that the leveled buildings are the point of the issue, and Soy’s willingness to leave those details roughly painted in the background guides our focus back to the characters, where the real meat of the story is.
Anyway, it’s a marvelous little issue – able to cram in an entire plot conceived, executed and failed with room left over for character work. That’s no mean feat.
It’s also sort of a relief to see someone else write the hell out of this Otto-in-Peter’s-body concept. I love this series, but I got the sneaking suspicion that Slott was just really good at writing it. That’s still true, but it’s clear that this conceit has legs (and four extra robotic arms). 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?