The Superior Spider-Man 9

superior spider-man 9

Today, Ethan and Drew are discussing Superior Spider-Man 9, originally released May 1st, 2013.

Ethan: I’m not sure why so many of my posts have dealt with issues of identity lately. Maybe modern comic authors really like to incorporate this theme; maybe it has something to do with the inherent conceit of people donning costumes to play out parts of their life as someone else; maybe it’s just a concept I like to think about. Probably some mixture of all of them. Regardless, in Superior Spider-Man #9 Dan Slott provides a great forum for exploring the ideas of what makes us who we are by throwing science, emotional relationships, and morality into a figurative salad spinner and, um, spinning it.

The issue picks right up after the Avengers subdued Spider-Man and subjected him to a full medical scan in and effort to determine why his behavior has taken a more sinister turn by killing the villain Massacre. Otto has finally figured out that something is awry and is hunting for Peter Parker in his brainwaves. Having located Peter, Otto unsuccessfully attempts to delete him from his mind. When Peter resists, Otto travels into his own mind to confront the stowaway directly. Peter summons a mental team of the people he knew in life to help him wrest back control of his body, but Otto responds by calling forth the greatest hits of Peter’s nemeses to slaughter his loved ones. In a final bid for control, Peter rips off his skin to reveal his Spider-Man identity to take on Doc Ock, only to be foiled when Otto undergoes a similar transformation into the “Superior” Spider-Man, complete with his new claws. The confrontation comes to a close with Otto wiping the last traces of Peter from his mind.

This panel in particular is a nice intro to the concept of Self that this issue throws at us:

SSM_experiences

What I’m taking from Otto’s mediation (and seemingly, Peter’s subsequent comments) is that Ghost-Peter might NOT actually be the displaced soul of Peter Parker, but rather just the self-aware mish-mash of Peter’s memories. That statement all by itself starts to get a little weird when you start to try to define what it is that any of us are – one of the thought experiments I appreciated in school was the one in which you ask, “how much of a person can you cut away before they cease to be themselves?” Obviously, if you cut off my arm, I still feel like I’m the same person (albeit a bit peeved at you for the involuntary amputation). Keep whittling away until I’m nothing but a brain in a jar, and, if you hook me up to some kind of machine and keep my formaldehyde fresh, I might still be able to hang on to that sense of Self. The prima facie argument of this issue seems to be something like “you know that wispy blue guy that looks like Spider-Man who keeps running his mouth? Yeah, he’s just a bunch of memories.” While I have a sneaking suspicion that this assertion is a sleight of hand, and that we’ll later discover that Ghost-Peter is more than the sum of his alpha-waves, it makes for a good fulcrum of tension: if Peter’s been reduced to simple memories, Otto can get rid of him by dropping those memories.

So, let’s assume for a second that Otto is rid of Peter once and for all (again). Post mind-wipe, he’s finally

SSM_Free

Where does that leave us? If you accept that Peter’s memories were purely supplemental, then the comic could continue without incident: Otto’s turned a leaf, boosted productivity, and we’re off to the races. If Peter’s memories are just like an external drive one uses to hang onto interesting data — but fundamentally separate from your physical brain — there’s no problem.

If, however, Peter’s memories have somehow played an active, subconscious part in steering Otto’s actions, then it’s an entirely different ballgame (yes I just mixed by sports metaphors). Think about the recent theories in cognition, specifically the ones that deal with repetition. Some labcoat-clad squares think that when we do the same thing over and over, like eating a favorite food or commuting to work, our brains save energy over time by laying down more permanent structures, hard-wiring activities that we do all the time in order to free up all that valuable ATP to do more useful stuff (like tweeting or checking our Facebook feed). What if Peter’s memories were serving some kind of underlying function, like managing the tricky task of rocketing through the air over Manhattan while identifying the next ideal anchor for web-slinging, or a higher function like placing value on helping other people? Consider Otto’s own words: “Memories. It seems we really are the sum of our experiences.” If Peter’s agency was leaking into Otto’s mind to the extent that Peter could control Otto’s hand without him realizing it, how much more were Peter’s learned behaviors and ingrained dispositions affecting Otto on a subconscious level? Will Otto’s excision of all-that-is-Peter kill his spider-sense, or remove his desire to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others?

Drew, I didn’t even begin to wade into the internal show-down scenes. Did you find the fight relevant, or did the tit-for-tat face-peelings annoy you? Who do you think won the “I’m the better Spider-Man” argument?

Drew: Oh, I loved the hell out of the “No, I’m Spider-Man” one-upmanship. It’s another assertion of identity nested in an a proposed definition of identity, which you’re totally right to cite as dauntingly complex. If I can, I’d like to pull back a little from the (meta)physical approach you outlined to look more at how the theme of identity — as well as what constitutes that identity — fits in our culture at large.

Beyond your recent posts, Ethan, I’d argue that society as a whole is fixated on identity. Moreover, I believe that modern society, awash in extraneous information, is fixated on how our identities relate to the information in our heads. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind dramatized this struggle in a very similar way, as a man attempts to protect his memories from a procedure designed to remove them. I’m also reminded of Inception, where a man’s attempts to preserve specific memories nearly ruins his life. The point is, there is a lot of media out there that agrees with this issue’s assertion that identity is essentially a set of experiences (or, even just the memories of those experiences), and all of those also seem to share this issue’s fascination with what happens to that identity if those memories are changed.

All that is to say, we’re primed for the symbolically-charged fight that takes place in this issue. Actually, it’s more of a philosophical argument dramatized as a fight. I suppose that’s always true of the good vs. evil battles we’re used to seeing in comic books, but Slott calls our attention to it, reminding us that Peter is just an idea, so can only be harmed by other ideas. Ultimately, it’s a moral weakness that causes Peter to waiver — he admits to fighting against Otto even as he tried to save that girl’s life in the previous issue, just so Peter could keep himself hidden. That isn’t who Peter is, and that momentary loss of himself is exactly the opening Otto needed to make Peter to forget even his own name.

It's Piper, right? Peter Piper sounds right.

Many fans are outraged at what seems like a very final goodbye to Peter. To their credit, they clearly appreciate that this battle is ultimately more lasting and symbolic than the one that ended Amazing Spider-Man 700, but their understanding of Peter’s identity here makes their outrage laughably ironic. Slott has been quick to point out that the story isn’t over — and yeah, making mistakes and coming back from seeming defeat are absolutely Peter — but I think the lesson here is bigger than that. Remember how this Peter is an idea? That means you can’t kill him. He exists in out minds long after we put down this issue, and can continue to inspire us even when he fails. I don’t need to be so crass as to remind anyone that Peter Parker was always just an idea, but the point is: he can’t really be defeated as long as we remember that idea.

I get it, this “he lives on in all of us” eulogizing can feel a little canned, and it’s disappointing to see Peter fall at his lowest moment, but I think this moment really calls for some faith. Faith in Slott to tell a good story, sure, but more important is the faith in Peter to be Peter. This character is stronger than moral lapses, stronger than bad ideas, hell, he’s stronger than forgetting his own continuity. He’s sure as hell stronger than a second act break defeat. I’m the last person who should be preaching faith, but the rage quitters all sound like folks who declared the bible pro-satan because they quit reading right around Good Friday. Believe in your hero, but give him a FUCKING MINUTE. Slott has delivered a beautiful opportunity for us to reaffirm our faith in Peter Parker, and I think we owe it to Peter to not get mad that he didn’t succeed instantly.

To answer your question, Ethan, its obvious that Otto won this argument, but with the big fat qualifier of “for now.” Intriguingly, in all of the twitter complaints about this issue, I haven’t seen a single one that details why Peter is the superior Spider-Man — that is, how specifically Otto’s argument is wrong. I have to admit, Otto makes a compelling enough case that it will be hard for Peter to come back with a decisive win, but I am extremely confident that Slott knows what he’s doing. He’s already asserted Peter’s identity so hard, I can’t wait to see what happens when he cranks it up even further.

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?

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33 comments on “The Superior Spider-Man 9

  1. Honestly, am I the only person in the world who wouldn’t mind Peter not coming back? In all honesty, based on my (slim) experience with Peter Parker (ASM 682-700, SSM and Spider-Man Blue), I often found him to be annoying and kind of cliché. I loved him in SM: Blue, but in the more recent stuff his personality got on my nerves and while I’m sure this change isn’t permanent, I really wouldn’t mind a year or two’s break from Peter Parker, even more so of Ghost-Peter Parker a.k.a. Captain Obvious.

    • Drew and I were idly investigating the publishing history of Amazing Spider-Man – kind of marveling at how they pumped out 700 issues in so little time. At first, I was totally bamboozeld by the Vol. 1 / Vol. 2 distinction. Spider-Man reset its numbering after 441, and became ASM Vol. 2 for 58 issues. Then it clicked back to original numbering and took on the number 500 and proceeded from there. Naturally, a nice big round number like 700 killed Peter Parker. I suspect that Otto’s story will play out in 99 issues of Superior Spider-Man and Peter will return (with the old numbering) for ASM 800. At the current rate of Spidey-publishing, that gives us 5 years with Otto, which sounds just about perfect to me – especially if we’re free of Ghost-Peter for a while.

  2. Highlight of the comic for me: “Otto, you have learned! Do the right thing!” Of course, Otto knows the right thing. Be Spider-Man, because he’s the better one.

    You know, I cried when I read the death of Spider-Man in Ultimate Spider-Man. I did not feel weepy nor sad in Amazing 700 or here. Peter will be back and I know it and everyone else should, too.

    This comic is really, really good right now. (By the way, I’m getting this in on the day you write this, so hopefully it’s read and believed. As good as Superior is, the last few issues of Avenging Spider-Man (starting with Spider-Ock and the X-Men) have been FANTASTIC. Must reads. Better than the main story line. Especially the last two issues with the Future Foundation and Thor. Believe me now and listen to me later – they are great and add another layer of how cool the Doc Ock takeover has been.)

    Also, this adds a new question. If Parker is (currently) completely gone, will it matter that Carlie ‘knows’ it’s not Peter in there? Will she be his salvation? My guess will be that Mary Jane and Carlie that are instrumental in booting Ock from Peter’s body and finding a way to get Peter back. Along with Horizon. It would be awesome of J. Jonah Jameson was forced to help, too, and bring the real Spider-Man back.

    • I am so sure that Peter will be back that, when I write something about him in a post or in a comment, I don’t refer to him as a dead person. I write “Peter IS”, not “Peter WAS.”
      Also, I think that Carlie is a great addiction to Peter’s already marvellous cast of supporting characters. Their interaction reminds me of the relationship between Peter and Jean De Wolff: in that case Spidey wasn’t in love with her, but they had a very similar chemistry.

      • I posted this in some other comment thread, but I loved Dan Slott’s response to the twitter question: “Who would win in a fight between Harry Potter and Peter Parker?” Slott responded “Harry. Peter’s dead.”

        Whatever the long-game is (and I have my theories about that), Peter’s gone.

        • I do a little in my response to Gino (above). Mostly, my theories are driven by round numbers and publishing tricks, and not any in-universe stuff. We’ve got zero Peter Parkers in comics right now (what with Miles in Ultimate), and I suspect we’re being intentionally deprived of his presence.

        • I don’t think Otto will stick around for so long. I think we’ll get Peter back far sooner (maybe when the 2nd movie comes out?). Thank you for your reply! : )

  3. I wonder if ghost Peter wasn’t just Slott’s way of kind of weaning readers off Peter Parker. People read Spider-Man expecting some good-natured crimefighting quips, and having ghost-Peter drop those jokes eased the transition to Otto’s more villainous ranting.

    Also, isn’t Otto being cavalier about his double life? Like, doesn’t he now not have the memories he needs to pretend to be Peter Parker? I mean, he’s always sort of half-assed the deception (stop talking like a Silver Age supervillain, you clown!) but this seems like it could bite him in the ass immediately.

    • It kinda seems like he has different plans for the Peter Parker portion of his life anyway – he’s finishing his degree, he’s dating his tutor. Maybe he realizes he can just cut all those old Parker ties. We wants to live is own life, after all.

  4. Drew – while I agree in general with your assessment that Otto won this argument in the sense that Peter got zapped and Otto’s still here, I kind of feel like Otto’s reasoning was HIGHLY debatable and engaged in some pretty major omissions.

    Example: Peter allowed Massacre to live, and as a result a whole bunch of people died when Massacre escaped. Ok, fine; the balancing fact is that Otto FLIPPIN’ SHOT SOMEONE IN THE HEAD. Massacre can’t go on any more sprees thanks to the small detail of him being dead now, but when you’re having the “do the ends justify the means?” conversation, most civilized societies come down on the side of “No, they don’t.” The fact that Peter made some bad decisions by messing with Otto out of a sense of self-preservation is not, I think, in any way comparable to Otto’s slash-and-burn M.O. Great, he innovated the spider-eye system and lowered crime more than Peter lowered crime… but according to that logic, all heroes who don’t realize their maximum potential are morally reprehensible, which seems like a stretch.

    Obviously, this is a comic book, and the point is entertainment, so knocking down straw-men is gonna happen on a regular basis. But it still irked me.

    I don’t think that Peter’s “if you were REALLY a hero you’d give me my body back” argument is that much better; I just don’t think Otto’s snake-oil pitch was conclusively better.

    • I mean, sure, Otto is engaging in some major moral relativism here, but I think his argument that Peter’s refusal to kill ultimately sentences more people (innocent people, no less) to die is pretty compelling. By refusing to kill Massacre, Peter allowed 30 people to die, which Otto sees as unacceptable, essentially flipping the ends/means conversation on its head. If killing one person so that dozens of others may live is reprehensible, how could allowing dozens to die so one may live any better? I get the no killing rule, and I get that Peter always believes that his villains might change their ways, but I’m not willing to dismiss Otto’s argument just because it explicitly allows for some death. Peter’s method has always implicitly allowed for death, and it really feels like Otto is just building that into his assessments.

      • I hear you when you start talking about the idea of “would you kill one person if it would save the lives of one million others?” I just think that’s a murky / slippery-slope kind of thought experiment to get into. Yes, Otto feels that killing one person is better than allowing 30 others to die… but like Peter pointed out, Otto’s the guy who threatened to remove the ozone layer on a whim. I don’t think he’s grown so far from his supervillain days and ways that I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making ANY judgement calls that involve whether a person lives or dies. I’ll have to agree to disagree on the statement that Otto successfully turns the tables on the ends/means conversation. 🙂

        Apart from that though, loved your post – you captured the bigger picture and pulled out the relevant pieces from the post. I always get sidetracked on what-ifs and such, I really like the way you brought this one home.

  5. Pingback: The Superior Spider-Man 25 | Retcon Punch

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