Patrick: Spider-Man’s always been one of the most relateable superheroes out there. Whether it’s because he’s a social underdog, or quick with a joke, people just love Spidey. I’ve always assumed it’s because Peter Parker lot of petty baggage that we can all relate too. Tough time making rent? Girls don’t understand you? Homework got you down? Otto seems to think he’s immune to inane distraction, but for every dinner date with MJ he’s blown off, there’s an advanced degree he’s insisted on pursuing. And for what? Bragging rights? He’s already Spider-Man. Otto’s done a pretty good job of making his baggage work for him — thus far it’s mostly motivated him to be an effective crime fighter — but on the eve of the Spider-Slayer’s execution on The Raft, Otto’s hit with a few too many personal attacks to maintain his steely veneer.
That’s right: Execution Day is nearing! The Spider-Slayer, AKA Alystair Smythe, is set to be executed as part of the ramping down of The Raft. Mayor Jameson, having lost his wife to the Slayer, is insistent that Spider-Man be present at the event to keep escapings from happening. Y’see — the current head of security, Ted Shipley, has the thankless task of guarding a supervillain prison, which naturally means that he is constantly failing. For all of Otto’s extra precautions (and there are many), Alystair summons an army of tiny robots to outfit himself and some of the remaining inmates of The Raft with super-suits of armor and they start to punch their way out.
I like seeing all the ways that Otto anticipates Smythe’s various methods of escape — each one not only displays a level of preparedness Peter wouldn’t have had, but also shows Otto using resources Peter wouldn’t think to us — lasers in the ceiling, fire in the floor. They’re booby traps, and that’s totally something the bad guy would do. This is the bread and butter of Superior Spider-Man. It’s almost starting to feel routine: I still enjoy it, but Otto proving himself to be the more effective Spider-Man has become the default mode for this series.
Here’s the thing though: it’s not going particularly well for Otto, and it has very little to do with his ‘superiority.’ In fact, this might be the first time we’ve seen cracks in Otto’s confidence. And when the foundation of this series is built on Otto’s delusional (or not-so-delusional) beliefs, those cracks are a big deal. The first sign that not all is well in Spider-Land comes when Otto’s stopped dead in his tracks by the sight of his old cell. Obviously, the thing is empty, but Otto projects himself right back into that powerless space.
But even more interesting is this exchange Spidey has with with reporter covering the execution. Slayer preaches about Jesus and forgiveness on his way to the lethal injection station, and Otto’s quick to dismiss this change of heart as impossible, but then has to catch himself.
There are a couple things that could be tripping him up here. The most straightforward read is that he recognizes that criminals can change because he has changed. But it’s equally possible that he sees the same hypocrisy in himself. Without Peter in his head to stabilize the morality, Otto’s left on his own to make up his mind about what’s right and what’s wrong and it looks like he just hadn’t a moment where he couldn’t tell which was which.
With or without that ambiguity, Spidey’s going to have his hands full. It turns out that all those villains he’s been mistreating since ASM700 are being reborn as pissed-off cybernetic soldiers. Slayer’s machines go right for the wounds — particularly horrifying in the case of Vulture’s eyes — and build them back up into beefy killer robots. I don’t know if there’s a story-reason they mini-robots go in through places Spider-Man hurt them, but the symbolism is clear: Otto shares the blame for driving these villains to more extreme lengths. Giuseppe Camuncoli draws so much of this issue very nicely, but it’s the stomach churning image of robots calling into Vulture’s eyes that I’m going to see when I try to sleep tonight.
So, Drew, how did you like this issue? I hadn’t read whatever issue of Amazing dealt with the death of Jameson’s wife, so if there were honest heightened emotional stakes, I didn’t really feel them. In that way, I feel a little like Otto — an interloper in this incredibly personal trauma. Do you think this quartet of villains (plus or minus the Lizard) is going to get away and team up against Spider-Man? FURTHER, will they be functioning separately from the Goblin King’s gang? How many different factions have to be gunning for Spidey for they can even get close to taking him down?Drew: Man, this issue is so chock full of ideas that I could easily write my response to any one of Patrick’s paragraphs. Who is Otto hoping to impress in earning a doctorate? How icky is the idea of a superhero (one of the most relateable superheroes, no less) condoning capital punishment? Is he really reformed, or is there a supervillain waiting to surface here? Does having a Superior Spider-Man ultimately lead to superior villains? There are more ideas than we have space to dig into fully, which gives us the luxury of only thinking about the ones that interest us. Of course, Slott has made sure that they’re all interesting, so there’s still plenty to talk about
Patrick, I think you make an interesting case for Otto-as-supervillain. His tactics here are nothing if not villainous (I could easily see Batman in Spider-Slayer’s place here, cut-off at every pass), which he seems to absolutely revel in. Think about it — if you anticipate an escape, why do it so secretly unless you want to give the would-be escapee false hope? Otto is playing games here — cat-and-mouse, only the cat already has the mouse cornered.
But honestly, how heroic can you be when you’re whole goal is to ensure that a man die in front of those he’s wronged? I mean, I get that Otto has already taken it upon himself to execute Massacre, but something about Spider-Man sitting in the audience of an execution is fundamentally upsetting. It’s a little knife-twisting on Slott’s part, but dammit if it isn’t effective.
On second thought — why is Otto so pro-capital punishment? You’d think, as a life-long criminal, he’d be opposed to the threat of death for his actions. I understand that he has the ego to consider himself a satisfactory arbiter of who lives and who dies, but you’d think he’d have a more personal stake in the very idea of executions. Wouldn’t he have friends who might face the death penalty? Or might he have faced it himself? Of course, it’s a comic book, so we’ll never really have to confront these ideas (though Otto totally killed Massacre) — and honestly, maybe Otto always knew he and his friends could stage a daring escape at the last minute — but Slott is tilting at some controversial stuff here with a very straight face. Indeed, aside from Jameson’s approval, the whole notion of capital punishment is handled without any commentary — no morality plays, no finger-wagging, no chest-thumping. Indeed, the only thing that really draws my attention to the controversy of the subject matter is the weird feeling I get in my stomach at seeing Spider-Man sitting in the gallery.
It somehow makes Otto more real and more evil to see him like this, which brings me back to one of your questions, and the notion of his villainy at large. Early in the issue, Otto suggests that Peter had done things the hard way out of guilt, which ultimately prevented him from doing as much good as he could, but perhaps being soft also kept the villains soft? There’s no doubt that Otto’s violence with Boomerang, Vulture, and Scorpion has given them a new-found vendetta, but it also seems like there’s a sense of escalation going on with tactics, too. I don’t know enough about Spider-Slayer to comment on the similarity of his bots to Otto’s spider-bots, but it makes sense to me that Peter’s habit of always keeping some juice in the tank meant he could always come back harder. Otto’s always operating at 100%, which doesn’t bode well for when he is defeated.
So where does that leave Otto at the end of the issue? The emptying of the raft helps make the impending showdown lower stakes, but it also sets up a no-holds-barred brawl in the next issue. He may have adequately fortified against escape, but is he prepared for a four-on-one, vengeance-fueled fight? I can’t wait to find out.
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