Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing The Superior Spider-Man 17, originally released September 4th, 2013.
Spencer: So how many of you noticed the name of the mall in Back to the Future? At the beginning of the movie it’s “Twin Pines Mall”, but then Marty travels back in time, runs over one of the former owner’s beloved pine trees, and when he returns to the present it’s now called “Lone Pine Mall.” It’s a clever joke, and part of why I love it is because it’s never pointed out or explained in the movie; it’s up to the viewer to catch it and put 2 and 2 together. Dan Slott takes a similar route in this week’s Superior Spider-Man, using time travel to tell the story of the Stone family, but allowing us to piece together the clues and figure out the story for ourselves. It brings some fun to an issue that could otherwise be viewed as a lot of set-up; the rest of the fun comes from the hints of things to come.
Thanks to the actions of the Avengers during the Age of Ultron crisis, the timestream seems to be breaking down; in the year 2099, the new Spider-Man — Miguel O’Hara — discovers that a temporal anomaly is about to write Tyler Stone — VP of Alchemax Industries and professional scumbag — right out of existence. Miguel doesn’t want to help Tyler, but there’s one teensy, weensy problem: Tyler Stone is Miguel’s birth father, and if he’s written out of existence, so is Miguel! With no choice, Miguel travels back to 2013 to find the cause of the rift himself.
Meanwhile, in 2013, “Peter’s” boss, Max Modell, is arrested by the FBI. It’s obvious that Tiberius Stone is behind it, especially when he shows up with Liz Allen of Allen Chemicals, ready to take over Horizon, but legally they’ve got nothing on him. Otto scoffs at the law, and is ready to take down Stone anyway when Miguel shows up to stop him!
So it appears that Tyler Stone is a descendent of our own rotten Tiberius Stone (probably his grandson), making Spider-Man 2099 his descendent as well (I’m guessing the scumbag gene skips a generation). More importantly, this means that at some point in the future, Tiberius is going to take over Allan Chemicals and turn it into some sort of city-spanning Totalitarian Regime. Pretty scary stuff, right? As I mentioned at the outset of this article, being allowed to piece together this information ourselves adds a lot to the story — It’s all obvious, but never made explicit — but even more interesting here is what all this means for Otto.
Otto has the means to change the future. If he manages to defeat Tiberius Stone and halt his ascension up the AlChem ladder, he could prevent an unfortunate future from happening; that said, if he tries, he could also end up wiping Stone’s ancestors (including Miguel) right out of existence, or the changes he makes to the future could end up being dangerous in some other way—time ain’t exactly stable right now, y’know. What’s a Superior Spider-Man to do?!
Probably not this:
What does Otto plan to do? Beat Tiberius until he changes his mind? Not gonna happen. Otto won’t accomplish anything here with this tactic besides upsetting Peter’s old friend Liz, and as upset as Otto is (and even for Otto, he’s more angry than usual) I could easily see him crossing a line while dealing with Tiberius. Tyler Stone is vanishing in the future, after all; could it be because Otto murders his ancestor? Fortunately, Miguel shows up to intervene. Maybe this will provide an opportunity for Otto to be the bigger man and find a way to take down Tiberius without pointlessly roughing him up or killing him. I’m sure Otto will be dragged into it kicking and screaming, but perhaps Miguel will be a good influence on him.
Miguel’s presence raises questions of it’s own. Did he know that Peter Parker was Spider-Man? More importantly, does he know that Otto is Spider-Man now? Can he provide a glimpse into Otto’s future that might help him find his way as a hero? I don’t know if the upcoming issues will answer any of this, but I’d love to find out.
Speaking of Miguel, he kind of crowds Otto out of this issue, doesn’t he? This is the third issue in a row where Otto’s taken a backseat to another character; I didn’t mind it over the last few issues because I found the Hobgoblin to be a fascinating character, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the same kind of connection to Miguel.
This is actually the first I’ve heard of it, but it turns out that Spider-Man 2099 had his own series in the mid-nineties—part of an entire line of books taking place in that timeline—that ran for nearly fifty issues and apparently racked up a sizeable following. I’m sure Miguel’s reappearance in this issue was a welcome surprise to his fans, but I’m just not feeling him yet. I like what I read about Miguel on Wikipedia, but during the portion of the story set in 2099 we don’t get to see much of his personality, only his repeated, frustrating encounters with Stone and his flunkies (which got old fast). I think what turned me off to the character, though, was his constant slang and future cursing.
I understand the desire to create new slang for a strange new time-period, and I suppose some readers probably found it cute (everything’s subjective, after all), but I found these slang words completely obnoxious, and overused to boot. They took me right out of the 2099 portions of the issue, which is a shame, considering those portions take up so much space.
Drew, welcome back! Tell me, are you missing Otto a little too, or did you connect to Miguel in a way I didn’t? What’s your verdict on all that future slang? Did you enjoy piecing together the story of the Stone family legacy or theorizing about the effect Otto’s actions could have on the timestream? Did that little Allan/Osborne child creep you out as much as he did me?
Also, looks like he’s got Otto all figured out. Double uh-oh.
Drew: Spencer, I’m glad you did the research to figure out that “Spider-Man 2099” is a thing — I didn’t know that, but as soon as you said it, I thought, “so that explains the slang.” I agree that it’s an annoying affect, but I’m willing to accept that it might be one that comes with the character. I also agree with you about not feeling totally connected — though to be fair, I think Slott does a brilliant job of getting me up to speed on a character with his own complex history and fandom I was heretofore unaware of. Actually, until you mentioned that this is an established character with an established world, I assumed Slott was doing that “imply a much bigger and complex world by only showing small glimpses of it in limited context” thing that Grant Morrison is so good at. Either way, forcing n00bs to fill in the details makes the world incredibly more immersive than if we had simply been walked through it.
Actually, those future sequences might even be better at assuming our familiarity than the present day ones are. I was particularly distracted by all of the exposition necessary to put Max Modell’s arrest in context.
Peter’s friends go on to chide him for not remembering all of this stuff — one of my least favorite ways of underscoring exposition — even if Otto losing Peter’s memories kind of explains it away. This kind of clunky exposition is very unusual for Slott’s run, but this plot seems to be coming much more out-of-left-field than most of his other arcs. There’s a palpable sense that Slott is working to incorporate the fallout from Age of Ultron into his run — a rare instance where events of the Marvel Universe intrude on Superior Spider-Man, rather than the other way around.
Spencer, your Back to the Future example is particularly apt, given Tyler Stone’s slow vanishing act due to some action in the past. Typically, those types of “we have to fix the past to save the future!” stories require our heroes going back in time to fix some kind of change that would destroy the present as we know it, but that’s not quite what we get here. Fans of Spider-Man 2099 might care enough about that world to want to save it, but to those who are just learning about it, it actually seems like a terrible future worth avoiding at all costs. Like, I feel sympathy when Marty McFly goes back in time to make sure 1985 still looks like 1985, but I’m much less motivated to root for the guy trying to make sure 2099 stays a totalitarian dystopia with really dumb slang. Without a stronger connection to Miguel, I’m not entirely invested in seeing him succeed in this particular task. To me, that’s the biggest stumbling block of this arc, and one I’m afraid won’t be entirely overcome.
The other bit, which Spencer also touched on, is the way all of this other stuff overshadows Otto. How Otto navigates his new life in Peter’s body (and how Peter’s friends and family react) has been this title’s draw from the start, and its absence from this issue is palpable. Again, this intrusion of plotting over character work is atypical of this series, and adds to that sense that this is more lip-service to the Marvel Universe than anything.
Between the focus on plot, the awkward exposition, and the expectation that I’ll care about events just because they’re shown to me, this issue feels stereotypically “comic book-y” in a way that I haven’t seen on this series before. It’s a testament to Slott’s abilities that he’s still able to wring some fun out of the proceedings, but this feels like an odd misstep for him. I’m afraid that the rest of this arc may suffer from the same problems, but here’s hoping I’m wrong.
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