Today, Shelby and Ethan are discussing The Superior Spider-Man 18, originally released September 11th, 2013.
Shelby: I think Otto Octavius would be a terrible scientist. I know he’s brilliant, but he’s so arrogant he thinks he’s always right. He’s got no curiosity about anything because he believes he already has the right answer. He doesn’t ask questions or believe he can learn anything from anyone else. It’s a classic villain’s trait, really: the inability to think of the myriad of ways your latest scheme will fail because you are so convinced that you have all the answers. It looks like Otto is finally going to pay the price for his hubris, as his actions today could both kill him and all his friends (or, Peter’s friends, anyway), as well as destroy the future.
The confrontation between Spideys goes…poorly. Miguel remembers Peter from previous adventures, but since Otto doesn’t have Peter’s memories anymore, he just punches Miguel for getting in his way. A fight ensues, in which Tiberius messes with Otto’s spider sense, nearly causing him to kill poor Normie. Miguel takes off with Tiberius, and is faced with a tricky situation; if he keeps Tiberius safe, he’ll pave the way for Alchemax to take control in his time, but if he allows Tiberius to die he will no longer exist. Meanwhile, Otto just realized all the equipment for his thesis is back at the lab, which will soon belong to Allan Chemical; he goes back to Horizon to collect his things, which gets him fired. Miguel figures it’s Tiberius’ sabotage which leads to the literal destruction of Horizon Labs, so he rushes to Horizon to put things right, only to get punched in the face by Otto just as he’s about to save everyone. Oops!
As fun as time travel chicanery can be, I am most intrigued by the comparison drawn between our two Spider-Men. I love the dilemma facing Miguel; he knows if he lets whatever is erasing Tyler Stone happen, he will most likely create a better future. Despite the fact that would mean erasing his own existance, he seems to be seriously considering it. Obviously Otto would never consider something so selfless; when he was faced with the option to either go after Miguel or continue looking for Hobgoblin, he chose instead to “rescue” his thesis. The worst part is, I think Miguel could have had his cake and eaten it to; armed with knowledge of the future, he could have prevented the destruction of the lab, hopefully preventing the rise of Alchemex, all while keeping Tiberius alive. Instead, Otto has insured that a) the lab is destroyed as it is fated to do, and b) Tiberius has been put in harm’s way and may be killed as well, erasing Miguel and all he’s done from future history.
Provided everyone survives whatever is about to happen at Horizon, I think we are closer than ever to seeing a villain Spider-Man. Otto’s got no job, potentially no place to finish his thesis, and is hemorrhaging friends. He’s completely blown MJ off, I can’t remember the last time he visited Aunt May; he has already erased everything internal that was Peter Parker, now he’s working on erasing everything external. My guess is “Peter Parker” will go to work directly for Spider-Man on Spider Island, building him the tech he needs to take over the city. He can fund it by blackmailing Jameson. Or maybe he’ll quit being so stubborn, and work with Miguel to save both Tiberius and Horizon, only to take Horizon over himself. I can easily see Miguel leaving the present, relieved he was able to save the day and improve his future, only to return to a just-as-grim 2099 that’s been shaped by Otto Octavius at the head of Horizon Labs instead of Tiberius Stone at the head of Alchemex.
Actually, Spider-Man at the height of his villainy would be a perfect time to bring Peter Parker back, if Dan Slott were so inclined. He’d have so much work to do to dig himself out of the hole Otto buried him in. As intriguing has this story has been, and as solid Slott’s storytelling continues to be, I wish Peter were back. I just miss him, is all. I’m not going to claim Slott is ruining the character or anything like that; I think Slott has done some really great work developing the character of Spider-Man, and I feel like I’m watching a villain slowly develop, which is fascinating. I just miss the nerdy quips and selfless acts sometimes. What do you think Ethan? Are we on our way to a bad guy Spidey? What do you think is going to happen to Horizon Labs and everyone inside?
Ethan: Oh, man, now that you actually said it, I miss old Spidey, too. After I got over how cool his spider-powers were, the banter was the #1 reason I kept picking up the issues, and re-reading my old ones. I agree, this arc is doing really fun and interesting things with the character, but I do look forward to some eventual return of the fun, silly dialogue. One of my favorite Spider-Man moments is when he was sitting on the top of some building next to Loki, trying to explain what was so compelling about a New York street vendor hotdog, and couldn’t explain what “the green bits” were. One day he’ll be back, explaining fast food to Norse gods again, but for now Otto’s certainly still keeping him interesting enough to keep following.
Back to your point, Shelby – it’s pretty impossible to argue that we haven’t been leading up to a bad-guy Spider-Man the whole time. Otto is a more complex character than we gave him credit before he stole Peter’s body, but at the end of the day, he’s just not an altruist. Which brings us back to the recurring question of what it means to be a hero, and how much of that is often tied to the willingness to sacrifice your own wants and needs for the sake of other people. Otto’s been trying to reduce this question to technicalities: he can save more lives and solve more crimes with his methods than Peter Parker ever did, but he’s never gotten the knack for wanting to do it for its own sake. He’s crammed some cold, calculating definition of what it means to be a hero into his own, larger sense of self and purpose (and survival, as he tries to stay “hidden” in his new body), it’s never sprung forth from any desire just to help other people, or out of a sense of responsibility to use extraordinary powers to do good.
That said, putting yourself in danger – perhaps to lose your life – for the sake of other people obviously isn’t an easy thing. By all appearances, Miguel’s a pretty great guy, a worthy heir to the Spider-Mantle, and yet, as Shelby mentioned, he’s having a hard time sorting through his priorities and emotions to figure out what he’s going to do.
Granted, the situation is complicated by the pesky Time-Travel Factor. The issue mostly serves us the straight either-or: Keep your ancestor alive, save the space-time continuum; let him die (like he maybe deserves), and cease to exist. But we also get a sense of Miguel trying to figure out if there are other options. Can he change something here in the past to both stabilize reality while also leading to a better future, maybe one without Alchemax? Shelby, your theory about an evil version of Horizon Labs replacing an evil Alchemax (even though Alchemax used to be Horizon, too) has a nice symmetry to it, and it makes me wonder if that’s where this is going.
Getting back to the element of personal choice and altruism though, Miguel’s moment of indecision and Otto’s clear choice of selfishness over selflesness in this issue took me back to the definitive showdown we saw between Otto and Peter when they duked it out in the mental world. Otto ended up trumping Peter by essentially proving that Ghost-Peter was endangering lives by getting in Otto’s way – choosing self over others. Otto alleged that HE was the hero of the two, finding new ways to help more people and trying to fight the good fight. If Otto were to come to the same kind of confrontation with Miguel, he’d unquestionably be in an inferior position this time around. With the cover of the next issue showing Miguel starting to crumble away into never-existed-ness, I wonder if that’s where we’ll end up after all. Because as much as Spider-Man is about comedy and responsibility, he has also always been about a simple passion for his fellow people; he found his strength in hopeless situations through the conviction that other people’s wellfare – even the welfare of the people who hated him – depended on him getting back up and not giving up. We’ve gotten pretty far from those motivations in Otto’s version of the alter ego, and I feel like we’re going to have to have a reckoning sometime soon, whether that puts Peter back in the driver’s seat or forces Otto to undergo a second rebirth.
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