Drew: Do you remember the first time you saw Star Wars? I can’t recall the exact circumstances, but for some reason, we watched the first half-hour of Return of the Jedi in my third grade class. It was the first time I can specifically remember experiencing a narrative out-of-order, and also the first time I so desperately wanted to go back to the start to put it all in context. That’s a sensation that I’ve become quite familiar with over the years (think of every time you’ve been drawn in by a random late-season episode of a TV series), but has become a weekly experience since I started reading comics. Comics can be particularly daunting in that light, as many series are building upon decades of continuity. Writers strive to balance honoring that history while remaining approachable to new readers, and none do it better than Dan Slott. Slott has always managed a careful regimen of harvesting threads he planted years before even as he seeds future stories, and Superior Spider-Man 20 finds him pushing the envelope on both fronts.
The issue opens with a flashback to the death of Otto Octavius (and/or the first death of Peter Parker’s mind), where we see two coinciding events happening at a nearby coma ward. Event 1: a mysterious patient wakes from their coma (and Slott is so cagey with pronouns and showing their face that we can all just go ahead and assume this patient is a woman), and is upset to learn of Octavius’ death. Event 2: a different female coma patient also wakes from her coma, but this one is shouting about how ALL THE SPIDERS WILL DIE! Back in the present day, Otto is by turns destroying Peter’s old life and building a new one for himself. He alienates Black Cat while Carlie prepares to turn her evidence over to the Avengers, but he’s too busy wooing Anna Maria and taking out loans to fund a new business to notice. That is, until an unexpected intrusion from the past — Otto’s past — upends his thesis defense.
I’ll admit, I’ve been so preoccupied with Peter’s friends and family noticing (or not noticing) his recently changed behavior, I never even suspected any of Otto’s acquaintances to make a connection. It’s a believable twist — Otto’s going to have a hard time explaining the similarities between his old work and “Peter’s” new work — but comes out of left field, making us as unprepared for it as Otto.
In many ways, this issue is all about Otto’s old life thwarting his plans at a new one. The issue concludes with the reveal of that first coma patient…Angelina Brancale, aka Stunner! Okay, I had no idea who that was, either, but a quick jaunt over to the Marvel database revealed that she’s been in that coma since 1997 — sixteen years. The way Slott attempted to obscure her gender made me think that this character would be instantly recognizable if we knew it was a woman, but I’m going to go ahead and suggest that Slott couldn’t expect most fans to recognize a character who hasn’t appeared in sixteen years. The reveal is fun for those who do recognize her (and after all of the angry tweets he’s gotten from fans who own every single issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Slott definitely knows there are a few out there who would), but is a little alienating for those whose comic book memory doesn’t quite go back that far. Otto made Angelina’s virtual reality powers, which made her fall in love with him. Sixteen years later, she has no idea how ridiculous “virtual reality powers” sounds, and she wants to kill the man she thinks killed Otto.
These blasts from Otto’s past are unexpected twists — especially when Slott is still focused on chipping away at Peter’s old life. The interaction with Black Cat is a particular highlight, as Otto has zero patience for the old fight-and-flirt routine.
When she asks him what he’s doing, Otto replies simply, “Apprehending a criminal. I’m Spider-Man. This is what I always do.” In many ways, he truly is the Superior Spider-Man.
Of course, Otto may simply be short on patience because he’s already late for his date with Anna Maria. In the old days, some kind of confrontation/liaison with Black Cat might have just made Peter later for whatever date he was missing, but efficiency-minded Otto makes short work of her, and still has time to make a big, Peter-like romantic gesture when he gets to Anna Maria’s.
Penciller Giuseppe Camuncoli’s style navigates the action and the talking heads with aplomb, but he struggles a bit with the cartoonier character designs of Humberto Ramos and Ryan Stegman. Lamaze in particular looks lumpy and strange under Camuncoli’s pencils. Otherwise, the art is briskly paced and crystal clear — I still can’t get over how surprising that sucker-punch to Black Cat is.
For all of the fun, I can’t get over my awe of Slott’s planning: Lamaze was introduced in issue 4, (and while he’s been a fun nuisance, this is clearly his purpose in the story), Carlie’s been suspicious since the end of ASM, and while we can’t give Slott full credit for Stunner (she’s been in a coma since long before Slott ever wrote a Spider-Man comic), he’s clearly willing to play ball with ideas he didn’t seed himself. That kind of long-term planning makes me curious about Slott’s entire run on ASM, but also Spider-Man history in general. I started reading Spider-Man comics with Amazing Spider-Man 698, making me pointedly aware of just how many issues I haven’t read. 697 issues is beyond daunting, but twists like the Stunner reveal make me curious what else I’m missing. Do you ever get that feeling, Michael?
Michael: Drew, that feeling is one of the best parts about reading comic books; it pretty much sums up my entire reading experience: past, present and future. There are plenty of characters in Marvel and DC (pre-New 52) that I am introduced to and intrigued by, and then find myself going down a rabbit hole into more and more adventures of said character. This of course would introduce me to even more new characters which I would further explore as well, repeating the endless cycle forever and ever amen.
Sadly I must confess that I did not have this feeling of curious wonder with the (re)introduction of Stunner. The end of the book left me scratching my head, as I merely wondered who the hell Stunner was. I expected that hooded person to be someone at least a little bit more recognizable. Then again, maybe that was what Slott was going for. Also, I’m surprised he didn’t throw in any if his 60s-era stylized captions referencing past issues, he seems to go for that kind of thing a lot.
Second confession: I had dropped off of Superior Spider-Man a while back. Dan Slott’s take on Spider-man for the past five or six years has not exactly been my cup of tea. Nevertheless I caught up on the issues that I had missed leading up to this one. That being said, I don’t necessarily object to the way things are being handled these days. I like the way that Ock/Spidey has his own egotistical way of doing things (a superhero with a henchmen army no less.) Similarly I like Carlie Cooper’s ongoing investigation to prove that Peter Parker/Spider-Man isn’t exactly who he says he is. Like Drew said, Slott definitely has a lot of different things going on at once: Carlie’s dirt-digging, “Peter’s” professional and personal life, blackmailing J. Jonah Jameson and the threat of the new Green Goblin on the horizon, just to name a few. All of these plot threads will undoubtedly come to a head in bombastic comic book fashion somewhere down the road. One of these aspects that seemed like an unnecessary addition was Mary Jane’s rendezvous with the fireman who saved her a while back. I mean I get it, it’s meant to be a humorous aside that turns an iconic Spidey moment on its head, but it’s pretty much a one-note-joke that diverts attention for little reason.
I am a fan of Spidey-Ock’s new costume, with its more menacing nature and Civil War-style spider legs (dude just can’t let the octopus arms go, can he?) I can more easily deal with Ock dealing out harsh justice in this outfit versus the more traditional-looking costume. And harsh though it was, it was kind of humorous to see Ock just straight-up punch Black Cat in the face; he’s clearly got more important places to be. It was a bit of a tease to put her on the cover though, since the scene between them was one of the shortest interactions Ock had with a character in this issue.
While I’m more used to the idea of Ock in the Spidey suit, I still get the creeps seeing him walk around looking like Peter Parker. And what a dick he is! He’s ignored Peter’s inner circle for the past several issues and only calls on poor Aunt May when he needs a loan! Poor form Ock, poor form. So I did kind of enjoy seeing Ock get his ass handed to him by Lamaze near the end of the book. When Peter/Ock was going over his theories, all I could think of was “Dr. Octopus arms!” but clearly Ock was too full of himself to see that he was simply retreading familiar territory. I half expected him to flip out and attack Lamaze right then and there.
Camuncoli has been jumping in on Spidey books here and there for a while now, and his work ALWAYS makes me think of Daken in Dark Wolverine. While his work in Superior Spider-Man 20 is good, it feels less defined than past works of his; maybe this is more an inking matter than pencils. The Lamaze confrontation scene in particular was a bit jarring. The Spider-Man silhouette menacing behind Peter/Ock looked like unfinished pencils and colors that didn’t gel well with the overall scene and lost some of its steam.
Complaints aside (of which I have many, I assure you) it will be interesting to see where Slott takes Ock next, as well as what his endgame is with these multiple plot threads.
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?