Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing The Superior Spider-Man 21, originally released November 13th, 2013.
Patrick: Any time I join a new social group, I like to think that I’m starting over in terms of my identity. Like, I get to use all the skills and stuff I picked up over my lifetime, but I can newly define myself with a whole new set of activities and goals and values. All the previous versions of me inform this, of course, but it’s too simplistic to say that their sum is my new persona. Current Patrick isn’t Orchestra Dork + Magic: The Gathering + Ska Bands + Drama Club + RA + all the other things I’ve been. Sometimes that means letting go of things that used to seem the most important (I haven’t played a game of Magic in over a decade, and yes it feels like I’m in AA when I say that). I’m not saying I know exactly what Otto is going through, but I know, exactly, what Otto is going through.
Otto’s pissed. He’s just had his doctorate denied on accusations of plagiarism. Hilariously, Otto’s just aping his own work — he’s being called out for stealing the ONE THING he didn’t actually steal. Otto storms away, listing numerous hilarious supervillainous ways to convince Lamaze to withdraw his objections. Fortunately for Otto, more urgent matters demand his attention: Stunner is tearing up the Daily Bugle. While fighting the solid hologram proves tricky, even for Spider-Man, the army of Spider-Bots is able to track down the origin of the signal and shut down Angelina’s VR rig – effectively highlighting Stunner and tapping Ctrl + X. But this whole experience gives Otto an idea: he uses the same rig to Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V a version of himself — as Dr. Otto Octavius — into reality. Holo Doc Ock let’s Angelina down easy and then tells Lamaze that Peter Parker was always behind his best ideas.
So Lamaze recants and Peter Parker becomes Dr. Peter Parker. I mean, don’t worry about it: we’ll still call him Spider-Man and not Dr. Spider, or Spider-Doctor. Hell, Reed Richards was basically born with his degree and we still call him Mr. Fantastic. Come to think of it, we usually reserve the “Dr.” title for super villains, Ock and Doom being too obvious examples.
The point is – it’s a petty, superficial distinction. Otto put a lot of time and effort into re-getting his degree, and this is during a period when he was basically blowing off anything that wasn’t “prove yourself the superior Spider-Man.” It’s safe to say that getting his degree was high up on Otto’s list of priorities, and that’s remarkable because it’s one of his own, and not one of Peter’s. We’ve seen him pursue Peter’s goals through Otto’s methods, and we’ve seen him ignore Peter’s goals, but this may be the one and only time he’s pursued his own goals. With that one hurdle cleared, it’s fascinating to see how eager Otto is to let go of his old life.
He lets a lot of his old life go in this one – he sacrifices the respect of a colleague and the love of a woman. And for what? For the respect and love he’s earned as the Superior Spider-Man. There’s a one-for-one trade in both categories: he trades Angelina’s love for Anna Maria and he trades Lamaze’s respect for Otto with respect for Peter. I love that there’s a distinct character forming here – one that’s neither Doc Ock nor Spider-Man, but also not a combination of the two either. The superior Spider-Man his is own entity with his own friends and goals and values – if that means all the history has to go, then all the history has to go. I love the visual representation of this: just as he’s letting himself be a bit too Octopussy, Stunner snaps those extra mechanical arms off.
Giuseppe Camuncoli is back on art duties. It’s funny, I tend to think of this series as being driven by the visual stylings of Humberto Ramos and Ryan Stegman, but a cursory glance at the series’ recent history reveals that Camuncoli has been around for just as much of the ride as those two. Camuncoli’s work is a little less stylized than the others, so perhaps that why I haven’t really noticed it until this issue. It’s also flat enough and clean enough that his inker and colorist — John Dell and Antonio Fabela, respectively — have the opportunity to seamlessly integrate a bunch of neat effects. The skies are populated with beautifully painted clouds and the textures on the buildings are all very detailed and real. Some of the subtler effects are even more fun though – when Spider-Man appears on a television screen, the colors of the image on the screen are way flatter and less detailed than in “real life.”
Evidently, Otto’s too cheap to spring for HD in this hideout. It’s a simple effect and when coupled with the dull blue glow of the monitors lighting Otto’s henchmen, the scene comes alive.
I also noticed a couple times where the art team deliberately leaves some objects or people out of focus – as though to simulate a camera. I’m always a sucker for this sort of thing.
Is it strange that we’re so willing to accept this sort of things in our comics? What does it mean that our eyes are ready to see comic book action the same way we see film? Spencer, that might be kind of a tangential prompt, but I’m going to stick with it: how do you feel about art teams simulating lens flare or focus or wide-angle lenses? (Oh, and if you want a Spider-Man related prompt, what do you think the likelihood that things are going to turn out well for Carlie Cooper here?)
Spencer: Hm. Turning out “well” is a subjective term; I think Carlie will probably survive, but other than that, things are probably going to get a lot worse for her (and for Otto) before they get any better. Ol’ Gobbie discovering Otto’s secret is drastic, but honestly, the most interesting part of this subplot to me is the fact that Otto’s body is missing from its grave. Who could possibly have it? Is this setting things up for the return of Peter Parker somehow? Or is it simply another indignity Otto will have to live down, or even another way for him to disavow his former life? Only time will tell, but it should be fascinating no matter how it turns out.
As for your art question, Patrick, I’m going to preface this by saying that I am woefully bad at interpreting actual artistic stuff; it’s probably my biggest weakness as somebody who writes about comic books on a regular basis. I’ve been pushing myself more lately to try to understand the process behind visual storytelling instead of just thinking ‘man, this looks awesome!’, but I still tend to glaze over most techniques unless they’re executed in a novel way (or just botched entirely, but it’s always easy to notice the bad). The thing is, I don’t think this is necessarily the worst thing in the world; most of the time, if an artists’ techniques are working, then they shouldn’t take us out of the story.
In that sense, I have to say that I have no problem with the more cinematic style that Camuncoli and the rest of his artistic roster employs. Variety is the spice of life, right? Comic books can do things films can’t, and we here at Retcon Punch obviously love it when artists use this to their advantage (just look at the praise we heap upon JH Williams, Francis Manapul, Jamie McKelvie, or David Aja, for example), but there’s still plenty of room for other artists to do their own thing. I wouldn’t want every book to necessarily try to ape the style of a film, but I wouldn’t want every book to look the same no matter what style it was they were using. As long as an artist has the talent to pull it off, they should be able to throw their own spin on things, and Camuncoli definitely has the talent. I love the way he interprets Spider-Man’s goggles, for example, and I’m also a fan of the variety he imbues his characters with; characters like Peter and Anna Maria are very sleek and realistic looking, but holo-Otto and Dr. Lamaze are interpreted as more wildly cartoony, and it makes for a fun contrast.
Patrick mentioned the camera going out of focus at one point, and this scene uses a similar effect to display Spider-Man’s speed; it looks fantastic. Camuncoli, Dell, and Fabela all deserve credit for integrating special effects into the artwork seamlessly, be it something more advanced — like the above scene — or simply a more modern take on the iconic “Spider-Sense” effect.
I’m certainly not putting down any of the other artists who’ve lent their talents to The Superior Spider-Man (I especially have a soft spot for Humberto Ramos, thanks to his work on Impulse), but this is the best I can remember this book ever looking. I’m not sure exactly why we as an audience so readily view comic art the same way we would film — maybe it’s because comic book films are so commonplace nowadays, or maybe it’s just because most of us are so heavily invested in multiple forms of media outside of comic books — but I ultimately think that most of us can recognize good and bad art when we see it, and are familiar enough with various styles that, as long as the artist is doing their job, we’ll be able to parse things out just fine.
So, I know that took a while, but before I get too carried away, I still want to talk about Otto for a bit. Superior Spider-Man is a book that has been largely defined by exploring the ethics behind its main character’s actions; Otto may be the protagonist, but it never lets him off the hook for bad behavior and never sugarcoats his less-than-heroic actions. With that in mind, I think it’s interesting that Otto comes across so well in this issue. In fact, it’s easy to root for Otto this time: Stunner is attacking Spider-Man because he “killed” Otto, but that’s obviously not true because now Spider-Man is Otto; Otto bears no fault, this is simply a misunderstanding. Likewise, Lamaze’s claims of plagiarism are false, and Lamaze is again put in a bad light when he abandons Anna Maria and only saves himself; under any other circumstance the trickery Otto employs to “defeat” Lamaze might feel skeezy, but this time we’re clearly meant to root for Otto, and indeed, it’s cathartic when Otto outwits him.
In fact, these might be the easiest, cleanest, most moral victories Otto’s ever scored, but it still bugs me for several reasons.
First, my heart broke a little for Angelina in this panel. Yes, she’s a murderous criminal, but she just looks so pitiful. She just got back the man she loved, the man she thought was dead (again), only for him to dump her. Now I don’t expect our new, more heroic Otto to date a criminal, and the way he broke up with her is pretty gentle all things considered, but did Spider-Man ever even catch her? Angelina is heartbroken, probably mentally ill, and now fending for herself; without her VR she may be no danger to the public, but I’m worried that she’ll be a danger to herself. I’m worried that Otto has let this lost soul become a little more lost.
Second, I worry that this victory was too easy. Now I’m certainly not one of those people who thinks that heroes shouldn’t be allowed to be happy, but there’s always been an element of self-sacrifice that’s been just as intrinsic of a part of being Spider-Man as “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” ever has. Otto, meanwhile, got absolutely everything he wanted in this issue. Even the elements of Doctor Octopus’ life that he gave up aren’t a sacrifice, not really; Otto’s been a new person for ages now. This victory was so clean and so easy that I worry that Otto has set himself up for a major, major fall. He can’t always get everything he wants, and the more the small things work out for him, the more likely it is that something major will go wrong.
Oh, right, Gobbie knows all about his big secret now. That’s something major, right?
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?