Spencer: SPOILER ALERT: Peter Parker’s coming back.
Of course, anybody who has been keeping up with comic news in even the slightest already knows this. With news of Peter’s upcoming return in mind, it’s hard to look at The Superior Spider-Man 25 without focusing on just how exactly his return will play out and what it will mean for Otto. Fortunately, writer Dan Slott (assisted on this issue by Christos Gage) is ramping up the intrigue as this book nears its end. I have no idea how this series will resolve itself, but I do know one of the things I’m going to miss most about it: the expansive world and cast of supporting characters Slott has built up around Otto.
The Avengers arrive to try to take down Otto — possessed by the symbiote and calling himself The Superior Venom — but find themselves hopelessly outmatched until Iron Man smuggles in the symbiote’s previous host, Flash Thompson. When the symbiote refuses to return to Flash, Otto realizes that it’s been subtly influencing him and breaks free of it — but only because Peter Parker’s consciousness, seemingly destroyed back in issue 9, briefly reemerges to give him a helping hand. Otto is able use his possession to his advantage, blaming his recent erratic behavior on the symbiote, but the Avengers aren’t buying it.
All the while, events with that expansive supporting cast I mentioned are piling up at an outstanding speed. Captain Yuri Watanabe — a.k.a Wraith — is still searching for Carlie Cooper; unfortunately, Carlie has been “made over” by Green Goblin into his ruthless new servant, Monster. Meanwhile, the tension between Green Goblin and the original Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, has finally reached a breaking point:
It doesn’t take a press release to see that the end is nigh. Slott has been planting seeds throughout this entire series, and they all seem to be springing to life in this issue, all with the singular goal of bringing Otto’s world crumbling down around him. Unfortunately for Otto, it looks like much of the blame for these fiascos falls on him.
Superheroes creating their greatest enemies is a common trope — it’s especially a fundamental aspect of Spider-Man, reaching all the way back to Peter Parker’s very first appearance — but Slott has taken the situation to an extreme here with Otto. While the Goblin War isn’t an actual attack on Otto himself, it is something he indirectly enabled. Carlie fell into the Goblin’s clutches because she was investigating Otto; Goblin found out about Kingsley’s business because of his recruitment of Phil Urich, which only happened because of the thorough defeat Otto handed him; Green Goblin was only able to amass so much power in the first place because of a flaw in Otto’s Spider-Bots that he never noticed.
Hey, speaking of those bots, people seem pretty pissed about them:
The Spider-Bots have been one of the most fundamental tools in the Superior Spider-Man’s arsenal, but they’ve also been controversial from their very introduction. Now that controversy has incited a riot, robbing Otto of a critical resource right when he needs it most. Man, it seems like Otto can’t catch a break today, can he? It’s a good thing he managed to come up with that clever ruse about the symbiote to save face with the Avengers and his friends, at least.
Oops, looks like that’s a bust, too. Normally when the odds are stacked this high against a hero I always know they’ll come through, but the thing is, are we sure Otto’s a hero at all? The Superior Spider-Man is an experiment, and I’m less sure than ever if it will be successful. Otto’s been surprisingly competent at fighting crime, but he’s also quite often been a careless, egotistical jerk, and now he has to deal with the consequences of his many mistakes. Now that we know that Peter will return soon, it’s a legitimate question whether Otto will survive this ordeal.
The return of Ghost-Peter also helps further the debate over whether Otto is a hero or a villain. Otto’s our protagonist, and he’s tried so hard to be better that it could be easy to overlook the fact that he murdered Peter Parker and stole his body, yet the return of Peter forces us to remember and confront that. From a narrative standpoint it’s easy to say that Otto should stick around as Spider-Man for the long haul if it continues to fuel fantastic stories, but from a moral standpoint, can we make that same argument? Could the most heroic path for Otto to take perhaps be to simply give Peter his body back?
In that light, it feels appropriate that Venom is the antagonist in this issue. The symbiote is a parasite, taking over Otto’s mind and body and robbing him of control, much like Otto did to Peter; perhaps this is Otto getting a taste of his own medicine? Is the fact that Peter could easily break free of Venom while Otto could not meant to be a sign about who is really the superior Spider-Man here?
Man, I’m playing with a lot of conjecture this issue—much more than I normally like to throw around in these articles—but I kind of feel like that was the purpose of this issue. Sure, it also tells a complete story about Venom and is jam-packed full of action and events, but it’s still leading up to an all-out war, and quite likely the beginning of the end for The Superior Spider-Man. I, for one, am equally anxious, terrified, yet super excited to see where Slott takes the book next.
Drew, are you as interested as I am in the future of this story, or did something else catch your attention? Did you enjoy seeing so much of the supporting cast, or did you think there wasn’t enough Otto this time around? Do you think Otto’s story will have a happy ending; do you think he deserves one?
Drew: It might not be a happy ending, but I think Otto’s ouster is going to offer some emotional closure besides some well-deserved comeuppance. I mean, sure, he’s a total monster here (and has been for a while), but it’s not like Otto is soulless. He’s trying to do the right thing, he just happens to have an incredibly screwed up gauge of what the right thing is. It reminds me of what Dan Slott said at the “Superior Spider-Man and Friends” panel at NYCC: Otto is still working from “with great power comes great responsibility” — he just happens to think that responsibility is “might makes right.”
Even setting aside our feelings about Otto, his imminent departure is going to have all kinds of collateral damage: what will become of the former Horizon scientists Otto is currently employing? Or the spiderlings, for that matter (some of whom have at least some trouble in fighting bad guys)? Or Anna Maria, whose only crime is having really bizarre taste in men? For better or for worse, Otto has created a life over the past year, and seeing it come to an end will certainly be sad.
Of course, that’s not to say it won’t be a little fun, too. As endearing as Otto may be at times, he’s still an incredibly cocky jerk, and watching him fail is a pleasure Slott has meted out very carefully throughout this series. Spencer, I think you’re totally right to suggest that watching Peter take his body back will be a satisfying moral victory, but this issue seems to suggest an even bigger scheme — a kind of karmic righting of the ship. Part of that is the world turning on Otto, but that ultimately means they’re also turning on Peter, too. Otto is effectively creating a whole new set of headaches and issues for Peter to deal with (he’s even doing a better job of that than Peter ever did), putting things in place long before Peter returns.
Which brings me to the fantastic groundwork this issue lays for exactly how Peter might return. In addition to the Avengers and the general public turning on Spider-Man, Otto reveals his own biggest weakness: not being in control. Otto is nothing if not a planner, which makes him almost lose it if he doesn’t have all the power. Now he finds himself in a situation where basically everything — heroes, villains, regular people — are against him, and I’m not sure he’s going to handle it very well. At least, not as well as a character who has spent decades receiving all kinds of abuse and basically never having anything go according to plan.
That actually reminds me of one of the ideas Malcom Gladwell puts forth in The Outliers (and, I gather, is kind of the centerpiece of his David and Goliath): success makes us weak, while failure makes us strong. Otto never needed to develop his ability to improvise and roll with the punches because he has always been in control. Peter, on the other hand, never had control, so had to improvise to survive. Being out of control is effectively the only contingency Otto hasn’t prepared for, and basically the only one Peter has ever prepared for. It’s a clever idea — effectively boiling down their differences in an entirely unexpected way — but it’s also remarkably intuitive. Otto won when holding on to Peter’s body was about control, but he could only hope to maintain that level of control for so long.
As ever, I’m impressed with the quantity of ideas Slott is able to cram into this issue — he does in one issue what many series do in three — but I’m also impressed with the quality of the ideas. I think the parallels Spencer noted between Otto’s bodysnatching and the Symbiote’s are brilliant, and I love the notion that Otto’s strength will ultimately be his weakness. I can’t wait to see what else Slott has in store.
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