Spencer: One of the most enjoyable aspects of a writer having a long run on a title is watching elements from earlier issues resurface in surprising ways later on down the line. I think perhaps my favorite example of this is in Jon Rogers’ pre-reboot Blue Beetle run, where Jaime Reyes managed to bring back weapons, plans, and allies from nearly every one of his earlier adventures to use in his epic endgame against the Reach. It brought a nice sense of closure and finality to the proceedings, not to mention made for a thrilling game of “catch-the-reference.” I got a similar feeling from this week’s Superior Spider-Man, where plot points writer Dan Slott has been seeding for the past 27 issues begin coming back en masse, both to Otto’s relief and to his detriment.
The issue opens, not with its typical recap page, but instead with a simple caption reading “31 Days Later.” The city is under siege by a legion of Goblin-masked goons, all of whom don’t show up on Otto’s radar. Interestingly enough, Otto seems more worked-up that they’ve avoided his surveillance and spoiled his “crime-free” city than he does that they’re robbing and killing people.
Goblin King tips Otto off to his involvement by tagging the Brooklyn Bridge — the site of his infamous murder of Gwen Stacy — and after finding the flaw in his Spider-Bots’ programming, he follows them to Osborn’s lair, where he reveals that — thanks to Carlie Cooper — he knows it’s actually Otto behind Spidey’s mask. Osborn compliments Otto on literally “getting under Spidey’s skin” and offers him a place in his empire as his Second-In-Command.
Again, it’s this “degrading” position as Second that makes Otto flip out rather than Osborn’s criminal plans, or even his uncovering Otto’s identity; it sure seems like Otto’s ego is getting worse, doesn’t it? I suppose that, technically, Otto’s motivation from the start has to been to prove himself “superior” (I mean, it’s right in the title!) moreso than “with great power comes great responsibility”, but it’s still pretty glaring — and worrisome — how much Otto’s ego is driving his crusade at the moment.
I was also intrigued by the match-up of Otto vs. Osborn, though, since it’s basically a fight between Spider-Man’s two greatest enemies. It also stands out to me because Otto has practically steamrolled his way through every enemy he’s fought in this series, easily outfoxing them all. He can’t do that with Osborn; he’s just as much of a criminal mastermind as Otto and can match every one of Otto’s genius plans with one of his own. It’s a battle of equals, and I get the feeling that, as much as Otto’s been out to prove he’s a superior Spider-Man, he’s now out to prove that he’s superior to Osborn as well.
Of course, before Otto can do much of anything, Osborn attempts to blow him to bits; it fails, though, because Otto isn’t even there! Instead, he’s been using the virtual reality device he stole from Stunner to project a holographic-Spidey into Goblin’s lair. Otto himself is safe on Spider-Island, or so he thinks until Osborn’s army attacks his very public base!
The title-page of this issue declares it an epic “727 issues in the making”, and it’s quite an appropriate sub-title considering how much this issue references Spidey’s past adventures — both classic moments like Gwen’s death and more recent concepts like Uatu Jackson, Angelina’s VR device and Otto’s raid on Shadowland. Calling back to the past like this serves to build up the importance of this storyline — like I mentioned in the introduction, it’s bringing a sense of finality and conclusion to Otto’s story — but it also helps show that Otto isn’t operating in a vacuum. The past has power, and everybody’s actions have consequences, Otto’s included.
All these returning beats also help to bolster some of the still-ongoing subplots that haven’t quite gelled yet. Yuri Watanabe has been doing the exact same thing for issues now, but the fact that these other past events and subplots are coming to a head gives me faith that eventually hers will too — and the possibility of Goblin hacking Wraith’s goggles like he has Otto’s Spider-Bots certainly has possibilities. Likewise, they’ve even helped to get me into aspects of the series I previously wasn’t so hot on, like Spider-Man 2099 (who is apparently getting his own ongoing?!) or Tiberius Stone, who have now been thrown into a much more interesting and relevant story in the form of J. Jonah Jameson’s crusade against Spider-Man — now including “Slayer Patrol” units I can only conclude are based off the Spider-Slayer machines Jameson originally commissioned to destroy Spider-Man but, years later, led to the death of Jameson’s wife at the hands of Alistair Smythe. How twisted is it that Jameson’s turning back to these machines after all they’ve done to him?
Despite all this talk of past and history, though, Peter Parker has found himself composed of only 31 memories—memories he may lose entirely as he dives into Otto’s subconscious. What do we think: is this a “turnabout is fair play” sort of thing, where Peter will find the key to Otto’s defeat by invading his mind the way Otto once did his, or will he instead come to sympathize with Otto?
As tiny as it may be, the detail I really latched onto from this subplot is the number “31”, which — between 31 days passing from the last issue to this one and Peter now only having 31 memories — is practically an arc number. This is no coincidence: what’s the significance of the number 31?
Drew, any idea? Also, this issue is so dense with plot and ideas that I didn’t even get to touch on poor Anna Maria — Otto’s new “roommate.” Drew, in the comments we’ve recently taken to calling Anna Maria the one with the most to lose from Otto’s defeat; any thoughts on what this new development means for her?
Drew: With this series concluding at issue 31 (I think your onto something with this theory, Spencer), it’s hard for me to imagine that we’ll get much more face time with Anna Maria. Otto’s done a stellar job of keeping her away from his exploits as Spider-Man, which means she really has no reason to be a participant in Spidey’s all-out war with the Goblins. Knowing Slott, I’ll be eating my words before the end of the next issue, but between all of these accelerating threads, I would be surprised if the next couple issues have any room for her at all.
Spencer, I’m glad you mentioned how much this issue draws upon past events. Indeed, Slott makes a strong case here for a series with a long memory — a point that seems respond to both the New 52 AND irate Parker-philes who thought Slott was throwing away decades of history with this series. Slott has always been adept at seeding his plot lines well in advance (sometimes years), which gives his series a more salient relationship with its medium-term memory than most other books on the shelves. Most superhero comics are good at acknowledging their most long-term memories — the seminal moments that defined the characters — as well as their most recent short-term memories, but that middle ground (which often spans decades of month-to-month stories) is all but ignored.
The length of Slott’s run has given his Spider-Man books a longer memory than most, but it’s the action going on inside Otto’s head that makes this issue’s relationship with Peter’s past so interesting. Take a look at the memories of Peter that Otto has preserved.
Peter refusing to stop the thug that would go on to kill Uncle Ben, his famous fight with Juggernaut, his time with the Symbiote (sorry, I couldn’t track down the source image for this one), and his first kiss with Mary Jane — these are exactly the kind of seminal, character-defining moments that I meant when describing the long-term memories series tend to preserve. Sure enough, Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli (who offers studied homages to all of those memorable moments) suggests that these moments are effectively sacred — even Spider-Man’s worst enemy couldn’t bear to forget them.
And then he puts them in peril.
As Peter dives into Otto’s mind, those 31 cherished memories seem in danger of being entirely overwhelmed by the mass of Otto’s memories. Obviously, it would be difficult to replace those 31 memories in the hearts and minds of the fans, but I believe Slott is making a subtler point here. Those 31 moments are essential to the health of Spider-Man as a character, but they run the risk of being drowned out in a world of ever-expanding mythology. Superior Spider-Man may ultimately act as a soft-reset for Peter — an opportunity to streamline his history in-universe without undoing anything. Peter effectively said as much in the last issue, when he pointed out that he had been distilled to his core: medium-term memories may be nice, but it’s these key moments that are truly important.
Beyond the abstract studies of Peter Parker, this issue is just plain smart. I’m particularly enamored of the scene between Otto and Norman.
Camuncoli smartly stages the scene as simply as possible, holding the same shot for the entire page, putting all the focus on Osbourne’s words. It’s the basic “Gotham deserves a better class of criminal” argument, but Slott offers just the slightest tweak to make it really sing: the notion that it’s the criminals that define a society. That men like Osbourne (and maybe even Otto) would want to take advantage of that fact seems totally believable to me — which makes it all the more fascinating that Otto refuses. Sure, he seems to be objecting to the notion of having to answer to Osbourne, but I like to think that Otto has come around to the notion that it’s more important to minimize the ways crime can shape society, rather than capitalize on it.
As excited as I am for the return of Peter, this series has yet to settle the battle for Otto’s soul. Maybe that’s too much to ask of the four remaining issues (the fact that Peter is coming back at all just goes to show that there’s no such thing as closure when it comes to popular characters), but I like to think there’s hope for Otto. Where that leaves Anna Maria, though, I’m not so sure.
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?