Patrick: There’s a persistent tension inherent to any narrative based on a lie or secret between its characters. Writer Dan Slott has been successful enough at fleshing out who exactly Otto is in the body of Peter Parker, so the issue of “will anyone find out what’s really going on?” often takes a back seat to Otto’s superheroic machinations. And yet, that tension is still there: that’s not Peter Parker, and the truth is going to infuriate people. Secret-based stories basically have two options if they’re to last — 1) reveal the mystery and let the characters deal with the ramifications of that revelation (as in Mad Men or Breaking Bad) or 2) string the mystery out ridiculously straining credibility (as in Dexter). With an end-date to the Superior franchise in sight, Slott breathlessly catapults Otto toward option one. It’s an invigorating thrill ride as all of Otto’s chickens come home to roost.
Spider-Island is under attack! Otto’s caught off guard — hell, he’s still in the VR rig, certain that he’s the one that has the leg up on his enemy. Soon, Otto’s in full-on retreat mode, bailing on his henchmen, his base and most of his Spider-Man resources. He tries to utilize his strength as Peter Parker, CEO of Parker Industries, but even that’s cut short by Wraith, aka Captain Yuri Watanabe, and Monster, aka Carlie-Cooper-as-a-Goblin. In their scuffle, Carlie’s link to Osborn is momentarily disabled, and she begs for a temporary alliance with Peter/Otto/WHOEVER to turn her back into a nice, non-Goblin person.
Meanwhile, the shit’s getting real for the allies and acquaintances of Peter Parker. Mayor Jameson has revealed his army of Spider-Slayer robots, but they’ve evidently done a Find and Replace for the word “Spider” and made them “Goblin Slayers” instead. MJ understands the flaw in this logic, and then — as if to immediately justify her paranoia — those former-Vulture-hench-children-turned-Goblins break in to her apartment. She’s been inactive for so much of this Superior story that Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli are able to milk a stand up and cheer moment as she dons web shooters and takes control of the situation.
She also snaps into survival mode, and gathers as many of Peter’s loved ones together to protect them from Goblin retribution. Unfortunately, this leave Ana Maria unprotected, and the Goblins swoop in to take advantage of that oversight.
What is it about the retreat that’s so fascinating? We’re seeing Otto at his most desperate — he’s so out of options that he doesn’t even have room to make the kind of moral mistakes we’ve seen throughout the last 27 issues. It’s all reduced to survival, and that’s where Peter’s got the edge on his body snatcher. It’s great to watch Otto try to scrape by. In typical Octavius fashion, he relies on the precautionary measures he put in place months ago to protect him, but also in typical Octavius fashion, he’s fixated on the same techniques that always worked for him in the past. Carlie knows all his secrets, so she’s prepared for the small army of mechanical arms that guards Parker Industries. No amount of Doctor Octopusness is going to save him, and Slott wants to make that clear — look how he has Carlie call Otto “sweetie.” That’s an uppercut to the ego, right there.
It’s weird to be decrying preparation as an inadequate virtue — I’m such a big Batman fan, that it almost feels like blasphemy — but these are mistakes that the ever-malleable Parker wouldn’t make. In fact, that same malleability is causing him trouble as he hides among Otto’s memories. There are two bravura spreads in this issue devoted to reconciling Peter’s time in Otto’s memories, and they both trade heavily the reverse of the trick we’ve grown so used to seeing of Otto projecting his haircut and googles onto Peter’s history. Here, Peter projects himself into Otto’s experience, a surprisingly easy feat: they were both awkward and bookish with a lot of loss in childhood. Peter’s got such a hard time sorting out which particulars are his own and which belong to his nemesis that by the end of the issue, even his anchor of “I am Peter Parker” has been replaced with an “I am Doctor Octopus!” Camuncoli even cedes the innovative paneling on these two spreads to the more Octopus-y designs — the first divides up some of the panels with meaty tentacles and the rest with spider legs. In fact, the tentacles and legs are even intertwined on the page. But by the second spread, it’s all mechanical arms with nothing more than the occasional red spider to recall Peter’s identity. Even as you move further to the right on that page, the spider frequency becomes less and less, until we’re left with nothing but Doc.
Okay, obviously, Peter didn’t just loose his mind to Doc’s forever. He’s a survivor damn it! I had been kind of assuming that Peter was going to extract himself from Otto’s mind, but I’m beginning to think that his empowered friends might have a larger role in the conclusion here than they’ve had throughout. Drew, I hate to set you up with just plotty questions, but this issue is mostly delivering on that block-buster finale sort of stuff right now. I’m a little bummed to see 2099 in the teaser for the next issue, but, hey, we got loose ends to tie up, huh?
Drew: Man, there’s nothing like a known end-point to make us explicitly aware of that kind of loose-end-tying — or at least to make us conceive of developments as loose-end-tying. That mindset is a pretty powerful thing, and I have to admit that knowing that Peter will be back in control of his body within three issues robs his storyline of a lot of tension. He might be changed by the process (indeed, I think this may be Spider-Man’s own retcon punch), but there’s no doubt that he’s going to come out on top.
For me, all the tension here comes from what will become of poor Otto (and the life he had created for himself) — unlike Peter, there’s no guarantee’s about Otto’s status come Amazing Spider-Man 1. I may also be drawn to Otto’s crumbling agency. That is, I’m drawn to the fact that Otto still has some say in what’s going on. Peter’s only action in the past several issues was going into Otto’s brain, giving little more reason than that it’s a good trick, but Otto’s rapidly slackening grip on the situation is downright tragic. Or tragicomedy — Otto’s scrambling away from Spider Island with what few items he could reminded me of my favorite scene from The Jerk (right down to his pants [figuratively] being around his ankles).
For all of his will to power, the only thing Otto ever really cared about was control, and he’s quickly losing any that he ever had. History may turn this story into one more victory of Spider-Man over Doc Oc, but it’s hard not to feel for the poor guy now.
Then again, Slott may very well be setting Otto up for his own “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” I’ve been worried about poor Anna Maria from the get-go, but that concern was mostly emotional — sooner or later, she was going to learn that her boyfriend had been lying to her al along — but now I’m actively concerned about her survival. Otto’s cockiness has always been his weakness, but he’s never had to face lasting consequences. Putting Anna Maria in peril could very well shock him into the realization that he isn’t always in control, and that it might be important to plan for that eventuality, after all.
I guess that puts the real tension here as whether or not that realization will be too little, too late. I’m pulling for Otto’s redemption, but that may or may not come at the cost of his girlfriend’s life. Heck, that kind of shared emotional moment with Peter (centered around girlfriends dying at the hand of the Green Goblin), could very well be some kind of nexus point for how Peter reclaims his body. That would add some shitty insult to shitty injury, but could make the empathy between these characters more explicit — maybe by the end of this series, the statements “I am Peter Parker” and “I am Doctor Octopus” won’t be so different.
Oh, but there I go making wild predictions. We’ll know how this all shakes out soon enough, and I’m sure Slott will deliver something much better than whatever I can come up with here. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Anna Maria (here’s hoping she’s more of a Mary Jane than a Gwen), but this is Slott we’re talking about — nobody is safe. It may be unsettling, but it’s certainly exciting.
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