Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing The Superior Spider-Man 31, originally released April 16th, 2014.
Shelby: If I learned anything from watching countless episodes of M*A*S*H* as a child, it’s that the first step of dealing with any disaster is triage. You need to assess the situation and make some quick decisions to prioritize your next steps. Usually this means letting some people in pain suffer a little while longer so you can tend to the immediately life-threatening issues. It’s only after you’ve stopped the bleeding and patched up the worse off can you step back and consider the situation as a whole; that’s the point you can begin to make some decisions about long-term fixes and really start cleaning up your mess.
Peter is back, ladies and gentlemen, and he has got some work to do. First stop, catch up on Carlie’s recent de-Goblinification and pickup some Goblin cure to go. Then, rendezvous with Miguel and take out the Hobgoblin before heading over to
Oscorp Alchemax to confront that whole gang. Miguel takes out Tiberius and escorts Liz and creepy Normie out while Peter heads to the roof to rescue Anna Maria before the building blows, because of course it’s rigged to blow. It only takes one quip from Peter for the Green Goblin to know he’s back, and a fight ensues. Peter unmasks Goblin, revealing…Mason Banks, an Alchemax exec. Except, it’s somehow actually Norman Osborn, who’s possessed another guy’s body? Become a shape-shifter? Found a really good plastic surgeon? The only thing that matters is he’s not wearing the goblin mask, so Peter’s mini-Spider Bots, chock-full of Goblin cure, can get to work. Peter snags Anna Maria after she leaps off an exploding building like a boss, grabs a very confused Norman, and celebrates a victory with no loss of life. As the authorities deal with everything, Norman escapes (naturally), and Peter has a touching moment with Anna Maria. As she expresses how important and amazing “Peter” is, the actual Peter has a very sobering realization about the death toll of his triumphant return to his own body.
I couldn’t have been more happy with the way Dan Slott ended this title, and it’s all in this last panel. Peter isn’t back with a fresh start and a new lease on life; well, ok, maybe he does have a new lease on life, but this is not a happy return. This is a realistic return; he’s got an insurmountable amount of work to do to clean up Otto’s mess. And what about Otto? I don’t for a second believe this is actually the end of him, because I’ve read a comic book before, but there is real mourning on Peter’s part here. Let’s not mince words; Otto fucked up bad. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t try to do right. When given an opportunity to redeem himself, in the end he did. Otto sacrificed himself to save Anna Maria. Otto Octavius, one of the most egotistical and self-centered villains out there, and he gave up everything for someone else. Peter is left to do what we’ve been doing since issue 1: ponder the gray space between the black and white of bad guys and good.
There’s a lot more to mine here, but I want to talk about the backup. Christos Gage picks things up as the cleanup begins. MJ tells Peter she has been living a normal life with normal problems, and she wanted to keep it that way. In a typical Peter moment, he has to rush off to deal with Jonah, leaving Carlie and MJ to reassure each other that pushing Peter out of their lives was better for them. Peter tries to apologize to Jonah, which goes over as well as one would expect, and the story closes with Jonah resigning as mayor, ready to do some ass-kicking of his own. As great as Slott’s story was, I was almost more excited for this one. This is what I’ve been dying to see; I can’t wait to see how Peter is going to fix this. There are a lot of bridges that Otto burned to the ground. No, bridges Otto blew up, then swept up the ash and debris and blew that up, too for good measure. Peter has a great speech for Jonah about staying strong and defending himself, but I gotta agree with Jonah on this one.
Both Jonah and Peter are in the same boat; horrible things were committed in their name, without their consent. Peter is going to fight it out, refuse to take the fall for something he didn’t do, but not Jonah. He understands his responsibility for the Spider-Slayers. Even though he knows he had nothing to do with them going rogue and turning on the police, he’s going to own up to his mistakes and deal with the consequences. I don’t know if that makes him a pessimist or a realist. I do know I love the way these two men’s situations mirror each other, and I’m excited to see how their different approaches to dealing with their messes will play out for each of them. I could go on and on about this issue, but I suppose I should leave something for my esteemed colleague Patrick to discuss. Patrick, your thoughts on seeing Peter back in control?
Patrick: Oh, it’s a thing of beauty to have Peter back in the driver seat. Perhaps the most exciting part is watching everyone else realize that he’s back — from Captain America to Mary Jane. In fact, that MJ interaction is one of the most poignant moments in the issue: she immediately believes every word for the “Doc Ock stole my body” story, because why would she not? As she so astutely observes “things like this just happen to [him].” This back-up story leans heavily on the great power / great responsibility axiom, and kind of grants the Spider-Man catch phrase some fresh meaning. Peter doesn’t get a free pass on Otto’s actions — just because he has an excuse for why he was acting like a different person (i.e., he was a different person) doesn’t mean he’s without blame in all of this. Being Spider-Man is a choice, and he has the luxury of making that choice while his friends and family don’t.
There’s a letter from Dan Slott at the end of the issue, wherein he champions the role of editor Steve Wacker for supporting Superior Spider-Man as a full-blown series, rather than a 6-issue arc or a mini-series or something. Quoth the letter: “My guy can keep this up all the way to the movie.” We know damn well that Slott took more than his fair share of shit from angry fans that saw this shift in the status quo as sacrilegious. It sounds an awful lot like Wacker was championing Slott’s great power, and we were all witness to the price he paid as a result. I personally think that both Slott and Peter are justified in the stances they take, but I can see it being a long, hard road for either of them.
But let’s go back to that main story — it’s so packed with wonderful moments that are designed to celebrate Peter Parker. Shelby mentioned one of my favorites already — it only takes one quip about carrying a purse for Goblin King to recognize his arch-enemy. Another favorite moment, and one that we had been anticipating like the know-it-all nerds that we are, was the split second where it looked like Anna Maria could be falling to her death, echoing the similar death of Gwen Stacy at the hands of Norman Osborn.
I love having the explanation that Peter knows exactly how to pull off this rescue because of his specific emotional experience dealing with that very similar circumstances. That was always something that Otto lacked: even when he could inhabit Peter’s skills and memories, Parker’s emotions seemed to be off limits. This save allows Peter’s feelings to have an immediate, practical application. He can catch Anna Maria, because he cares so much! Guys! Peter Parker is back!
This issue also does a remarkable job of juggling a ton of ancillary characters. Most — like the Avengers — end up being little more than footnotes in the fall of Goblin Nation, but I was uncharacteristically excited by Miguel O’hara’s appearance here. I think I figured out why: Spider-Man 2099 is a jokey concept. No matter how seriously the original character was treated when he was invented in 1992, he has since become a relic of a weird decade. Otto was totally unqualified to comment on how weird of a concept he his, but Peter’s able to cut through that grimy seriousness with his mere presence. I mean, you don’t get much goofier than one Spider-Man explaining his “sixth sense” to another Spider-Man. The whole pill goes down a little easier, and then even his weird mini-web-cape doesn’t look so stupid.
This is the start of an exciting new era for me. I’ve been along for the entirety of the Superior ride, but my experience with Amazing amounts to little more than the lead-up to the body swap, and one crossover with Daredevil. This creative team has a wonderful gift for Spider-Man, regardless of who’s behind the mask, and there are so many plates still spinning from Otto’s reign. Plus, with the promise of Spider-verse in the future, I’m guessing we won’t have to wait that long to see our buddy Otter Parktopus again soon either.
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?