Patrick: If you go back and read our discussions on Superior Spider-Man, you’ll notice that one thing keeps popping up over and over again: what it means to be a hero. The concept of Otto’s identity, and how it melded with the concept of Spider-Man, was something that we brought up on a bi-monthly basis. I mean, if you look at our very first discussion of the series, Drew starts with the line “What does it mean to be good?” Writer Dan Slott was so good at putting Otto in situations that challenged both his heroism and his villainy, and it changed who Spider-Man is and how Spider-Man operates. With Peter Parker back in the driver’s seat, it’s becoming clear that some of those changes don’t wash away with a quick mind re-swap. Issue 3 finds Spider-Man — and everyone else — dealing with this latest discrepancy, and not everyone’s so happy with the restored status quo.
Peter’s trying his hand at being the “cool boss” — and because he’s lame, that means casual Fridays and theme parties in the break room. His employees don’t know what to make of this change. No one comes out and says that they preferred it when he was breathing down their necks and shouting at them like a maniac, but this apparent inconsistency has got a few of them on edge. Later, when Peter takes his crew out to test the Electro-tracking device, Ana Maria resumes work on Otto’s nano-tech initiatives. It’s weird, but Parker Industries isn’t Peter’s company — it’s Otto’s. As such, the corporate culture that Peter wants to embrace — from ideas as small as dress code to ideas as big as what technology they’re developing — just isn’t in sync with his company.
I can totally identify with the Parker Industries employees — I too really got to know Spider-Man during a period when Otto Octavius was inhabiting that body. And I loved Superior Spider-Man. I’m not disappointed with the return of Peter Parker, but it is something with which I am not totally at ease. I recognize that this is me expressing the opposite concern that 98% of the Marvel fan base was screaming about over a year ago when Peter died in the first place. I’m uncomfortable because what I’m reading isn’t familiar. Ultimately, both Peter’s employees and myself will come around on that and realize that both ways are good — we just have to know what to expect.
But there’s not time for expectations now — an abandoned building is on fire! Why? Because an on-the-streets Electro was trying to get a good night sleep in a common vagrant hangout, and accidentally set the building ablaze. Spider-Man’s quick to the scene, as are Black Cat and MJ’s boyfriend, the NYC firefighter Ollie. Ollie’s already doing the fireman thing, being a hero, when Spidey shows up. Even though it’s weird, Peter’s a good sport and works with Ollie to get everyone out of the building. Peter does trip up a second, when he accidentally tells Ollie that he knows him, even though he’s never met him as Spider-Man. There’s also a weird little moment when MJ comes to hug him afterwards.
Then there’s Black Cat, who shows up at the fire after everyone has been rescued just to make escape difficult for Spider-Man and Ollie. Peter tries his nice, honest, friendly-guy tactics, but Felicia isn’t hearing any of it. She feels wronged by Spider-Man, so Spider-Man (whatever that means) must pay. Then Peter, perhaps sensing the trend, decides to affect Doc Ock’s speaking patterns, and drives Black Cat away with his supervillainy dialogue. Mind you, he’s not quite as good at it as Otto is.
Drew, I’m intrigued by how much Peter is forced to inhabit the world that Otto left for him. I don’t know how that changes my view of his heroic agency: on the one hand, it makes him a little bit of a pushover, but on the other he’s being considerate of the experience everyone had without him. Maybe it’s just a regular case of “nice guys finish last,” which is something of a runner for Spider-Man.
Also, because we can’t let an Humberto Ramos issue pass me by without drawing attention to some shitty drawings of women: here are some shitty drawings of women.
I know at this point, I’m harping on this, but the rest of his work in this issue is so smart and expressive and dynamic. It’s Spider-Man, so it’s incredibly hard to vote with our dollars on this one, so let’s just voice the concern as often as we have it: breasts don’t need to be huge, asses don’t need to be presented, and your female characters are people too.
Drew: The more frustrating thing is that he does treat them like people some of the time. That fight scene with Black Cat makes her out to be just as formidable as Spider-Man (and no more sexualized), but only a few pages earlier, our introduction to her was focused squarely on her ass. Patrick, I very much know what you mean when you say that you feel like you’re harping on this — I also am kind of tired of bringing this subject up all of the time — but you’re absolutely right that it bears repeating. We may have said all we have to say on this subject years ago, but it’s obvious that not everybody was listening. I’ll simply remind Ramos that, while this blatant objectification of female characters may make his comics better in the eyes of a tasteless minority of his fans, the vast majority of his readers find this kind of thing absolutely embarrassing. I’m not quite to the point of too embarrassed to continue buying Amazing Spider-Man, but I’m certainly too embarrassed to seek out Ramos’ work elsewhere.
Anyway, I was impressed by the sheer number of threads Slott manages in this issue. In addition to the Black Cat/Electro supervillainy, Peter’s office life, and that love triangle-y moment with Ollie, we also have that odd little moment with “the woman in the windowless room” (who…do we know who that is?), as well as J. Jonah Jameson’s new job as a TV personality. It’s a ton of plates to keep spinning, but the issue never feels rushed or overstuffed. Slott has long been the master of this sort of thing, but this issue is a great example of why.
But of course, that scene where Peter pretends to be Otto is by far the most interesting part of this issue. Bizarre identity issues are inherent to many superhero stories, but that was especially true of Superior Spider-Man, which found Otto pretending to be Peter, creating a character that wasn’t quite either one. With Peter back in his own body, it was easy to expect those identity issues to stop. Sure, Peter would have some cleaning up to do, but nobody had to pretend to be Peter Parker anymore. Only, “Peter Parker” as the world knows him isn’t just Peter Parker. He’s now that amalgam of Peter and Otto, and that may require some acting on Peter’s part.
It comes out most acutely in that fight with Black Cat, but Patrick is very right to highlight the discomfort of Peter’s staff at his newfound upbeat attitude. Peter’s attempts at being the “cool boss” are hilariously lame, but the bigger problem is that his employees don’t trust it. Is this some kind of trick? Has he gone off the deep end? He could be nice to them all the time, but because they know he’s capable of being a demanding slave-driver, they’ll never really relax. Instead, Peter may find it more comforting to his staff to continue to be a total jerk. Sure, it’s not as “fun” as hawaiian shirts, but it is what they expect.
All that is to say, I think the spirit of Superior Spider-Man is very much still alive here, only now it’s Peter learning how to act like new Peter. This is far from the platonic Spider-Man action I thought the return would bring, and I couldn’t be happier. Otto Octavius is dead. Long live Otto Octavius!
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?