Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic books of significance. This week, they are Superior Spider-Man #20, written by Dan Slott and drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1, written by Mike Costa and drawn by Michael Dialynas. These two issues showcase the vast storytelling opportunities afforded by the controversial Otto Octavius/Peter Parker mind swap, revealing how Slott’s Octo-Spidey epic is paving the way for the future of the character. Warning: major spoilers ahead.
Dr. Octopus has been in control of Spider-Man’s mind and body for almost an entire year. Ten months after one of the most controversial plot developments in recent comic-book history sent Peter Parker fans into a rage, Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man has established itself as one of the most captivating superhero reads available, building more momentum with every new, biweekly chapter. It’s a fascinating character study of a former supervillain trying to rebuild his identity and absolve himself of his past sins by being a better hero than his arch nemesis, with a rotating art team of three pencilers doing the best work of their careers. It may not be the Spider-Man people know and love, but the title is setting up one hell of a new status quo for when Peter inevitably returns to his body.
Slott has been all over social media the past few months teasing the big events in this week’s Superior Spider-Man #20, which sees the title character embarking on a new business venture, while the forces against him gather power. Last issue saw the destruction of Peter’s old workplace Horizon Labs, and he’s decided to fill the corporate science gap by launching the new Parker Industries with his old co-worker Sajani Jeffrey and his current love interest Anna Maria Marconi. It’s the latest step in the evolution of Peter Parker the scientist, a role that Slott has emphasized over the course of his lengthy run on Spider-Man.
By taking over Peter, Otto has been able to use his massive intellect for the forces of good, pushing himself further than Peter ever did, because Peter was afraid of the consequences of gaining too much power. Otto doesn’t quite grasp the responsibility half of Uncle Ben’s classic adage, assuming that his only duty is to his own warped sense of morality. He’s made some positive strides since his initial days as Spider-Man, but while he’s not shooting supervillains point blank in the head anymore, he still has trouble understanding that superheroes don’t have free reign to do whatever they want. With an army of spider-henchmen and his own lair in the former Raft prison, now called Spider-Island, Otto has found a middle ground between his old life and his new one, but it’s not one he’ll be able to stand on long.
The cliffhanger at the end of last issue confirmed Carlie Cooper’s suspicions when she and Captain Yuri Watanabe discovered that Spider-Man’s henchmen were being paid from an offshore account belonging to Otto, and the arrival of two new women from Peter and Otto’s pasts this week suggests things are going to get much more complicated from here on out. The cover for #20 may suggest sexy, fun time between Spidey and Black Cat, but their actual encounter at the beginning of this issue goes much differently. The slinky thief tries her usual flirtatious tactics to get Spider-Man off her back, but since Otto has purged Peter’s memories, he has no knowledge of his new identity’s sexual history with Black Cat and ignores her seduction, choosing instead to knock out one of her teeth with a punch to the face. With Green Goblin assembling a giant army, Carlie and Yuri’s ongoing investigation, and The Avengers putting him on probation, the last thing Spider-Man needs is another enemy, but this issue is all about applying more pressure to Otto’s ongoing illusion, which is starting to show some cracks.
Black Cat is going to be a problem in the future, but there are more immediate concerns for Peter, including the return Dr. Octopus’ old girlfriend Stunner at the end of this issue, who vows revenge on the Superior Spider-Man for murdering her true love. But the biggest danger to Octo-Spidey comes courtesy of college professor Dr. Don Lamaze, a former classmate of Dr. Otto Octavius who derails Peter’s thesis presentation by accusing his student of plagiarizing Otto’s unpublished research. This happens right after Peter convinces Sajani and his uncle Jay to give him money for a business loan from the bank, signing away all his personal assets as well to get Parker Industries up and running. If Peter is disgraced by Lamaze, the financial security of people that the real Peter cares about will be put in jeopardy; the only option is for Spider-Man to get rid of the professor, but there are a slew of risks that come with any additional villainous behavior on the hero’s part. As things start to fall apart for Otto behind his back, Dr. Lamaze’s interference could be just the thing to send the whole masquerade crashing down.
One of the most impressive things about Slott’s writing is the way he juggles subplots, creating multiple storylines that build individually over extended periods of time. In just this issue: Spider-Man faces the Black Cat; Peter progresses his romantic relationship with Anna Maria, starts his own business, and gets humiliated at his thesis presentation; Carlie and Yuri take the next step in their investigation; Mary Jane Watson visits the sexy firefighter she met when her club caught fire; and Stunner comes out of her coma to embark on her path of vengeance. There’s no decompression happening here, and with this book’s biweekly shipping schedule, Slott has covered a massive amount of story in these last 10 months.
Giuseppe Camuncoli is a penciler who is heavily dependent on the right inker; compare the rough, clunky visuals of his work on the “Battle Of The Atom” crossover to his sleek Superior Spider-Man art and it becomes clear just how important inking is to giving Camuncoli a cleaner, more focused line. John Dell is an inker who has helped bring clarity and precision to the works of artists like Mark Bagley and Jim Cheung, and his controlled inks give Camuncoli’s pencils an animated quality that is lost when he’s teamed with sketchier inkers. Klaus Janson is a phenomenal artist, but he was the wrong inker for Camuncoli on Amazing Spider-Man. The addition of Dell has elevated Camuncoli’s pencils, and the sharpness of the inking gives colorist Antonio Fabela the opportunity to create extra dimension with more textured shading. One especially striking image in this issue is a long vertical panel showing Peter and Anna Maria having dinner on a giant web-hammock between two buildings. The foreground is lit with warm shades of red, while the buildings in the background are lit with sickly shades of green, visually evoking the interior struggle between Spider-Man (red) and Dr. Octopus (green) in Peter’s mind.
It’s generally a great time for Spider-Man fans. The main series is firing on all cylinders, while its companion book, Superior Spider-Man Team-Up,offers lighter stories with gorgeous artwork (Mike Del Mundo’s recent arc was stunning). Spidey’s rogues gallery gets the spotlight it deserves in Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s excellent Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, and Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Yost are giving Octo-Spidey haters alternative wall crawlers in the pages of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider. (Those last two titles are ending soon, but the characters are sticking around for the foreseeable future.)
This week’s other Spidey release is Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1, the conclusion of a great three-part story that started in the All New X-Men and Indestructible Hulk Specials, partnering Spider-Man with four of the original X-Men and Dr. Bruce Banner to take down a gamma-powered mad scientist. Writer Mike Costa’s plot is one of those tangential tales that doesn’t have any sort of effect on the plots unfolding in the main titles, but it’s a strong jumping on point for anyone unfamiliar with the Marvel Now! circumstances of these popular characters. Each issue focuses on a different brainy character, giving Costa the opportunity to keep the book centered on science—even if it’s the nonsense techno-babble science of superhero comics—but a keen sense of humor and regular bursts of action prevent the narrative from becoming too cerebral.
The art team of Kris Anka (X-Men), Jacob Wyatt (Hulk), and Michael Dialynas (Spider-Man) provides distinct visuals with a strong alternative comics influence, and the expressive coloring work of Jordie Bellaire on the first two parts and Rachel Rosenberg on the final chapter provides cohesion during the style shifts. Dialynas’ work in this week’s Special combines the grounded realism of Superior Foes’ Lieber with the unbridled energy of the rotating Superior Spider-Man art team, adding a sprinkle of Jim Mahfood-esque cartoonish exaggeration to set it apart from the usual superhero fare. It’s not the most polished art, but it’s vibrant and theatrical and captures all the fun of Costa’s story.
Despite some of the heavier story developments that have come with the Otto mind swap, the major character change has brought a sense of discovery to the hero’s adventures, and it’s simply a lot of fun seeing how Slott uses the new status quo to take Spider-Man into bold new territory. In the case of Costa’s Specials, the swap considerably changes the dynamic between Spider-Man and his costumed colleagues, adding intriguing complications to the standard superhero team-up story.
Superior Spider-Man still has its very vocal detractors, but those that have stuck with Slott have been treated to a rapidly paced, intensely dramatic tale that is setting up the next stage of Spider-Man’s life when Peter reclaims his mind and body. It’s reminiscent of what Grant Morrison did in the middle of his Batman run, killing off Bruce Wayne and replacing him with Dick Grayson for a year so that readers would not only appreciate the original figure more, but understand the appeal in expanding the role of the Dark Knight beyond what it was before. That storyline led to the global Batman Incorporated, and as Octo-Spidey gains more and more power with each issue of Superior Spider-Man, Slott appears to be building to a similarly expansive role for the webslinger in the future.