If anything, the biggest problem I have with Dan Slott’s Dr. Octopus-as-Spider-Man uber-storyline is that I keep hearing Doc Ock’s voice in my head instead of Peter Parker’s. I don’t just mean his internal monologues, but his regular speaking voice as well. Everyone in the story remarks about how the character sounds the same, yet that he’s more dangerous and aggressive than before. Reading the dialogue, however, is a much different story. There’s a noticeable difference between how Peter Parker as Spider-Man sounds in the “Big Time: Complete Collections” (two volumes out so far, both quite good) and how Otto Octavius does as the character here. You’d think that someone would’ve picked up on this basic difference by now and the fact that they haven’t requires a massive suspension of disbelief on my part.
Assuming you can muster that kind of suspension, then you’re likely to enjoy this third volume of “Superior Spider-Man” as well. I mean, how else would you have gotten this far? Slott (with scripting assistance from Christos Gage on the first three issues here) continues to provide a clever take on the old villain taking over the hero’s life trope. Otto may be doing an objectively better job as a crimefighter with his ruthless methods, yet he’s also making new mistakes that are going to come back and bite him on the ass in short order.
We get a taste of that in the opening arc, “No Escape,” as the execution of Alistair Smythe -- the Spider-Slayer -- draws near. Not wanting the man who killed his wife to escape what’s coming to him, J. Jonah Jameson calls upon Spider-Man to provide security for the event. That Smythe does try to escape during his execution with help from his mini-spider-slayers shouldn’t come as a surprise. What’s fun about the event is seeing how Spider-Man really did do a good job of heading off the super-villain’s routes of escape in ways that almost border on Rube Goldbergian. Even Spidey’s Bond-villain monologue turns out to be a clever piece of misdirection as well.
However, the tension in the arc comes from the one thing the title character overlooked -- that the mini-spider-slayers would be able to heal three members of his rogues’ gallery who were currently in intensive care on the Raft. The Scorpion, the Vulture and Boomerang were all put there by Spider-Man and are looking for a little payback with the enhancements Smythe has given them. We get some good superhero action out of the ensuing fighting, and the added violence from Otto’s methods still hasn’t lost its edge here yet. This continues the trend of this title being a more violent “Spider-Man” than you’d expect.
Still, the highlight of this action is hearing Smythe offer up a “Hobson’s Choice” of letting him go free versus seeing the hostages in the prison be killed. Rather than angst over it, Otto tells the villain that the quickest way to sort out that issue will be to kill him instead. It’s a refreshingly direct take on this particular plot device, which I certainly appreciated. Also interesting is the turn that the Spidey/Jameson relationship takes at the end of this arc. One of the things I’ve liked about Slott’s story is how the former has finally warmed up to the latter after all these years thanks to his new methods. Of course, Otto being Otto, that couldn’t last forever and the stage is set for their usual antagonistic relationship to be resumed once Peter is back in the title role.
Now, Marvel hasn’t given ANY indication that’s going to happen and Slott’s continued to maintain that the character is dead as dead can be. Then again, these kinds of stunts never last and there’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” coming out at the beginning of May, which also coincides with what looks like a climactic arc for this title. Some people have speculated that we could see Miles Morales in the role of Spider-Man proper once he crosses over from the Ultimate Universe. I wouldn’t be averse to that, though I see the character occupying a solo title of his own to allow Bendis the freedom to do what he wants with the character. So I still think that we’ll see Peter back in the title role by the time summer comes around. If anything, Slott deserves credit for obscuring just how that’s going to be possible.
Speaking of that climactic arc, the buildup for that continues in the second half of this volume. Now with a base of operations, giant spider-robots and minions (yes, minions) of his own, Spidey figures it’s high time that Shadowland, the Kingpin’s base of operations in New York, is finally taken down. That he’s taking out a known criminal stronghold while preventing the loss of civilian life is clearly a good thing. Yet Otto remains blind to the little problems his actions create. In addition to raising more suspicion with Peter’s friends in the NYPD, the man has also paved the way for one of his most fearsome villains to take over the city’s criminal underworld.
He also creates some more pressing issues for one Phil Ulrich, the current Hobgoblin. Now out of a job as the Kingpin’s enforcer, he finds himself pressed for cash to supply his Goblin tech and to pay original Hobgoblin Roderick Kingsley for the permission to use the villain’s identity. As written by Slott, Phil has always been kind of a scumbag in the way he uses his supervillain identity as a shortcut to get what he wants. Yet, he’s still sympathetic to a certain extent as his methods usually wind up causing more problems than he solves. It’s almost like he’s the supervillain answer to Spider-Man.
That’s seen here as he’s forced to start robbing banks and armored cars in order to pay his bills. His crime spree soon puts him on Spider-Man’s radar both literally and figuratively which leads to a showdown in the Daily Bugle’s bullpen after his identity has been outed to all of New York. In its aftermath, Phil winds up in a different place though it remains to be seen whether he’s finally landed ahead of the curve for once or in a different kind of hell.
As for Spider-Man himself, Otto doesn’t exactly start cracking under the pressure of maintaining Peter’s dual life but the strain is starting to show. Attending classes to get his doctorate, working at Horizon Labs, making time for friends and family are all now proving to be much more problematic as he works to eradicate crime in the city. You really get the feeling that all of this is going to come to a head soon as Otto retreats even deeper into his crimefighting career and forsakes those around him. Now I like the idea that Otto feels trapped by his choice to take on Peter’s life and all that entails. The only issue here is that it feels like we’re headed towards a familiar kind of reckoning where he finally realizes the importance of how Peter does things over his own methods. I like the road we’re taking so far, even if the destination can be seen in the distance. Then again, Slott has shown that he understands the conventions of the genre and how to upend them quite well so he may yet have some twist in mind for the end.
After years of seeing his work with Stefano Landini on “Hellblazer” it’s surprising to see how well Guiseppe Camuncoli can do superhero work. We don’t get any of the really out-there psychedelics and supernatural phoenomena from that title here, but the man knows how to show us some bright, lively action on the page and make the violence sting as well. Camuncoli only does the first half of the book, with Humberto Ramos taking on the second. Ramos has been working with Slott on this title regularly since the start of the “Big Time” era and they continue to work well together here. I’ve always liked the artist’s big-eyed, cartoonish style and he’s proved to be adept at projecting intensity on the page. Either in a big action setpiece such as when Spider-Man takes down Shadowland or when Phil slowly starts to lose control after having his identity outed in the bullpen.
As you can see, I generally liked a lot of this volume. It has a lot of nice twists on familiar conventions and it’s clear that Slott has a plan for this story and isn’t stringing us along at this point. Ironically, my biggest problem with the title is something that Otto took care of in the previous volume when he exorcised the last remnants of Peter’s memories from his mind and got rid of that nagging voice in his head. That’s not an option for me, so I’ll continue to have to deal with how all of the dialogue sounds like Otto Octavius in my head and not Peter Parker on my own terms. I don’t know if I’m the only person who has this problem, but at this point I’m willing to just deal with it to see where the story goes.