Remember that time that Otto Octavius was Spider-Man?
Yes, that really was a thing. At the end of The Amazing Spider-Man #700, Doctor Octopus managed to switch bodies with Peter Parker to avoid death. Peter presumably died while Doc Ock took over Peter’s body, in a dark twist of the Spider-Man story. Thus, we have the title Superior Spider-Man, with Doc Ock playing the part, unbeknownst to others, of Spider-Man.
That all sounds hokey. It is kind of hokey. But, as hokey as it is, this book really works. Instead of using the Spider-Man mantle to be a supervillain, Otto actually does try to blend into Peter’s life. He fights bad guys, tries to date Mary Jane, comes to Aunt May’s therapy, and works in the lab. He does a pretty terrible job of some of these things, but that’s where the true conflict, and brilliance, of this book lies – in expounding on what makes a good hero, and what separates the heroes from the villains.
A good case for this is the first encounter this new Spider-Man has with a new, less experienced Sinister Six. After a few minutes of fighting the super-powered baddies, Otto says “I can’t believe Parker put up with this,” and turns to leave. Later on, he delays catching the villainous team so that he can call the media and get some good publicity out of it. He employs brutal tactics, passes up muggings because they aren’t important enough, and at the book’s climax, even goes so far as to pick up a gun. Otto isn’t terrorizing people anymore, but he’s shown exactly what it looks like to do the right thing for the wrong reason – “with great power comes great responsibility,” said Uncle Ben, and this story adds implicitly, “not fame and megalomania.”
Those are things from Peter’s perspective, but it’s almost the reverse that makes this book even more interesting. While Otto is trancing around and ruining both Peter’s and Spider-Man’s reputations, Peter is a ghost in the back of Doc Ock’s mind. Ock can’t hear him, but Peter sees everything and is constantly tugging at Otto, which sometimes has pleasant results, such as saving Mary Jane without snapping her neck, saving a child from a shooter, and refraining from killing one of the Sinister Six. Otto marvels at these moments, and can’t explain them, while they also hint at the possibility for things to “click” and Otto to get why being a hero is better. At the same time, Peter catches glimpses into the past live of Otto Octavius, such as his abusive father, or his past friendship with Adrian Toomes (The Vulture). Hints of some sense of morality shine through Otto’s character at points and really develop both Peter and Otto into deeper, more complicated characters.
Ever since the explosion of Frank Miller’s antihero revolution in the 1980’s, comic books have been fascinated with antiheroes. Ethically deficient vigilantes have, at times, all but stolen the limelight from good, old-fashioned heroes, bringing suspect morals into the mix. One of the biggest reasons for this is that good old-fashioned heroes became boring and predictable, with little sense of conflict or suspense. Here, though, we can have our cake and it too, in the sense that we’re seeing a sort of “antihero” version of Spider-Man, while the real Spider-Man is trying to pull his greatest enemy towards true, unadulterated heroism.
Superior Spider-Man has it all – a well-told story, great character development, and true heroism and morality, with hardly a negative point to be had here. The only thing that keeps this volume of the story from being an elite book is just the fact that it hasn’t hit its great climax yet. But when it does, if the quality of this book continues, it may turn out to be one of the greatest titles Marvel has produced in a very long time.