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Superior Spider-Man #31 – REVIEW

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This is it, the official end of the Superior Spider-Man saga. Peter Parker has rightfully reclaimed his body and role as Spider-Man and it is up to him to begin to restore his legacy and right all the wrongs committed by Doctor Octopus during his tenure. This has been a book that has seen the “good” Doctor reconstruct Peter’s life in his image, for all the good and bad that came along with those attempts. Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man has committed murder, horribly disfigured several of his enemies, gained a PhD, started Parker Industries, romanced Anna Maria, built Spider-bots, blackmailed J. Jonah Jameson, left the Avengers, imprisoned Black Cat, and alienated Peter Parker’s family and loved ones. It has been an incredibly exciting time to be a Spider-Man fan and will be remembered as one of the most daring and successful changes to the Spider-Man formula ever implemented.

photo 4I wish I could say the same for how the book ends in Superior Spider-Man #31. Dan Slott has done such a wonderful job building up to a new status quo for Peter Parker to return to, promising wonderful stories as Peter has to face the consequences of Otto’s actions, but this issue suggests that the impact on Peter’s life will be minimal. In an effort to end Superior Spider-Man as cleanly as possible, issue #31 checks in on almost every party that has been affected by Spider-Man over the past 30 issues. Peter gives these parties an equivalent of an, “I’m sorry…,” or a brief explanation, “I was Doc Ock,” without any really intriguing evidence. In this particular issue these acceptances come off as anti-climactic and unsatisfying from a character standpoint. The lack of consequences, ones that have been presumed throughout the run of Superior Spider-Man, threaten to impact the legacy of the “Superior” era and Doctor Octopus’s time as the titular character.

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of fun moments to be had in Superior Spider-Man #31, the return of Peter Parker is just as refreshing as it should be. Peter is back and so is his trademark humor! Dan Slott throws Peter a couple of solid one-liners that are sure to be remembered, particularly the moment when the Goblin realizes that Peter is definitely back in action by just recognizing his bad jokes. In a book about mind-swapping, the differences between Otto and Peter have to be more than just visual, although there is definitely a change in body-language now that Peter is back, and have to be represented through their character and actions. In this regard Superior Spider-Man #31 is a mixed success.

Verbally this is the Peter Parker that I’ve been waiting to see return, but in his actions he’s a bit more brazen and cavalier with the lives of the people he’s saving than I’m used to. Perhaps it is a lingering cockiness that has worn off from his experience reliving the life of Doctor Octopus, but his hands-off approach to saving Anna Maria puts too much in the hands of an already compromised character. Just when did he learn about how self-sufficient Anna Maria is?

photo 3There is some fun to be had with Peter’s lack of memories but given how inconsistently this plot has been handled by Slott over the past several issues these sequences quickly bring up new questions and holes in the logic. This distracts from the fun of having Peter back in the saddle. Peter’s repurposing of Otto’s technology feels especially rushed; did he just whip up some mini-Spider-bots while he was rushing across the city? At what point does Spider-Man become such a tech-based character so as to actually become Iron Man?

Superior Spider-Man #31 finally reveals the face behind the Green Goblin mask and finds an interesting intersection between the long-rumored (and debunked) argument between Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s initial plans for the character. The reveal isn’t necessarily satisfying as a reveal, as the implications of what this character has been doing to the world of Spider-Man are far more interesting than his identity and the changes that have been made to him. More confusing is just how little drama is mined from the final battle between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man, after all this buildup, and how little is made of the enormous change that results to the character after their brief battle.

There was really no way that the Goblin mystery could be revealed and live up to the mystery that has been set up over the Superior Spider-Man story without providing a really shocking and layered plot that has been hinted at over the book’s run. There were some clues but not enough to make it shocking or rewarding. What is really unfortunate is that the Goblin pretty much hightails it as soon as he realizes Peter is back. It is a strange character moment for the Goblin, especially given who it turns out to be, and his eventual escape from capture is equally awkward. The future for the character is hinted at and while any concept can yield great stories it is strange to see the character altered so dramatically towards a less interesting characterization.

photo 2Guiseppe Camuncoli’s depiction of New York City’s destruction and work with costumed characters is detailed and beautiful, but still showcases some rushed inking and awkward work with non-costumed characters. When characters are doing superheroics his images are layered, dynamic, and feature intense detail. The backgrounds, on the other hand, often are empty and filled with gradients that make them feel hollow and static. The otherworldly colors don’t provide any grounding to the proceedings, but it is nice to see the colors change so dramatically upon Peter’s return and the dissolution of the Goblin Nation. When Camuncoli is able to fill in the details in his background he excels and delivers some truly wonderful compositions and arrangements that allow the eye to linger and the pacing of the issue to breathe a bit.

It is strange to see Dan Slott rush so quickly through the proceedings here and never really linger long enough with any of the big moments he’s been building towards throughout Superior Spider-Man. The ideas are all strong and groundbreaking in terms of the series but where is the reverence for even his own work on the title. All of these various complaints seem nitpicky and specific but so does the plotting to this issue.

What’s really missing here in this final issue of Superior Spider-Man is a grand dramatic arc or emotional payoff. The end sequence featuring Anna Maria and the specter of Doctor Octopus tries to elicit emotion, even referencing the cover to Amazing Spider-Man #50, but feels hollow because of the omission of a character that’s been key to Superior Spider-Man. That character is Doctor Otto Gunther Octavius, the character that Superior Spider-Man has asked us to sympathize with and come to an understanding of. In the end, the success of this issue and story all hinges on Otto and his unceremonious departure in Superior Spider-Man #30. Without a proper goodbye in that book or any real dramatic, rational arc, the character portrayal of Dr. Octopus, and thus the series, stumbles over the finish line.

photo 1The backup story by Christos Gage is actually quite enjoyable from a writing standpoint and actually introduces real consequences and dramatics into the “Goblin Nation” storyline. In it, Peter is forced to face down his loved ones for the first time since his return and deal with the ramifications of Otto’s actions. The drama is well-written and well-reasoned, particularly with Mary Jane and Carlie making really distinct decisions about Peter’s role in their lives. Their decisions make sense with how they’ve been portrayed but Mary Jane’s rejection of Peter is just another continuing distinction in how differently she has been portrayed since the “Brand New Day” era began. Gone is the woman who would fight for Peter and in her place is a much more selfish woman. The Jameson sequence finally pays off on a long gestating storyline in a way that is true to his character and serves to deepen and reignite his relationship to Spider-Man in an interesting way. Will Sliney’s art is crisp and clear in a way that Camuncoli’s art isn’t, but for a sequence about characters talking to each other their poses aren’t graphic enough and come across as stiff and lifeless. Either way, it is a more dramatic couple of pages than the primary story that preceded it.

So long Superior Spider-Man, you were a ton of fun while you lasted… I just hope you will leave a more lasting impression than this issue implies. Much of this series spent so much time presenting a referendum on what made Peter Parker such a great Spider-Man. We saw it in all of Doctor Octopus’s actions and inactions, for both positive and ill gain. Yet, at the end of this series, a time where the thematic idea of Superior Spider-Man should finally become apparent, I couldn’t discern what makes the real difference between Peter and Otto as Spider-Man. I know Peter is the “Superior Spider-Man” but this story did not illustrate why and I consider that an enormous missed opportunity.

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