Superior Spider-Man #26 is a nearly perfect execution of how to handle multiple storylines and multiple artists in one single issue. When a feat like this is normally attempted it ends up as a convoluted mess that seems to reveal that schedules were crunched and pennies were pinched to produce an effort with mixed results. Here that is simply not true.
Dan Slott presents readers with three storylines that follow the feud between the Goblins, Otto Octavius’s confrontation with the Avengers, and Peter Parker’s journey through his devastated Mindscape. Each story is partnered with an artist whose style perfectly matches the subject matter.
Humberto Ramos utilizes his exaggerated style for the over-the-top match between the Goblins, who sneer and laugh in the most twisted of ways. Ramos often has trouble depicting large scale action sequences with clarity, but in this issue he gets it right by making it chaotic but easy to follow. Perhaps it has to do with the clear color distinction between the Goblin and Hobgoblin, but it works and is as exciting as ever.
Javier Rodriquez’s classical style is supplemented with some soft colors that bring forth the timelessness of the Avengers (complete with a really well-designed action page). Best of all is Marcos Martin’s Ditko-esque rendering of Peter’s journey through the Mindscape, complete with direct nods to Peter’s past that are sure to please long-term fans. Marcos Martin could illustrate a scene of paint drying and grass growing and I would ravenously pick up every issue.
Dan Slott’s script is as sly as ever and as a reader I could sense just how cautiously he is choosing his words when describing the mechanics of who is who and how all of these various fantastical situations work. It goes to prove just how long term he is thinking in his storytelling and how careful he is about differentiating character dialogue.
This only serves to make his slow teases about who the Green Goblin is all the more tantalizing. I can’t help but pour over every line of dialogue to pick apart just who would speak in the manner in which the character is speaking. Every second that I think it is more and more likely to be Norman Osborn under that mask, I’m simultaneously thinking more and more that it could not be him. Slott has offered us an orgy of evidence that begs to be questioned and doubted. Just how frequently does a writer like Slott offer up details and reveals in such quantity? The reveal of the Goblin’s “identity” seems so obvious it has me second-guessing myself constantly and the surprise cannot come soon enough. Is Slott tricking us or providing a sly commentary on just how overly cautious and speculative the internet can get?
The clear highlight of the issue, thanks to the balance between Slott’s writing and Marcos Martin’s brilliant art, are the Peter Parker Mindscape sequences. Throughout the years that Dan Slott has been on the book, his artists have made these “in the mind” sequences into rewarding treasure troves of imagery to tickle and please long-term fans and this one doesn’t disappoint. If this whole series has been about deconstructing Spider-Man and Peter Parker then this issue starts the story of his reconstruction (beginning with what must be Slott’s favorite Peter Parker moment of all, the wheatcakes sequence from Amazing Fantasy #15).
Peter Parker’s arc of rediscovery and redemption at the face of defeat that is contained in this story echoes all of his greatest struggles, which we see gorgeously illustrated before him, easily underlines that he has always been a man who buckles in the face of defeat before readdressing the principles that make him strong to eventually rise to the occasion. We’ve seen it over and over again in Spider-Man’s history and when looked at from a distance Superior Spider-Man has always been about that. It definitely helps that Peter spends this issue quoting his most famous moments as he slowly raises his head in defiance of his current predicament, ready to face down Otto Octavius for the throne of Spider-Man.
The Avengers story is easily the weakest of the storylines particularly because the beats seem so familiar and the consequences seem as minimal as they have been before. Spider-Man bursts out of their tower only to be met with blank stares, which echo my feelings about the Avengers’s storyline these past few issues.
Superior Spider-Man #26 is a compelling story that dangles tons of new ideas, concepts, and situations for well-written characters that we’ve grown attached to throughout Spider-Man’s history. From Kingsley’s self-preservation streak, the Green Goblin’s madness, Otto’s egotistical attitude, and Peter Parker’s never-say-die defiance, Superior Spider-Man #26 is a joy to read and one of the best entries in the series to this date.