Superior Spider-Man #30 is the penultimate issue of the series and perhaps the moment that readers have been waiting for, the full return of Peter Parker. Doctor Octopus is seeing his world fall down around him and his precious Anna Maria threatened directly by the Goblin King. This sends him into a fury unlike what we’ve ever seen before; every action he takes is blinded by his love and care for her. He’s so narrow-minded that he’s even willing to leave his partners and the Goblin King’s victims to almost certain death.
When he discovers Amy Chen, the girl he saved back in Superior Spider-Man #8, tied up on the subway tracks with the Goblin King barreling towards her he hesitates, considering the ramifications that a speeding train might have on his chances of saving Anna Maria. It seems that no matter the situation Amy Chen’s life will be balanced against that of our titular character, as Peter expressed hesitation over allowing Otto to save her earlier in the series, at cost to his own existence.
This forces Peter to reveal himself to Otto so that the girl might be saved. Otto realizes that he wasn’t quick enough to act and that he isn’t fit to be Spider-Man. He takes his body to his lair and promptly dumps his memories so that Peter can save his love, Anna Maria.
The mechanics of how all this is expressed makes sense within this individual comic, but is hindered by being part of a series of books that have established rules that go against everything that occurs in this issue. It highlights that this creative team knows how to create an elegant story that could redeem Doctor Octopus but also underlines their tendency to value story over character. Here’s why:
Firstly, the idea that Peter can regain all of his memories, as depicted in a beautiful sequence that culminates in a two-page spread, goes against all the established rules of this series. From the very beginning, rules have been established about how this mind-swap worked and with a few bends here and there the book has been consistent. In Superior Spider-Man #9, readers witness the slaughtering of Peter’s memories and Peter’s burial beneath the rubble of the Mindscape. This was punctuated by his loss of memory about all those who cared about him, including Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy and even his knowledge of his own name.
Then readers were told, upon Peter’s inevitable return, that he only retained his core 31 memories, the ones that would sustain him as a hero and help him to defeat Doctor Octopus. However, here Peter regains all of his memories, except those gained post-mind-swap as evidenced by his lack of knowledge about Parker Industries. So what was the point of belaboring the 31 memories story or spending so much time in the Mindscape just to undo some arbitrary number of remaining memories?
Perhaps that time in the story could have been put to better effect to build up to the moment where Doctor Octopus decides to relinquish his control over Parker’s body by erasing his own memories and essentially committing suicide. This moment feels rushed and sends the whole 33 issue storyline (including those pre-Superior) off with a whimper, even with Peter offering to fight Octavius for control over his body; don’t forget that Peter’s memories had been “burned me in a crucible – distilled me to my core!”
Peter’s word about how Ock should handle situations, after he mishandled the Amy Chen vs. train situation, come off as particularly hollow here. Peter states that, “You screwed up, Otto. When there’s time, you weigh options. When there’s not you act. And you always do the right thing. Even if it means giving up the advantage… just like I did.” This is a particularly hollow sentiment because when facing the exact same situation, saving Amy Chen, Peter hesitated and made the wrong decision, fearing that Otto was about to use the mind-scanner. For any other instance in Peter’s life this speech would apply, but this is exactly the one particular situation that it doesn’t. Peter isn’t perfect, that’s one of his defining traits, but here he’s made out to be a saint in a situation when he wasn’t and worst of all Otto knows it.
Otto’s response, giving up and wiping his memories, comes from nowhere, with next to no foreshadowing of this line of thought. He’s always been characterized as a strict preservationist, in the past, that is willing to do anything to save both himself and Anna Maria. Here Anna Maria has been threatened and Ock isn’t even sure of what threat awaits her and he immediately just decides to throw in the towel. This goes against his characterization for this entire series.
The shame is that it could have been arrived at naturally, perhaps, if the time spent on Peter’s escape from the Mindscape was spent on an open battle/cooperation between the two of them through this last arc. Instead this decision from Ock is delivered in one giant exposition dump. The mechanics of how it works are elegant and wonderful from a story perspective but don’t hit emotionally on any level, which is doubly upsetting considering this is the resolution to this fantastic series. If this is just a setup to another twist where Doctor Octopus is set to return and is utilizing Peter to save his love it would make sense of his actions but also rob this moment of the effect it is going for, only to set up more twists and turns in a story that has already reached its conclusion.
That all being said, the ideas here are interesting and the art delivers when it needs to. Camuncoli is a bit rough around the edges but is serviced by some beautiful framing devices, Amazing Spider-Man #700’s cover is used as the background of a memory sequence, and the double page spread of Peter regaining his memories is full of hidden gems (more Spider-Boy please). The final moment, where Peter silently brushes away Otto’s tear is a beautiful moment that is executed splendidly by Camuncoli and echoes Harry Osborn’s final moments in Spectacular Spider-Man #200.
This book has all of its story elements lined up where they should be but isn’t serviced by a story arc that can support it and so the emotional weight never lands. It whisks the Superior era away as quickly as it can, almost mirroring the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #700, so that it can quickly usher in the return of Peter Parker and Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #1.