The greatest partnerships in history have always been greater than the sum of their parts. Whether it’s Lewis & Clarke, Laurel & Hardy or Hall & Oates, great partners inspire each other and lift the team to new heights. So imagine the schemes that Spider-Man’s two greatest villains could hatch if they became best friends?
That’s where we find ourselves in Superior Spider-Man Team Up #11, which takes us back to a time before Otto Octavius was wearing the webs and when Norman Osborn was self-exiled to Europe. Apparently, before hatching the plot that led to the Clone Saga, Norman’s “Plan A” for ruining Peter Parker’s life involved recruiting the greatest scientist with six arms.
It seems like Kevin Shinick had a blast writing this issue. Since these characters have no prior history together, Shinick pretty much has a blank slate with this encounter from the past. Fortunately, he delivers some great character work that adds context to the current Otto/Goblin relationship in the current “Goblin Nation” arc in Superior Spider-Man. Sure Ock and Gobby get their punches in, but the best scenes are in the conversations they share. We learn just how lonely Otto is and the biggest regret of his life. We learn a little more about Osborn’s time away from the Marvel Universe, his obsession with being in control and a deeper glimpse into his chaotic mental state.
For the most part, the story and characters are well-written. Otto is defined as a man of science and planning. Norman is a man of passion, determination and control. We learn both the fruits and spoils that come from putting these personality types together. But it’s not all business with these two. Shinick has a lot of fun with Osborn, mostly at Otto’s expense. Is there anyone else in the Marvel Universe who would dare to (or want to) try on Ock’s signature shades?
If there’s any flaw, it may be that Otto is a little too empathetic in this issue. Even though it’s written from his point-of-view, Otto has little of the snark that he’s currently known for in Superior Spider-Man. He’s portrayed always just a little step behind Norman. He’s unaware of Osborn’s mansion security and his plot that leads to the issue’s cliffhanger. In an issue that has chess imagery in more than one scene, it seemed that Norman was the only one planning his moves ahead of time. Also, hardcore continuity buffs may have a hard time finding where this story fits in the Spider-Timeline. Otto makes references to Spider-Slayers and Carnage. If we assume he’s talking about the events of “Revenge of the Spider-Slayers,” and “Maximum Carnage,” Superior Spider-Man Team Up #11 would have happened shortly after “Revenge of The Sinister Six.” But in that story, Otto is left in custody and on the doorstep of death.
The art of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #11 features another classic Spidey collaboration: Ron Frenz on pencils and Sal Buscema on inks. For the uninitiated, Frenz drew some of the great Amazing Spider-Man issues of the mid 80s including the Alien Costume Saga. Buscema penciled more than 100 issues of Spectacular Spider-Man in the 90s and even inked a large number of those issues as well. These pages will spark huge waves of nostalgia for fans of those eras. Otto’s look clearly has a strong influence from Buscema; so much so, it looks like it came straight from his 90s run. Spider-Man doesn’t get a lot of face-time in this issue, but when he does, Frenz gives him an iconic, classic look.
What really makes the art successful is Frenz’s use of white space. Whether it’s to silhouette a character or emphasize a scene, the effect makes it easy for the reader’s eyes to follow. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors also deserve mention. She gives the Green Goblin a great shade of green. She avoids using other shades of green, as much as possible, and it really makes the Goblin jump out of the page when he appears.
The double page spread is the issue’s best moment. The panel is beautifully laid out with Otto’s tentacles creating the panel lines. Plus, there’s nothing funnier than Otto and Norman sharing a glider ride with huge smiles on both of their faces (although the two of them taking out a mannequin Spidey is a closer second). If this montage came with a soundtrack, it would definitely be Harry Nilsson’s “Best Friend.”
There are so many great little details in this issue: the mask motif in Norman’s mansion; Otto playing chess against himself; Norman calling out Otto for answering the phone with his tentacles; the rum & Dr. Popper! It’s still unclear if and how this story directly ties into “Goblin Nation” (especially if it’s not Norman under the mask!). But if part 2 is as fun this issue, it will be one of the highlights of the Superior era.