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Monday, December 23, 2013

Some thoughts on Superior Spider-Man

Superior Spider-Man Vol. 1, My Own Worst Enemy
Dan Slott, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Ryan Stegman

It's pretty impressive that this goofy body-swap premise has been played so straight for this long now, especially considering that Spider-Man is one of the big Marvel properties with movies that could send potential readers to comic shops.  Seems like a risk I didn't think this era of Marvel comics as fodder/fuel for movies would take, but all bets are off once movie season starts up.

I think what really makes this work for me is the strange, out-of-body horror that Dan Slott and the artists have set up.  When I've seen this body-swapping thing happen before in comics, the villain takes the time to learn the hero's secrets and mess with the hero's life, but this works a little differently in that Doctor Octopus operates under the assumption that he actually has to continue living Peter Parker's life, so it's not really in his interest to mess things up for Peter.  In that regard, I thought it was kind of pointless to include Peter's ghost in all this, but I came around because wouldn't it be horrifying to watch someone else, let alone one of your enemies, control your body and talk to your friends and touch all your stuff?  Forcing Peter's ghost to watch all of this really sells that out-of-body horror element.  If we're operating under the belief that Peter Parker is a sort of everyman that the reader can step into, then we can look at Peter's ghost and its inability to interfere as the role of the audience in this reading experience.  We're meant to be looking on in horror/excitement as this character who has the appearance of someone we've come to know over fifty-something years goes and does something unexpected.

Not only are we faced with the horror of watching someone else in our own body potentially being able to ruin everything we've worked for, but Superior Spider-Man takes it a step further and presents the idea that someone else could be living your life better than you.  The idea that your enemy is doing a better job at being you is so infuriating to me, and it works especially well for Peter Parker because a lifetime of comics has shown us that Parker's got some issues with self-doubt and guilt.  Doctor Octopus finds a way to make both sides of this double life work better.  Spider-Man's patrol is more efficient thanks to little spider-surveillance drones he's unleashed on the city, and as a result he's improved Peter Parker's life by not flaking out on Mary Jane and Aunt May all the time (nevermind about how ethical an army of surveillance drones unleashed on New York City is).  He's even forced some closure on the Peter Parker / Mary Jane relationship by finally stepping up and making it clear that they shouldn't be together, something that Peter should have done a long time ago, and also something that Peter could never have done.

Doctor Octopus is living like he's got a second chance at youth, and dude is CRUSHING IT.  The new Peter is hitting on coworkers, eating fatty foods, inventing all sorts of industry-changing machinery, AND going back out there to get his PhD, but the old ghost Peter's constantly worried that this old man is ruining his reputation by beating the shit out of villains and generally acting without a shred of ethics.  Plus, he's wearing that bluetooth headset in his ear ALL THE TIME, an undeniable mark of an asshole.  He's making Peter Parker look like an asshole!  Well, I guess Peter Parker's always been kind of an asshole in the eyes of everyone in his supporting cast at one point or another.  The bluetooth is just a nice upfront warning about what you're getting into.  A sort of sign that says "APPROACH AT YOUR OWN RISK BECAUSE I'M AN ASSHOLE," yet another thing that Peter Parker never had the courtesy to do while he was alive and in his own body.
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Man, Doctor Octopus is pretty good at being Peter Parker.

And that's what we have so far.  Doctor Octopus being better at being Spider-Man and Peter Parker than Peter Parker ever was.  Sure, a lot of these things he's doing seem unethical, but in terms of balancing Peter's civilian life with his superhero life, it looks like Doctor Octopus could be doing worse.

And then it gets worse:

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Doctor Octupus-Spider-Man just straight up kills a supervillain with a gun.

The whole debate about whether superheroes should kill is pretty tired, but that's something that I suppose is inevitable when you've got a book like this.  So far all of the "Should a superhero be doing this?" questions have been pretty standard, and this one is certainly the most basic, but at least Superior Spider-Man has been keeping it fun and interesting.  I suppose part of the appeal with this aspect of the book is that for years, someone's probably been asking "well why doesn't [SUPERHERO] just do this?" or "why wouldn't [SUPERHERO] just cross this line?" and now we get to see it.  I mean, maybe it doesn't really "count" because it's not actually our guy, but it's still happening, and I'm going to assume that the consequences will still be explored in the upcoming issues.  Like I said, I'm not so interested in all of that, and I think there's already a whole library's worth of comics that approach these sorts of questions, but I accept it as an inevitability with this kind of story.  My wish for this comic is that the focus remains on Doctor Octopus as someone who worked at getting a second chance.  I want to see more of Doctor Octopus being a better person in his own, questionable way.  I want to see Peter's ghost floating around, trying to haunt Doctor Octopus, but instead being haunted by the idea that maybe he wasn't so great at what he was trying to accomplish in his life.  I want something besides the superheroes killing/taking away your civil liberties narrative that has become so familiar.  I want more of this weird, Freudian body horror.  I want to see a redemption story at our usual hero's expense.  I want something different.  Or at least as different as I can get it with one of Marvel's most famous properties.

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