Remembering Superior Spider-Man
WARNING: This article contains the spoiler for the Superior Spider-Man storyarc and the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers, and was written at the publication of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
Controversy is often related to the sales in the comicbook industry. The big reveal of Captain America being the long time Hydra agent angered the considerable part of the Marvel Comics Fan Base. This was shocking and even disturbing to some devout fans who came to regard Captain America, or Steve Rogers, as the symbol of the American ideal. It was even more infuriating for some fans considering this was to be 75th anniversary of Captain America, and only about a month from American Independence Day. Imagine the American War Heroes was secretly Nazis, if non-comic reader or those who are not fans of Captain America to feel the same cringe. The editor Tom Brevoort explained in his interview with Time that this story was to explore how people who seem normal can hide a terrible secret. It also has been confirmed that this “Hydra” Captain America is neither clone or brainwashed. Fans are starting to be worried whether the writer Nick Spencer can turn this shocking twist into a story worthy of Captain America’s 75th Anniversary.
But the shock and awe tactics has been Marvel’s favorite method to draw attention, and readership. A few years ago, Marvel and the main Spider-Man writer Dan Slott shocked and infuriated the comicbook fans in a similar way. When online news reported of this decision, Slott received a death threat for his decision. What caused all this controversy?
Well, Peter Parker was murdered by Doctor Octopus who took over his body, and the body-snatcher became Superior Spider-Man, for the 700th issue and 50th anniversary of the wall-crawler. It gave a tremendous shock to the comicbook fans, in a way similar to Captain America’s controversial reveal. Marvel and the writer Dan Slott constantly made fun of the flamboyant fans by announcing that Peter was gone permanently and Otto Octavius was the one and only, and even better, Spider-Man. With the fan’s anger, came the boost in the sales; Superior Spider-Man series became Marvel’s top-selling series! Everyone seemed to be deeply engaged in Superior Spider-Man’s malicious adventures, and many Peter Parker fans cringed as the Marvel creators continued to taunt the fans.
But it was all a ruse. A very, very clever ruse.
Peter Parker returned triumphantly after one year, with Doctor Octopus admitting that Peter was the “superior Spider-Man”. With Peter’s return, the main title returned as Amazing Spider-Man once again, and #1 of the relaunched series made another high sales.
It is possible that Captain America may go through the similar process. But how would it look? Examining the run of Superior Spider-Man may provide some insight.
The Seed: Body-Swap
It all started with Dan Slott’s question. Throughout the stories after Brand New Day, Peter Parker continuously used Doctor Octopus’ helmet to control Octo-Bots(little robots made by the cancer-afflicted Doc Ock to do his bidding) in tough moments, such as in The Spider-Island. But Slott began to think that it was a stupid idea; Doctor Octopus was the one of the oldest enemies of Spider-Man(and the first to give the taste of defeat to young Peter Parker), and Peter would use his gadgets without a question? What if Otto was planning something sinister with it? So the seed of body swap idea was sown. It was later revealed in Amazing Spider-Man #698 that the helmet enabled Doctor Octopus to switch the brainwaves of Peter Parker and himself, eventually taking over his body while Peter was trapped in the cancer-ridden body of Otto Octavius. To make things worse, Doctor Octopus now had access to all of Peter’s memory, making it virtually impossible to reveal his trickery.
This seemed to be really dire moment for Peter Parker, and many were wondering how Peter was going to get out of this one. 700th issue of Spider-Man was approaching, and the fans thought that Marvel would not let Peter die miserably in the old man’s body while his enemy stole his life. But soon they knew the answer; Peter did not get out of this one. Doctor Octopus foresaw Peter’s every move, and the young(now old and sick) hero’s attempt to reclaim his life was foiled, and Doctor Octopus gave Peter Parker a fatal punch that would blow out the flame of his life.
But Peter Parker made one last act of heroism in his last moment. Peter and Otto’s psyches were linked during this battle, and Peter managed to re-write Doctor Octopus’s memory, forcing Otto Octavius to relive his painful moments such as the death of Gwen Stacey to learn the same lesson of “With the great power, comes the great responsibility”. Otto faced excruciating mental pain, claiming that all these painful memories were “too much” for him.
Before this, Doctor Octopus was planning to continue his villainous career posing as Spider-Man. But Peter’s last gambit forced Doctor Octopus into the way of heroism, and thus Otto Octavius swore to become “Superior” Spider-Man and protect the people like Peter did. In a way, it was possible because Peter used this on Doctor Octopus. Otto Octavius was sometimes considered as what Peter could have been without the lesson responsibility, so flooding Otto with the painful memories could have the same effect as on Peter, right? Several What if titles related to the alternate history of Spider-Man shows that Peter can be very petty and egotistic without learning the lesson of responsibility. Modifying Otto’s memory was the last thing Peter could do to make the situation better, leaving a reformed hero rather than a villain.
Of course, things did not go as well as Peter would have hoped. Such is the typical case with the Parker Luck.
Otto’s superhero career can be summarized as the ex-villain’s attempt to become a better hero than his nemesis ever was. Many fans had skeptic opinions regarding the story, and many were infuriated with the Marvel’s constant praise for Otto being better Spider-Man than Peter. In addition to this, many were frustrated to see the characters only slightly annoyed than seriously suspicious of Peter’s sudden personality changes. In the early story arcs, the remnant of Peter’s consciousness tried to reclaim his body but was defeated and humiliated by Otto, then erased along with his memories. This was like pouring oil to burning fire; not only Peter was defeated, he was now considered “inferior” Spider-Man. To see the Marvel’s beloved superhero for the last 50 years humiliated and crushed like this, was like seeing Captain America the sentinel of liberty becoming the double agent for the fascist secret organization. Not only the character was destroyed, the value they stood for was trampled and the heroes became nothing more than hypocrites. Imagine the sentiments of the fans who regarded Peter Parker as the relatable young man who represented regular people like them.
Without Peter’s memories, Otto proceeded to incorporate his own brand of justice; he would build the army of henchmen, spy on the citizens of New York to detect crimes using the Spider-Bots. At the moment, it seemed like New York’s street was finally cleansed of crime under Otto’s reign…on surface.
Green Goblin managed to hack the Spider-Bot and re-programmed it to ignore any individual with the goblin face. Green Goblin started to take over the Underworld by appealing to the criminals’ fear of new violent Spider-Man, and eventually controlled the most of the criminals. This was done under Otto’s nose, without Goblin doing much. Otto’s violent approach magnified the criminals’ fear and Green Goblin only had to tap into their terror to create the new empire for himself. This was a stark contrast to the early story where Otto did everything right when Peter blundered in every turn.
Eventually, Otto paid the price for his deeds; he was unable to prevent the accident in the Horizon Lab as a result of Peter’s erasure(Peter used the formula he made on the spot to prevent the same accident), his relationship with Mary Jane Watson was basically destroyed as MJ decided to date someone else who was more considerate, and Green Goblin, now the Goblin King, launched an all-out attack on Otto’s life after learning the secret of body swap. To make things worse or better, the remnant of Peter’s memory was revived when Otto was trying to recall the formula Peter used to avert the catastrophe. Now the table has been turned; though the story seemed like a praise for the ruthless hero, it eventually became how such arrogant person can fail, and how the flawed, but strong willed person like Peter can persevere.
Peter eventually realizes the value of his every triumph, sufferings, and lessons, and becomes strong enough to fight Otto again for the control of his body. Unlike Otto who became crumbled at the face of the overwhelming odds, Peter Parker continued to fight against the challenges and dangers – even when his whole life was denied and devalued by Otto Octavius earlier in the story. While it seemed like Dan Slott was bashing Peter, he was actually setting up for his biggest praise for the Amazing Spider-Man – even when Peter loses everything, he will never give up fighting.
Meanwhile, Otto was helpless against the all-out attack by the Goblin King. By the time Otto learned how the Goblin Empire was able to elude him, it was too late. The citizens were sick of Spider-Man’s Big-Brother style approach to the crime fighting, and the street was filled with the Goblins going wild. When the Goblin King kidnapped Otto’s girlfriend Anna-Maria, he panicked and even wondered what would Peter have done in this case. Eventually, Otto arrived at the conclusion that Peter was more suitable hero to defeat the Goblin King and save Anna-Maria, and yielded the body to Peter, leaving a single drop of tear before he was exorcised from Peter’s mind.
Peter was able to defeat the Goblin King, who panicked when he realized that it was the different Spider-Man who came to stop him. The fans who eagerly waited for Peter’s return was doubly rewarded by Peter easily dispatching the Goblin Empire. After all, the concept of superiority is only relative, and the fall of Goblin Empire demonstrated this clearly. In the end, the peace and order seemed to have been restored…but Peter’s life was completely changed as a result; now Peter owned a large company, and a doctorate degree thanks to Otto, and he was faced with the new responsibilities.
A Hero You Love To Hate And Pity
Doctor Octopus was not many people’s choice for villain-turned-hero, but he was the one, among all the Spider-Man’s villains, who possessed the traditional arch-nemesis qualities. With his bowl-cut hair and obese look, he was often ridiculed by fans and writers alike. The Green Goblin took over the role of arch-nemesis of Spider-Man in many adaptations and stories, although it was Doctor Octopus who gave Spider-Man his first defeat. Doctor Octopus was also considered to be the double and the opposite to Peter Parker; both characters are science wiz, had isolated teenage lives(in the Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter is seen ridiculed by his classmates, and constantly bullied throughout the high school after he became Spider-Man), and were both bitter with the world at the time they acquired their powers. In the debut issue of Spider-Man, Peter who just acquired the super-power boasts that the people will finally see how great he is. Doctor Octopus similarly thought that the doctors and other scientists were trying to interfere with his research when he was hospitalized in the accident that gave him his power. While Peter learned the lesson of power and responsibility, Otto did not and began his villainous career.
Otto Octavius provided some of the biggest challenges in Peter’s life. The infamous Sinister Six was formed by none other than Doctor Octopus, and he also the Master Planner who almost buried Spider-Man alive in the undersea hideout during If This Be My Fate story arc. Despite his previous threats, Doctor Octopus seemed to receive little respect from the fans. The news of Otto taking over as the new Spider-Man sounded too prosperous.
Surprisingly, the Superior Spider-Man turned out to be commercial and critical success. Turning Spider-Man into a sinister and malevolent figure had a different effect than the usual villain-turned-good scenario. Remember, Otto was forced to become a hero by Peter and he constantly tried to break free. Once he did, Otto ran his own brand of justice, only to fail in the end. But Otto revealed some human qualities that were not emphasized in the past. He showed compassion to children(which is mandatory for superhero genre), and valued heart more than physical quality in choosing his romantic partner; Anna Maria Marconi, Otto’s new love interest, is “a little person” according to her own words. Despite being ridiculed by her peers, Anna Maria stays positive and shows kindness that warmed Otto’s heart.
with such mix of egotism and hidden compassion, the readers became conflicted; many wanted to have Peter back as the Spider-Man, but also wanted Otto to stick around. Their wish was fulfilled in the later Spider-Verse episodes, where Superior Spider-Man played significant role along with Peter Parker.
Wait And See
So Superior Spider-Man started out as rather ambivalent story but ended up being one of the more successful attempt from Marvel.
What does it say about Captain America’s big reveal? We just have to wait and see. Of course, there were many stories that started big and were later patched up hastily; Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to the world in the first Civil War, and later practically had his history ret-conned by the magic of Dr. Strange.
Some of the new attempts by comics may seem strange and provocative, but the readers cannot fully know where the story is headed when it starts. It will require some time to wholly criticize what worked and what did not. The twist in Captain America’s past may become another flop, but it could also become a way to examine Captain America’s role in the world by showing the terrible alternative.
The bottom line is, like Superior Spider-Man, the initially disturbing idea may turn out to be a good story.
Only the time will tell.
What do you think? Leave a comment.