Superior Spider-Man #1
Writer: Christos Gage
Pencils: Mike Hawthorne
Inks: Wade von Grawbadger
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Travis Charest (regular) Mike Hawthorne, Marco Djurdjevic, Emanuela Lupacchino, John Buscema and Skottie Young (variants)
Editor: Nick Lowe
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Given the recent release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in theatres, the timing of this latest Spidey spinoff title is great. There’s definitely an interest out there in alternate versions of the familiar web-slinging hero, so bringing back the Otto Octavuis incarnation of the hero makes sense. However, he comes with a lot of baggage. The character’s history is convoluted, but writer Christos Gage does good job of providing the much-needed exposition. Still, there are some obscure and pretty random characters involved in this story, so even a longtime super-hero comics readers such as myself will find themselves feeling a little lost at times. Furthermore, this new title apparently flows from the events of Spider-Geddon, which serves as another barrier to accessibility. But the greatest challenge with this second go-around for Superior Spider-Man is the central protagonist’s arrogance; this is a story of a quest for redemption, but getting the audience to root for such an unlikeable figure seems daunting to me.
Otto Octavius is a survivor. He cheated death once by transferring his consciousness from his dying body to that of Peter Parker. And then he managed to avoid his demise after finding himself in a deteriorating cloned body. Now he’s got a new form — an amalgam of his original DNA and that of Parker — and adopting the guise of Elliot Tolliver, he’s embarked on a new life as a university professor in San Francisco, where he also strives to protect the vulnerable and innocent as the Superior Spider-Man. But he runs the risk of being exposed when someone from his former life grows suspicious about his true nature…
Mike Hawthorne’s elongated figures really helped distinguish the look of this Spidey series apart from others. He brings a gaunt, haughty look to Elliot Tolliver that matches Doc Ock’s attitude. Hawthorne employs a quite loose style here, but still aiming for a slightly more realistic look than what we saw in some of his past cartooning. I enjoyed the skewed perspectives he uses to depict Ock/Tolliver; it reminded me of the style of the late Norm Breyfogle. It was also pleasant to see Wade von Grawbadger back in action after the announced retirement of his frequent collaborator, Stuart Immonen. He brings that sense of maturity and slight grit to bear that’s in keeping with the sharper edge of this vision of Spider-Man. Colorist Jordie Bellaire turns to a mostly muted palette, which is a good choice for the more unusual ethics of this formerly villainous protagonist.
The most surprising aspect of the plot was the discovery that the Night Shift, a group of horror-themed villains, had joined the supporting cast, now doing Superior Spider-Man’s benevolent bidding. The members of the Night Shift are relatively unknown characters, to put it mildly, and there’s not nearly enough information here about who they are, what their powers are and what’s driving them to help this Spidey. I had no idea who Digger was, for example, and I mistakenly assumed he was some kind of modern incarnation of Marvel’s Frankenstein Monster (he certainly looks the part). The weird nature of these characters is ride with potential, but they don’t seem to fit into the Superior Spider-Man’s world. I’m truly puzzled as to their inclusion in this new series, and I can’t imagine how they’ll fit in. The villain that turns up on the final page is somewhat obscure as well, and so cosmic in tone, I was surprised to see him turn up on this series as well.
Gage explores the formative events that shaped Doc Ock’s personality, from his childhood to a life in academia, and it certainly casts him in a sympathetic light. Furthermore, there’s a suggestion that his villainous ways were the result of the trauma of the moment that turned him from Otto Octavius to Dr. Octopus, but that perspective is countered with the assertion that’s just an excuse Otto has used as part of his transformation into a hero. A man’s effort to atone for his past and to be better is interesting fodder for a story, but with his arrogance and sense of superiority (from which he derives his heroic identity) still intact, I wonder if he’ll be a protagonist I want to follow, that I want to see succeed. I’m not as invested in watching a man travelling a road to redemption when he does so on a high horse. Otto/Elliot’s purpose is marred by his personality; it’s a bold choice that’s paid off for Marvel before, but I don’t know if it’s sustainable outside of Peter Parker’s larger story arc. 6/10