Riding glorious momentum and addictive panache, The Amazing Spider-Man just reached issue 700. After such a milestone, a character and his creators can go (narrative-wise) wherever they'd like. So, it's with balls that could chase Indiana Jones that superstar writer Dan Slott takes Spidey back to the 1990s- the era of clones, alternate identities, and nagging redheads!
Not literally, of course. But the gimmick he's instituted this month- that of Spider-Man's smartest foe, Doctor Octopus, know inhabiting Peter Parker's body- ranks high among the many outrageous, intrusive and careless stunts fans have been putting up with since creator Stan Lee's scripting chores ended.
Or does it? Yes, Slott received Tweeted death-threats when word of this plot escaped. Yes, screwing with an iconic character's core backfires ninety-nine percent of the time. And yes, this absolutely is sales-goosing insanity, in lock-step with the Marvel NOW! program.
But most superhero comics in the 90s were as much fun as a surprise root canal. The mind-scraping inertia of grim and gritty writing had readers endlessly asking, "What fresh hell is this?" Not many comics were reliably mature and entertaining (Impulse and Astro City among the few that were), which contrasts deeply with today's parade of hip, Hollywood-savvy heroes.
Fans are aware today that no run, no matter how clever or successful, can last forever. Slott and Peter Parker have been a heavenly match since the "Big Time" era began in 2010. Many of these stories (like "Spider Island" and "Ends of the Earth") were huge, detail-driven extravaganzas. Once the webs settled, we had a hero/scientist with an even stronger commitment to saving lives.
But he couldn't save his own. Doc Ock used some mad-scientist tech to switch bodies with Parker, who then took a beating outside Avengers Tower. As our hero died, Octavius suffered the merging of their memories; this gave us young Otto with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, with dead Gwen Stacy in his arms, and with knowledge about great power and great responsibility. "Farewell, Peter Parker," he says. "You may be leaving this world, but you are not leaving it to a villain."
So better to burn Parker out than let him fade away, right? Slott might have told all the best tales he wanted to with a straight-laced New Yorker. Now, with a maniacal villain who'd been near death (and decaying for years) suddenly in a body capable of seducing women and scaling buildings, Slott can pan for black comedy gold.
With artist Ryan Stegman along, The Superior Spider-Man promises just as much energy as the Humberto Ramos-led "Big Time." Actually, Stegman reminds me most of Joe Madureira (Uncanny X-Men), but scratchier and more flexible. The first issue introduces us to a new Sinister Six, comprised of Shocker, Speed Demon, the Beetle, Boomerang, Overdrive and the Living Brain. Otto dives into battle against the team he founded with, "I guess they're letting ANYONE call themselves the Sinister Six these days."
Naturally, Otto brutalizes them. He's added razors to his gloves, and uses his "unparalleled genius" to create a power-dampening field and traps (all of which appear crippling). Everyone else in Parker's life notices that he's a bit off, too. Mary Jane, love of his life, can't quite believe that he's drinking, calling her "woman" and wearing a phone on his ear during dinner. Max Modell, his boss at Horizon Labs, wonders if he'll ever stop designing weaponry for Spider-Man. The man then gets a list of benign scientific applications grouchily shoved under his nose (by a Parker dressed like Dr. Frankenstein).
The Superior Spider-Man is wonderfully smart and will someday be considered vintage Slott. Those emotionally attached to Parker needn't toss in their sleep or stress eat. Batman recently "died" and Dick Grayson (Nightwing) took over until his convoluted (though entertaining) return, remember? The Iron Patriot (Norman Osborn) ruled Marvel for two years, which proved a compelling idea with great mileage. Besides, by the end of this first issue, we already get the Ghost of Nerdly Past appearing to calm Otto's frenzied bloodletting. "I don't know how, but I am still in the fight! I AM Peter Parker, and I swear I will find a way back." Yerp.