Sure, the Spider-Man may be “Superior,” but is this hardcover that collects Amazing Spider-Man issues 698-700 and Superior Spider-Man issues 1-5 the superior bargain?
Honestly, at $34.99, it’s only marginally cheaper than getting the Amazing Spider-Man: Dying Wish and Superior Spider-Man Volume 1 paperbacks by Dan Slott at list price. Beyond that, there is certainly not that much incentive to upgrade.
The basic story falls into two arcs: the Dying Wish story and the subsequent Superior Spider-Man saga. Essentially, Spidey’s long-time foe Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus/Doc Ock is dying; as a last ditch effort to survive, he swaps bodies with Peter Parker. With hours left to go, Peter desperately gathers a new Sinister Six to break him out of the superhero prison, the Raft, and attempts to get his body back. Peter fails, but before he dies, he imparts upon Spider-Ock the “great power must come with great responsibility” motto. Thus, the Superior Spider-Man series follows Ock’s attempts to not only meet but to surpass Peter’s legacy and become the superior Spider-Man.
As far as the stories go, both are superbly told. The three-issue Dying Wish arc is tightly paced as Peter and Ock attempt to outmaneuver each other; however, their usual groove is reversed. Peter breaks into one of Ock’s bases, only to find that “Spider-Man” has beat him there and the authorities are on their way, and Ock puts Peter’s loved ones into a safe room to hold them hostage. In addition, Slott expertly keeps the tension on by having Peter’s physical condition deteriorate and having him slowly begin to lose himself in Doc’s persona.
Best of all, despite Ock’s body-swap plan being the fruition of plot points from over the course of the past 100 issues, Slott keeps the tale pretty accessible by having Peter browse through Ock’s memories to figure out how the swap happened. Despite the arc only being three issues long, Slott manages to give Peter the perfect death. The stakes are high and Peter finds himself having to commit actions that he never would have believed himself capable of, such as working with supervillains to resist the police and attempting to kill Ock when all else fails, forfeiting his right to be Spider-Man as a result. With the threat this time being more about identity theft instead of just killing either Peter or his loved ones, there is an additional layer of intrigue and threat in a way that feels fresh. As a result, Slott actually makes us feel like the consequences may stick this time, as we watch Peter come full circle, flashing back over the core moments of his tenure as Spider-Man and giving Ock
Of course, the artwork is top notch, with Richard Elson kicking things off with issue 698. He plays the issue well, with his crisp, round character models capturing an aesthetic of an older age; it works well, as most of the issue is written with the reader assuming that it is just Peter Parker being himself until a visit to Doc Ock’s dying form reveals the swap. Humberto Ramos takes the reins from then on. One of the definitive Spider-Man artists from at least the past ten years, few others can capture the fluidity of Spider-Man’s movement characteristic of Ramos’s manga-inspired style. Yes, it is sometimes harder to follow the action scenes and his body proportions tend to be off or too exaggerated, but neither problem really comes up here—with the exception of his female characters’ breast to waist ratio, which can be a tad off-putting. His incredibly detailed, wrinkly rendition of the decaying Doc Ock keeps the dwindling hours right at the forefront. He perfectly sells the emotion of Peter’s death scene even though both Ock and Peter’s eyes are obscured, to the point that I cannot imagine another Spider-Man artist from the past ten years being able to do it as well.
The unique style carries over to Superior Spider-Man which, right out of the gate, establishes a new tone thanks to Ock’s narration and Ryan Stagmen’s pencils. He draws a more off-kilter Spider-Man, which greatly emphasizes Ock’s attempts to both pretend to still be the same Spider-Man while also making the position his own. It feels like something is off, that Spidey’s exaggerated eye lens and sharp body language are menacing–heck, even Peter’s grins sometimes seem like they belong on the Green Goblin. Slott also wastes no time in putting Ock’s new methods to the test by pitting him against a Sinister Six lineup of Boomerang, Overdrive, the Beetle, Shocker, the Living Brain, and Speed Demon (for more about them, check out Nick Spencer’s excellent Superior Foes of Spider-Man). In the battle, Ock injects nano tracers into Boomerang that enable him to spy on his location and listen to his conversations, allowing him to set up a more tactical approach and take them all down without breaking a sweat. Later on
, he calls the police, delegates problems to the fire department as needed, and creates an army of spider-bots that, with an app, manage his patrol route, enabling him to spend more time with Aunt May and overall be a more approachable, efficient Peter Parker. He also breaks the endless cycle of the Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson romance in favor of a new love interest: Anna Maria, a tutor at the local university that offers to help him get his PhD coursework and who is often picked on because of her dwarfism. The rapport between Ock and Anna, even though she is not introduced until issue 5, proves to be a great way to humanize Ock and will hopefully lead to future character growth—plus, due to her dwarfism, Anna is already a stark contrast to the tall, almost super-model level of attractiveness that Peter usually gets with, proving a fresh dynamic.
Issue 700 includes two short stories to put some separation between the ending of Amazing and beginning of Superior. Though one of the advantages of the hardcover is to have both stories together in one volume to ease the flow from one to the next, given the finality of issue 700 plus the different tones and perspectives of Superior issue 1, having a little time between the two makes switching gears from one protagonist to the next much easier. The first short story is “Spider Dreams” by J. M. DeMatteis, which follows an elderly Peter as he attempts to connect with his great-grandson while also reflecting on his time as Spider-Man. Overall, it is a well-executed story that really sells the double-edged nature of Spider-Man and the hero life. Honestly, the main problem that I had with this one lays with the artwork by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who also draws Superior Spider-Man issues 4 and 5. It is not that his artwork is bad—if anything, his incredibly detailed faces remind me of a cleaner and more solid/less energetic Ramos.
The only problem is that, with Camuncoli’s style of drawing eyes, it is very easy to make characters accidentally look psychotic rather than just surprised. For example, on the first page, when Peter’s great-grandson rebuffs his attempts at conversation, the look that Peter gives could either be his eyes widening in surprise or him deciding to kill the kid. Despite Camuncoli’s ability to draw a heck of a Spider-Man, especially with the Spider-Ock’s new costume—it turns out red and black are a fantastic combination in a costume—his Peter Parker can look unintentionally crazed. This works well when Camuncoli is drawing a corrupt CEO or Massacre, the sociopath who goes on a killing spree; for Peter Parker in a girl’s apartment, not so much. Otherwise, he does incredibly solid work for both the short and the Superior series.
Finally, the other short is “Date Nights” by Jen Van Meter and drawn by Stephanie Buscema. It is a cute short that follows Black Cat as she gets the cops to chase her, distracting them from Peter as he fights a giant robot that interrupted their romantic evening. Buscema’s 1950s style expertly adds a whimsical air to an already fun comic. Is it out of place compared to the others? Yes, and that is probably its main problem, as this is the finale to Peter’s time under the mask—for now, anyway. Keeping the reflective tone would have been ideal, and while the series and “Spider Dreams” do that well enough, it would have made for a more consistent product overall.
The hardcover includes the cover gallery of all 700 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, a letter from New York City Mayor Bloomberg declaring October 14, 2012 Spider-Man Day, and a gallery of variant covers for the issues collected. The high quality binding has a fantastic variant cover of both Peter and Ock’s Spider-Men that perfectly conveys the passing of the baton. Otherwise, this is a bare-bones release; while it advertises that this addition has the Marvel’s AR reader app in it (where you use your smartphone when you see the AR logo in the book to unlock behind-the-scenes content), it is only in the Superior Spider-Man issues and, unlike other releases, does not have a table of contents that says where to find each AR logo and what each one leads to. If they were going to do hardcover, you’d think that they would also throw in issue 600 where this plan began, to at least give a more substantial page count and more exclusive content. Also, while I am not sure if this error was limited to my copy, there are some printing issues with Superior issue 5, where some dialogue is blurry and bleeds together.
Overall, whether you get both paperbacks or this hardcover, Slott’s Superior Spider-Man saga is worth every penny. We get a complex, dynamic hero who, unlike Peter, is amazingly unpredictable and brings new life and supervillain crime-fighting techniques to the role of Spider-Man. Is he truly superior? Debatable, but at least Doc Ock’s journey is much more interesting.