Here is the thing about Spider-Man: It’s pretty easy to find good Spider-Man comics that fit the platonic ideal of Spider-Man (“With great power comes great responsibility”+ Peter Parker’s crappy luck + girl problems + goofy super-villains + wisecracks = Standard-Issue Spider-Man Story).
The problem comes when writers decide to break out of the mold and try something a little different than what Spider-Man’s used to. Sometimes you get an undisputed classic (“Kraven’s Last Hunt,” which is fricking amazing, but feels almost 0% like a “standard” Spidey story).
A lot more often, that’s when you get things like The Clone Saga, where Peter’s entire LIFE was (for a while) a lie, and he was fighting weird mystical cults and magic people with backstories-to-be-filled-in-later, and …
Yo, I was there. Peter Parker got so stressed over that story he backhanded pregnant Mary Jane and even decided not to even be Peter Parker for a while, “Only The SPIDER!”
The 90’s were rough, gang.
Then there was the time J. Michael Straczynski decided Spider-Man could be a mystical character and I don’t want to get into it but by the end of that tale he was eating the eyeballs of his vampire adversary and fighting something made from his own sloughed-off skin.
But if it’s any consolation, the bad guy ate his eyeball first. The Other, everybody!
And of course, you have to mention the fact that at the end of this era, Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage was dissolved by Mephisto, Marvel Comics’ Satan Cosmic Supervillain Not To Be Confused With Satan Even Though He Is Regularly Substituted For Satan.
It’s actually a miracle anyone would ever expect anything good out of a Spider-Man comic when you hear about things like this, huh?
So it’s to the credit of Dan Slott and a host of other writers that before making a Giant, Sweeping Change to the character, readers were treated to, straight-up, 102 issues over four years of Classic-Style Spidey-stories.
Peter was single, struggling to make ends meet, fighting science-gone-wrong-style bad guys both new and classic, hanging out with a familiar supporting cast … it is exactly how you describe Typical Spider-Man. Really good stuff.
“Big Time,” the brand given to the last couple years of comics, tweaked the format slightly, giving Peter a new job at a lab and an apartment, effectively ending his money woes, and even married off Aunt May to a wealthy older man (taking care of one of Peter’s usual story-crutches). He improved his fighting skills with Shang Chi, and hell, after saving Manhattan from a crazy spider-power-plague, he gained the respect and love of the city.
A few people balked (“This isn’t MY Spider-Man!” they waaaahed). But: still pretty recognizably Spider-Man.
It turned out, that whole time Slott was planting seeds in this story as the next, bigger tweak to the status quo: by having him switch brains with, and then die in the decaying body of, Doctor Octopus. Who in turn, was affected by Peter Parker’s unfailingly moral sense of responsibility, and has decided to become an even better Spider-Man than Parker ever was.
Cue: Die-hard Spider-fans going ballistic.
Now, this is LITERALLY not their Spider-Man.
But it IS a way to tell a new kind of Spider-Man story without falling into the trap that gummed up stuff like the Clone Saga and The Other, that it doesn’t “feel” like a Spider-Man story. What that means is, it doesn’t feel like the kind of adventure that would feature Peter Parker as we know him.
The simple answer: Remove Peter Parker As We Know Him and see what kind of stories happen then, without breaking the mold too much.
Which brings us to Superior Spider-Man #1, out this week and available on Comixology for the low low price of a ridiculous $4. I’m gonna talk about this book, and when there’s a major spoiler Imma let you know, okay? Okay.
This is very much a pilot story for the new status quo going forward over the next few months, telling the Very Typical Spider-Man story, “Spidey foils a series of heists by the new Sinister Six”, told through a new lens – It’s Spider-Man who’s the arrogant, violent, self-serving plotter, and the Sinister Six who’s made up of a bunch of funny goofballs who have the audience’s sympathy.
Meanwhile, nobody’s noticed the changes in Peter Parker – the chest-puffed-out overconfidence, the tendency to spend his time at Horizon Labs making weapons applications, his douche-signifying Bluetooth earpiece, and his newfound habit of dismissively calling his friends by their last names.
That extends to Mary Jane, who somehow has not noticed that Peter spends their dinner date not listening to a word he’s saying and instead keeps staring at her breasts.
Now, this is the part that’s got a lot of people concerned, since if they start fucking? Yo, that’s rape, bro.
And to this I would say, “Just wait and see” for a few reasons:
1) They got in trouble with this a couple years back when the Chameleon banged Peter’s roommate while impersonating him (the writer attempted to walk this back with, “No, they were just making out, okay?” Ehh…still not great), so I have a hard time thinking this creative team would wander right back into this territory without their eyes open.
2) The past couple years have spent a lot of time pointing out that Mary Jane is Peter’s best friend and knows him better than anyone, so just because she doesn’t pick up on it this issue, I’d be surprised if she doesn’t start figuring things out soon – hopefully soon enough.
3) There’s no indication (at least, not in this issue, which has otherwise told me all I need to know about the current status quo) that Peter and Mary Jane – who have just resumed dating after a painful breakup and some time as platonic friends – have gotten physical again, which I SUSPECT (also given the cover of issue two) will be a plot point, especially since …
4) HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
5) SERIOUSLY I’M GOING TO START TALKING ABOUT THIS IN A SECOND
6) LAST CHANCE HOMEY
The twist, foreshadowed early but made explicit at the end, is that Peter Parker is, in fact, still in there, subtly influencing Otto’s movements (he keeps Spidey-Ock from killing a foe) and, presumably, trying to figure out how to get back in control of his own brain.
So I’m assuming he’s going to have some say over whether Otto Octavius puts the moves on his ex-girlfriend. Just a crazy hunch.
Now, is all this worth it? Monetarily, no. Marvel still insists on charging $4 for 20 pages of comics, which come out twice a month, so…no, that’s waaaay too much. But, there is a website called www.cheapgraphicnovels.com that I recommend once the first collection is out, and by that time we’ll all have a better sense of the story.
Which I’m definitely curious about. I want to see what kind of stories you can tell with (what should be called) The Sinister Spider-Man, I want to see how his new viewpoint will rub up against familiar spider-tropes. It’s an interesting experiment for as long as it lasts (I’m going to say about a year, barring some unlikely massive sales dive).
It’s not perfect – in fact, I’d say Edison Rex does a better job of the “Villain realizes how hard it is doing the hero’s job” story for a quarter of the price each month (I’ll get to that comic next time) – but look, I think we’ve earned a few months of a weird Spider-era, and I think Slott’s got a firm grip on where he wants to take it.