Note: Spoilers abound in this review, and I'm not referring to the events in Amazing Spider-Man that led up to this series. Please do not read if you don't want to be spoiled.
After shattering the status quo in a big way at the end of Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott teams up with Ryan Stegman to continuing weaving the web of tales that encompass the wall-crawler in the follow-up relaunch, Superior Spider-Man. Now, with Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker's body, he will try to live up to--and surpass--the standards set by his predecessor's heroic legacy.
The cover for this issue is one we've been seeing in promotional stills for weeks now, but I have to say, it's as much fun to look at as it was when it first came out. Stegman and Delgado easily drive home the idea that, while this Spider-Man is much the same in form as the previous one, there's still some difference in the content of his character. I particularly like how the slightly raised eyepieces on this costume make for a subtle change that's nevertheless impossible to miss. He looks a little darker and more sinister, perched on a wall with a series of webbing around him, the surface cracking where his hands cling to it.
Superior Spider-Man starts off on the premise that Otto Octavius, more famously known as Doctor Octopus, has managed to switch bodies with his greatest enemy, Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. Octavius, harried and changed by the experience, has renounced his villainous way and is attempting to carry on in Peter's spirit, but finds that it isn't as easy or enjoyable as he might have imagined. His first major fight is against a group of small-time thugs banding together and calling themselves the "all-new Sinister Six," much to Octavius's displeasure.
Using a combination of newly developed technology and the strategic thinking of a mad scientist, Octavius manages to foil their plans, and later humiliate them in front of the press. He is surprised, however, when he finds himself behaving in strangely charitable ways, such as saving innocent people he initially didn't care to help, or stopping himself from beating a man to death. In the final panels, we see that Peter Parker, in spirit or conscience or some other incorporeal form, is back, and directing Octavius at these critical junctures.
Oh. Hell! Yes.
If you don't already know, I'm a pretty big fan of Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, and his writing so far with this new series continues to demonstrate his deep understanding and abiding love for the Spidey mythos. He's done a great job with characterizing this new incarnation, showing that while this may be a changed Octavius in Peter Parker's body, this is still Octavius, with all his brilliance, arrogance, and even his cowardice on display. Octavius's tendency to take the easy way out, even after swearing to be a properly noble Spider-Man, is believable in these circumstances and even amusing in places, as is his out-sized indignity at seeing a group of moronic supervillains usurping his former legacy by calling themselves the Sinister Six.
I'm also a big fan of the way Slott has depicted the changes he's brought to the character. Through Octavius's modifications, we're seeing the credible results of a different personality in someone else's body, from the claws and nano-tracers to the deliberate stratagems of figuring out the Sinister Six's plans, devising countermeasures for them, and using said countermeasures to make them look like complete idiots in front of the press. These are methods and tech that Peter Parker would have never employed or thought of, and I think Slott has done a fantastic job of pointing up their differences in just this first issue.
And this is all before mentioning the final reveal on the last page. I wasn't expecting it, and I personally think it's an inspired move. While I wasn't happy with Peter's death in Ock's body, I had accepted it, and was ready to emotionally commit to an era where Peter Parker is no more--however long that era might have lasted. When you see that he's not only somehow still around, but also influencing Octavius's actions at critical points, such as not letting him kill or forcing him to rescue bystanders, it feels like a vindication of faith.
Dan Slott knows Peter Parker, and he knows that Peter Parker never gives up.
I think this device, while obviously making for good dramatic possibilities, also makes for some convenient ways to avoid or navigate certain situations. For example, Many fans who were outraged at Peter's death and Ock's possession of his body made the statement that if Ock gets any sexy time with MJ that it would technically constitute rape. Whatever you may think of that statement, I think Peter's re-emergence makes it so that this situation won't happen, or at least, won't happen anytime soon.
And while I am happy to see Peter, I'm left with a whole bunch of questions about how he's back. Is he a ghost? Psychic energy? Can Dr. Strange or some telepath sense him? Why did he return, instead of going off to heaven, as was suggested in ASM #700? I'm confident that Slott will address these and other questions. In the meantime it at least makes a great metaphor for Octavius's struggle to live up to Peter's legacy, and guarantees that I and other Spidey fans will be back for more.
I really enjoyed the artwork in this issue. I remember Stegman's run on Scarlet Spider, and think he handles his duties on this new Spider-title with aplomb. His style, while similar to Humberto Ramos's in some respects, is a little more realistic and, I feel, noticeably grittier. It really works for this particular take on the Spider-Man saga. Things are more detailed and less cartoony while still being dynamic and just a touch sinister. Kudos!
Overall, I think Superior Spider-Man is an excellent start to the next chapter of Spider-Man. I was completely surprised by the twist at the end, but in a completely positive way. The writing is good, the artwork is great, and the series delivers plenty of entertainment. I'm eager to see what comes next! Highly recommended!