SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is a controversial comic book. Back in 2013, fans understandably despised the decision to put AMAZING SPIDER-MAN on hiatus. Some fans, like myself, eventually came around to liking SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN. But after revisiting it for this retrospective, I have mixed feelings.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN begins soon after the events of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700, in which Otto Octavius replaced Peter Parker’s mind with his own, and left Parker’s mind to die inside the body of Otto Octavius. As a result of switching bodies with Parker, Octavius obtains all of Parker’s memories. With the rest of Parker’s life at his disposal, Octavius embarks on a quest to become a better person. He wishes to become a better hero than Parker ever was.

While Octavius does become a more efficient vigilante than Parker, he does so at the cost of everything Spider-Man represents. During SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, Octavius takes advantage of his past life as a supervillain to fund himself and exploit those around him. Additionally, he blackmails, manipulates, brutalizes, and murders in order to become a “better” hero.

To find out whether or not Octavius ever earns forgiveness for his crimes, read below!

The Quest For Redemption

The entirety of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN revolves around 2-3 central storylines. Essentially, Octavius must become the best version of himself before the ghost of Peter Parker catches up to him — literally. Though Octavius killed Parker in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700, a remnant of Parker’s soul remains in Parker’s body and constantly influences Octavius. But that’s not all.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #30
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Prior to Parker’s death in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700, Parker told his ex-girlfriend, Carlie Cooper, that he was trapped in Octavius’s body. At first, she didn’t believe it, but she quickly takes notice of Spider-Man’s harsh actions. From then on, Cooper spends most of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN hunting for the truth.

As the revelation of Octavius’s identity inches closer, so does the threat of the Goblin Army. Beginning in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #4, Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, establishes a Goblin-themed underground crime organization. He’s able to do so without Octavius knowing because he hacks into Octavius’s Spider-Bots. (In an effort to patrol New York more creepily and effectively, Octavius created Spider-Bots that record everything in the city.)

All of these plot threads culminate in the “Goblin Nation” event. During “Goblin Nation,” the finale to SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, Goblin kidnaps Cooper, who now knows Octavius’s secret. While searching Cooper’s notes, Goblin discovers that Spider-Man is not Parker, but Octavius. As a result, Osborn uses his knowledge about Octavius to his advantage and easily defeats Spider-Man.

Once Goblin takes over the city, everything falls into absolute chaos. Not even the Avengers are able to make a dent in the Goblin’s plan. With no one else left to turn to for assistance, Octavius admits that he is not the superior Spider-Man. In a final act of sacrifice, Octavius eliminates his own brainwaves, allowing Parker back into his body, who goes on to save the day.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN Proves Change is Possible

In KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT, Kraven the Hunter kills Spider-Man, dons the Spider-Man costume, and tries to prove that he can outdo his enemy. However, Kraven fails to understand that Spider-Man is more than just an animal chasing after prey. Kraven places too much emphasis on the spider, and not enough on the man. Sound familiar?

Similarly, at the start of his superhero career, Octavius misunderstands what it means to be Spider-Man. He also misunderstands what it means to be a hero. Like Kraven, Octavius focuses too much on the spider and ends up damaging many of Parker’s relationships. But unlike Kraven, Octavius gets to play pretend for a much longer amount of time.

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

By comparison, Octavius’s continued exposure to the perspective of life as a hero causes him to grow as a person. Throughout SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, Octavius acknowledges his past sins and aggressively tries to make up for his failures. For example, in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #8, Octavius performs surgery on a girl whose health was destroyed by Doctor Octopus during an older storyline titled “Ends of the Earth.”

Despite his flaws, Octavius’s arc proves that even the worst of villains are capable of doing good. One might even say, “Change is just a thwip away.”

But SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN Isn’t Perfect

Unfortunately, Dan Slott doesn’t do Peter Parker justice in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN. Though his responses to the world around him as a ghost are comedic, he sometimes comes across as an idiot. For example, in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #2, Parker freaks out at the thought of Octavius dating Mary Jane. However, later on in the issue, after Octavius cuts off ties with Mary Jane, Parker complains. Shouldn’t he be glad that Octavius is keeping his distance?

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Speaking of Mary Jane, she’s another character who suffers during SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN (in more ways than one). Despite noticing changes in Parker’s attitude and behavior, she never does anything substantial about it. As arguably Parker’s closest friend, and former lover, I think MJ should have shown much more concern. Spider-Man doesn’t usually go on a brutal killing-sprees for months.

In addition to disappointing portrayals of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN robs Otto Octavius of a satisfying ending. Octavius’s attempt at becoming a hero garnered him a massive following in the comic book community for a reason. People loved that Octavius actively tried to better himself as a hero and a human being. Alas, when Octavius finally puts aside his ego and admits Peter was the superior Spider-Man, the moment doesn’t feel earned.

Octavius Sacrifice
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In fact, the finale to SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN disappoints because Octavius’s surrender to the Goblin feels extremely sudden. Furthermore, his reasons for surrender are flawed. After Goblin kidnaps Octavius’s love interest, Anna Maria, Octavius tells Peter, “Only you can save her.” But aside from cracking wise, Peter doesn’t do anything in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #31 to prove Octavius couldn’t do the same. In reality, Anna Maria saves herself from the Goblin.

Octavius’s Superficial Superiority

The first step towards superiority is looking awesome. Clearly, Octavius understands this concept. After all, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1 begins with him already rocking a darker, new costume. But Octavius’s costume design choices stray further away from “friendly” when he redesigns his suit again in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #14.

Octavius has Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, and Giuseppe Camuncoli to thank for helping him look so amazing. Every single issue of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is illustrated masterfully. Plus, none of the art styles clash too harshly, which makes everything feel cohesive because changes in style aren’t bothersome.

Though each artist brings something unique to the table, I thought Stegman’s work stood out among the others. Often, Stegman draws his figures without regard to anatomy, using exaggerated foreshortening to create extremely memorable action panels. The end product results in masterpieces like this one:

Ryan Stegman
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Forgiving SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN

Overall, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is about forgiveness. By the end of the series, Octavius fully understands what it means to be Spider-Man. His newfound perspective allows him to forgive Parker’s flaws and accept him as his superior. Only then does Octavius make true progress on the journey to self-improvement.

The storylines within SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN that reflect this theme the most are “Emotional Triggers” and “No Escape.” “Emotional Triggers” pits Octavius against a seemingly unforgivable villain: Massacre. Between the pages of “Emotional Triggers,” Parker constantly urges Octavius to forgive Massacre, and let him live. But Octavius decides otherwise. Using a gun, Spider-Man shoots Massacre through the head.

Spider-Man Kills
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Interestingly, during “No Escape,” Slott compares and contrasts Octavius to the villain he faces. For example, in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #13, Alistair Smythe attempts to switch bodies with Spider-Man using the same tactic Octavius used in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700. Also, in “No Escape,” Octavius derides Smythe for insinuating that prison time changed him into a better person. Octavius quickly realizes his hypocrisy: though Octavius believes he himself can become a better person through super-heroics, Octavius doesn’t believe Smythe can change. So, instead of giving Smythe another chance, Octavius kills him.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

I, like Octavius, am a hypocrite. For all the bad things SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN did to Parker’s reputation and legacy, it also did lots of good. For example, it created an army of Doc Ock fans, which went on to support him in other comic books. Currently, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is alive and well thanks to a successful ongoing series written by Christos Gage. Additionally, other mediums like television and gaming are now looking to adapt Slott’s story. Nonetheless, I still find it difficult to completely forgive this storyline to this day.

Some Things Never Change…

Though he made many mistakes on his quest towards redemption, like murdering Massacre, Octavius’ final sacrifice in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #30 indicates a lot of character growth. As a result, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN did temporarily redeem Doctor Octopus.

That is, until he joined Hydra three years later. After all, this is comics:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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