A Frustrating Means to End: “Superior Spider-Man #13”

“…Doc [Ock] decided to adopt the mantle of Spider-Man and be a hero… in his own way.” – Dan Slott, Twitter, July 18, 2013.

As Superior Spider-Man’s “No Escape” storyarc has played out, the one defining element that could have given the three short chapters an emotional core was muffled. J. Johan Jameson has been such a fascinating character over the last few years, and in this storyline he could have been a very sympathetic character, someone conflicted about the promise he made to his dying wife and his thirst for justice to be served, a widower and politically powerful man trying to resolve his feelings of powerlessness. That was all for not. And although we can infer much of that drama, what appears on the page is far cry from what it could have been.

What we have is a means to an ends. That being part of the surface quality of Superior Spider-Man currently and the subtext. Spider-Ock’s heroics and bargain with Jameson was a means to an ends. “No Escape” as a story is a means to an ends. And while Superior Spider-Man mastermind Dan Slott has proven he can weave narrative threads as a (wait for it) means to an end, you have to wonder if along the way he could have invested more in the means.

By now we understand why Spider-Ock forced Jameson to give him permission to kill Smythe. The question as to why lingered from the previous issue of Superior Spider-Man, as it was seemingly in contrast to Spider-Ock’s previous behavior. He wanted leverage, blackmail, a villain’s edge to get what he wants.

Let’s face it, as much as we want to see Otto as an anti-hero, he’s not. His plans for being the superior Spider-Man are not about being a hero. He’ll act heroically as a means to further his ends – the ends would seemingly be a smug, “now you see that I’m better at everything.” While this is a fitting contrast to the actual heroics of Peter Parker, it does show the limited shelf-life of Superior Spider-Man.

As has been mentioned, the reader experience with Spider-Ock is inverted. We’ve become what Jameson was, and will become again. We should see Spider-Man as a menace now, a conniving, arrogant, self-centered jerk in footy pajamas. And while some of us certainly do, there is definitely a cadre of those who see this as how things should be. That speaks to the moral confusion we’ve suffered as a society over the last few decades. I wouldn’t image to begin discussing that here, it’s far too complicated, but there is definitely an element of it in Superior Spider-Man.

As the last three issues have illustrated, there is hardly a sympathetic character, yet there are many to choose from that could have been or could be. Jameson, as mentioned is one, but that was completely mishandled. Curt Connors, the Lizard, is another, but in Superior Spider-Man #13 his part is largely reduced to the barest it could be with him still appearing in the comic.

There has to be someone to root for going forward, and Otto certainly is not that character. And now neither is Jameson.

The answer to this dilemma would seemingly be Mary Jane or Carlie Cooper. They had no part in this story arc, no furthering of their suspicions about what’s up with Peter. This is probably an angle Slott will explore later on. It’s debatable as to whether he should have checked in on them at some point in the last three issues. The story, particularly in the last two installments, relied heavily on the pacing to keep moving at a brisk pace. But would it have been better, for this story arc and Superior Spider-Man as whole, that their storyline was evolved in just the slightest way?

What is so frustrating about this issue is that Superior Spider-Man #12, the requisite action middle chapter, was more than the sum of its parts. It hinted at the possibility of Superior Spider-Man overall. And while Slott and fellow writer Christos Gage furthered the theme (question?) of whether villains can reform, the opportunities the two had to expand on various other layers feels squandered.

Is Superior Spider-Man engaging? Yes. Could it be more engaging? Definitely.

More seems to be going into setting up the super villain anachronisms, like a longer form “Despicable Me” gag, that ruminates in the media-obsessed reader’s desire for pop-culture self-revelation. Spider-Ock has an island now, and soon mail-ordered minions. The clichés are groan worthy.

RATING 5 / 10
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