“You’re a super-villain, right?” – Superior Spider-Man #15 gloriously reverses protagonists a second time

superiorspiderman15658-642x362 Responsibility looms over the Spider-Man franchise. It’s the key part in Uncle Ben’s most famous quote and it’s a theme that runs through everything from Spider-Man’s ethos, powers and his villains.

Dan Slott has played with the theme since he joined the franchise and never more so than in Superior Spider-Man. While he tried  the idea of Spider-Man’s powers being given to a man without Peter’s morality in the Spider-Island story-line, giving Doc Ock the classic costume and powers has expanded the mythos in ways that never would have been possible had Peter stayed alive. Ock’s one man war on New York City crime has been one of the standout parts of the book and his differing perspective on violence and crime has been fascinating.

gobfeatureSlott gave Doc Ock all the toys last issue as the villain returns to make war on Wilson Fisk and Shadowland. It was a violent issue and it showed the full lengths the anti-hero would go to for what he believes to be justice. While issue #14 was primarily a plot mover, this week’s #15 focused on his struggle against a single villain, Phil Urich’s Hobgoblin. Otto works best when Slott focuses on the competition between villains, namely the way these characters have dealt with each other for years.

Urich is an interesting case. A legacy villain with debts to other killers, Urich’s Hobgoblin has always been in an interesting spot and forcing him out from under the Kingpin’s thumb puts him on the run. I was struck during this issue by the way Slott wrote Urich as a murderous Peter Parker. Trying to get some cash together to pay the Tinkerer to repair his gear and needing to send a check to ex-Goblin Robert Kingsley, Urich is under pressure from all sides and is forced to do things he may not have expected. His crime spree at issue’s end reminds me of a Spider-Man on the ropes, struggling to make ends meet.

gob3It’s an interesting role reversal in a series all about that theme. Much like other series focusing on an antihero, namely Breaking Bad and the excellent American Vampire, viewers are meant to struggle with how much we want the protagonist to win. Do we really want Doc Ock to get away with it, to be Spider-Man forever or are we waiting for his comeuppance? Placing Urich so closely to Peter Parker, even drawing him similarly shows Slott’s willingness to make reader’s question what they want out of his elaborate game of cowboys and robbers.

I’ll admit, Humberto Ramos is probably my least favorite artist in Marvel’s stable. His chunky, straight edged characters feel out of place in a series about lithe, mid-air ballets and the fact that he was the beginning of the end for Runaways digs him deeper into a hole. He does a fine job here but Slott’s script is the real star, showing how far Doc Ock is willing to bring all his powers to bear to take down his enemies. It’s an issue all about desperation and last steps, with both Urich and Octavius playing trump cards and reaching deep as they struggle to get what they want.

gob2It’s only a matter of time until the Spidey-Ock era ends, pretty much the weeks before Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out but Slott continues to push the limits of audience expectations with a protagonist whose struggle to be a hero is crushed by a lack of empathy and morality. It’s a story that shouldn’t, can’t possibly work in Spider-Man’s corner of the Marvel Universe but impossibly does, over and over again.

Stray ObservationsTrillium_1_PanelThis was a big, really great week for DC in particular so let’s dive into it.

  • Again, Jeff Lemire proves his place isn’t on a franchise book. While offering little more than promise of what the series will become, Trillium #1 shows an outsider’s perspective on a time travel/drug trip story-line and has the same inventive imagination Lemire shows on his other more offbeat books.
  • It’s definitely a weird wonderful finale for Dial H, a book which, clearly, never had a chance to grow into what China Mielville hoped for it but still a fitting finale for his heroes. Nelson’s twists on all the heroes he dialed previously is a great, nostalgic way to close the cult series.
  • Charles Soule is making a great name for himself at DC. His Swamp Thing #23 features the sort of nausea inducing darkness Alan Moore and Jamie Delano used so well and is a great, powerful mainstream horror issue.
  • As far as alternative horror, Ed Brubaker has that on lock. This week’s Fatale #16 shows the corruption Jo effortlessly brings with her and the darkness is starting to close around Lance’s house.
  • Billy Tan is definitely trying to combine his dull ’90s style with Doug Mahnke’s work in the new Green Lantern #23. It’s a better issue than what he’s done before but he needs to step it up very quickly to make this book shine.
  • Once again, Superior Foes of Spider-Man knocks it out of the park. This week’s #2 is another hysterically funny, very knowing look at the politics of villainy. Boomerang’s desperation as he faces pressure on all sides gives this book the drama that makes it a must pull.
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