Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy

Growing up, Spider-Man was my favorite superhero. I watched the 1966 cartoon series in reruns, watched the horrible live action 1970s TV show, bought his MEGO action figures, and learned to read in part because I loved those Pocket Books paperback collections. Today still, when people ask who my favorite superhero is I say Spider-Man, but truth be told I have not read a Spider-Man comic book regularly since I was in college, and only really checked in sporadically since with tweaked versions of the character, such as Brian Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man, the Tangled Web anthology series, or Dan Slott's nostalgic look back in the Spider-Man/Human Torch: I'm with Stupid mini-series.

All that said, lately there was some news buzz because Peter Parker was being killed in the milestone issue #700 of Amazing Spider-Man, and there is a part of me that is a seasoned comic book fan who could not care less about such theatrics and blatant media baiting about a corporate property I knew could not be substantially altered, at least not for long. Still, I knew that I liked Slott's other work and also that he had a respect for the version of Spider-Man I grew up with, so one day when I had a little bit of extra scratch and found myself in JHU Comic Books in NYC in November, I picked up this first volume of this new series to see what had happened to my erstwhile favorite superhero.

This volume collects the first five issues of a new direction for the webslinger. Peter Parker is dead, in mind but not in body. Dr. Octopus, his first major villain, pulled off the ultimate victory, trapping Parker's consciousness in his old, dying body and transferring his own mind into Peter's younger, more vital form. The catch is that Doc Ock also has all of Peter's memories and profound sense of responsibility. So he is compelled to be a superhero, and his profound ego drives him to be an even better, more efficient crimefighter than his predecessor, hence the series title.
This Spider-Man is more calculating and economical. He builds multiple devices to aid his quest to enforce justice. He is much more strident, violent, and ruthless than before. He has little remorse for his adversaries, and what is more, as a former villain who worked with many of Spider-Man's enemies, he has specific insights into their strategies, personalities, and pasts that he can use to his advantage. Still, he does his all to maintain his secret identity and not let others in on the fact that, despite outward appearances, there is an entirely different person in that body. And because he is Spider-Man, maintaining that secret identity does come at a price:
In all, I found this series very captivating, and I liked the contrasts drawn between the sensibilities of the characters who are Spider-Man. I particularly enjoyed how Doc Ock is portrayed as ethical in his own way; he's pretty much a horrible person but he does have a redeeming quality or two. I also liked that there are many relationships, such as the ones with J. Jonah Jameson, the police department, and Peter's friends and associates, including his girlfriend Mary Jane and his Aunt May, that are turned on their heads and examined from different angles. These situations made for some intrigue and drama, and I find myself wanting to read much more of this series.
Writer Dan Slott is a long time comics author, who is known for his ability to combine action and humor. I really enjoyed his past work on the Great Lake Avengers, a parody comic that ended up being more than a one-note comedy. I love the twists on classic Spider-Man tropes he makes, and the plotting and characterization in this book are exceptional. The art in this volume is by two different pencillers, Ryan Stegman and Giuseppe Camuncoli. Stegman's style is more cartoony and energetic with some ragged lines, while Camuncoli's is more polished and clean. Both are expressive and skilled enough to well capture the human moments as well as the dynamic action scenes.

Reviews I have read and heard about this series have been very positive. Matt Adams called it "a refreshing new direction for the 50-year-old superhero." Marty at the Rocket Vlog (video has some adult language) gave the book a 10/10 and commented that there were "some interesting bits of humanity in it." Ryan K. Lindsay gushed about the first part of the series, calling it "a complete success, a reboot issue that builds from what came before but is entirely accessible for new readers."

This collection is published by Marvel Comics. There is a short preview available here from Comic Book Resources.

SPOILER: I forgot to mention, Peter Parker is not dead. He's a ghost in his own body. And he'll be back very soon.

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