Critiquing the Superior Spider-Man Design

While we’re on the subject of Spider-Man character designs and concepts, let’s talk about this Superior Spider-Man thing for a second. This is the Marvel NOW! refresh of the Spider-Man line, which switched from Amazing Spider-Man to the new ‘Superior’ title after ‘Amazing’ ended with issue #700 just a few weeks ago. The switch was accentuated with a new costume, which was originally teased in Marvel NOW! promo art by Marvel COO Joe Quesada, with writer Dan Slott hinting that the new book would see Mary-Jane Watson and Spider-Man finally get back together, except that Peter Parker wouldn’t be in the costume.

Prior to reading Amazing Spider-Man #700 or the first issue of ‘Superior,’ fans appeared to have a pretty solid, trustworthy rumor that spoiled who would be picking up the Spider-Man mantle in 2013 – Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of 2099. The rumor grew out of a hastily-deleted tweet from Slott that we Spider-Fans and rumor-mongers assumed must have been intended as a private message between Slott and artist Ryan Stegman.

However, as issue 700 hit the stands and fans rushed to see the fate of the wall-crawler, it became clear that Slott had in fact (either intentionally or unintentionally) hit readers with a classic bait-and-switch. The Superior Spider-Man would not, in fact, be Miguel O’Hara, but would instead be a far more unorthodox choice – Dr. Otto Octavius, the mad scientist Doctor Octopus.

In the storyline leading up to Peter Parker’s demise (which really didn’t leave much room for a time travel switcheroo that would’ve facilitated a Spider-Man 2099 swap-out, but I guess we fans were still counting on that rumor to hold water), Peter and his old nemesis switched brains. Or switched bodies. Either way, Peter woke up in Ock’s body, which was in the process of dying, while Ock’s consciousness was given the keys to Peter’s body, and in the process had inherited his life, his job, his friends and his relationship with Mary-Jane.

The two matched wits one final time as Parker tried to fight his way back into his own body before Ock’s body gave out. In the end, during the last few seconds that Ock’s body had, Peter bombarded Ock with his memories of growing up as Spider-Man and learning all the life lessons that made him the hero that he came to be, causing Ock to relive those memories as his own. It’s here that Ock swore to honor Peter’s memory and to use his intellect to become the best hero that he can be, to become a Superior Spider-Man.

To be honest, I really found the whole mind-swap idea to be a total bore. Although I’ve always been a fan of Slott’s writing, and his earlier “Big Time” stuff with Marcos Martin was killer, I really have been more than a little bored with the direction he’d been taking ‘Amazing’ over the last year or so. I found it to be chock full of hokey, comic book-y storylines and ideas that might’ve played better if they were done with a bit more of a satirical or ironic tone, but instead they were played straight, and were therefore quite dull.

However, the absurdity of the mind-swap story aside, this new Spider-Man might be just the shot in the arm that Slott, and this title, need to really shine. While I’m sure that this new Spider status quo is merely temporary, and that we will one day see the return of the good, noble Peter Parker, this new direction is admittedly quite intriguing. What we have now is a morally grey Spider-Man, a character that wants to do right when everything in his nature is tugging him in the other direction. I expect to see a kind of Walter White version of Spider-Man, to match the darker, more villainous style of the Superior Spider-Man costume.

Alright, let’s talk about the new outfit. At first I hated it. I thought that it was goofy and uninteresting and fell way short of giving the character his own identity. But now that I know that Doc Ock is in the suit, I can start to see a bit more of the logic behind the design choices. Let’s take it from the top. What’s with his eyes? Why do the lenses pop out of his head now like he’s a chameleon? At first I thought it was dumb as hell and didn’t make any sense, because at first I was of the understanding that someone like Miguel O’Hara would be inheriting the costume. But knowing that it’s Ock under the mask, we can probably assume that this is a callback to his trademark Doc Ock goggles, which actually makes it a pretty cool little tweak.

The other changes to the costume are just as subtle, but are effective nonetheless. The blue areas of his costume have been switched to charcoal, which is possibly even there to suggest black without having to actually print a big, flat black blob on the page. This modification isn’t too out of left field, since to my understanding the original concept for the Spider-Man costume was that it was black and red, with the blue areas on the body just serving as a way for the artist to provide details on the character’s body under the limitations of the printing techniques that they had to work with at the time. Since then, printing light and contour and details on something that is intended to be perfectly black has gotten a lot easier, and artists will sometimes attempt a red and black Spider-Man, often when the story itself demands a darker tone.

Other modifications include removing the red stripes on Spidey’s arms, a move which I am skeptical of because I feel that taking lines away from Spidey’s limbs just makes him seem less fast, less skinny, less youthful and really just less spidery. The makers of Spidey’s latest film, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” noticed this and wound up adding more red stripes to his costume, and even adding some blue stripes to his gloves to accentuate his web-shooting and wall-crawling. Perhaps his youthful exuberance is something they want to downplay now that the previously portly, middle-aged Ock is slinging the webs?

The House of Ideas also went ahead and added some scalloped edges to the front of his “belt” area (bringing to mind a bat’s wings), made his back spider pointier, and made the webs on his mask pointier as well. The pointiness continues to his hands, which feature clawed fingers, and to his feet, which now have a proudly displayed big toe, which each also house a tiny claw. Which, I must say, sounds freaking ridiculous (or, in the vernacular of the young fans I follow on Tumblr, “janky”). But okay.

Altogether the costume suggests a Spider-Man who (is more pointy and) has more attitude, something that is clearly displayed on the initial Superior Spider-Man covers, which show the new Spidey crouching in dark corners or stealing a kiss from Mary-Jane. So I guess all the dark colors and the buggy eyes and the pointier points certainly speak to that, since it does make him appear more threatening, almost villainous. Which makes sense considering it’s Ock in the suit now. He’s creepier. He looks like a creature of the night. That’s pretty cool.

So, yeah. While at first my intentions were to voice my complaints about the new costume and to really tear into the notion that Miguel O’Hara would be the new, Superior Spider-Man, with a costume that forced a darker, edgier tone upon the character, that all went out the window after analyzing the changes with the understanding that Doc Ock is the new Spider-Man. As it stands, right now the only complaint I have is that I don’t have a currently have a copy of Superior Spider-Man #1 in my hands. I’m still a bit skeptical about whether or not such a lofty concept can really live up to it’s full potential, but as a die-hard Spidey fan, I’m certain that it’ll be a phase in the hero’s career that I won’t want to miss.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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