Superior Spider-Man #14
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Humberto Ramos and Victor Olazaba
Colors by Edgar Delgado
Published by Marvel Comics
Rating: 9 (of 10)
“Otto’s ambition, confidence and preparation in Superior Spider-Man #14 clearly raise the bar for what one mad-scientist superhero can accomplish.”
Any comic book character who has the stones to use a word like “superior” before his name instantly has a lot to live up to. Although this series has carried that adjective from the start it wasn’t until I read this issue that I truly believed Dr. Otto Octavius had earned it. In Superior Spider-Man #14 he owns every syllable.
Prior to this issue, Doc Ock (whose mind has occupied Peter Parker’s body for over a year now) was simply building the case for superiority. In each previous comic, he took important steps toward this goal, learning how to best navigate his new world and become an effective Spider-Man. Along the way, the former villain has grappled with Peter’s values and memories, and struggled to interact with longtime Spider-Man friends and allies without compromising himself. For Otto, that ultimately meant heightening Spider-Man’s efficiency and preparation without letting compassion get in the way. He’s used his genius to create support technology like spider-bot spies that patrol the city 24/7, purged the lingering consciousness of Peter Parker from his mind, manipulated New York Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, and even used deadly force against his enemies.
Otto’s approach to crime-fighting and attention to detail pays off big time this issue. After blackmailing Jameson into gifting him with the Raft, a prison for super-powered criminals (in issue #13), Otto has re-purposed it to be his base of operations. Now called Spider Island 2, he has staffed the stronghold with his own army of minions designed to take his war against criminals to the next level. The Superior Spider-Man’s first act as general? Launch an all-out assault on Shadowland, the Kingpin’s fortress in Hell’s Kitchen.
For some unknown reason, this giant pagoda of bad has been allowed to ninja@#$% the good citizens of New York for nearly three years. Why the Avengers or even a band of Big Apple heroes haven’t dealt with this is baffling, but their failure to act does help to underscore a unique difference between Otto and his peers. Unlike the largely reactive agenda of most superheroes, who seem to just save people when they are in imminent peril, villains are typically proactive. Being awesome at evil takes a ton of work. Especially if you do mad science evil.
Here, in one glorious move Otto merges methodologies – he decides he can best save a large population of people and prove his superiority by taking the fight to an enemy before they put innocents in mortal jeopardy.
It’s a surprisingly impressive sight to behold Spider-Man piloting a giant spider-mech and leading an army of soldiers and robots into Hell’s Kitchen. I quite enjoyed seeing him bark orders to his minions as they cut through ninjas like they’re made of rice paper. This military-like invasion of Shadowland is the type of tactic that would never occur to Peter Parker, or any other mainstream superhero for that matter. It’s simply too mad for a do-gooder to imagine.
As the battle begins the Superior Spider-Man debuts a striking new black and red costume that borrows from the Alex Ross concept sketches for the first Spider-Man film and the Iron Spider costume that Tony Stark created for Peter during Civil War. The darkened palette and mechanical backpack – which houses four deadly, retractable limbs – makes Otto look quite sinister and offers a reminder of his Dr. Octopus days. The new look, coupled with Otto’s commandment of the spider special forces is just incredibly badass.
Wilson Fisk feels this badassery firsthand. As his ninja base burns and crumbles, he seems completely taken aback by the unpredictable attack. In one scene he suddenly realizes he isn’t dealing with the same enemy he’s fought countless times before. “The voice is the same,” Kingpin says. ”But that’s not the Spider-Man I know. He’s going to kill us all and damn the consequences.”
The Kingpin knows when to cut his losses and run, but not before we get a hilarious and clever scene from Slott, who introduces the Kingpin’s body double, Smedley Kornfeld. Smedley’s been tucked away in a secret basement, probably for years, eating chicken wings in a La-Z-Boy. Kingpin tells us he’s modified Smedley’s body to mimic his DNA in the event that he needs to fake his death. That time comes in four panels as Fisk snaps his neck and escapes in a one-man submarine, leaving his lieutenant, Hobgoblin, to fend for himself. Hobby gets away as well, thanks to the skulking Green Goblin who discovered a flaw in Otto’s spider-bot technology back in issue #10 and promptly altered its coding so Goblins can’t be detected.
The Green Goblin subplot also continues this issue. Slott has been teasing his big return for a while now. Every few issues we see him recruiting more henchmen and building an empire under Spidey’s nose. At the end of this issue, the surviving hand ninjas are quickly recruited into the ever-expanding army and the Goblin announces that he now controls 52% of organized crime in New York City. He also dubs himself the “Goblin Kingpin of Crime” and laughs maniacally as any good Goblin worth a damn should.
Once the takedown of Shadowland is complete, the residents of Hell’s Kitchen are incredibly grateful for the liberation. I should mention that before the whole battle even begins Slott does a nice job of showing how the Kingpin’s presence negatively affects the lives of people who live there. They fear for their lives and their futures every day. Freeing them from that shadow would be a huge victory for any hero, but for Otto it’s also a win when it comes to public perception. And an even bigger triumph for him personally. His supervillainesque strategies have been constantly questioned throughout the series despite the fact that they have worked well. But in this issue Otto proves his way of fighting bad guys is undeniably effective on a massive scale. Otto’s ambition, confidence and preparation in Superior Spider-Man #14 clearly raise the bar for what one mad-scientist superhero can accomplish.
Slott’s portrayal of Spidey would not be as powerful this issue if not for the wonderfully expressive art of Humberto Ramos, whose style has always been the perfect fit for the wallcrawler in my opinion. His action scenes are kinetic and epic, and he excels at facial expressions and conveying humor. Every character he draws is detailed and looks different – from the exaggerated chub of the Kingpin to the massive bubble steel of the spider-mech to the wiry athleticism of Spidey, this book is just brimming with a unique energy.
The other members of Team Superior get high marks as well. Victor Olazaba’s inks are rich and powerful, and Edgar Delgado’s colors are fantastic, adding a bit of pretty darkness to the nighttime setting of the battle, but always popping warm reds and oranges whenever Spidey kicks a ninja.
It hasn’t been an easy task for writer Dan Slott to replace the much beloved Peter Parker with his bowl-haired nemesis, or to win over Spidey fans who hoped the body invasion would be fleeting. There will always be detractors, but over 14 issues I think he has pulled it off by writing some of the most compelling, different and fun Spidey stories I’ve read in a long time. Watching Dr. Octopus apply his criminal genius to crime-fighting is a highlight for me every month, but this issue swung my love for the series to another level. Superior Spider-Man #14 is a bombastic tale that not only ignites a new status quo for Otto as Spider-Man, it solidifies his claim of superiority.