Superior Spider-Man #18: Smack to the Future
Time travel themes are acting as the backbone, and main source of drama and conflict in several, current Marvel Comics: The X-men are playing time travel games, and Thor recently concluded a time travel story arc. Superior Spider-Man faces a time traveling puzzle in issue eighteen when the Spider-Man of the future (from the year 2099) arrives in 2013 New York.
Superior Spider-Man himself leads a complicated and busy life. He trips over an endless barrage of pressure: there’s pressure from his work, pressure to complete his thesis, and pressure from his friends in addition to a rising tide of goblin themed villains. It’s worth pointing out that Superior Spider-Man is also a stranger. Peter Parker is not behind the mask.
Superior Spider-Man was created from mashing up the personality of Otto Octavius – Dr. Octopus – with the memories of Peter Parker. In a science fiction themed story late last year, Otto Octavius forced his psyche into Parker’s body, and took complete control over his life. Quickly, Otto quarantined Peter, and deleted him from his own body, which means no more Peter Parker. As a side effect, Parker’s memories shuffled into Otto’s own past. The process essentially reworked Otto’s criminal personality into a heroic one.
Egotistical, arrogant, and ruthless would be the most accurate way to describe Otto’s transformation and subsequent “heroics”, however.
Spider-man comic’s showed-off this controversial character change, and promised stories near-impossible to predict as Otto – the Superior Spider-Man – started work on his zero-tolerance, ruthless, and efficient crime fighting bent. Otto can’t escape the fact that he is a deeply flawed man, however. Despite Otto’s flaws, Marvel Comics want to stick to this new Superior Spider-Man. Andrew Wheeler reported on Comics Alliance.com, after a visit to the Superior Spider-Man panel at San Diego Comic Con 2013, that Peter Parker will not return.
(This review of Superior Spider-Man #18 is spoiler free)
Use of Blur gives a sense of power and motion, and is used sparingly – only when characters throw punches. Sparing use of an effect that simulates force and power reminds the audience that Superior Spider-Man and 2099 Spider-Man have the proportionate strength of a spider the size of an adult human. Echoes of Spider-Man’s mantra of power and responsibility no doubt underlie this art choice. Great power causes great damage if the powerful person is unwieldy and careless.
What’s terrific about the comic book’s artwork are several scenes of Superior Spider-Man using his web acrobatics, and the conflict between the Spider-Man of two different era’s meeting. The penciling for these scenes is detailed, with ink work that accentuates the lines of characters costumes and faces. Colours are vibrant, and there are two key settings that showcase the colour of this comic book: look out for bright costumes in full sunlight during the opening pages, and the glowing, orange interior of Horizon labs, where a time travel experiment has scattered luminescent spheres all around the building. The only spots where the artwork is let down are one or two panels where characters facial expressions are cut out by the bleed, which is the margin of space around the edge of the page.
The Superior Spider-Man indulges in ego, and places himself, and the fame he believes will follow from his scientific research and invention, above other people. Loyalty and empathy mean little to this new character. It’s too the credit of the writing behind the comic that Superior Spider-Man‘s voice is unique: a different man is behind the mask. Readers can tell at a glance that the tone and word choices have shifted from Parker’s way of speaking.
Travel in time eighty years into the past, and the way people talk, the words they use, would be completely different to our present conversations. 2099 Spider-Man’s dialogue has words and phrases that make sense to him, but are incomprehensible to the people of the present day (2013, November, according to the comic book). Again, the dialog impresses by consistently including this “Future-speak” for 2099 Spider-Man’s speech patterns. Max Modell and Mary Jane Watson, two powerful, positive influences in Superior Spider-Man‘s life make small, but essential appearances – the anti-hero Otto treats them without respect. A man named Tiberius Stone also does some damage.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
In Superior Spider-Man, there is exploration of good and evil, where we see a flawed and ego-driven man attempting to do good. Superior Spider-Man puts his own needs above everyone else. The consequences are that people lives are endangered, and his workplace is threatened. There’s not a lot of depth here, however. Character’s behave selfishly, and there are consequence. The discussion does not expand beyond this point. Spider-Man transforming into the ruthless Superior Spider-Man offers an opportunity to explore themes such as redemption and memory. A long-term story arc across more issues would allow exploration. This issue deals only with surface-level conflicts.
An ethical discussion about the possibilities of time travel take place in the comic, tying together ideas about privacy and justice. Characters at Horizon labs have the opportunity to go back in time and spy on the events of the recent past. They are invisible, and inaudible. They are out of synch, only being able to observe, which is an interesting science fiction idea. The ethical question is, can time travel be used as an evidence gathering technique? Or is this an invasion of privacy since the time traveler is undetectable, and can travel anywhere, anytime, without restraint? In this comic book, gathering evidence from the past is acceptable under dire circumstances, where Horizon labs is under threat of forced closure by criminal coercion.
A bit more on Superior Spider-Man #18
I mentioned above that Superior Spider-man places his needs above others. Justice, to the Superior Spider-Man, is an achievement for him to add to a long list of accolades. Because the character has shifted from an optimistic hero, to a selfish one, the tone is darker and far less hopeful, despite the Superior Spider-Man’s belief he is safeguarding the community around him. What disaster might follow is unknown, since the Superior Spider-Man has become unpredictable.