Dan Slott did say, prior to the launch of Amazing Spider-Man #700, that he was going to turn into Dark Dan and start using his writing purposes for evil. And as he’s gleefully turned into a pantomime villain the likes of which John Inman can only dream of matching, so Superior Spider-Man has become an intriguing, fascinating piece of work which challenges his writing style and tries something drastically different. Spoilers below.
This week’s issue, in which Doctor Octopus stamps out the last traces of Peter Parker/the hopes of a fanbase underfoot, is a case in point. There are traces of Slott’s prior writing tics still present in much of this issue – a tendency to name-check past stories and characters to the point of distraction, wonderfully silly sight-gags, and so forth – but they compete with a new writing style which has been growing over the last nine issues. From the opening of Slott’s extended run on the Spider-Man franchise, the character has slowly moved away from the more goofy characterisation seen in the early stages through to a more clear-headed and focused perspective.
Ryan Stegman has proven to be an excellent choice of artist for the book and for this issue in particular, as his particular quirks play very well into a storyline like this one. The experimental threads worked on by the creative team are fantastic, and the storytelling is fast and easy. He skews and stretches the perspective in his panels so it feels like Peter is alternately being crushed by his surroundings or isolated from everything – a small touch, but one which works wonders for the story. Edgar Delgado’s colours are fairly subtle and restrained this issue, creating and building the psychological world that this particular issue inhabits.
And Chris Eliopoulos more than matches the more experimental and strange page layouts, creating a cohesive and easy to follow story. The feeling of unease brought about by the story would immediately disintegrate without strong, smart collaborators to keep Slott’s story in check and fill in the missing details. On the basis of their work so far, the artistic side of the comic have matched the writing, but also pushed it forward, and out of Dan Slott’s comfort zone. That’s rather fascinating, and keeps the book on an uneven, unpredictable keel.
And it all comes from a storyline where Peter Parker is dead – mostly – and Doctor Octopus is now the main character in the series. But working the Spider-Man legacy from a new angle is paying dividends for the series, taking the everyman Peter Parker and giving us reasons to miss him in his absence. Issue #9 does at times push too hard on the melodrama – Peter seeing his friends and family literally being murdered in front of his eyes isn’t the most subtle of story points. If you look back to the way Slott used to write villains, however, you’ll see that his work in Superior Spider-Man is far more grounded than beforehand. The villains don’t monologue blindly anymore, but rather make short bursts of attack which catch Peter Parker where it hurts and digs into the wounds.
The writing’s far crueller than I’m used to seeing in Spider-Man, taking an all-age franchise and making it into something darker and more brutal than before. I’m not sure the series is doing a particularly good job at playing to a younger audience (this issue gets bleak and scary very quickly, and doesn’t let up – it’s quite full-on). I know Dan Slott is a fan of Dr Who, and there’s a comparison to be made between how the two franchises have recently grown up, and whether that’s for better or worse. Yet whilst the book may be isolating parts of the fanbase, it’s still providing a tightly-written storyline, with real stakes, where each moment comes back to haunt readers down the line. Story isn’t wasted, and a lot happens in each issue. Superior Spider-Man is a twice-monthly ongoing event comic, with each new issue a must-read.
The book also rewards people who follow the controversy, adding a further layer to proceedings. If you keep track of Slott’s twitter feed or track down Wacker’s witheringly wry comments online, then you can see moments in the book which speak directly to you as a reader. They’re not going so far as to openly mock the readers – but the narrative builds doubly in tension and suspense if you know the sort of plans and threats that the creative team have been delightedly making online. The promises that this issue would frustrate fans deliver, mainly because fans have read Dan Slott say that the issue will upset them, and are prepared in advance for the tipping moment to occur at any moment.
Whether you believe he’s genuinely gone over to the Dark Side, or whether you feel he’s got tongue firmly in cheek throughout — Superior Spider-Man has proven itself to be a rather riveting, genuinely moving and interesting new direction for his writing, and for the franchise as a whole. It’s a creative move where many people are swept away by hype and speculation and worry prior to each new issue, but the creative team have managed to match that wave of attention every single time.