Comics : Superior Spider-Man #31

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This story is part of an Arc: "Goblin Nation"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

This review was first published on: Apr 2014.

Background...

This is the moment we’ve all been eagerly waiting for; the anticipated final chapter of the Superior Spider-Man saga. Last issue Peter Parker made his grand return, reemerging as the true Spider-Man after Doc Ock decided to remove all of his memories from the brain of his arch nemesis. Ock didn’t think that he alone could save Anna Maria, the one person in this world he truly cared for, and so he allowed Pete to take back his body so that he could inevitably save the day. Pete has inherited quite the mess though. The Green Goblin has the city of New York in a panic. Not only is his goblin army out creating mayhem, but now the Goblin King has control over an entire fleet of Spider-Slayers designed by the Alchemax Corporation. Action, revelations and a return to the status quo is right around the corner.

In Detail...

"Goblin Nation"
Superior Spider-Man #31 (Story 1)
Jun 2014 : SM Title
Summary: Series Finale
Arc: Part 5 of "Goblin Nation"
Script:  Christos Gage
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker:  John Dell, Terry Pallot
Lettering:  Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist:  Antonio Fabela
Executive Producer:  Alan Fine
Publisher:  Dan Buckley
Chief Creative Officer:  Joe Quesada
Editor In Chief:  Axel Alonso
Editor:  Nick Lowe
Associate Editor:  Ellie Pyle
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Issue
Review
Articles: Green Goblin I (Norman Osborn)

Now that Peter is back, it’s time for him to get caught up on exactly what has been going on since he was wiped from his own mind back in Superior Spider-Man #9. We find that Sajani (with help from the now deceased Otto Octavius) finally figured out how to cure the goblin formula. That means that Carlie Cooper, who was had been rampaging as the hideous Monster, is slowly returning to normal. Carlie is the first person that is made aware that Otto is gone and Peter is back. After embracing her former boyfriend, Carlie fills Peter in on all of the chaos that has gripped New York over the past month.

After a quick call to make sure Aunt May is alright, Pete swings into action and stumbles upon a battered and beaten Spider-Man 2099 (who was left behind to fight a horde of Spider Slayers by Otto last issue). After informing Miguel that the Spider-Man that he tussled with recently was actually Doctor Octopus, an oddly accepting Spider-Man 2099 decides it best to team-up with his precursor. Jumping into action, both Spider-Men aid the Avengers against the Goblin Knight and then set off towards the Alchemax building where they are confronted by Menace. This is when Peter is able to enact the first step of his plan. As Menace is busy battling O’Hara, Spidey sneaks up behind the female goblin and injects her with the goblin antidote. It seems as if Lily Hollister’s days as a demented goblin are over.

The first battle may have been won, but the war is not yet over. After defeating Menace, Liz Allan rushes in to inform both Spider-Men that the Green Goblin has enough explosives wired on the roof of the Alchemax building to destroy the entire structure. With O’Hara volunteering to make sure that everyone makes it out alive, Pete heads for the roof. Atop the roof sits a bound and tied Anna Maria, hundreds of pumpkin bombs crowded around her. As Spider-Man attempts to get his bearings straight, the Green Goblin soars above him laughing as maniacally as ever.

After a quick wisecrack from Pete, GG knows instantly that he’s no longer dealing with Otto. That’s when the battle commences. It’s not a long battle though. After trading a few hits, Spidey is able to rip the Goblin’s mask from his face. Instead of Norman Osborn though, we find that the man behind the mask is Alchemax employee Mason Banks. But wait, Mason Banks claims that he is Norman Osborn. Say what? If your guess for this year’s goblin mystery was facially reconstructed Norman Osborn, congratulations. Your prize is in the mail.

Unbeknownst to Norman though, the next step in Spidey’s plan has already commenced. The entire point in taking off the Goblin’s mask was so that his mini spider-bots could crawl on to Norman’s skin and inject him with the goblin antidote. Unable to even ride his glider without his powers, Norman falls to the ground as the explosives erupt atop the building. Like we’ve seen him do countless times in the past, Spider-Man springs into action. After swooping in to save Anna Maria, Spidey then reaches out and grabs Norman before he falls to his death (an act of compassion that Otto would certainly have never shown).

Back on the ground, Liz Allan (who has clearly been on the side of the goblins from the beginning) uses Tiberius Stone’s spider-sense jammer to rattle Spidey and allow Norman to escape. Oddly enough, Spider-Man 2099, who has no spider-sense, doesn’t attempt to bring in the powerless Osborn. As Allan walks away with her son Normie, she whispers that “Mommy and Grampa did this for you.” In the sewers, Norman contemplates his revenge saying that he will be an even fiercer opponent without his madness (though he has been written as a diabolically intelligent villain since his return during the clone saga). Now that the battle is over, Spider-Man bids adieu to his futuristic counterpart and comforts a rattled Anna Maria. Anna seems to be more worried about Peter Parker than her self though. This is when Pete realizes that not only did Otto love her, but she clearly loved him. In a one panel moment of remembrance, Peter realizes that Otto Octavius had to die for him to be alive. The image of the Superior Spider-Man walking away from his greatest enemy and his greatest love ends the most daring saga in Spider-Man’s history.

In General...

Stories tend to be judged by their endings. The ending is the last thing you read before putting down a book, it’s what lingers in your head long after you’ve left the story behind. When it comes to comic books though, the build up is often better than the conclusion. It seems that comic book creators often conceive grand opuses with no real strategy as to how they are going to end their epic masterpieces. I had all the faith in the world that when Dan Slott embarked on the most ambitious project in the history of Spider-Man comics that he had a well thought out conclusion to the story in mind. If so, this issue certainly doesn’t show it.

I complained in my review for Superior Spider-Man #30 that the return of Peter felt rushed. I just didn’t understand why Doc Ock would give up so quickly. My complaints keep on rolling into the final issue. First of all, for a title that was based around the sole premise of having Otto Octavius become Spider-Man, we oddly see basically no trace of Otto in the final issue. Sure his short lived legacy is what had gotten Pete into this mess in the first place, but it seems like Slott was more concerned with giving Peter a triumphant return than giving Otto a proper farewell. This makes the final installment feel tonally different from everything else that preceded it. This doesn’t mean that issue #31 is awful though. There are moments of humor, the action is well scripted and well drawn and the scene in which Norman recognizes the true Spider-Man based on a single quip was pretty cool. The bad seems to outweigh the good though. The revelation of Green Goblin being Norman Osborn with a mustache is without a doubt the worst goblin mystery reveal ever. Speaking of the Green Goblin, it’s a shame that an issue that was almost exclusively filled with action depicts the highly anticipated battle between Spidey and GG in a spectacularly anti-climatic fashion. What it all boils down to is the fact that the most radical concept in the history of Marvel Comics ended with what can only be called a mundane final issue. It’s tragic really.

Though there were missteps along the way, I thought that the entire series was, for the most part, deftly handled. There were even a few arcs (most notably the Necessary Evil arc) that I can truly say are some of the best Spider-Man stories I’ve read in some time. I just hate that the ending had to be rushed, I hate that the saga itself may be cast in a poor light because of the shaky ending and most of all I hate that Hollywood mandates the storylines of good fiction in an entirely different medium.

Overall Rating...

The most ambitious Spider-Man story in the character's history falls on its face in the closing chapter.

Footnote...

I wasn't the only one who had a strong opinion about this issue and the Superior Spider-Man saga as a whole. Below is a collection of opinions about the title written by a few of our esteemed staff writers here at Spiderfan.

Adam Rivett (reviewer of Superior Spider-Man/Amazing Spider-Man) :

Superior Spider-Man has been bold, brave and (for the most part) brilliant. Doc Ock’s turn in the driving seat has progressed the character of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, but at the same time hit the reset button meaning that he is on his own, disliked and has a gallery of rogues gunning for him. This is Kraven’s Last Hunt, The Other and any other story where Peter “died” but on a grander and lengthier scale. It has worked, but it feels a shame that we’ve seen the last of the Superior version and Ock’s finale didn’t seem as sacrificial as it could have been. Dan Slott has continued to push the boat out and, right now, in my opinion, he is still steering it safely. That said, long live The Superior Spider-Man!

Andrew Miller (reviewer of Superior Spider-Man/Amazing Spider-Man) :

Superior Spider-Man was, for a time, Marvel's best title, hands down. It was a delight to see Otto Octavius, a high-functioning sociopath, attempt to play the hero's role. As befits a sociopath, Otto embraced a Benthamite utilitarianism, maximizing people's well-being with no concern for their other needs, or for his own methods. Why capture a supervillain when you can kill him? And why kill him when you can turn that supervillain into a mind-controlled minion and use him to keep the peace? Best of all, why not turn New York into a police state with 24/7 surveillance? That will keep people safe, won't it? It was great fun to see Otto walk this road, becoming more and more of a control freak even as he was patting himself on the back for how superior he was.

Superior had a lackluster start, a strong middle, and a disappointing finish. At the beginning, writer Dan Slott was saddled with an unfortunate editorial mandate to include 'Ghost Peter' as a second protagonist, one who was horrified by Otto's sociopathy but with limited ability to respond to it. I didn't see it then, but re-reading the early issues underscores for me what many others noted at the time: Ghost Peter is a whiny wet blanket who takes the fun out of the book's high concept. It's hard to delight in Otto's anti-heroism with Ghost Peter always around clutching his metaphorical pearls. With Ghost Peter's murder at the end of issue #9, the book kicked into high gear, reaching its apex in the "Necessary Evil" arc, in which Otto's high-handed arrogance resulted in Horizon Labs' destruction and the loss of Peter Parker's job. From this point on, Otto was in full supervillain mode, and it was great fun to see his schemes begin to unravel even as he kept insisting to himself he had everything under control. Unfortunately, the book ended with a whimper, not a bang, with Otto making an unearned, and entirely unsatisfying, decision to kill himself just so that Ghost Peter, who returned from the dead for no reason (!), could have his old job back. Otto had decided that only Peter could fix the mess Otto had made, but it was a decision that was entirely unsupported and unearned by anything that had come before; a decision obviously driven by the desire to have Peter Parker back in the red-and-blues in time for the opening of the latest Hollywood film about Spider-Man.

It was a poor end to what had been a very satisfying book. As has been pointed out by folks wiser than I am, Superior Spider-Man was a knowing comment on the tendency in comics to admire a certain type: The Grim and Gritty Badass Who Gets His Hands Dirty So That Good People Can Be Safe. It's a perennial temptation to idolize folks like that, so more takedowns of the position are always welcome, but a takedown like this - one that took Spider-Man, Marvel's premiere family-friendly hero, and made him a poster child for villainous excess and overreach - was one I never expected. It was as unlikely as it was welcome. I think that Superior Spider-Man will be remembered as a classic chapter in Spider-Man's history. It certainly deserves to be.

Cody Wilson (reviewer of Venom) :

While I've been enjoying Goblin Nation, I found this issue lacking as a conclusion to one of my favorite Spider-Man eras. Peter's situation was resolved overall too cleanly, Otto was barely even mentioned, and the Green Goblin's identity reveal was bizarre. I really enjoyed the last issue, though, so I'm just going to remember that as the conclusion and try to pretend this one never came out.

Michael Miller (reviewer of New Warriors) :

When we first heard the title, I was worried and almost immediately discredited it. That isn't a Spider-Man term! But then the guessing began and when we got the final reveal as to who this "new" Spider-Man was...I was interested. I tried to play it off like it was an affront and that this was going to be awful, but I was interested.

The first issue didn't grab me and I was thinking they had already built themselves an out with Peter's ghost. But as things went on, I was more and more interested. SpOck's arrogance was annoying at times, but the way he managed to still be a hero was interesting. I was enjoying the ride. Issue 9 was extremely emotional and though it was a bit painful to read, it was that emotion that made it such a memorable issue for me.

As the series went on, I enjoyed seeing old characters (Miguel O'Hara!) and new stories being established. But I was bothered by the fact that SpOck was acting less like a man looking for redemption and just plain evil again. The stories definitely kept my interest and I loved explaining the concept to new people.

I really enjoyed Goblin Nation, but issue 31 left me wanting more. I was extremely excited to see Peter return, trust me! But the way everyone believed him and he was able to wrap up most things in a panel or two felt like a cop out after everything we've read thus far. And the scene with MJ is so contradictory to so many other stories where they talk about the strength of their love that it still bothers me.

So am I disappointed to see this era end? Yeah, kind of. It was an interesting take. But as someone who grew up reading about the fun, noble, and heroic Spider-Man, I'm glad to see him return. I'd hate for a new generation of kids and Spider-Man fans to not have that be their definitive experience!

Keith Moore (character biographer)

Focusing strictly on Goblin Nation as a story arc, I walked away with a very positive feeling toward Slott’s work. At the very least Slott wrote an innovative Goblin story, finding a new way to build suspense toward a ‘Goblin unmasking’ all the while using an established Goblin (aka Norman Osborn). Slott did everything in his power to tell us that it was Norman under the mask (debuting him with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, unveiling the infamous chest scar, consistently claiming he was the ‘one true Goblin’, etc), except explicitly showing it. Yet somehow readers were left guessing, finding themselves in disbelief that it was Norman because there was something ‘not quite right’ about how the plot was unfolding. Admittedly, I didn’t see the Norman Osborn = Mason Banks story twist coming, and I think the beauty of that plan was that he placed Mason so close to an obvious red herring, Tiberius Stone. Tiberius was clearly up to no good and if you look back at the facial structure similarity between Tiberius and the Green Goblin circa Superior Spider-Man #17-18 you may get the same impression I did. But I found myself consistently saying, “it has to be Norman Osborn, the story makes sense if it’s Norman, why won’t Slott just confirm it so we can move on?!?” Well, now we know why.

Having a story arc revolve around a ‘Goblin unmasking’ is nothing new to the Spider-mythos, but Slott found a new way to tell that story. Now Osborn is poised to enter a new era within the Spiderverse with a power-set similar to the Chameleon. I’m excited to see where this goes next and, to be honest, there’s really not much more you can ask for out of a story. Of course there are a whole slew of questions that have gone unanswered like why did Norman suddenly awake from his coma? Who actually did the face-altering for him? What is the deal with Liz Allan and Normie? What does a sane Norman Osborn really act like (I can argue that he’s been pretty crazy his whole life)? Hopefully we’ll see some resolution to these questions as the new Amazing Spider-Man gets rolling, I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Al Sjoerdsma (reviewer of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up) :

I’ve always been willing to give the big changes a chance but I wasn’t sure about this one. Doc Ock has never been one of my favorite villains. He is now. Otto as Spider-Man was one of the great villain turns, made even more villainous by the fact that Otto thought he was doing good. It was more than just the brutal beatings of bad guys in the name of justice (to which we were introduced right off the bat with Boomerang in Superior Spider-Man #1) or the decision to kill a serial killer to prevent him killing again (Massacre in Superior Spider-Man #5, Alistair Smythe in Superior Spider-Man #13) but the plan to carpet Manhattan with spider-bots, intruding on people’s privacy in the name of keeping them safe. These issues of self-defense, right to privacy, protection from terrorism are hotly-debated issues and keep imprinting on our lives from Bernard Goetz to 9/11 to the Patriot Act to Stand Your Ground. SpOck takes the opposing view that Peter Parker took and that alone makes the scenario fascinating. But because he is a super-villain at heart, Otto doesn’t stop there. He creates a hide-out, he hires henchmen, he blackmails J. Jonah Jameson, he builds giant robots. He also cleans Peter’s life up, earning a Ph.D. and starting a company, but in such a cold and ruthless fashion, it makes it feel like an error. Through it all, we root for him in spite of his arrogance, in spite of his brutality. Why do we do that? Is it because troubled characters are inherently interesting? Is it because we’re programmed to support whomever is labeled the “hero” no matter how villainous he may be? These kinds of questions have been asked before in comics but not with Spider-Man. Spider-Man was always a sweetheart. All of his allies (and some of his enemies) relied on this. Until he was not.

For me, these undercurrents were the backbone of the series and they, fortunately, never went away. But the plots sagged in the middle issues when Dan Slott got into the rut of bringing in characters that had known Spidey-as-Peter and showing their reaction to Spidey-as-Otto. We saw Spider-Man 2099, the Black Cat, Stunner, and Flash Thompson/Venom in rapid succession. I tired of this format and started to tire of the series but it perked up again when Goblin Nation took center-stage. What a shame that it crashed so severely in its final issue.

The problem with the series was always Peter, interestingly enough. Ghost Peter in the early issues was unnecessary and annoying. I’ve heard that he was not Slott’s idea but was imposed by Editorial. In that case, I’d love to know what Slott’s idea was to bring Peter back. It had to have been better than what transpired. None of this made sense to me. So, Peter’s consciousness is still in his brain even though Otto swapped minds with him? But wasn’t Peter swapped into Otto’s brain? Didn’t he die in there? Is Slott saying consciousness can be divided, parceled out, and still remain whole in each division? To make matters worse, on page 3 of this issue, Peter tells Carlie, “I’m back and I can prove it! When Ock swapped minds with me, when I was in his body, I told you. You didn’t believe me, and you took a shot at me.” But how does he know this? Because isn’t this Peter the remnant of Pete that remained in his brain without going to Otto’s brain? Or are we now saying that, when Octavius’ body died, Peter’s consciousness zipped back to his own brain where it was submerged by Otto’s consciousness? However you choose to look at this, it’s a mess. And, sadly, so is #31. I don’t object to Otto sacrificing himself for Peter’s return. It means he finally gained what he was lacking, compassion and sacrifice, and in this way became the hero he always thought he was being. But how can the final issue of Superior Spider-Man not feature the Superior Spider-Man? After all the waves Otto caused as Spidey, Peter, sadly, seems a little dull and this story follows suit. And what was the deal with the Goblin reveal? There was enough interest in who might be under the Goblin mask this time that Spiderfan even did a Vote. Turns out he was Norman Osborn but we didn’t even get the satisfaction of a good Norman image. No, we got some guy who’s been in past issues, I suppose, but I couldn’t remember him. When Spidey says, “I have absolutely no idea who you are,” I’m right there with him. Oh, but no, “I am Norman Osborn,” the Goblin replies, only I now look like some forgettable guy from sometime before. Thud. That’s the word to describe the whole of the final issue. Thud. Let’s hope that isn’t the word to describe the new Amazing Spider-Man. I miss Otto already.