With Spidey and the Sub-Mariner on the cover, it looks like we’re back to an actual team-up. Last time, after being a big part of the problem and no part of the solution, the Superior Spider-Man realized that he was an “arrogant, narcissistic, self-deluded man.” As this story begins, he hasn’t improved his self-image.
The Superior Spider-Man stands over the spot where “Dr. Octopus” died in Amazing Spider-Man #700 and considers himself a failure. He recalls that he put the Sinister Six under his control to form his own team after the Avengers put him on probation. “My ego could not conceive of even the possibility that something could go wrong,” he thinks. But, of course, it did go wrong and SpOck was nearly responsible for the deaths of millions. Two police officers try to bring him in for questioning. (For what? Is this something I should remember?) Filled with doubt that he can ever be a proper Spidey, Otto agrees to turn himself in. But not to the police. He swings away to turn himself in to the Avengers, where he plans to confess that he is Otto Octavius.
Instead he encounters Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, on fire and falling from the top floor of a building. Men dressed as panthers, “Wakandans, by their garb but with cloaking devices and guns,” pursue him. (There may be one or two of you out there that don’t know that the hero known as the Black Panther is the King of Wakanda.) SpOck watches disinterestedly. As far as he is concerned, “Namor is insufferable and…he smells of stinking fish.” He soon realizes that Namor “can’t see his adversaries in their cloaked form,” but decides that, “this has nothing to do with me.” Or so he says, but his actions speak otherwise. Using the excuse that “they are between me and Avengers Tower,” Spidey intervenes. He starts his usual bragging with “Surrender now, or face the wrath of the…the…,” then realizes he is reverting to type and lamely finishes with, “Eh, just surrender or be beaten severely.” But SpOck has stumbled upon one of the few heroes who is more arrogant than he is. Namor tells him, “I have no need of your assistance, insect. This is well in hand.” Spidey points out that a spear has pierced the Sub-Mariner’s leg. This doesn’t faze Namor who disputes Spidey’s every contention from “We need to move,” to “You need medical attention,” to “You can’t even walk.” Finally, the web-slinger snags Namor with some webbing and yanks him away from five more panther-garbed foes.
Once away, Namor tells Spidey about the atrocities he committed in Wakanda that brought about their war with Atlantis. (This, I believe, was in the dreadful Avengers vs. X-Men mini-series.) When Spidey suggests that Namor could have gone to the Avengers for help, the Sea King replies, “I do not require their assistance or interference…I take responsibility for my actions. This is what men do.” Spidey confesses that, “By trying to take responsibility for my actions, I nearly brought ruin to the city. I thought I was better than the Avengers…But as it turns out, if anything, I am inferior. My days as a hero are over. Soon I will be Spider-Man no more.” In response, Namor laughs derisively. “If you wished validation for what a simpering fool you are, you came to the right person,” Namor says.
But then the panther-garbed warriors attack. In the ensuing battle, SpOck does much better than Namor. “I may not be Spider-Man,” he thinks, “or a hero. I still know how to be a villain. I know how to crush my enemies.” With the enemies crushed, the heroes discover that the panther-men are robots. Spidey knows that “T’Challa [the Black Panther] would not send machines.” Namor realizes that, “Someone is trying to take advantage of our war.” One of the automatons announces that self-destruction is initiated. Namor proposes they leave the scene before the explosion but Spidey is determined to deactivate the machine, saving hundreds of lives. With seconds to spare, SpOck deactivates the bomb. Namor tells him, “Your days as a hero are over, you told me. And if the Spider-Man I once knew told me that, I would agree with him. I’ve heard the stories about you. That’s you’d become hardened, uncompromising, vicious, even. You doubt yourself? Don’t. Never forget…you are better than the sheep you protect. People are weak. Even the Avengers for all their idealism…they are weak…Never apologize. Never surrender. For what I witnessed here was not weakness. It was superiority.” SpOck’s response is to cold-cock Namor and tell him, “You put all these people in danger with your moronic war. This is my city, do you understand, you miserable merman? Stay out of it!” And he swings away but not to Avengers Tower. Namor’s words have had an affect. “To think I was going to surrender to the Avengers, those simpletons,” he thinks, “I was a fool to think that I was anything less than the greatest hero to walk the face of this planet The city needs Spider-Man. No, not Spider-Man. The Superior Spider-Man.”
The good news is that this continues to be the Superior Spider-Man book to read, mostly because of Chris Yost’s adept handling of Otto’s character progression…or regression as the case may be. In its own small way, this issue is something of a tragedy. It begins with Otto understanding that his super-villain mentality and arrogance nearly caused countless deaths and it ends with him repressing that understanding and returning to his “Superior Spider-Man” delusion. It is, perhaps, too convenient a coincidence that he runs into, perhaps, the one “hero” who is more arrogant than he and who will view his defects as assets. But what the heck? It’s comics. There’s been plenty worse coincidences than this. And besides, SpOck may have come to the same conclusion even without Namor. It is clear that he prefers to indulge his arrogance, as seen by his dislike of Namor (“To think that he claims dominion over more than half the Earth,” he says almost jealously.) and his initial vow to deny assistance. (And you’ve got to love the “smells of stinking fish” line.) Chris presents us with a man who is so innately arrogant that he remains arrogant even when he realizes it is a bad thing to be arrogant. The only way out of this crisis of confidence for a man who cannot help but be arrogant is to decide that being arrogant is not a bad thing after all.
This is my first exposure to Will Sliney’s artwork. Page one is an instant eye-catcher with Spidey enclosed in shadow as the headlights of NYC taxis sweep by behind. His web-slinging and fight scenes feel full of movement; something that is always an asset to a Spider-Man comic and I love the reflections in SpOck’s eye lenses that appear throughout the book. But the lines on Namor’s face are a little weird. It seems that Will does better with masks than with faces.
The bad news is that this is Chris Yost’s last issue. Chris has been the best Superior Spider-Man writer, with an unsurpassed understanding of the character. I’d love to see Kevin Shinick do as well or better but I wouldn’t count on it. Losing Chris may mean losing a reason to keep following this character at all.
What keeps this issue from a higher rating is that the plot is a bit thin, the animosity between Namor and Wakanda is barely explained, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with recent Marvel Universe events, and the source of the robots is not given. But it’s still an important and revealing sequence in Otto’s life. Well done, Chris. I’m going to miss your work on this comic.