As everyone knows by now, Otto ‘Doctor Octopus’ Octavius exchanged bodies with Peter Parker, but in the process, he gained Peter’s sense of responsibility toward those less powerful than he. Otto has dedicated his life to Peter’s cause, and has sworn to be a better Spider-Man than Peter ever was, a ‘superior’ Spider-Man, if you will.
Despite his new superhero status, Otto remains a high-functioning sociopath. Last issue, after being charged by Mayor Jameson to apprehend the non-superpowered pranksters Jester and Screwball, Otto beat and sliced them bloody, an act so depraved in its brutality that even Wolverine was shocked. Unbeknownst to Otto, the Avengers have decided that there may no longer be a place for Spider-Man on the team.
Oh, and Peter Parker is still alive, his consciousness trapped deep in Otto’s mind. He’s aware of what happened with Jester and Screwball, and is determined, more than ever, to take his body back.
|Executive Producer:||Alan Fine|
|Chief Creative Officer:||Joe Quesada|
|Editor In Chief:||Axel Alonso|
|Assistant Editor:||Ellie Pyle|
We open, not with Otto or Peter, but at the HEART Clinic, a free clinic opened on the former site of Martin ‘Mr. Negative’ Li’s FEAST homeless shelter. Li used the site to host the work of his criminal alter ego, and the doctor in charge, Elias Wirtham, has a similar purpose in mind, namely to conceal his own true work as the costumed vigilante Cardiac. Unlike Li, though, Cardiac is a hero, at least in his own mind. He’s using the secret rooms in the building to house a secret free clinic that provides “medical miracles”.
Cardiac watches as his team of doctors work. One pair uses experimental therapy that Cardiac stole to heal a patient’s skin damage. Another pair looks at test results. “Run the same tests again?” says one. “Yes,” says the other. “I think we're getting a false positive. Let’s double check and damn the cost. Damn, it feels good to say that.” Nearby, a trio of doctors decides to “proceed with the artificial transplant”, even though the patient to receive it is “low on every wait list” - which is, one of the doctors says, “exactly why we're here”.
This scene is interesting because, to me at least, it provokes exactly the opposite reaction that I think it is intended to, but I'll save my commentary for the ‘In General’ section below. Let’s keep our focus on Cardiac, who is called into consult on the case of a little girl with severe brain damage. Apparently there’s “only one device on Earth that can help her”; one that Cardiac means to obtain.
Elsewhere, in Peter Parker’s apartment, Otto is sleeping the sleep of the just, much to Peter’s chagrin. With Otto unconscious, Peter sees an opportunity to seize control, but the most he can do without waking Otto is to grasp a pen sitting at bedside. Unfortunately for Peter, he can’t access the language centre of his own brain, and consequently can’t write a message, as he had hoped. The best he can do is sweep the notebook filled with his illiterate scribbles off of the table into the trash bin, and hope Otto will fail to notice the book when he takes out the trash.
Peter is sidelined as Otto wakes up, his slumber broken by the buzzing of his smartphone’s Spider-Man patrol app. Otto web-slings into the night, his destination: Yardale Storage, where we readers know (but not Otto, yet) that the police impound “items seized at superhuman crime scenes”. Naturally this is where Cardiac has gone; he’s used his power staff to stun the police guards, and is searching the poorly-organized facility for his intended prize. Outside, Spider-Man uses his Avengers status to “commandeer” the services of the guards Cardiac stunned initially, who are only now reviving. Spider-Man gives them orders to maintain a perimeter while he enters and subdues the threat.
Inside, the fight goes as you'd expect, with Cardiac no match for Spider-Man’s agility, strength, and willingness to play rough. I know that Cardiac has gone toe-to-toe with Spider-Man in the past (the long past; I think Cardiac’s previous appearance in any Marvel comic book, except for brief cameos, was twenty years before the publication date of this issue) but we readers glean from Peter’s silent monologue that Peter Parker always went easy on the supervillain out of a sense of sympathy with his goals.
Otto, of course, doesn’t share that sympathy, and pops his claws. Before he can give Cardiac the same treatment he gave to Jester and Screwball last issue, Peter ‘shouts’ “STOP RIGHT THERE!” Otto, bewildered, stops, certain he heard something, and Cardiac takes the opportunity to continue the fight. The pair tussle some more, and in the mayhem Cardiac stumbles across the object he came for: a ‘neurolitic scanner’ that the police confiscated from Doctor Octopus! Enraged that Cardiac means to plunder his own work, Otto again piles on to the hapless vigilante, but is again thwarted from dealing the coup de grace by Peter’s interference, who forces what looks like a fatal punch to go astray. With Otto again distracted, Cardiac again sucker-punches Otto, grabs the crate, and flees into the night.
A seething Otto curses at the police officers running the outside perimeter - because, of course, it’s their fault Cardiac escaped - and travels to Horizon Labs, where he means to begin preparing immediately for round 2 with Cardiac. Just before the fight ended, Otto tagged Cardiac with a spider-tracer, not one of Otto’s “nano-spider-tracers... one of Parker’s inferior, bulkier models”. I wonder why Otto bothers to carry those around? So the Superior Spider-Man is able to track down Cardiac, but not ready to do so; his preparations aren’t complete, and more to the point, he’s got a conflict. His Avengers ID card is buzzing, summoning him to Avengers Tower.
At the tower, Spider-Man is confronted by Wolverine, Thor, Captain America, Spider-Woman, and the Black Widow. None are smiling. “This ain’t an emergency, bub. It’s an intervention.”
It seems the Avengers are concerned by the amount of brutal force Spider-Man has been handing out, from the New Sinister Six back in Superior Spider-Man #1, through the Vulture, Massacre, Jester, Screwball, and culminating in Cardiac. Yes, the Avengers already have footage from Yardale Storage. The Avengers are suspicious, as this savagery is clearly out of character. “And that,” says Cap, “is why we’re going to run a full battery of tests to prove you are Spider-Man.”
Peter, observing ethereally, exults that “someone finally noticed! I was starting to think you were all taking stupid pills or something”. Otto, observing physically, is outraged, and tries to leave. When Cap attempts to restrain him, Otto flips out and gives Cap a judo toss.
“That does it,” snaps Spider-Woman. Wolverine pops his claws. The Widow cocks her wrist guns. Thor hefts Mjolnir. “Whoever thou art, stand down! Or face the wrath of the Mighty Avengers!”
“Very well,” says Otto. “Do your worst.”
Oh dear. I've liked all of the issues of SSM to date, but I’m afraid this one falls flat for me. It’s not one big thing, but rather a lot of little things. Let me enumerate:
Firstly, there’s Cardiac’s clinic. I’m sure this sequence is supposed to establish Cardiac’s bona fides as a good man with unorthodox methods. Unfortunately for Dan Slott, it established just the opposite for me. Consider: at his secret free clinic, his doctors use experimental skin therapy to heal a man’s skin problems. They run extra tests. They give a man a transplant who rates low on the priority list. Aren't these all good things?
No, they aren’t. They really aren’t.
Cardiac’s team is using “experimental, untested” gene therapy. By definition, that means this stuff isn't necessarily reliable or helpful. The way you prove that a therapy is reliable or helpful is by carrying out appropriate trials, and no one has done that. If they had, this therapy would be “standard and tested”. Cardiac is essentially using that man as a human test subject without his consent. Whither ethics, or the Hippocratic Oath?
Another set of doctors is running extra tests, and damn the expense! Which sounds very noble, except, of course, this is what doctors in the American health care system do all the time. And why not? It’s not the hospital or the patient that pays those costs, it’s the insurance company that insures the patient. And to cover those costs for unnecessary tests, they charge higher premiums, which impoverishes everyone. Do you want to know why the American health care system soaks up a greater portion of national wealth and individual income than anywhere else in the OECD nations, while delivering worse outcomes? Because of behaviour just like this.
Finally, we've got a team that is giving a man a transplant even though he’s low on a wait list. By definition, that means that someone higher on the wait list - someone with more compatibility or greater need - isn't getting that (admittedly artificial) organ. Cardiac is giving out organs to the people who happen to come to his clinic, who are not the people that the public, democratic system has determined are most in need. There’s a reason that wait list exists, you know. Of course I'm happy the man got a transplant, but I'm upset that it’s at the expense of someone more deserving, just because Cardiac likes to think of himself as a hero. Sorry, Cardiac, this sequence was supposed to make me like you, but instead it made me see you as a narcissist with superpowers. That’s not where the story is supposed to take me.
Secondly, the business with Otto's notepad is strange and pointless, and doesn't pay off in this story. Perhaps it’s setting up a future issue? I hear there may be a major confrontation between Otto and Peter in Superior Spider-Man #9, but as of this writing that issue is still in the future, so we'll have to see. Whatever this scene is supposed to accomplish, it does prompt questions:
Thirdly, this business with the Boneyard, a.k.a. Yardale Storage, is odd. As recently as eight issues ago in ASM #700, we established that the NYPD keeps its supervillain detritus in the basement of Precinct 18. That’s where Peter went during Spider-Island to get Otto’s stuff (ASM #668); that’s also where he went in ASM #700 to get the gold Octo-bot. So why is Otto’s neuralytic whatnot being kept in this site? Presumably because Dan Slott doesn’t want the Spidey-Cardiac fight to happen inside a police station where officers would have to interfere. I can respect that, but I can’t respect the lack of any defensive exposition to clear this inconsistency up. “I thought the police kept my material stored at Precinct 18, but after Parker’s idiotic break-in there in my old body, they must have decided to keep it someplace more secure!” How hard would that have been?
Fourthly, the Spidey-Cardiac fight is dull and repetitive. Otto beats up Cardiac, is about to kill him, Peter interferes and distracts Otto, Cardiac sucker-punches Otto and escapes. Not only is this not new - we’ve seen Otto lose his temper and almost kill a supervillain as recently as last issue - we see it twice in this issue, as the cycle repeats immediately after completing the first time. Yawn.
Fifthly and finally, the last page of the previous issue, as well as the cover of this issue, promise a throwdown between Spider-Man and the Avengers, but we don’t get that. Instead we get strung along for a whole issue, and another tease for that throwdown at the end. I call that manipulative.
This issue is below par for the book to date, but it’s not a bad issue, just a mediocre one. That puts it smack in the middle: three webs.