Dan Slott has become an absolute master of teasing out long-term stories hidden under shorter arcs and this issue of Superior Spider-Man is a fantastic example of him at his best. Ever since Otto “got rid” of his Parker Problem once and for all, the theme of this book has been him overstepping his bounds and overreaching on his ambitions, but without devolving him fully into a cartoonish supervillain. It’s been an amazing balancing act and Slott has kept it up amazingly well for a very, very long time. This issue gives us a great look under the hood at the absolutely amazing relationship between doctoral tutor Anna Maria Marconi, one of my favorite new characters to be introduced into the Marvel U, and Octavius. Their banter is top-notch, but so is their intellectual romance. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however, as Venom (still Flash Thompson) is back in New York and back on the trail of one of his newest, most ruthless foes. But when Spider-Man and Venom clash, neither has any idea what they’re in for.
Part of what makes the relationship between Anna Maria and Octavius so heartwarming are the pencils by Humberto Ramos, who certainly isn’t known for subtlety, but a little melodrama never hurt anyone and sometimes it’s refreshing to see massive, grinning smiles as well as baleful, sinister scowls so prominently featured, particularly among Ramos’ signature hyper-kinetic panels that turn every conversation into a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross. Victor Olazaba has the unenviable task of reining in these wild visuals and does so with incredible deftness and even makes it look easy. And as much credit as I give the pencils, Edgar Delgado’s colors absolutely need to be highlighted for making the entire thing leap, bounce and sling off the page. You’d be hard-pressed to find the wall-crawler looking better.
I realize it’s a well-worn trope, but Spidey getting pulled away from stuff at inopportune times has practically graduated to a meta-joke, and in fact there’s even a reference to it made in this issue. It doesn’t really serve to heighten any tensions, and comes off as something of a cheap shot. I’m not a fan of Venom sort of just “showing up,” even if I am happy to see him (and Slott does a fine job writing him) even if it is to pursue a loose end from his solo series. I wouldn’t have minded taking an issue to have him arrive and give it a little more weight.
I continue to enjoy every issue of Superior Spider-Man that I read. Dan Slott took one of the biggest risks in comics history, but it’s allowing him to tell inventive, amazing stories that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible without a far, far less interesting plot device. This issue is nice because we DO see a lot go Octavius’ way in stark contrast to the usual “Parker Luck,” and the things that are going wrong behind the scenes aren’t bad timing, they’re all of his making so it feels more earned.