“Superior Spider-Man” #9 by Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman is an expanded metaphysical struggle between Peter Parker and Doc Ock for total control of Parker’s body and life as Spider-Man.
In “Amazing Spider-Man” #700, Doc Ock took over Peter Parker’s body, and at the time, his victory was seemingly complete. However, in Superior Spider-Man” #1-8, it was quickly revealed that Ock’s control was not total, as he was plagued by the wraith-like voice of Peter Parker. Inexplicably, Parker would even sometimes be able to wrest brief and limited motor control of his body back.
In “Superior Spider-Man” #9, Slott has Ock confront and determine the source of this flaw in his “new body.” Parker and Ock then proceed to have a confrontation within Peter Parker’s mind, like a street fight over territory, except the city streets are a metaphysical representation of Parker’s mind. This “Battle in the Center of the Mind” with its landscape/dreamscape and its symbolic weapons of memories and loved ones is a well-known and very stale trope. The concept has been played out in numerous comics, video games and movies — “Inception” being a recent and particularly complicated example. Slott adds nothing new, and it’s eye-rollingly predictable when Parker and Ock each bring out their “homies” to back them up.
Stegman’s page and panel compositions are dynamic and his technique of having a page of fragment-like scattered panels lead up to a larger “reveal” panel works well for pacing and rhythm. While Stegman’s facial expressions lack subtlety, it could be the stakes of Slott’s script instead of an intrinsic lack of emotional range. Delgado’s choice to make the mental battleground a monochromatic green falls in line with standard cinematic choices for mental landscapes, but his colors also keep Ock and Spider-Man easily distinguishable in the scene when both characters are in the Spider-Man costume.
The best moment of Slott’s script is the moment when Ock forces Peter Parker to acknowledge his less-than-heroic motivations when he stopped Ock from operating on a young girl. It’s a wily mental chess move by Ock, and Parker’s anguished — yet finally honest — reaction is the most emotionally genuine moment in “Superior Spider-Man” #9.
The conclusion shortly after this scene is meant to be a cliffhanger, but it is predictable again, and in the overarching plot, all it serves to do is reset the suspense-o-meter back to the end of “Amazing Spider-Man” #700.
Earlier issues of “Superior Spider-Man” were worthwhile in their exploration of Ock’s moral journey as he tried to define his version of being a hero. Unfortunately, too much of “Superior Spider-Man” #9 feels like a derivative exercise in stretching out suspense. Now that Slott has finalized this chapter of Doc Ock and Peter Parker’s battle, perhaps future issues will show a return to stronger characterization and a lighter tone.