During Dan Slott’s decade-long tenure as the primary scribe of Marvel's Spider-Man comics, he made some bold choices regarding character development; moves that were often quite divisive among fans. One of the more impactful revelations involved the iconic villain Doctor Otto Octavius, whose consciousness inhabited the body of Peter Parker in order to become the Superior Spider-Man.
Now, this is not the first time the character has jumped the rails and taken a hard left into Crazyville (remember "The Clone Saga"?), nor will it be the last time Spider-Man will be subjected to such insanity -- Spider-Geddon is looming, after all. Despite what on paper sounds like the most ridiculous thing that could happen to ol’ Web-Head, Doc Oc’s Superior Spider-Man earned his own ongoing series and was a hit with fans and critics.
No matter how strange the events of the comics become, the norm that has defined Peter Parker for the better part of a century always comes swinging back around. This is not to say the goofier elements of what makes the character so much fun are ever completely purged. In fact, the more fantastical story arcs involving Spider-Man often expound on his strongest attributes. Thankfully, the craziness that many fans gravitated toward during Superior Spider-Man are on full display in Superior Octopus #1. But how well do they play for readers? Pretty good, for the most part.
After a chain of events which included death, rebirth, clones, Hydra recruitment and taking up a new secret identity, it's inarguable that Otto Octavius has been put through the wringer. Long gone are the days of a pudgy, octopedal maniac with a bad haircut (well, the bad haircut is still kind of there) terrorizing the citizens of New York City. As the Superior Octopus, Doc Ock utilizes the abilities of his clone body and his deep understanding of science to become a hero...and a pretty damn good one at that.
Writer Christos N. Gage does a fine job of balancing these two halves of the character. Octavius’ dry, analytical dialogue stands hilariously in stark contrast to the manner in which the characters surrounding him speak. His complete lack of humor is actually one of the funniest parts of Superior Octopus #1.
Unfortunately, much of the word count in the issue is eaten up by exposition, which reveals the obvious problem with the character of Superior Octopus: he might be too idiosyncratic for a lot of readers. Despite this comic touting a big #1 on the cover, it's really the latest chapter in a long saga. For more well-known characters in the cultural consciousness, this wouldn’t be an issue. When Amazing Spider-Man #1 launched early this year, very little information was needed going in. Even new readers got a sense of what was happening and could fill in the blanks using context clues. Superior Octopus #1 does not always afford such luxury. This by no means makes it a bad comic, but it does take away from it being a great comic.
The idea of Octavius’ past transgressions coming back to bite him in the butt is a great idea for a new series featuring the character, but for a new reader, the weight of how dire the situation is does not shine as brightly as it could. Gage does an admirable job navigating the quagmire the character’s past calls home, so the shortcomings of this issue are not on the writer’s shoulders. Gage even goes so far to employ some pretty thrilling actions scenes and set pieces (one involving a villain who just can’t seem to stay dead).
The art team of Mike Hawthorne, Wade Von Grawbadger and Jordie Bellaire render the book well enough. The aforementioned action sequences are exciting to look at and dynamic lens through which Octavius is framed when he’s bounding across rooms with tentacles splayed are fantastic. The only negative would be at times the sense of place is not always well rendered. Even with establishing panels employed, the notion of being in different environments don’t standout. This is a minor quibble, but it does diminish from the overall experience of the book.
Despite the character being mired in contrived events, Superior Octopus #1 is an enjoyable experience from both a visual and narrative standpoint, but it is certainly not for the uninitiated.