If you want your Big Fight Scene to mean something, make it last an entire issue. That’s the plan in Superior Spider-Man #2 anyway, in which Terrax the Tamer is given the weight a destructive cosmic threat like him perhaps deserves. It’s often easy to forget just how powerful these villains are when you only really see them come up against the Fantastic Four, but if 20 pages of the Superior Spider-Man getting his butt handed to him wasn’t enough to prove it, it needs saying here: Terrax the Tamer is a tough cookie.
When you call yourself Superior, it’s inevitable that someone will come along to prove otherwise. Aside from the Inheritors from the Spider-Verse/Spider-Geddon crossovers, Terrax is -- head and shoulders -- the biggest threat Otto has faced in his tenure as a superhero. He’s all alone here too: no interdimensional spider-army coming to lend a hand, so his so-called “superiority” is smeared across the San Francisco sidewalk. It’s clearly a conscious effort by writer Christos Gage to hurl a threat at Otto this early on in the character’s renewed career to really prove where he sits in the pecking order, and it’s all the better for it.
After Terrax touches down on terra firma and nearly kills some innocent bystanders, the Superior Spider-Man arrives and proves how seriously outmatched he is in this situation. By the end of the issue, however, Otto has achieved Doctor Doom-level in his problem-solving skills, and the next chapter in the series will determine if this significant upgrade is the next evolution of his superhero adventures, or if absolute power will corrupt absolutely. The final page is a fun twist on a fairly dour tale, adding a touch of that Marvel Comics nonsense to what was a severely one-sided fight up to that point.
Everyone knows the best Spider-Man stories come from the web-slinger managing to prevail despite the overwhelming odds stacked against him. Superior Spider-Man #2 is nowhere near the masterpiece that is “If This Be my Destiny” from Amazing Spider-Man #32 (aka, Peter lifts a Very Heavy Thing off himself), but that’s hardly a fair comparison. Still, that is the pinnacle of this type of story, and while this perhaps won’t be remembered even as the Superior Spider-Man equivalent of that seminal story, it certainly is a Big Moment in Otto’s career, and one not soon to be forgotten. That’s a credit to the room Gage has given to proving just how out of his depth the titular character is.
The whole issue hinges on this massive fight between cosmic-empowered supervillain and wall-crawling wonder. As such, a lot rides on the power of the artwork and its ability to properly choreograph the conflict. Mike Hawthorne’s pencils are solid, and the layouts show that he can handle action scenes with the best of them. The flow of a good fight scene is so subtly effective when it’s done right, but so jarring when it’s done wrong, that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that if Hawthorne hadn’t been up to the task, this whole issue would have fallen apart.
As it stands, Hawthorne does such a great job that Gage’s dialogue is rendered fairly redundant. Take another look at the issue. Aside from two pages with Anna-Maria Marconi working on a scientific solution to Otto’s problem, every other page so effectively conveys what’s going on that you could remove all of the words and still know exactly what’s going on (even those pages with Anna-Maria would only need minor tweaking). In fact, Superior Spider-Man #2 would arguably have been more affecting and memorable had it been a mostly silent issue. It doesn’t suit the bloated posturing of either of the combatants, mind you, and would have perhaps rang slightly untrue within the fiction, but it would nevertheless have been a brave decision that might have perhaps elevated this issue from good to great.
Inking is handled by Wade von Grawbadger with Victor Olazaba, and the weight of the action is grounded with thick lines and deep shading to add the appropriate level of drama. Jordie Bellaire’s colors are effectively muted for the most part, depicting the battleground with the browns and greys of a warzone, the odd red glow of fires burning in the rubble. Even the brightly-colored costumes aren’t enough to raise the somber tone of the fight scenes, all of which contrasts against the bright, all-encompassing glow of the Power Cosmic when it’s deployed by Terrax, foreshadowing its importance later in the issue.
Superior Spider-Man #2 proves that this series is determined to push Otto further than he’s been pushed before, and rightly so. The original series left fans wanting more from the character, but narratively his arc was done. As such, this series needs to prove why it’s existence is even necessary, something that it achieves to a large degree with issues like this one. There’s no denying that when it comes to threats out of his weight class, Otto, much like Peter Parker and Miles Morales before him, has to rely on his brains rather than his brawn. However, his solution here is to potentially cross a line that the Amazing Spider-Man wouldn’t cross, something that will be fascinating to follow moving forward.