Spoilers ahead for the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #700, as well as the general idea of Superior Spider-Man
I’d wager a guess that Peter Parker is one of the most famous, recognizable alter-egos in comic books, right up there with the likes of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. Parker’s youth and wit define the Wall Crawler, who’s just as likely to swing from webs as he is to be a wise ass in the face of impending death. It’s safe to say that there couldn’t really be a Spider-Man without Peter Parker behind the mask.
Or could there be?
It’s a question writer Dan Slott has been pondering for over a year in the pages of The Superior Spider-Man, something of an interlude between the end of Amazing Spider-Man with issue #700 and the rebooting of Amazing Spider-Man with next week’s issue #1.
Comic books, am I right?
The Superior Spider-Man sees a dying Doc Ock, in a stroke of villainous genius, switch bodies with Spider-Man, leaving Peter Parker to die in the body of a gross old man while the consciousness of that same gross old man gallivants about in Peter Parker’s nubile young body, assuming both his personal and super-heroic identities and dedicating himself to becoming The Superior Spider-Man.
Hey, that’s the name of the book.
I won’t lie, when I first learned of the aforementioned setup to Superior Spider-Man I immediately wrote it off, because I’m open-minded. Freaky Friday Spider-Man sounded like all of the wrong kinds of silly and ridiculous, the makings of many a retrospective eye-roll.
But I wanted something new to read over the holidays and damned if I didn’t really miss Spider-Man. I gave the first volume of Superior a shot and immediately after I burned a hole in my pocket collecting back issues.
A body swap story could have been the most derivative drivel this side of Top 40 radio, but in Superior Spider-Man Dan Slott took a tired trope and used it as an existential springboard to ask not only what defines both what defines an individual and what defines an iconic superhero whose status in popular culture has far surpassed his comic book origins?
Is Peter Parker a warm body? Is he a mind? Is he a soul? Or is he perhaps a collection of memories and experiences somewhere between all three?
And if the definition of Peter Parker is up in the air, what of Spider-Man? Is the hero defined by his alter-ego? Or perhaps his superpowers? Or is Spider-Man an elemental avatar for personal responsibility?
Classic superheroes go through something of a swap every month.
In any given week Batman could be the concoction of Scott Snyder, or Pete Tomasi, or Grant Morrison. Multiply that by 75 years and hundreds of creators and you have a wealth of different iterations of Batman. And yet whether you’re reading The Dark Knight Returns or The Court of Owls there’s never a question as to whether Batman is Batman because the character is built upon fundamental truths and represents a specific facet of the human experience.
The same can be said for Spider-Man or any other classic superhero worth their legions of fans. Slott’s Superior Spider-Man, much like Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin, is a definitive examination of both the fluidity and resilience of superheroes not as characters, but as ideas.
In the midst of reboot madness, Marvel could have simply ended Amazing Spider-Man #700 one month and turned out Amazing Spider-Man #1 the next. Instead, Dan Slott took Spider-Man on a winding existential journey that tasked readers with defining not only what Spider-Man fundamentally is, but what Spider-Man fundamentally isn’t. And after the events of Superior Spider-Man I’d say the brand has earned a fresh start and a new #1.
One day The Superior Spider-Man is going to be released in its entirety in some monster hardcover collection of all 31 issues for like $60. It will be totally worth it.