Superior Spider-Man #1: Peter Parker and the Heel Turn Hero

"Heel turn" is a term commonly used in professional wrestling. It's when a guy that people generally like and root for, a "face," does a 180 and starts doing nasty things. Like cheating when the ref isn't looking, making foul moves in secret.

The same can be applied to super-comics. In fact, I think that Marvel has been doing this for a number of their titles, for the past two decades. Like, remember the time Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin Norman Osborn, donned Iron Man's suit but in the colors of the American Flag and became the Iron Patriot? Or, the time that Norman as the Iron Patriot started his own group of Avengers, called the Dark Avengers and the fictional public had no problem with it? Or more recently, how about the time Captain America was revealed to actually be an Agent of H.Y.D.R.A.??

The latest kick I'm on is this idea of the heel turn, applied to Spider-Man. It happened several years ago, but still it happened. Peter Parker was fighting a dying Dr. Octopus and, in a final climactic battle, Dr. Octopus's switched bodies with Peter Parker. But here's a twist -- Otto also gained the memories of Peter Parker, including the great lesson on power and responsibility. So when he took the mantle of Peter Parker, he knew that he must also take the mantle of Spider-Man. But he wouldn't make the same mistakes as Peter did. Instead, he would be better at crime-fighting, better at protecting his loved ones -- a Superior Spider-Man.

Which brings us to the first issue of Superior Spider-Man (2013).
by Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, and Giuseppe Camuncoli

Superior opens up with a great page. Four panels. Spider-Man died. Otto wants to be a better Spider-Man now. Let's go fight bad guys.

That's exactly what he does. It's a whole new Sinister Six, composed of Overdrive, Boomerang, Shocker, the Living Brain, Beetle, and Speed Demon, and they're making a heist on a science lab, stealing a barometric oscillator. Yeah, I barely know these bad guys, and it doesn't really matter what they're stealing either. It's in how Spider-Man handles it that's interesting here.

Every difference here hits you like fresh air, telling you that this isn't your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He brutally slashes Boomerang with the claws on his gloves. He runs away from the Sinister Six when they start overpowering him. 

It's all of the power, but barely any of the responsibility. The cognitive dissonance is deafening. The costume is a little different, but it's still Spider-Man, isn't it? How could he do this? How could they let him do this?

Superior drew a lot of ire initially, for this dramatic change. Fans wrote letters in outrage, that they were sickened to see Peter Parker die in the body of one of his greatest nemeses, spat on by his loved ones and desecrated so easily. I felt the same way a while ago too. Back when Peter made a deal with Mephisto, the lord of the Underworld, to trade his marriage for the safety of his Aunt May. It was such a jarring change for me. It was then that I learned, Spider-Man wasn't just a character. He was a property owned by a company, the purpose of which was to keep selling merchandise. And a Peter Parker that was married wasn't profitable, so they changed it, forcefully.

My opinion on that story hasn't changed. It's despicable, and does no justice to the character I've grown up with and admired. Superior is different -- we still get to see "Peter Parker," only it's through the perspective of his nemesis, Otto Octavius. Peter's life was so rich because he had a life both with the mask and without, and that's no different with Superior Peter. He's hard at work in his job at Horizon Labs, astounding his boss with a quote-unquote "Magnificent" project. But still, he'll never get the proper credit for it as Otto:

Ultimately in the issue "Peter" devises a genius strategy to take down the Sinister Six. Just like Peter would have done, he stuck a tracer on them in their initial encounter, but instead of following them to their lair, he listens in on their conversations and plans his attack. This even frees up his time to have dinner with Mary Jane -- a task that Peter would have had far too much guilt over to skip hunting down supervillains.

Another difference: "Peter" calls in both the police and the Daily Bugle, to see firsthand his takedown of the Sinister Six. He sets up a street-wide web blockade and has a solution for each member of the Sinister Six and, when he has the leader pinned down, he yells in a fit, punching him between exclamations,
I GET TO WIN!
I'M beating the Sinister Six! And EVERYONE is going to see it!
And they'll get the message! THIS is what happens...
...when you cross THIS Spider-Man!
His knuckles get bloodier with every panel, and Boomerang yelps, with blood and fear in his eyes, "Please.... don't!" Until finally, someone's hand stops him. It can only be explained as, the ghost of Peter Parker?!?

What a brilliant twist. Somehow, Peter's consciousness, or some kind of Peter's sensibility, remains in Peter Parker's body. There's still hope for our hero yet, in this heel turn hero.

As a reader, there's the seed of an internal conflict here. "Peter" in this issue was able to have dinner with a loved one, uninterrupted. The Peter we traditionally know wouldn't have been able to keep that appointment. "Peter" in this issue devised a plan that made Spider-Man a force to reckon with, and fear, for criminals. But at the same time, "Peter" is acting in a brutal manner that's beyond admiration. He even borders on cruel to his coworkers.

So, who will "win"? The Peter we know, or the Peter we just met? These conflicts and more are explored in the next 32 issues. I hope you'll stick around for the ride!

Read about the Superior Spider-Saga:

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