(Marvel Comics, 2013)
Review by Kenneth Kimbrough
Writer: Christos Gage
Pencils and Colors: Javier Rodriguez
Inks: Alvaro Lopez
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Now that’s more like it! As of late, my complaint with the Superior Spider-Man is that I haven’t felt very much drama in the books. The superhero battles tend to be one-sided in favor of Spider-Ock, and the beats among his supporting cast aren’t given enough room to breathe. Spider-Ock is a jerk, certainly. But there are only so many times that card can be played before it starts to wear on readers. It also doesn’t help that the Green Goblin, Carlie and Mary Jane subplots keep choking out the main stories, severely limiting the amount of time we spend with Spidey’s more immediate situation. But not so in The Superior Spider-Man Annual #1, penned by Christos Gage (Avengers Academy) with pencils and colors by Javier Rodriguez (Daredevil).
In this issue, Gage gives us a more streamlined narrative with only a few elements to keep track of. The issue opens with a shady business deal between one of the Kingpin’s lackeys—finding himself jobless after the apparent death of his employer in Superior Spider-Man #14—and pale, demonic Ghost Rider baddie, Blackout (he was in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, in case you’re one of the other four people who saw it). Needless to say, this doesn’t work out well for one of them. Guess who it is.
Meanwhile, the only members of Parker’s regular cast we have to keep track of are Jameson Sr. and Aunt May, which is a nice change of pace from the frankly crowded regular book. Following Peter’s attempt to begin Parker Industries, Jameson Sr. expresses some concern about Pete’s ties to Spider-Man. This gives a surprisingly smooth chance for Gage to deliver some exposition to readers who’ve missed out on recent developments, such as the underworld discovering that Spidey gets his tech from Parker—which leads us to the focus of our issue.
The main thrust of this annual is that, in an attempt to boost his street cred, Blackout kidnaps Aunt May to get Peter to sabotage Spidey’s equipment. Unbeknownst to Blackout, Spider-Ock is far more vindictive than his predecessor. When done right, I rather enjoy seeing Spider-Ock’s more methodical approach to situations. He checks his bases with Danny Ketch and considers enlisting Doctor Strange in the fight. But at the end of the day, most of the tension results from knowing that Spider-Man is coming for the bad guy, and that it’s not going to be pretty when he gets there. As expected, Spidey quickly tracks down Blackout to an abandoned meat factory, where he proceeds to punch the supervillain in the face. The fight is executed exceptionally well through both Rodriguez’s art and Gage’s scripting. There are small moments to the fight where the odds are reversed, and I’m glad to see Spidey struggle for the first time in a while.
Of course Spider-Man wins, but he doesn’t just stop at rescuing Aunt May. Instead, he decides to use this moment to send the underworld a message—mess with Parker, and Spider-Man will tear you apart, literally in this case. What Spider-Man does to Blackout is rather grisly, and in another colorist’s hands, this would be an unbearably dark issue. But Rodriguez’s brighter palette and Lopez’s thick inks keep this issue from completely crossing that line. In the solicits, this issue was touted as an annual that matters, and if that’s true, I can see Spider-Man becoming a monster, maybe even long enough for Peter proper to come back and pick up the pieces. If that’s the case, and Dan Slott (who didn’t pen this one) can deliver more streamlined stories like this annual, then I’m more excited than ever to be a Spider-Man fan.