In December 2012, Marvel did the unthinkable - they killed off Peter Parker! Yes, after 50 years, our wall-crawling hero was undergoing one of his biggest status quo changes since the Clone Saga. This time, one of Peter's greatest enemies had got the better of him and Dr Octopus had won.
Otto Octavius was dying. His body was weak and frail, so he devised a plan to prolong his life. He planned to swap brains with the younger, healthier Spider-Man. In Amazing Spider-Man #698, we discover that this has indeed happened and Peter must frantically try to regain control of his body. Two issues later, after discovering he has access to all of Otto's memories, Peter finally succumbs and is defeated. But before he breathes his last breath, he realises that in this moment his mind and Otto's are linked. In an effort to prevent Otto ruining his reputation, he bombards him with memories of his time as Spider-Man and delivers him the message "With great power there must also come, great responsibility".
Otto instantly changes his outlook and vows to continue Peter's legacy, only in a much better way. He will become... The Superior Spider-Man! This was one of the most controversial comic stories of recent times, so much so that Dan Slott, the writer, received death threats. But I want to argue that ultimately, Superior Spider-Man was one of the best things to happen to Spider-Man in recent times.
A Vastly Different Spider-Man
The Superior Spider-Man was a much different hero to Peter. He was much more efficient and tactical, in comparison to Peter being more righteous and feeling a huge sense of responsibility. He built a fleet of Spider-bots to patrol the city, each informing him of the events around the city. He would use this information to decide which crimes required his attention, while also having a direct line to the police to deal with any smaller crimes. Hell, perhaps one of the biggest differences between Peter and Otto was that J Jonah Jameson actually liked Otto's Spidey!
He developed a reputation for being merciless after he shattered the Scorpion's jaw and blinded the vulture. Gone were the trademark wisecracks and instead, we saw tactical thoughts from Otto. Perhaps his most drastic action was killing the serial killer, Massacre. Peter is of the opinion that he will never, ever kill someone, but Otto took the decision that killing one man would save the lives of many. While holding Massacre at gunpoint, Peter's spirit was begging Otto not to pull the trigger, but it is no use. Otto kills Massacre. Peter believes that everyone can be saved - there is ALWAYS hope because people can change, he believes in everyone and this is why we love him.
Superior Spider-Man was also able to offer a redemption for Otto Octavius. For many years, he was a thorn in Spider-Man's side and now, we could see how he would play the hero. He clearly had a different view on how a great responsibility comes with having great power and it was a joy to read. He did use some classic supervillain techniques including building a lair and having henchmen, but he also performed some heroic acts as well. Otto performs lifesaving surgery on a small girl in order to acquire some equipment from the vigilante Cardiac. At the time, Peter is skeptical and fears that Otto will kill the girl instead of saving her. He is proven wrong, though the equipment allows Otto to discover the lingering spirit of Peter Parker inside his mind.
This leads us on to the excellent Superior Spider-Man #9, wherein Otto seeks to banish Peter once and for all. In order to maintain the ruse to the outside world that he was Peter Parker, Otto had retained Peter's memories after the brain swap. Little did he know that this would keep a small fragment of Peter's memories behind and after discovering this, he ventures into his own mind to eliminate it. After battling Peter as both Doctor Octopus and the Superior Spider-Man, he eventually wins by telling Peter that he was irresponsible when he tried to prevent Otto from performing surgery on the girl. His hesitation, though only for a moment, meant that Peter was not worthy to be Spider-Man. The final scene when Peter slowly loses his memories is truly heartbreaking, which makes his ultimate return immensely satisfying...
A Love Letter to Peter Parker
As soon as it was released, the whole world knew that Peter Parker would eventually return. But in the interim, we were taken on an extremely fun ride. Otto managed to be a worthy Spider-Man and he even managed to improve Peter's personal life. He gained his doctorate and started his company. He even fell in love, which was beautifully shown in his final act. What Superior Spider-Man managed to do was show the world the true value of Peter Parker, and exactly what made him such a great hero. After finally discovering Peter's presence had reemerged, Otto realised where he had gone wrong.
I didn't really comprehend what I was in for. I was arrogant... No. It's more than that. We've both been in each other's heads. We know the truth. I'm arrogant, yes, but it's because I know... Underneath it... That I'm not the best. I'm flawed. So I overcompensate. But you... You're guilt-ridden because, deep down, you know you are smarter than others. Better. But it came at a painful price. So you sabotage yourself. That won't happen today. You said it yourself. When lives are at stake, you don't hesitate. Today, you will own up to it. Today you most accept that you... Are superior. The superior hero. That is what we all need. That, and nothing less.
Otto accepting that sometimes you can't always take the best, most logical route to being a hero was a true redemption for him. It also showed the world Peter's true qualities. He may be flawed, but ultimately, he never backed down. He fought impossible odds sometimes, but his indomitable will drives him on. Peter is relatable BECAUSE of his failings, not because he is invincible. Superior Spider-Man allowed us all to see that sometimes being the most efficient hero ends up messing everything up (see Goblin Nation!), and allowed us to see that after everything else, Peter was the Superior Spider-Man and deserves the adoration fans give him and will continue to give him for years to come!