With all the icky potentially-rapey stuff put to bed with the baloney-bopping last issue, it seems we may be able to move on with a body-switching hijinks story in Superior Spider-Man #3 instead of fretting about just how skeevy a supervillain will get while inhabiting the body of a superhero. That helps make this issue the best so far of this controversial experiment, because we can see the true reformation of Otto Octavius beginning as he squares off against the Vulture.
It's not all wacky, of course, as this is still a much darker tale than Dan Slott usually spun in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, but opening with a web-splurt in the face of the Batman mythos kicks us off with comedy. It seems Mayor J. Jonah Jameson has commissioned a spider-signal to try and get the more cooperative Superior Spider-Man to be at his beck and call. Of course, Otto immediately destroys it, claiming it's "a giant beacon in the sky, announcing to all my enemies where they can find me. Only an idiot would put that into effect." However, with some cunning reverse psychology, he gets JJJ eating out of his hand, and full access and approval to work with the NYPD – something at which the ghostly astral form of the real Peter Parker still present in the mind-meld marvels.
The mayor sets him on the case of tracking down the Vulture, who messed with Mary Jane last issue, and who, as we see in flashbacks, was one of the few people in Otto's old life as Dr. Octopus that he could have a real and almost friendly conversation with, given that Adrian Toomes was also a fairly brilliant scientist in his own right. Peter sees this in flashbacks as well, because he's still figuring out how this mind-sharing thing works (as are we). Unfortnately, Peter abandons the surface thoughts to start digging around in Otto's mind to see if there's anything he can use to aid his plight, leaving Otto to go about hunting the Vulture, with a potentially murderous intent.
Not that it starts out that way. When Otto confronts the Vulture, he actually makes him an offer he shouldn't be able to refuse – all Adrian ever wanted was the One Big Score, and Otto barges into his lair and essentially says "I will give you fifty million dollars if you quit all this criminal malarkey." Of course, Toomes thinks its all just jokes, and commands his minions to attack, and in the midst of defending himself, Otto realizes the true horror of the Vulture – he's using children as his masked goons now. Given Otto's childhood full of parental abuse, that completely changes the game. There's a powerful moment when he quietly mutters "You made me strike a child." The old friendship is out the window. and things get brutal.
This is the issue that turns the corner for me, making this less about watching an awful person shatter a life and threaten to shatter others, but more about the shifting perspective of a bad guy while living the life of a good man. It's the growing pains of a reformation, a reluctant but perhaps inexorable turn away from self-absorption and nihilism. We're on the path to something new, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We still have no clue how this is going to end – will Otto gain enough conscience to figure out a way to restore Peter to his natural body, at the cost of ending his own life, or will he figure out a way to separate himself – perhaps wih the help of one of the Jackal's clones- and become a Superior Spider-Man independent of the Amazing one? With Venom and the Scarlet Spider running around, that might be overkill, but it could also be interesting and a much more palatable way to continue his hero's journey, without robbing us of Peter Parker's adventures as well.
Technically, this is still a Peter Parker adventure – just a really strange one where he's not going to get to save any days for months. In the interim, there IS a very compelling angle here, watching a superhero function with a supervillain's approach to problem solving – buying off your enemies instead of fighting them, contingency plans after contingency plans, etc. Slott is still writing good stories – they're just very uncomfortable stories. Sometimes, that makes for icky things, like last issue, but other times, it gets to the heart of how difficult it is for broken people to change their stripes.
Perhaps if the people very put out by this whole story arc can start reading here, bypassing all the ick, they might be hooked enough to check in for the long haul. Perhaps.