A potential argument against Marvel demoting Peter Parker to a supporting character is that a similar story could be done without the new protagonist taking the place of the most popular character. Doctor Octopus could become a hero in his own title, without Marvel artificially inflating sales by making his book the new Spider-Man title. So that got me thinking about the appeal of new characters in old roles. And it hit me: Superior Spider-Man is like a cover song.
You have some familiar elements, like the power set, supporting cast and the rogues gallery. But there’s a twist to it. He’ll use his abilities differently. In the same setting with the same tools, he’ll respond to supporting characters and guest stars in ways that Peter Parker never would.
So it’s like hearing a new version of a song you like. The Jimi Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower,” the Bruce Springsteen version of “Chimes of Freedom” and The Byrds version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” bring a new energy to songs that were pretty good when Bob Dylan sang them. Johnny Cash’s cover of “Solitary Man” presents a new way of considering Neil Diamond’s lyrics. Cash’s “Hurt” and “I Hung My Head” have supplanted the originals, though Spider-Ock is unlikely to replace Peter Parker in quite the same way.
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” is a fantastic song. But the version from Across the Universe is a revelation, even if it’s not quite on the same level. It causes you to consider the music from an entirely different perspective. The Beatles were always going to get the girl, but what if the song comes from someone who doesn’t have a chance?
With someone else in Peter’s shoes, we get new insights into Spider-Man and his world. When Spock knocked Scorpion’s jaw off, it was a reminder of what happens when that power is in the wrong hands. Slott has spoken of the meta aspects of the story, and how he flipped the board, so that the world trusts Spider-Man again, but the reader is more than suspicious. He’s exploring major themes in the Spider-Man comics from a new angle.
In comics, this has previously worked best in Ed Brubkaer’s Captain America and Morrison’s Batman and Robin. The former featured Bucky going through the same things Steve Rogers went through in the Silver Age, as he fought to avenge his partner, and got used to modern life when so much had changed since World War 2. In the latter, Dick Grayson became the new Batman while Damian Wayne, son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul, became the new Robin. That was probably the most fun, just because of how different Damian Wayne was from Batman’s earlier sidekicks. Morrison also inverted the relationship, so that he had a Robin much grimmer than Batman. When Bruce Wayne returned as Batman, Tomasi and Gleason have used Batman and Robin to explore what had previously been a master-apprentice partnership as a true father-son relationship. The Damian Wayne Robin was also a welcome addition to the Teen Titans.
One of the things that makes supervillains who have the same powers as the hero so interesting is the ability to feature similar situations with different characters. The Evil Counterparts use their abilities in ways that the hero never would. Moriarity shows readers what would happen if Sherlock Holmes used his mind for nefarious purposes. The Abomination demonstrates what the Hulk is capable of if he actually was what he was assumed to be. Writers and artists usually just pit the hero against their dark mirror, but it could be interesting to have heroes fight twisted versions of their allies. The Justice League should sometimes fight evil Kryptonians without Superman’s help.
A cover song doesn’t replace the original, except perhaps in the case of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” But it can add to one’s appreciation of it. That could happen here. An interesting wrinkle with Superior Spider-Man is that Peter Parker is still around as a bystander. So he gets to see Spider-Man in action from the outside. The character may learn a few things when he eventually regains control of his body.