by Christos Gage (Writer), Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez (Artists)

The Story: Blackout tries to blackmail Otto, only to discover what it actually entails.

The Review: I don’t have a particularly bright overview of annual issues. While there have been some pretty stellar examples of good over-sized issues in the last year, there’s just something about them that never really catch my interest. It’s a bit of a prejudiced view on my part, of course, yet there have been a lot of rather sad cases in which those annuals did not do much in terms of important or even fun. With the solicitation of this issue even pinpointing that this issue ”counts”, it wasn’t exactly the best of ways to build up confidence in the strength of this story to begin with.

As it turns out, I was a bit misguided in my cautious pessimism, as Christos Gage prove that his generally good characterization as well as the way he handle the concept of Otto Octavius as Spider-Man makes for a rather entertaining issue all around.

What’s particularly good here is how at ease Gage seems in the new world of Spider-Man as twisted around by Dan Slott, with his version of Spider-Ock being really great. He gets the arrogance and intelligence of the character well, as well as his careful but also violent approach to crime-fighting. The way Otto interacts with his supporting cast as well as some of the other characters from the Marvel universe, like Blackout and Ghost Rider, is a ton of fun, with some moments also making a good deal of sense, like Otto not desiring to contact Dr. Strange in order to protect his identity.

Of course, it’s not just Otto that is written well in this issue, as the secondary characters are also well-presented, with Aunt May, Blackout and Jay Jameson coming out as strong in terms of characterization. Weaving their personal history very well within the story and their interactions, Gage is able to smartly present the development of the series as well as the changing attitude of ”Peter” through these characters.

What is a bit unexceptional, yet mostly work is the story in itself. It is a bit straightforward, with Blackout kidnapping Aunt May as he tries to blackmail Peter Parker into sabotaging the gear of Spider-Man. Of course, this then allows for a good number of scenes in which Gage shows how Otto works, which is in a different way than Peter Parker. The plot moves along well, though, with most scenes getting to point efficiently without delving too much into too big or too convoluted details.

Not everything is great, though, as there is quite a lot of exposition in the beginning. For all it’s worth it does get people up to speed on where this story situates itself in the grand scheme of things, yet it is a good deal of recap for those already initiated to the concept of Superior Spider-Man. The comic can get a bit wordy at times, with a lot of narration boxes along with a lot of dialogue. While it does help set up a lot of the elements of the story, there is perhaps a bit too much of them connected to the fact that Otto really thinks he is a better Peter Parker, with this opinion of the character being brought several time to the forefront. It is part of the character, yet it could have been handled better.

What’s handled quite well is the art, with Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez bringing a certain cartoon sensibility without going overboard. The darker aspect of the character are brought forth in the action and the way Otto acts, with the facial expressions of most characters being expressive enough without being hyperbolized. Some of the expressions are a tad simplistic, yet they do the job just fine, as does the poses and motion behind the characters. Where he excels, though, is with his panel layout, with Rodriguez definitely being great in terms of sequential storytelling. Some scenes like the one dealing with the cell phone given by Blackout and the action scene against the antagonist works really well in terms of narrative flow. This is also helped by the way both artists deal with the various backgrounds and scenery, with some of them being integrated quite well to the page and panel layout. It’s pretty great stuff from the both of them, making it easy to anticipate the work of Rodriguez on the upcoming She-Hulk series.

His coloring is also rather good, with a clear distinction between elements being given thanks to a good use of sharp contrasts. The scene with Blackout and Spider-Ock fighting is a perfect example of this, as the red on Otto’s costume comes as one of the more stand-out elements in a sea of light blue, dark and white, clashing with the rest of these colors on multiple levels to accentuate this precise element. This technique, while used a good number of time in the issue, is not the only one which Rodriguez is aware of, as he is able to convey a certain sense of normalcy in other pages as well. The pages dealing with Otto in the street or at Aunt May’s home are very different from the Spider-Ock pages, with a focus on brighter colors with a low amount of colder one. It does divide the point-of-view rather well, creating a distinction between the two setups very well.

The Conclusion
: The story may be somewhat ordinary, yet the characterization and strong art makes this annual quite fun despite its few weaknesses. A nice read overall.

Grade: B

-Hugo Robberts Larivière