Judging by the reaction online over the last month or so, it would appear that there are many people who believe, thanks to the events that took place in "Suicide Run," the final arc of Amazing Spider-Man, that Dan Slott should be ranked amongst Spider-Man's greatest villains. After all, isn't he the man responsible for doing what everyone from the Alistair Smythe through Doctor Doom could never manage: The destruction of Peter Parker? But last week's one-two punch of Superior Spider-Man #1 and the teaser image that promises that Spider-Man is going to be "Fired" this April has me wondering whether Slott is less Norman Osborn and more Mysterio in this whole scenario… and whether the whole thing is a grand misdirection, distracting us from something else altogether.
For years, we've heard about the idea of "putting the genie back in the bottle" for Spider-Man; it was assumed that that referred to the undoing of Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane back in the 2007 "One More Day" storyline, but that is far from the only way in which everyone's favorite friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has strayed from his classic comic book roots. As Dan Slott pointed out recently, "for years, thanks to J. Jonah Jameson, everyone thought Spider-Man was a menace and the readers knew the whole story. The readers knew this was a good guy, this was a hero who's not getting any breaks. They were rooting for him."
That's really not been the case for some time, however; Spider-Man has been a member of the New Avengers for almost eight years now, and in that time has worked with the team to save the world countless times. He's also served as part of the Future Foundation during that time, and thanks to Slott's own solo run on Amazing Spider-Man starting with "Big Time," he's gotten more and more respect from the world at large and his peers in particular over the last few years. And that just seems… weird. Whatever happened to the hard-luck hero? Everything just kept going right for this Spider-Man!
Of course, that may have been the point all along. Because now, the Spider-Man that Otto Octavius has inherited has it all… Respect, a super-science job and the love of a good woman. Just in time to ruin Spider-Man's reputation all over again. Oh, he won't mean to do it - He considers himself a superior Spider-Man, after all - but that lack of humility will doubtlessly be part of his downfall; even with Peter Parker's memories, he hasn't learned the kindness and self-doubt that is essential to being a hero, and he doesn't quite understand that whole thing about great power and great responsibility yet. Look at his behavior in Superior Spider-Man #1: There's little restraint, and little self-sacrifice, in his actions. No wonder that we're being teased with the prospect of the Avengers firing him come April, and don't be too surprised if we see "Peter Parker" losing his job at Horizon as well, considering the way he acts towards Grady and Max in SSM #1.
And take that idea and look further: We've already seen that this Spider-Man is far more violent and less self-controlled than Peter: How long before the public realizes that he's going too far in beating up the bad guys, and starts thinking of him as a bad guy himself? The titling of the first arc of the series as "Hero or Menace" is more than just a smart callback to the days of Spider-Yore: It's a sign of the uncertainty the public will feel about the new Spider-Man in days and weeks to come, as they realize that this really isn't the same guy they used to know. Otto Spidey may have the best of intentions to be a super-hero, but before too long, the world will start to consider him a menace all over again…
…Which, I suspect, is when the Peter Parker we know and love will return. We all know that he'll be back at some point, despite the protestations of Slott and editor Steve Wacker that this is the status quo from now on - Remember when we were similarly promised that Bucky was definitely dead during Fear Itself? - and this would be the perfect time to bring him back: With his reputation in tatters, the world against him and his friends unsure whether or not they can believe anything that he says. In other words, the classic Spider-Man set-up that Slott described above.
Instead of the brain swap and Otto Spidey being permanent, what if it's the middle of a long storyline that sees Spider-Man get everything he's ever wanted, only to lose everything due to circumstances outside his control? I have no way of knowing for sure if this is what's actually planned, or merely my own fevered imagination at work, but think about it: It's a wonderful way of rebooting the character back to his classic loser status without making a big deal out of it, another genie going back in another bottle in such a way that's far more subtle than the devil stealing a marriage. And, in its own way, a story that will demonstrate what is great about Peter Parker, and what makes him the best hero that he could possibly be: Continuing the good fight, without reward, without recognition, despite it ruining his life, just because he knows that it's the right thing to do. In other words, showing very clearly why Peter Parker will always be the superior Spider-Man.