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Doc Ock's Greatest Hits - Part 1

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Amazing Spider-Man reaches its landmark 600th issue this week with Doctor Octopus returning to make Peter Parker's life a misery once again. Broken Frontier is celebrating by letting Andy Oliver, a semi-regular presence on the letters pages of the Spider-Man books in the 1990s, pick his ten favorite Spidey/Doc Ock encounters. In Part 1 we revisit the Swinging Sixties and re-experience the early years of the career of, arguably, the villain who would go on to become Spider-Man’s greatest enemy...

Amazing Spider-Man #3 (July 1963)

Welcome to the tale that starts it all and introduces us to Doctor Otto Octavius, the Marvel Universe’s foremost nuclear expert. Scientist Octavius begins his criminal career after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong. The resulting explosion not only turns him insane but also "permanently" bonds the special tentacled contraption he was using to handle dangerous compounds to his body.

Initially, an unhinged Octavius awakes from his recuperation and takes the hospital staff hostage. An arrogant Spider-Man, seriously underestimating his portly middle-aged foe, is delivered a very sound beating. This leads to a major crisis of confidence for Peter and it’s only a rousing talk from a visiting Human Torch at school the next day that inspires our hero into finding a solution to eventually taking Octopus down.

It’s a cracking story not just because it provides Spider-Man with his first major defeat but because it also shows Peter using his scientific knowledge rather than his spider-powers to ultimately win the day. Add to that the tragedy of the benign Octavius’s transformation into the villainous Dr. Octopus (something that has sadly been downplayed as the years have gone by) and we have all the ingredients necessary for a true Lee-Ditko classic in the making.

Octavius’s genius will be underlined two decades later when, in Fantastic Four #267 (June 1984), even Reed Richards himself acknowledges Dr. Octopus’s superiority to him in the area of radiation.

Amazing Spider-Man #s 11-12 (April-May 1964)

In what will become a recurring feature of Ock’s early appearances, his second story ups the ante considerably in terms of impact on Peter’s life. After his release from prison Doctor Octopus's resumed operations in these issues lead to the death of Bennett Brant, brother of Peter’s first love Betty. In a typical Stan Lee twist, this re-enforces her hatred of Spider-Man just as Peter is about to reveal his double-life to her!

Not only does Doctor Octopus succeed in driving a wedge between Peter and Betty, though, but he also becomes the first villain to unmask Spider-Man. And in front of the entire supporting cast too! Fortunately, a flu-ridden Spidey’s ineffectual performance against the super-villain convinces one and all that weedy Peter Parker was merely impersonating the wall-crawler all along. A more robust Spider-Man later returns Octopus to jail.

Many years later, in the 1990s Clone Saga story that would see him killed by Kaine (don’t worry he got better!), Octopus would finally learn that Peter really was Spider-Man all along...

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964)

Derided by some as self-indulgent and excessive, this first Spidey Annual stands the test of time and actually holds up as a fun romp and a tour through the best of the Spider-villains introduced in the first year and a half of Amazing Spider-Man. It sees Ock bringing together Kraven the Hunter, Electro, the Vulture, Mysterio and the Sandman into a team dubbed The Sinister Six. Trust me… if you were ten years old when you first found a copy of this story then you were totally and utterly blown away by the concept.

Dr. Octopus, surmising that if so many bad guys have been defeated by Spider-Man individually then perhaps a mass super-villain team-up might have more luck, then quickly proceeds to send each member of the Six out solo to take on Spidey. Anyone else spot the tragic flaw in Ock’s logic there? Still, it allows Steve Ditko to really cut loose with one-page "pin-up" shots in each of Spider-Man’s six battles and there are cameo appearances from most of the Marvel Universe heroes of the day. It also sets up years worth of storylines with what will be the first meeting between Aunt May and Dr. Octopus – a relationship that will take some quite unlikely turns in the years to come.

Ignore the naysayers – this one’s a real treasure and subsequent Sinister Six appearances have always failed to live up to the novelty of that first encounter.

Amazing Spider-Man #s 30-33 (Nov 1965-Feb 1966)

Our next entry is held up not just as a great Dr. Octopus story but also one of the greatest Spider-Man epics of all time! The Master Planner saga is the story with that scene – the one where Spidey, pinned under tons of rubble, somehow finds the strength to free himself in a moment of near- iconic Lee/Ditko genius.

Ironically enough for a story making this list, Dr. Octopus is only actually seen in a relative handful of panels. For the bulk of the issues he is a behind-the-scenes presence manipulating events as the ever so mysterious Master Planner whose gang have been carrying out a wave of well-coordinated heists throughout New York.

When Aunt May collapses, due to a radioactive element in her blood acquired from a blood transfusion from Peter in a previous story, the only serum that can save her is one that has been acquired by the Master Planner in one of his robberies. Tracking the villain and his gang down to his lair a frantic Spider-Man, desperate for the serum to save his beloved guardian, is beaten by Octopus and left for dead, trapped in Doc Ock's collapsed base.

Cue one of the finest moments in Spider-Man history where, against all the odds, our hero somehow manages to free himself from the wreckage so he can eventually deliver the serum to his dying aunt’s bedside in time to save her life:   

           

Marred only by a proofreading error in the first part of the story, wrongly attributing leadership of the Master Planner’s gang to the Cat Burglar, this is an unforgettable entry in the Spider-annals. The tension is palpable throughout and Aunt May’s survival always in doubt. Once again, the fourth Dr. Octopus story raises the bar in terms of dramatic weight and, although Aunt May comes through unscathed in the end, we mustn’t overlook the fact that Octopus actually defeats Spider-Man again, getting away scot free...

Amazing Spider-Man #s 53-56 (Oct 1967-Jan 1968)

And what can a still-free Otto do to top his last appearance? How about turning Spider-Man to the dark side? Well kinda...

The next step in Aunt May and Otto Octavius’s burgeoning "relationship" is taken here when the not-so-good Doctor actually becomes May’s lodger. If you’re not aware where this subplot eventually leads make sure to check out the upcoming second part of this feature. You may be more than just a little surprised!

Ock is also after a military weapon – the nullifier – which he’s in constant pursuit of in this four-parter. When he finally appropriates it and uses it on Spider-Man, the wall-crawler is rendered amnesiac. Unlikely as it may seem, Octavius convinces Spidey that he, too, is a super-villain and that the pair are in cahoots. This time around it’s JJJ’s son John Jameson who leads the charge to stop Octopus and recover the stolen technology.

Although Octopus is recaptured it’s not by Spider-Man, who remains amnesiac into the next story arc with Ka-Zar and the Spider-Slayer robots. Once more the tentacled villain has proven to be Peter Parker’s Achilles heel. But if Spider-Man thought Otto Octavius had been a menace up until now, his devastating actions in his next appearance will alter Spider-Man’s world forever.

In these first five stories Dr. Octopus soundly beats Spider-Man at least twice, inveigles his way into Aunt May's confidence despite directly and indirectly putting her life at risk on three separate occasions, organises an alliance of Spider-Man's greatest enemies against him, wrecks his relationship with his first true love and turns him into a criminal by association. Not bad going for a tubby, short-sighted gent in the throes of middle-age! What he manages in our next selection of stories will outshine even these "achievements" however...

Those wishing to investigate these stories further are directed to Marvel’s Omnibus, Masterworks and Essential series of reprints. Keep checking back at Broken Frontier for the imminent second part of our Doctor Octopus Top Ten celebration...

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Comments

  • Fletch Adams

    Fletch Adams Jul 22, 2009 at 7:38pm

    Great trip down memory lane, Andy - I had forgotten about the Reed Richards/Doc Ock bit from Fantastic Four...looking forward to part 2

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 23, 2009 at 2:50pm

    Thanks Fletch. Spider-Man is the character that got me into super-hero comics in the '70s and Ock was always my favourite Spidey villain (with the Jackal coming a close second) so this was a lot of fun revisiting old classic stories.

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