Another week, another Spider-Man story, as Ultimate Spider-Man introduces an updated take on Doctor Octopus!
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Brian Bendis
Art by: Mark Bagley
Collects: Ultimate Spider-Man #14 – 21
WHAT’S THE STORY?
While Kingpin has been making moves to get into Spider-Man’s arch-enemy territory, when it comes to picking an actual ultimate foe for the web-slinger, the discussion usually comes down to Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus and Venom.
Venom’s time in the spotlight has decreased in regards to being a Spider-Man foe, as he long ago became more of an anti-hero, and now even enjoys something of a friendship and mutual respect with his former enemy.
Which leaves us with just Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.
This is where the argument becomes more interesting. For the longest time, the Goblin was without a doubt Peter’s arch-enemy. He killed Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy. He framed Spider-Man for murder. He tortured Peter for weeks on end in the hopes of turning him into his heir. He orchestrated the nineties storyline ‘the Clone Saga’, and bought questions of who was the real Peter Parker (it’s a whole thing, I’ll cover it another time) by killing Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider (Pete’s clone and ‘brother’). He even essentially became Nick Fury, leading a team of supervillains masquerading as Avengers while real heroes were forced to go on the run.
But despite all of that, during the 21st century, Doctor Octopus still managed to give the Green Goblin a run for his money. In a series of stories charting his physical decline after years of being punched in the head by superpowered people, Doctor Octopus began continuously expanding his operation to the point where he held the whole world hostage. And then in his follow-up performance, he did something the Green Goblin could never do… He killed Spider-Man.
And to add insult to injury, he did it after swapping minds with the wall-crawler, leaving Peter dying in Ock’s decrepit old body, and then going forward as the new ‘Superior’ Spider-Man.
Of course, this was eventually resolved, and the real Spider-Man came back to life. But across these stories, it became clear to some that Doctor Octopus was Peter Parker’s true archenemy because while Spidey and the Goblin share a hatred of one another, Spidey and Doc Ock are dark reflections of one another…
Real Name: Otto Gunther Octavius
Affiliation: The Sinister Six
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #3 (July 1963)
A brilliant scientist, Otto Octavius used his scientific prowess to become a master in both atomic physics and mechanics. Combining these skills, Otto created a set of four mechanical tentacles, resistant to radiation and able to function to an incredibly precise degree, to aid him in his nuclear experiments.
However, during an accident at his laboratory, Octavius was caught in an explosion that fused his artificial appendages to his body, corrupting his mind and driving him to a life of crime. However, his criminal activities attracted the attention of Spider-Man, and the two quickly became sworn enemies, as Octavius proved to be a dark reflection of what Spider-Man could have been had he not benefitted from the love of his friends and family.
As the founder and leader of the Sinister Six, Doctor Octopus has plagued Spider-Man on many occasions and is considered by some to be Spider-Man’s greatest foe. In recent years, Octavius even managed to outdo all of his peers by swapping minds with the wall-crawler and dubbing himself the ‘Superior Spider-Man’, before eventually being forced to return to his old body.
Peter Parker is getting into the swing of being Spider-Man, but trust in him is at an all-time low.
As journalists hound him for questions and the police attempt to take him into custody every time he intervenes, his mission to bring down the rampaging Doctor Octopus is already harder than it needs to be.
So of course, it’s the perfect time for Australian TV personality Kraven the Hunter to decide he’s coming to America to hunt Spider-Man.
I went on a bit of a tangent in my post about Volume One: Power & Responsibility in regards to Mark Bagley’s art. My main point being it’s good, but compared to some more contemporary artists, it seems fairly basic. It doesn’t help that since then his redesigns of characters like the Green Goblin and Electro haven’t been the best.
Fortunately, this arc, Bagley is more on point. His depiction of Doctor Octopus makes for some fascinating and somewhat gnarly drawings, as he plays up both the horror and sci-fi aspects of the classic Spider-Man foe.
Alongside that, he retains the same energy and emotive drawings that he usually brings, and what we get as a result is perhaps Bagley’s best work on Ultimate Spider-Man yet.
On the Bendis side of things, you can see hints of a problem that will become more prevalent in his books as years go on. Namely, the strange pacing. While Peter Parker is ever-present, it’s actually a few issues before we see any Spider-Man action.
Fortunately, here, Bendis uses this slower pace to his benefit, framing the story in a more cinematic way. His desire to explore the characters and personalities of Midtown High School and the Daily Bugle means even when things aren’t focusing on Spider-Man, they are at least in service of world-building. Themes like mutant hysteria and the criminality of genetic alteration come up frequently, and the way characters react to such topics makes it clear how this world is similar to but ultimately different from the mainline universe.
In the mainline universe, when Peter Parker was still in school during the first sixty or so issues, it was at a time where his classmates were predominantly background-characters. Here, they each get a turn in the spotlight, as we explore Kong figuring out Peter may be Spider-Man, Liz grappling with her anti-mutant fears, and a bold new reinvention of classic Spider-Man love interest Gwen Stacy – now a knife-wielding punk girl.
It all makes for interesting reading, and whereas his later books attempt this and feel like they’re just meandering aimlessly, here it feels like a definite building up of things to come.
The clashes between Spider-Man and his new foes, Doctor Octopus and Kraven the Hunter are especially fun, when they finally come around, with one fight being a hilarious subversion of expectations. It may be one that might not swing with fans of the character, but that’s the purpose of the Ultimate universe, I suppose.
If I had any issues with this, it might be that by giving Doctor Octopus various offensive gadgets in his tentacles like shock rods and guns, it takes away from his character and his purpose somewhat. But it’s a small enough issue that it’s easy to let slide.
All-in-all, Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man continues to move from strength to strength, and as such I give Double Trouble a…
Thanks for reading! End the debate – who is Spider-Man’s greatest foe? Let me know in the comments, below!
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