With Doctor Octopus taking over the mind of Spider-Man in the final issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, we thought it a good time to look at the history of villainy that the misguided Otto Octavius has charted through comics. While the main scene for his exploits was in the pages of Spider-Man titles, we’ve found a couple suprising face-offs that show Doctor Octopus at his best.
Originally debuted in just the third issue of The Amazing Spider-Man back in 1963 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Doctor Octopus was introduced as a different kind of threat for the wallcrawler. Where the Green Goblin was monstrous and the Rhino was a behemoth, Otto Octavius was introduced as a scientific genius whose mind became twisted and he turned his attention, and his robotic arm inventions, to crime. With an intellect surpassing Parker and on par with Reed Richards, Doctor Octopus is a unique threat for Spider-man and other heroes he’s faced over the years.
We’ve picked out five great story-arcs and standalone issues that best showcase the threat and promise that Doctor Octopus has, showing him as a nuanced character that has bordered on heroics but always seemingly fallen back into evil tendencies. In this week’s Where Do I Start, we do Doc Ock 101.
Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1: What better place to start than Doc Ock’s first appearance from The Amazing Spider-Man #3, collected here. Ditko and Lee expertly wrap up a quick origin for Otto inside a larger Spider-man story here, showing Otto as a persecuted scientist who lashes out after a laboratory accident; in a way, a twisted version of Spider-Man’s own origins. Doctor Octopus deals Spider-Man his first major defeat, and also pushes Peter to ultimately use is intellect rather than his powers to finally best Octavius. Also included in this book is a subsequent face-off between Doc Ock and Spidey from later on in that year, which combined show the framework for much of their fights to come.
Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One: Created to coincide with the second Spider-Man movie featuring the debut of a live action rendition of Doctor Octopus, this series never quite got its due. It it, writer Zeb Wells and artist Kaare Andrews re-tell the origins of Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus and show how similar they are as individuals and how different the paths they eventually took are. Included in this expanded take on their origins is a young Octavius meeting a pre-Spider-Man Peter Parker, planting the seeds for their later battles.
Spider-Man: Death & Destiny: Many people point to the “Death of Captain Stacy” arc in The Amazing Spider-Man as one of Doctor Octopus’ key moments, but I’d argue that this later story by Lee Weeks (writing and drawing) more successfully shows those events and tells a more engaging story. It shows Parker and Octopus dealing with Stacy’s death, and really elaborates on all the characters involved as people instead of set pieces. It’s always a pleasure to see Lee Weeks drawing a comic, but this miniseries gave me new respect for Weeks as a storyteller and writer, examining the original “Death of Captain Stacy” and giving it a more personal context. This has never been collected, but shouldn’t be two expensive on the back issue market.
Fantastic Four #267: If I told you the best Doctor Octopus story was done by John Byrne and took place in Fantastic Four, people wouldn’t believe me — but if you’ve read this issue, you’d understand. It all comes about when Reed Richards enlists the world’s greatest sceientific minds in a last-ditch effort to come up with a way to save his wife Sue and their unborn daughter. Byrne picks up the hints of humanization of Otto from the original Ditko/Lee issues and really brings it to the full light of day, showing how compassionate and still misguided he can be.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Sinister Six HC: Otto Octavius has a supreme intellect and some threatening powers thanks to his mechanical arms, but he’s also a leader — pulling together one of the most threatening teams ever in the Sinister Six. This impressive hardcover collects the Annual which the team premiered, but also the excellent return of the team decades later in an arc by David Michelinie and Erik Larsen. This latter arc is especially impressive for Larsen’s energetic arc, giving Spider-Man and everyone involved a snappy, engaging veneer. Plus, Doctor Octopus in a white businss suit, which is awesome.