Meet Doctor Otto Octavius. In many ways, the mirror image of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Both are extremely gifted scientists and bullied outcasts as children and teenagers. The difference is that Parker had a loving childhood and was taught to respect power and responsibility. Octavius, on the other hand, was taught fear and anger. This led similar boys to become very different men.
Otto's father, Torbert, was a construction worker who despised his son's perceived weakness. He derided Otto as a wimp and Otto's mother came to his rescue. Torbert later died from injuries after a construction accident. He refused to go to the hospital, demanding to tough it out at home. In a rage, Otto's mother left him at home, and he watched Torbert die. Otto refused to move that whole night, fearing that his father was only asleep. As a nuclear researcher, Otto began dating a woman named Mary Alice and eventually proposed to her. His mother refused to allow the marriage and Otto called it off. He was later outraged that his mother had begun dating. He railed against her and she died of a heart attack.
Otto was always fastidious about his work, but after his mother died, he focused entirely on his radiation research. He invented four telescoping metal arms to handle the dangerous substances from a safe distance. One day there was an accident at his lab, and the resulting explosion fused the tentacles to Otto's spine. Waking up in the hospital, Otto merely thought of removing the bars from his window and the tentacles obeyed the order. He quickly pronounced himself "the supreme human being on earth!" (Amazing Spider-Man #3)
Recently, the years of being battered by super humans, as well as radiation poisoning, have taken their toll on Octavius's health. His body is now useless and he depends on a voice box to communicate. His time on this earth may be short and he intends to leave humanity one last "thank you."
Otto Octavius is the picture of a narcissist. He holds everyone around him in contempt, from his allies in the Sinister Six, to the public as a whole to Spider-Man. His arrogance was on full display while attempting to steal Leonardo Da Vinci's sketch "Proportional Study of Man in the Manner of Vitruvius" from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While disposing of the guards, he tells them "The only people who should be permitted to behold the genius of Leonardo are his intellectual equals. And regrettably, that is a rather exclusive club." (Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure #1) Spider-Man particularly irks him, as he cant imagine why a costumed "buffoon" could possibly defeat him. After intercepting Spider-Man on one of his nightly patrols of New York, Octopus tells him "I've wondered about you, Spider-Man. You're a great mystery to me. The mystery is how a little whelp such as you could have been such a thorn in my side for so long. I'm stronger than you...more intelligent by far." (Spectacular Spider-Man vol 2, #6)
The cause for a narcissistic personality is unknown, but theories range from either a very pampered childhood to abuse and neglect while young. Other evidence points to genetics and psycho-biology. Some researchers suggest that a neglected child makes up grandiose stories about themselves to increase their low self esteem. This self delusion continues into adulthood and the person may try to surround themselves with people that they see as superior. (Think of Otto saying that only he can truly appreciate the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci.) All of this is an attempt to make up for what was missing in childhood.
Master Planner...Or Prime Poisoner?
While Otto's crimes have ran the gamut from theft to murder to kidnapping, he has shown several times to have an interest in poisons. From his very first outing as a criminal, he attempted to destroy part of a nuclear reactor and rebuild it as he saw fit, likely covering the city in radiation in the process. He has also tried poisoning the ink in the Daily Bugle's newspapers (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15) and commandeering a satellite in hopes of having it release a poison that would cover the planet. (Amazing Spider-Man #338) His supposedly final master plan was to accelerate the effects of global warming on earth, unless the Sinister Six's demands were granted. (Amazing Spider-Man #683)
It was noted by his fellow researchers before the explosion that grafted the tentacles to his spine that Otto's demeanor towards them was negative. This is typical of poisoners. Criminal profiler John Douglas suggests that these types of killers are "generally driven by anger in most of his attitudes and endeavors...there would be a long list of personal failures throughout his life and these could include education, employment, social experiences and relationships with women of his own age and intelligence level." This could certainly describe Octavius. He was bullied as a child by classmates and his parents, his engagement to Mary Alice was brief and he's never held a job for long. Douglas also says that a poisoner would gravitate towards positions of authority...such as a nuclear physicist.
Disdain for Others but a Need for Companionship
While Otto sees others as nearly subhuman compared to he in terms of intelligence, he has developed genuine feelings for certain women over the years. Of course, there was Mary Alice, his fiance whom he ended the relationship with at his mother's demands. (He never forgot Mary Alice, and tried to find a cure for AIDS years later, after she was diagnosed with the deadly disease.) There was also May Parker, a woman that he tried to marry in order to gain access to a nuclear facility on an island that she had inherited. While his intentions with her were not entirely pure, he has shown concern for "that dear lady," even after the wedding fell through. Finally, there was Angelina Brancale, aka "Stunner." An obese woman, she finally made herself slim, powerful and beautiful via virtual reality. The virtual reality was then made real by Dr. Carolyn Trainer, another associate of Octavius.
Despite having several women in his life, Otto never seems to hold on to them. Angelina and Carolyn disappeared, Mary Alice died and May Parker married another man. Otto is often seen working alone, without assistants or confidants. It seems that he lives a very isolated, maybe even lonely, life. Research has found that men benefit from having a partner to help look after them. There is also evidence that removal of a social structure can have negative effects on a person's cardiovascular health, immunity and behavioral regulation. Loss of social support also has negative consequences for mental health, resulting in more depression and stress.
Octavius does show signs of loneliness, depression and stress. While conversing with Stunner over the ill Spider-Man, Ock admits that he respected the vibrant, humorous opponent. He even envies him to a degree. While Otto pities himself for the man he has become, he is cheered up by Stunner. He believes her to be the best thing that has happened to him in ages. When she suddenly ups and runs out, he nearly panics, begging her to come back. And then he is alone again. (Amazing Spider-Man #397)
Otto's bloated sense of self worth is both his strength and weakness. While certainly a brilliant man with an iron will, his own ego is also his greatest weakness. He cant understand how a "whelp" like Spider-Man can manage to consistently beat him. What he doesn't realize is that he isn't the smartest one there is. He does need others in his life. Normal, healthy people who can guide him to pro-social behavior and to look out for his decaying health. There must have been signs of his physical state deteriorating but he likely overlooked these symptoms in his obsession to be proven the world's greatest scientist and to kill Spider-Man. Like his injured construction worker father, he was so determined to prove that he was tough enough, that he wasted valuable time to get medical help.