At an as-yet-unspecified moment, a dying Doc Ock used Big Science to switch minds with Spider-Man, giving the good doctor Peter Parker’s body, memories, identity, and spider-powers, and leaving our hero stuck in the rapidly-failing body of Otto Octavius.
Only these two individuals are aware of the switch. How is Peter going to get out of this one?
We open practically where ASM #698 left us, with Peter dying in his cell in the Raft. (For convenience’s sake, I’m going to describe the characters in this story by their real names, irrespective of what body they happen to be wearing at the time.) The doctors struggle mightily to save Peter, going to far as to incise his chest and massage his heart by hand. Wouldn’t the ribs get in the way? I dunno, I’m not a doctor, so I’ll take this bit at face value. With their leet medical skills, Peter is revived, though it strains the medical team’s fidelity to the Hippocratic Oath. Certainly the medico who saves Peter is of two minds about it; after she revives him, she spits on him for good measure.
As the doctors leave, Peter reviews his situation. He’s practically helpless, trapped in a body that will die in a few hours. What’s worse, that body is locked in a cell, surrounded by guards, incarcerated supervillains, and every security measure that Ryker’s Island can offer, not the least of which is being isolated on an island.
What’s more, Peter’s morale is understandably low, as he contemplates all the damage Otto could do, not only to Spider-Man’s reputation, but also to Peter Parker’s. Of course, that kind of damage is merely abstract. Otto could also inflict very material harm on Peter’s friends and colleagues - murder is openly suggested, and sexual assault is quietly implied.
Peter deliberately tries to turn his attention from these horrible thoughts by trying to solve his predicament. Perhaps he has access to Otto’s memories, just as Otto has access to his? In fact, Peter does: he can remember Otto’s abused childhood, his painful transformation into Doctor Octopus, and the beatings that Spider-Man inflicted on him. He can also remember an (implied) intimacy between May and Otto before the two were wed in ASM #131, which Peter also finds unpleasant.
Let’s cut to the chase. Can Peter remember how Otto switched minds with him? With some effort, yes. As it happens, it was Peter’s fault: on three separate occasions, he used a mental-control helmet Otto invented to avert a disaster. Curiously, the editor of this issue doesn’t specify when this was, but your humble SpiderFan reviewer is on the case. The three occasions were Spider-Man’s thwarting of Otto’s scheme to take over the machines of New York in ASM #600; Spider-Man’s taking control of Otto’s Octobots to spread the Spider-Island cure in ASM #672; and Spider-Man’s attempt to shut down Ock’s technology in their first encounter of the ‘Ends of the Earth’ arc in ASM #683. In each of these instances, Peter used the helmet and in so doing gave Otto “complete access” to Peter’s mind.
Thus was born Otto’s “last-ditch survival plan”, a gold-coloured, brain-swapping Octobot. Left behind in the rubble of Otto’s Octohedral in Guatemala at the conclusion of ‘Ends of the Earth’, Ock used all of his power to march it across the ocean floor to Manhattan, which explains why it took ten issues (from ASM #687 to ASM #697) to arrive. Yes, it arrived in ASM #697, during Spider-Man’s fight with the Hobgoblins, and Spider-Man failed to notice because his spider-sense was dysfunctional thanks to the Hobgoblins’ tech. Consequently, after the fight, the Octobot used its whammy on Spider-Man, re-writing that body with Otto’s brain patterns, and doing the same in reverse to Otto’s body.
So why not return the favour? Why not use the golden Octobot - still lying, inert, on a rooftop near where it ambushed Spider-Man - to undo the switch?
Here’s why. In the next cell, Curt “the Lizard” Connors chooses to finally unburden himself of his secret, namely that he’s got the Lizard’s body but Connors’ mind. Connors had wanted to keep that revelation to himself, but found the urge to confess unbearable, and chose to spill his guts to a person who couldn't act on the knowledge and who would die shortly. Peter, thinking this over, finds Connors' story implausible and wonders if it is a trick. He then realizes that if he went to the Avengers, they’d feel the same suspicion.
So if he can’t go to the Avengers for help, what can he do? Sifting Otto’s memories, he finds the answer. Using his little golden Octobot, Peter hacks into a Internet-connected office computer and executes “master.planner.contingency sigma 6.0”. What’s that? Why, it’s a pre-recorded message sent out to a variety of supervillains, each of whom is offered $6 million in return for carrying out a special mission.
And with that, the Octobot gives out, and Peter is forced to sit and wait, feeling his body slipping away from him. As his organs begin to fail, Peter makes a final plea to the Almighty for mercy. It’s answered in an extremely unlikely fashion: by the arrival of a supervillain rescue squad. Hydro-Man infiltrates the medical station through a tap and subdues the doctors. He then sets up a micro-filament line (herein referred to as a “micro fillament [sic] line”) that he brought with him and opens a portal to admit the Scorpion and the Trapster. These three efficiently extract Peter from his cell and his iron lung and install him into a portable life-support unit.
“So? Who’s next?” asks Scorpion. “This ‘plan sigma’ thing says we gotta bust out two more guys.” Two more, of course, makes for a Sinister Six. Peter, of course, won’t have it. He forbids his new companions to free any of the other prisoners, or even kill the guards, as the villains are inclined to do. In a moment of weakness, he invites the Lizard to join them, knowing as he does that Connors is a “good man”, but the Lizard emphatically refuses the offer.
As the Sinister Four depart through the portal, Peter has a crisis of conscience. “This isn't me. I shouldn't be risking lives to save my own. I’m Peter Parker. I’m Spider-Man...! Can’t let these bad guys run free. Gotta figure out how to capture them and get my body back... before...”
His henchmen do the thinking for him. “We busted you out. Got you back to one of your hideouts... Step three. We gotta catch Spider-Man: dead or alive!”
“No,” gasps Peter. “Alive. I definitely need him alive.”
Tune in next time for the final issue of Amazing. How is all of this going to end? I frankly have no idea, but the fact that the successor title is called Superior Spider-Man does not fill me with confidence on Peter’s behalf.
A fine mid-arc issue. It’s good to get some concrete answers on how Ock pulled off his switcheroo, and it’s satisfying to see how far back the groundwork for this story goes - a full hundred issues! I wonder if Slott had this planned that far back, or if it was just serendipity and good writing. I bet the latter, but one day we’ll have to get Slott at a convention and have him spill.
The story doesn't move very far: we've gotten Peter out of his hospital bed and into a hideout, and given him three henchmen, but that’s it. No word on what’s going on with the supporting cast, or with our main villain. Peter’s also learned that Connors is still in control of the Lizard’s body, but that doesn't seem like an important development for this arc, or for a few arcs to come.
I could quibble with a few of the plot points. Why didn't Otto foresee that the golden Octobot would be Peter’s only weapon, just as it had been his, when he was trapped in the Raft? Why wouldn't Otto destroy it immediately upon receiving Spider-Man’s body? And since when has the Trapster been the sort of scientific genius who can build mobile transportation portals out of micro-filament wire, or “rig up” portable life-support systems? I thought adhesives were his thing. Of all the members of the Frightful Four, Big Science was more the Wizard’s forte, no?
Quibbles aside, I enjoyed this issue, largely because it sets up what should be a memorable conclusion. I’m mightily looking forward to this arc’s conclusion in ASM #700.
It’s a set-up issue. Sure, there are no material missteps, but it doesn't do much except whet the appetite for next issue’s big finale. I give it a respectable three webs.