A dying Otto ‘Doctor Octopus’ Octavius has switched bodies with Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker. Now Otto has Spider-Man’s body, memories, reputation, and life, while Peter has Ock’s feeble, dying frame.
Peter’s got only a few hours to get his body back before the one he’s in expires. With the help of Hydro-Man, the Trapster, and the Scorpion, he’s gotten himself to one of Otto’s old bases (yes, Peter now has all of Otto’s memories). How will Peter get out of this one?
|Cover Art:||Antonio Fabela|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus #1|
At Peter’s apartment, Otto and MJ are on a date, and he’s making all the right moves. Otto privately exults over his achievement: he’s got Peter’s “young, virile body, and soon [he] will have something [Peter] hasn't had in a long time”. This is an all-ages book, so just what it is that Otto refers to is left as an exercise for the reader.
Unfortunately for Otto, when MJ removes his shirt, Otto’s Spider-Man costume is revealed, harshing her buzz. Otto isn't cool with that: “How is this getting in the way? Explain!” and then interrupts himself with a “Not now, woman!” when his computer begins to buzz.
Master planner, maybe, but master seducer, definitely not. What’s next, Otto, are you going to call her names and demand she make you a sandwich?
The buzzing computer was a programmed alert of any news regarding Doctor Octopus, which in this case is that he has broken out of Ryker's Island, as per last issue. Springing into action, Otto heads... to the airport, where he buys a round-trip ticket to Belgium, returning the following day. He’ll end up spending about 14 hours in transit, which is more than enough time for Peter’s body to expire. It’s not a heroic move, but it’s certainly clever.
Elsewhere, in Ock’s secret lair, the Trapster is hooking up Peter’s life support to a set of his old arms. Interestingly, Peter takes to using the arms immediately: I guess that’s a power that lives in Octopus’ body, just as spider-sense, etc., lives in Spider-Man’s. As I observed last issue, Big Science isn't really the Trapster’s thing, so Peter is forced to check his henchman’s work, making acerbic, Doc-Ock-style insults the whole time.
While doing so, he passes out, and has a brief vision of the afterlife, where he’s visited by shades from his past, notably Tim ‘the Kid who Collected Spider-Man’ Harrison; Silver Sable; the Rhino and his wife Oksana; the Staceys pere et fille; Marla Jameson; his parents; and, of course, Uncle Ben. This last has two words for Peter. The first is that “[t]here are no scales you have to balance. Not in my eyes”. Peter has done enough to make amends for his cavalier refusal to apprehend the man who would later take Ben’s life. The second is “you can’t leave a man like Otto Octavius running around as Spider-Man... you've built an amazing life. Don’t you dare let him destroy it”.
So was this real or just a dream? I vote the latter, for reasons I’ll go into below. But for now, on with the re-capping.
At the Raft, Mayor Jameson is reviewing the damage done by Peter’s breakout, and is pleased that Alastair Smythe (who killed the aforementioned Marla, his wife, back in ASM #654) is still in custody. When asked if he’s concerned about Doc Ock being on the loose, JJJ somehow manages to assert, simultaneously, that he’s taking Ock incredibly seriously even though Ock is a “blubbery, bespectacled buffoon,” an “impotent imbecile” who’s never pulled off a successful plan; in other words, “a loser”. At the airport, Otto watches this and seethes. The flight to Belgium looks much less attractive to him now.
Elsewhere, having gotten his new arms and his life-support working, Peter is ready to go on the offensive. He heads off to the 18th precinct headquarters of the NYPD, where - with the help of his supervillain flunkies - he’s easily able to break into the supervillain-tech storage vault, where he himself went to retrieve Otto’s tech during Spider-Island (ASM #668, True Believers!). This is where the police took the gold Octobot after it ran out of power last issue. With it, Peter hopes to find a way to undo the brain swap.
But first he’ll have to get past Carlie Cooper, who’s popped up unexpectedly. She’s got a handgun and she’s willing to use it... more willing than Peter is to use his metal arms.
“Carlie! Wait! I can explain. I’m not Doc Ock. I’m Spider-Man!”
Carlie demands that he prove it, and he can oblige. “You and MJ. You’re the only ones who know. I’m Spider-Man - and I’m Peter Parker.”
Carlie closes her eyes in pain. “...you know his secret! I - I can’t let you leave here!” And she fires. Unfortunately for her, the octopus arms move on reflex and block the bullets, one of which ricochets back and penetrates Carlie’s arm. It also knocks her out, somehow. Perhaps she passed out from the pain? It’s implied that Peter bandages the wound before departing with the Octobot.
Meanwhile, Otto is on the move, rounding up all of Peter’s friends and family and sealing them up in a secure location, which we readers will later discover is a ‘safe room’ at Avengers Tower. Then he calls Peter to taunt him with that news, that ‘Spider-Man’s’ loved ones are in a place only Spider-Man can reach them. Naturally Otto knows where Peter’s secret base is, and how to contact it. He’s also told the police where it is, and a strike team is on its way.
While Scorpion and Hydro-Man tangle with the cops, the Trapster confronts Peter. “Brain swap... I’m not an idiot. Those last circuits were neural relays. You’re dying and building a brain-swapping device. What’s the plan? Put your brain in my body?” “So close but no cigar,” Peter murmurs, and uses his arms to break open Trapster’s glue guns, imprisoning him. Then Peter departs by getaway sub, bringing Scorpion and Hydro-Man along for the ride.
Back in the safe room, Max Modell and the Horizon gang are whipping up some Big Science while Jay Jamesons Jr. and Sr. have a heart-to-heart and finally make a reconciliation. Meanwhile MJ is having a heart-to-heart of her own with Otto. She tries to give him a motivating speech, but Otto isn't having it. “This again? My head’s filled with your trite pep talks. That’s all you are now. The plucky best friend with the one motivational speech. What’s the point? Why are you still hanging around?”
Hmm. I think Otto’s channeling Dan Slott here.
MJ, on the spot, says what’s in her heart. “I love you.”
That’s all Otto needed to hear. The two kiss while, very subtly, in the background, we see the shadows of Ock’s tentacles wave.
Back to Peter, who has used the the sewer network to reach a subterranean access point to Avengers Tower. His minions are horrified, as you might expect. What can Peter hope to gain here? The answer, of course, is that he expects the big brains of the Avengers to see the brain-swapping device and accept it as evidence that Peter is trapped in Octavius’ body. Unfortunately, Otto is one step ahead of Peter. He’s used a few remaining giant Octobots to divert the Avengers elsewhere, leaving Spider-Man the only one in the building. With the security features set to ‘kill’ rather than ‘stun’, Otto is sure Peter’s demise is guaranteed... especially after he oh-so-indiscreetly divulge that J. Jonah Jameson is in the tower. The Scorpion can’t resist the chance to kill the man who made him what he is, and abandons Ock, bringing Hydro-Man along to scout for JJJ’s location.
The only flaw in this plan is that Spider-Man now has to go ‘save’ his loved ones, leaving Peter alone, presumably to die at the hands of the security system.
Hydro-Man lives up to expectations and finds the safe room by traveling through the air vents. Unfortunately for him, he’s immediately incapacitated by the Horizon Gang, who isolate and contain the single particle of water that contains his essence, just as they did to the Sandman back in ASM #684. The Scorpion arrives next, smashing open the vault door. JJJ bravely faces him down, hoping he can buy the others time to escape, even if it means his death. The Scorpion isn't prepared to let JJJ go out a hero, though, and decides to take revenge by murdering JJJ’s family, starting with his mother-in-law, Aunt May.
Too bad for Scorpion that he picked on the one person in the vault that Otto cares about. He swoops in and punches Scorpion in his one vulnerable spot, namely the unarmoured jaw... punches him so hard the jawbone comes right off. All together now: eewww! Jay Sr. and Aunt May are horrified. Jay Jr.’s reaction is more nuanced: while he says to himself that he “always knew” Spider-Man was capable of something like this, he’s pleased Spider-Man is using that power on the Scorpion. “Knew you had it in you, kid.”
Enter Peter. “What have you done?!” Otto is tangled in octopus coils. JJJ’s reaction is priceless. “Spider-Man! Dagblastit! I distracted him! If anything happens to that wall-crawling wonder now, I’ll never forgive myself.”
To distract Peter, Otto tags MJ, Glory Grant, and Max Modell with impact webbing. Peter is horrified - “that’s meant for super villains, not regular people!” - but Otto is unrepentant: “you never had the stomach for this game...”
So Peter knows what he has to do, namely, take Otto out of play, permanently. He dives out of the window, Spider-Man in tow. The fall will kill both of them.
Except Otto uses his web-shooters to spin an airbag down at the pavement, and the two land, with Otto on top. Peter’s spine shatters.
With moments to live, he deploys the golden Octobot. As it climbs up Otto’s back, Peter mumbles that ultimately Otto has won, because by trying to kill his opponent, Peter has crossed a line he swore not to. So, once he’s undone the brain swap, he plans to retire.
Except he can’t undo the brain swap. Otto has done the one thing he never did as Doc Ock: he’s armoured his head.
Ock gives Peter a mighty right cross. I’m surprised Peter’s head doesn't explode from impact. As Carlie watches from a distance, Otto tries to finish Peter off by clobbering him with an automobile, but Peter has one last trick to play. Without a direct link, the golden Octobot can’t undo the brain switch, but it can force Peter’s memories into the forefront of Otto’s consciousness. Against his will, Otto relives the tragedies of Peter’s life, the many times his loved ones have died because of his inaction or weakness. Uncle Ben, Marla Jameson, the Staceys, and more. The lesson is burned into him: with great power must come great responsibility.
“You’re Spider-Man now”, Peter gasps. “Promise me. You’ll keep them safe.”
“I... promise”, says Otto.
And Peter Parker dies.
“Farewell, Peter Parker,” thinks Otto. “Know this: I will carry on in your name. You may be leaving this world, but you are not leaving it to a villain. I swear. I will be Spider-Man. Better yet, with my unparalleled genius, and my boundless ambition, I’ll be a better Spider-Man than you ever were. From this day forth, I shall become... the superior Spider-Man!”
It’s a good story, not a great one.
It delivers a satisfying conclusion to the ‘Dying Wish’ arc and nicely sets up the forthcoming Superior Spider-Man title. It shows how, at each turn, Peter and Otto are out-thinking each other, which is as satisfying here as it was in the ‘Ends of the Earth’ arc. And we find time to revisit the many tragedies in Spider-Man’s life as a way to give him strength. That’s also a classic Station of the Cross we have to visit in milestone Spider-Man stories.
And yet, it wasn’t that long ago that we did just this in ASM #655, after Marla Jameson’s death, which also prompted him to experience a vision of the afterlife in which he met and spoke with all the dead members of his supporting cast. [FN1] Doing it again so soon means the emotional impact of doing it here is blunted.
Speaking of emotional impact, we don’t have much otherwise. There’s a final heart-to-heart between a reformed Otto and Peter, but it’s very brief. Other than that, Otto coaxes MJ into admitting her love for ‘him’, and the two Jamesons reconcile, but both moments are very brief, and feel unearned. We’ve seen no sign before now that JJJ wanted to patch things up with his dad, nor that MJ wanted to get back with Peter... I think, as per the retconned ‘One More Day’ storyline, it was she that broke up with him, and her reaction at seeing the Spidey-suit under Otto’s shirt indicates that her reasons for breaking up with him still pertain.
A story in which the hero dies, especially after 700 issues, should carry more emotional weight than this. Even if, as we all know, Peter is going to be coming back in a few years.
Still, that’s not a fatal flaw. The action sequences were fun, and some of the seeds planted here should pay off nicely in future. Will the Scorpion get a new jaw? Will JJJ become the Superior Spider-Man’s biggest booster? And, above all, will Carlie take steps to thwart the Superior Spider-Man? She’s the only one who knows about the brain-swapping, and while she might have cause to doubt it, the fact that the escaped Doc Ock saved her life after she tried to kill him will likely give the brain-swapping claims a lot of weight in her eyes.
I wonder if she’ll feel any remorse about trying to kill Ock simply because he knew Peter’s secret? That was a dark moment, albeit one that passed by pretty quickly. Yes, I think Carlie will have an interesting role to play in the forthcoming SSM.
[FN1] Yes, the afterlife sequence was a dream, not a vision of an unearthly realm. The fact that Silver Sable and the Rhino appeared there refutes any claim that it was ‘real’. The former, we’ll recall, was purportedly murdered by the latter in ASM #687 no credible afterlife of blessed rest, whether Arcadian or heavenly, would feature both of those two in the same place. Add to that the fact that neither’s body was ever found, and that, in ASM #690, Madame Web testified that Sable was still alive (testimony we have no reason to doubt), and we’ve got reason to believe neither of them would appear in any afterlife at all. So it was a dream.
I enjoyed this story, but for a 52-page, $7.99 book, I feel my socks should have been blown off. I’ll give it three webs.
Now that you’ve read this review, I encourage you to check out the SpiderFan staff’s collective take on Our Favourite, Least Favourite Issues of ASM and its storied 700-issue run.