Monday, July 27, 2009

Last Legs (Marvel)
Amazing Spider-man #600 When: September 2009 Why: Dan Slott How: John Romita Jr

The Story So Far...
As one of the longest standing villains in Spider-man's list of lethal foes; Doctor Octopus has been a man fighting well above his weight for a long time. With his only noteable superpower being a harness of four tentacles under his mental control, spiralling battles with the likes of Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk, and rival villains in the super-powered criminal fraternity, have taken their toll on his far too human body.

Compounded by the absorbed radiation that first fused the trademark tentacle harness to his body and mind, Dr. Otto Octavius's physical condition has become irreversably degenerative as a result of the many punishments his body has been forced to endure during his life of crime. Conventional medicine rates his future unlikely to exceed a modest eighteen months, inspiring in the Doctor renewed urgency to right the wrongs of his past in a final gesture of scientific brilliance.

With a network of cybernetics, slave drones, and vast upgrades to his tentacle harness technology sustaining his decrepit form -- Doctor Octopus has become more machine than man, able to reach out into the world through it's many dependencies on technology in everyday life. Projecting a digital version of his former self, he promises New York City the utopia of an infrastructure entirely governed by his unparalleled brilliance. Alas; throughout the city, his underlying resentment for former flame May Parker's pending wedding, and Spider-man's lingering presence, result in his subconscious lashing out through the city. Doc Ock's octo-bots kidnapped the groom to be, J. Jonah Jameson, as well as the budding young women investigating his disappearance, cop Carlie Cooper and Front Line investigative journalist, Norah Winters.

With the Secret Avengers protecting people on the streets, and the Human Torch tagging along to lend support; Spidey leaps into battle against his arch-nemesis once more, unaware of the strange new Doc Ock that waits him. A cyber-organic nightmare whose autonomous "octo-bots" have taken three of Peter Parker's closet friends hostage -- and will stop at nothing to destroy Spider-man!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Superhuman)
Intelligence: Dr. Octopus 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Spider-man 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting: Spider-man 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Spider-man 2 (Projectiles)

- A bite from a radioactive spider should have killed high school nerd, Peter Parker, but would instead irradiate his blood, granting him the extraordinary powers of an arachnid! After turning his unique abilities to a life of profit and celebrity, Peter was inspired to use his gifts for good when his decision to selfishly allow a burglar to escape him led to the murder of his adoptive parent and uncle, Ben Parker. Ben's sage-like mantra, "with great power comes great responsibility", becomes the inspiration for the hero of the everyman - the Amazing Spider-man!

Over the years, Spidey's exploits have earned him a multitude of powerful enemies. Among his most lethal foes are: Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Vulture, Chameleon, Kingpin, Jackal, Kraven the Hunter, Venom, Carnage, Sandman, Rhino, Lizard, Electro, and many more. Fortunately for Spidey, he finds himself in good stead with as many heroes as he does villains, eventuating in official membership with Captain America's Avengers, later known as the Secret Avengers.

Spider-man possesses the proportional strength, speed, and agility of a spider. Adding to his arsenal is a precognitive spider-sense that warns him of pending danger. Self-made mechanical webshooters round out Spidey's abilities, allowing him to ensnare opponents in a variety of modes; travel through the city by web-line; and form basic constructs based on the available quantities of his own formula of web-fluid.

- The product of a childhood of schoolyard taunting and abuse from his father, Otto Octavius was inspired at his mother's behest to sharpen a brilliant mind as his ultimate weapon against a harsh world. Expert in the fields of nuclear physics, technical engineering, and atomic science; Octavius served as a university lecturer, whilst being best noted for his invention of a mechanical harness that allowed for the safe handling of radiocative elements in his scientific experiments.

Octavius would forever be changed when a lab accident fused the four-armed harness to his body, pushing his brilliant mind to the breaking point, and into a life of crime. As Dr. Octopus, he unwittingly becomes the arch-nemesis of one of his students, Peter Parker, who is better known to the world as the spectacular Spider-man. The bitter feud eventuating between the two funded much of "Doc Ock"'s early attacks against New York City, eventually leading to his official entry into the world of organized crime in Manhattan's underworld. While a telepathic link developed between he and his four metallic tentacles grants him the power necessary to tackle super-powered foes -- thanks to their adamantium make-up and various upgrades -- it is arguably his brilliant mind that remains his greatest power, however twisted and immoral it might have become.

Math: Spider-man Ranking: Spider-man (#2)

What Went Down...
Having had the destructive potential of an entire city to contend with, it's with help from the Human Torch and Reed Richards' technology that Spider-man takes the fight to the man responsible -- Doctor Octopus! Their feud seems set to come full circle as a phone trace on Spidey's kidnapped friends leads him to the place where it all began, the secret base where Doc Ock first met him!

Following the signal, the two heroes are surprised by an attack from the very hostages they'd hoped to rescue! Tied-up and ensnared within duplicates of Doc Ock's harness -- J. Jonah Jameson Sr, Carlie Cooper, and Norah Winters become weapons almost as deadly as the Doctor himself! Fortunately, the duo make light work of the "octo-suits" when, after a few evasive manouevers and impromptu weldings, Spider-man discovers their easily destroyed power source on the back!

Incapacitated, the trio are rescued and released, surrendered to the safety of the Human Torch while Spider-man travels ahead toward a confrontation with his old nemesis -- over confident in the thought that he is an unimpressive "tubby guy in glasses with four metal pipe-cleaners." An insult that inspires the Doctor in his newly empowered resistance to the wisecracking wallcrawler!

Thus, when Spidey sneaks up on the Doctor in the monitoring room of his lair, the silhouette Spider-man leaps at is not an all-too easily subdued Doctor Octopus, but rather a cunning decoy comprised of hundreds of the Doc's tiny octo-bots!

The gambit leaves Spidey wide-open to a sneak attack of the Doc's prescription!
Metallic tentacles smash and toss, rendering the danger-warning tingle of spidey-sense moot, Spidey's body limp and vulnerable to the four-pronged grappling of Doc Ock's deadly tentacles. With an arm clamping Spider-man's throat, wrists, and ankles, the hero notes the numerical imbalance of the good Doctor's new look. It is invitation for clarification from the reborn Dr. Octopus -- a declaration that reaffirms the importance of his mind and it's power over his form and the form of the entire city.

Doc Ock tosses Spidey into the surrounding machinery, only to have the techno-debris hurled back at him with the confronting fact of his "city of the future" and the destructive influence his electronic subconsciousness has had. It is a truth the frail villain is not ready to hear -- provoking the continuation of the physical confrontation!

The proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider comes into play as Spidey evades Doc Ock's strikes and crawls through the HQ infrastructure, forcing Dr. Octopus to apply his eight super-strong arms to protecting him from the implosive destruction of his hideout! The act buys Spidey time to access Doc Ock's neuro-interface, allowing him to apply the power of his brain to the battle.

Jakked in via the direct interface helmet, Spidey challenges the influence of Doc Ock's will, interrupting even the villain's control over his own tentacle arms. He desperately clings to focus, fighting to save his twisted vision of a perfect world and a legacy that will see him remembered as something more than the crippled punching bag for greater men than he. As it had been in his life as a crook, his will proves too weak to beat his nemesis.

Defeated, Doctor Octopus crumples like a dying spider, his metallic arms frozen in a twisted shamble. His useless body slumps as his mind reveals a similar frailty, his dreams shattered like the bones in his body. It is in contrast to the message broadcast through the infinite web by a triumphant Spider-man.

In his moment, Spider-man is steadfast in his dedication to justice, bordering on callousness. He brushes off the Doctor's feeble mutterings about his impending mortality, promising a twilight in imprisonment. It is a fate unacceptable to Doc Ock and his remotely controlled octo-bots. The tiny machines flood into the partially collapsed hideout, engulfing Spider-man in black, whilst stealing their defeated inventor away into a trapdoor escape hatch in the floor.

With Spidey engulfed in techno turmoil, the Human Torch returns to make an amazing eleventh hour save! His flames burn away the torrent of tiny hi-tech terrors in the nick of time. The city and Spidey are saved.

The Hammer...
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to give you the exciting victory by Spider-man over Dr. Octopus in this titanic anniversary issue struggle between! There are many reasons to feel joyous about this declaration, not the least of which is the overdue personalized introduction of Doc Ock into the Infinite Wars rankings!

Enthusiastic readers will know Doc Ock currently holds ranking on the site via twin appearances in the Marvel Zombies series, but this is the first true blue appearance of the villain -- one of Spidey's most significant arch-nemesis.
It's a moment of dual significance, given that this was also the big return of the villain to the pages of Amazing after an extended absence. It's the first of what promises to be many classic returns, which as we've seen, might not necessarily be as simple as bringing back an old favourite.

When absorbing this seemingly radical recreation of a classic foe, it's difficult to ignore the recent memory of his apparent death. Doc Ock was a casualty of the infamous mid-nineties Clone Saga, claimed by the violent imperfect Peter Parker clone known as Kaine, only to be resurrected by The Hand in a later, unrelated story. The death, interestingly enough, gave us a female version of the villain, whose plotlines became wrapped up entirely in the prospects of a digital virtual reality, which is an end this new Octopus reinvention might very well lead to.

That possible future weighs heavily on this issue, juxtaposing the fact that the character is given a death sentence as motivation for his rebirth. The ending points in no uncertain terms to another terrible return for the character, who, admittedly, is only dying under the terms of a vague explanation, as opposed to the hard-and-fast death he suffered in the nineties.

This question of causality obviously goes far and beyond one simple character, the predicament of corporate franchise characters in general. If this were to be a lasting change for Doc Ock, one that leads to his eventual permanent death, it would be all the more exciting, I think. In some ways, it would set things right, depending on your view on death in superhero comics. Personally, I think custodians over these characters should be aware of their predicament, and make their decisions with the according understanding. Death should not be taken lightly, and despite the inevitability of the prolonged existence of most characters, I am always disappointed by the decision to kill them off without due consideration.

As mentioned, however, the death sentence of Doc Ock's physical deterioration is really only a malleable motivation -- an extention of the clever and unused fact of physical injury. In a strange way, respect for the causality of longterm injuries has been better managed by comics writers, than death, where frivilously undoing crippling injuries might be even more damaging to the credibility of the material. Afterall, at least undoing death is a completely fantastic fact, which would have a limited meaningful impact to humanity in general, neatly contained by the mythic quality of the typcial resurrection. Medical marvels, on the other hand, would not benefit from any understanding if a hero were to remain actively committed to the betterment of humanity. But I digress...

What I really like about this new Doc Ock is that it doesn't change anything at the core of the character. To a similar extent as fictional death, we can be seen to be jaded by the frivilous claims of adaptations, particularly in film, that an interpretation remains "true" to "the spirit" of the character -- which usually preceeds certain disappointment. This reinvention of Dr. Octopus gives the vernacular meaning, truly representing a faithful adaptation of a character that unashamedly commits to the refreshment of deviation and evolution.

The idea of rendering Doc Ock's body completely irrelevant plays on ideas that were well explored by artists like Erik Larsen, whom I remember in particular describing the use of mundane acts, such as pouring coffee, as a graphic beat to juxtapose Otto Octavius' physical ability, with the power of his mind his vital invention -- the tentacles! This emphasis on the power of the tentacles is also adequately embellished by the introduction of an extra four mechanical tentacles -- something that breaks the cartoon convention of brand management, and gives us a Dr. Octopus who is more interested in being deadly, than the idea of living up to a numerical expectation of his limbs, real and invented.

I also really like the science of the octobots, which have a sense of independent character and seem scientifically reminiscent of the kinds of bug-like AI tech drones that litter robotics offices around the globe. The kinds of little chipped sprites that bounce around on tiny tin legs and communicate with the world through sensors and rudimentary self-teaching programming. I like those types of techno-touchstones in pop comics.

If I had a criticism of this giant-sized issue, it's the value of the Doc Ock rebirth to the overall story. I wouldn't like to wade back into the Brand New Day debate, but the lazy presumption that history could be rewritten was done upon the premise of reinvigorating Spider-man and his supporting cast. That supporting cast, namely the resurrected Aunt May and her husband-to-be, are on show here with a fun recounting of classic Spidey stories [ie; Doc Ock's almost marrying Aunt May way back], but fail to live up to the editorial pressure put upon them, or my interests in general. There's definitely a bit of the anniversary issue blues about Amazing Spider-man #600, complete with gratuitous guest appearances by longtime Spidey allies; Daredevil, Johnny Storm (and the Fantastic Four), and the New Avengers. It's inorganic filler, but utterly forgiveable. I particularly enjoyed the classically tinged DD team-up, which lacks the baggage of the Matt Murdocks solo adventures, content to indulge in B-list villain bashing. That fight was the originally intended subject of this entry, but replaced due to the more important Doc Ock spotlight. DD's appearance might return at a later date.

Scattershot back-up material don't do the issue a whole lot, but that's par for the course, too. It doesn't make it right, but at least it doesn't completely abandon justification for the hefty $4.99 pricetag. I dread the thought that the price might eventually come with out supplemental justification. I'm reluctant enough as it is to support these kinds of prices, but I shant let my thrift engulf this late update.

As a warning shot that forecasts a wave of returns in Amazing Spider-man, I can't help but walk away from this issue enthused. In it's own right, it isn't a defining moment in comics, but it will inevitably be the spiritual predecessor to what is fast becoming one of my most anticipated storylines of 2009 -- The Gauntlet!

Max Fiumara provides amazing artwork somewhere in the league of Paul Pope by way of David Lafuente in a Gauntlet teaser that has me absolutely salivating! It features Madame Web visions of Spider-Woman, AraƱa, Lizard, Rhino, and Kraven the Hunter! It's bound to be a wild ride!

EDIT [July 24, 2010]: Finishing this entry a year late, I'm appreciative of how many significant moments this preview featured. The only noteable disappointment is that it featured the wrong Spider-Woman. Those who've read the recently concluded Grim Hunt know that it was the Julia Carpenter version of the character, better known recently as Arachne. You'll also understand the significance of surprisingly vivid scenes -- such as the handprint scar on Sasha Kravinoff's face, the knife plunged into Spidey's chest, and the apparent return of Kraven the Hunter. Earlier in the year I wrote an unpublished review of an issue of Kraven's Last Hunt, which this story riffs on. The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt issues are also already stacked for feature should the Infinite Wars backlog continue to unfold into 2010.

The Fight: 5 The Story: 4

Those seeking a first-hand look at this turning point in the saga of the Amazing Spider-man should take advantage of the Amazon purchase link provided. By using links, you help sponsor future materials that may feature on the Infinite Wars. You can also find other collected volumes for sale in the Gift Shoppe, which includes editions containing most issues found in the Secret Archive.

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