Patrick: How do we measure the “good” a superhero does? By how many supervillains they fight or alien worlds they protect? Or maybe by how many times they save the world? Those are some impossible benchmarks to understand — no matter what kind of life you lead, you’re never going to meet someone who achieves victory on the scale of an Avenger. That level of “good” is alien. Real life heroes address much more personal issues — hunger, disease, poverty, crime. Y’know, like a doctor. Hey, wait, Dr. Octavius is a doctor.
Having successfully apprehended the mysteriously-behaving Spider-Man, the Avengers run him through a series of tests to determine if there’s something science-fictiony going on there. The tests mostly determine that they’re nothing wrong with good ol’ Peter Parker, but when Otto sees the results, he notices an aberration in his brainwaves. Good thing for Otto, no one else can interpret information this subtle. With no reason to hold him, the Avengers let Spider-Man go.
Wanting to learn more about his abnormal brain waves, Otto seeks out an old invention of his — an advanced brain scanner currently in the possession of Cardiac. Spider-Man bursts into Cardiac’s lab/hideout/hospital and demands the device. After a little bit of violence (there’s always violence), Otto realizes the brain scanner is being used to treat one of his old victims — a little girl with a stuffed penguin friend. His heart appropriately melted, Otto helps save the girl’s life and forges an alliance with Cardiac.
There’s an interesting coda to this story that I’ll loop around to later, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk about what motivates Otto. So much of this series has kind of taken for granted what Otto’s up to — he wants two things: a) to overshadow the Parker’s legacy with his own; and b) to out-live his busted-up Doc Ock body. Even as Otto’s Spider-Man became a more effective crime fighter than Peter’s had ever been, there was something… off about his approach. More than other heroes, Otto flirted with illegal and immoral methods of bringing baddies to justice. At the time, Shelby identified it as Otto willfully sacrificing what was right for what was efficient. But Otto’s attitude toward Cardiac suggests that under any desire Otto has to do good is a steady stream of anarchy. Breaking society’s rules is part of what Otto values.
There’s a weird sense of nostalgia in what Otto’s saying here — he misses being a supervillain and all the fun trappings that come with it. But Otto also approves of the good Cardiac is doing. Where’s that come from? Has being Spider-Man softened Otto, or has there always been a hidden good-streak in Doctor Octavius?
There are clues buried in Spider-Man’s interaction with the Avengers. It’s pretty clear that Otto doesn’t respect these guys — he calls them “a bunch of button pushing monkeys” for crying out loud. We saw some of this in the Age of Ultron tie-in issue, but I don’t think we can count that character development as something that’s actually part of a future that’s going to stick, so let’s just deal with what we have here. Otto’s been policing New York City in an exceedingly practical way. His patrols are streamlined, he has eyes everywhere, and while he also takes the time to fight supervillains, Spider-Man has been the people’s hero. Remember how he calls the cops for back-up? Remember how he takes calls from the Mayor? Dan Slott has made all of Otto’s heroics immediate and concrete. Meanwhile, the Avengers still have huge comic-booky concerns, like whether or not Spider-Man is a Skrull.
Now, I get that we’re in the Marvel Universe, so these are legitimate concerns. But as a reader, Captain America’s litany of concerns seem downright silly when you compare them to the fact that a little girl’s life is in danger. I think it’s also worth noting that the girl was the victim of one of Otto’s more supervillanous schemes: removing the ozone layer as a show of power. The solution to that kind of block-buster villainy is a more personal act of kindness. As a baddie, Otto thought globally, but as a hero he acts locally.
Artist Humberto Ramos draws some mean action sequences. There are two big fights in this issue and both are anchored by one HUGE drawing of the action with a few panels detailing the particulars. It might not make for the clearest action, but Ramos takes care to show us the important beats and makes the whole thing appear spectacular. But he also excels at the softer moments of the issue. I let out an audible “awwwww” when I saw that little girl hugging a big-headed Spider-Man doll. Plus, he nails everything that’s hilarious about Spider-Man wearing scrubs, complete with a facemask over his facemask and a totally superfluous bouffant cap.
Drew, I frequently feel like Slott is earnestly making a case for the Superiority of this Spider-Man. I know that might ruffle some feathers, but I think he makes a compelling argument. It also looks like Slott might be making a more permanent move toward a world without Peter Parker — as Otto announced he’s going to attempt a Parker-ectomy on the last page of this issue. What do you think, Drew? Can the series survive losing Ghost-Peter’s influence? Is Peter gumming up the works or is he holding it all together?
Drew: That’s a great question, and while I think it’s obvious that Peter is a boon to Otto — having access to Peter’s memories are essential to his cover story, if nothing else — I’m not sure Otto sees it that way. Otto would refuse help even if he didn’t think there was a danger of that help taking over his brain and/or blowing his cover — hell, the man is about to perform surgery on his own brain — so I can’t imagine he’ll see much utility in keeping Peter around. At least, not in his head. I suspect he’ll have the foresight to not just throw out Peter’s consciousness — he might need a consult every now and then — but he’s definitely getting him out of his brain. I’m pulling for Otto to load Peter onto the robot, but I’m kind of a sucker for that robot.
As long as Peter’s consciousness is still alive somewhere, there’s still a chance that everything will be returned to normal, and while I’m enjoying the hell out of what Slott and Ramos are doing, I suspect the action here will eventually restore the status quo. For me, it’s not really a matter of “if,” but “when,” and it seems like Carlie is set on pressing the question sooner rather than later. She seems to be zeroing in on Otto, and has even enlisted the help of somebody who doesn’t like her — Ramos keeps the face obscured, but I honestly don’t know enough about the characters to make much of a guess, anyway. How her investigation will collide with Otto’s Parker-ectomy could determine just how long he’ll be in the driver’s seat. It seems like Carlie could save a few steps by just going to the Avengers, but we can’t expect everything to be so easy.
Speaking of the Avengers, I actually really liked the approach Ramos took for the fight scene. Sure, there aren’t a ton of panels, so the sense of cause and effect is pretty limited, but check out how dynamic that main image is.
There’s just too much going on in that panel to take it in all at once — effectively, your brain breaks it into smaller panels as you read the dialogue. Like, I process Mjolnir long before I ever get to Thor, which means he throws it a second time just by virtue of my eye roaming the page. It gives the panel a sense of motion even though it’s depicting a single moment. It stretches the time Peter is evading their blows, making the smack-down he gets at the end feel much more balanced than “one panel of winning, three panels of losing” might suggest. Also, I can’t get over how funny it is to see Black Widow complaining that apprehending him is “too hard” — not that it’s impossible, just that it’s more work than she really wants to put in.
You’re absolutely right about this issue’s commentary on the nature of heroism, Patrick. We see a whole mess of superheroes fighting and running absurd tests in their ivory tower, but the real heroic acts in this issue are those of doctors. Otto certainly looks silly in the Spidey-suit and scrubs, but the image is a very clear statement of who the real superheroes are. It also serves to teach Otto the value of helping others for the sake of helping others. Sure, he’s spent the past 7 issues doing heroic acts for glory or out of some perversion of morality, but there’s something much more immediate about saving a little girl and becoming her personal hero. To me, that’s the promise of a Superior Spider-Man.
The prospect of a touched Otto Octavius is enough to make me want to see him behind the mask for a long, long time — perhaps enough to be willing to say goodbye to Ghost-Peter. I’m sure that prospect would upset too many fans to ever be a real possibility, but I think Slott has totally earned it. Otto may still be figuring out what it means to be a hero, but he’s turning into a damn good one.
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