Monday, June 28, 2004

Looking To The Stars:Why Doc Ock Rocks!

So I was walking about the old comic store, when I happened to overhear two youths as they watched the Spider-Man trailers that we had playing on a loop near our Spider-Man Merchandise Display OF DOOM!

“This looks cooler than the first one,” said the first.

“Yeah, but I wish that hadn’t used Doctor Octopus,” said the other.

“Yeah! He’s so old and lame,” the first agreed.

“They should have used Venom,” stated the second.

“Or Carnage,” added the first.

“Yeah! Venom and Carnage together would be sweet! I don’t know why they used Doctor Octopus,” concluded the second.

Well, an old-school Spider-fan like me can only take so much. Doctor Octopus, or Doc Ock as he is often called for short, happens to be my favorite Spider-Man villain of all time. I will in fact, go so far as to say that he is THE greatest villain that Spider-Man has ever had. And considering how many greats Stan Lee created on the first year of Spider-Man alone, that is saying something.

This is not to say there haven’t been any good stories done with Venom and Carnage but for sheer villainy, NOBODY can top ol’ Doc Ock. Yes, that includes anyone and everyone who ever put on a goblin mask. With that in mind, here’s the list of reasons I gave those boys as to why Doctor Octopus is the best Spider-Man villain there is.

1. The Dark Reflection

The greatest villains in history have always been a mirror of what the hero is and might have been had it not been for one small difference. Professor Moriarty was an emotional mathematician and criminal genius; the perfect nemesis for the emotionless detective and heroic genius Sherlock Holmes. The two could have been great friends and were indeed admirers of one another, though they found themselves facing off because one was determined to be a criminal. With that in mind, it is easy to see how Doctor Octopus is the Moriarty of Spider-Man. In many ways, Otto Octavius is a twisted parody of what Peter Parker might have become.

It is worth noting that depending on the writer, Octavius has been depicted as both a crank mocked by his fellow scientists whose accident was a karmatic punishment for his arrogance and as a kindly, if misunderstood scientist, working to improve humanity’s lot. I prefer the later, as it is in more keeping with Stan Lee’s original vision of the character, whose evil ways were caused by a brain injury acquired in the same explosion that gave him his powers. More, this emphasizes the path Peter could taken had his accident happened differently.

Differing tales of the Doctor’s past have also altered just how rough a childhood he had, but it is generally agreed that he had a father who was anything but supportive of his genius and a mother who was too protective. This lies in stark contrast to Peter’s own upbringing by a father who was very supportive of his studies and a mother, who while nurturing, was not too constrictive.

Regardless of his personality and past beforehand, Otto’s accident definitely drove him to madness and criminal behavior whereas Peter was empowered to become a protector of the innocent. Despite this, Peter and Otto have much in common. Their accidents were similar enough that in the “Chapter One” mini-series, John Byrne attempted to combine their accidents into one (A change that has thankfully been declared null and void). Both took the identity of an eight-appendaged creature whom is generally considered scary or gross. And both are brilliant scientists. This brings us to my next point.

2. Brains And Brawn

Spider-Man is renowned for being one of the brighter superheroes out there. More than just a science whiz, Peter is also quick on his feet when it comes to improvisation and battle strategy. And even with such brains as Mysterio, Vulture and The Kingpin in his Rogues Gallery, it’s safe to say that Spidey can easily outwit most of the villains he faces in a spelling bee or a game of Scrabble.

Not so with Doc Ock! Peter’s a genius, but he’s never quite managed to develop anything quite as advanced or as groundbreaking as his web fluid, which he can’t patent for obvious reasons. He’s also never been able to quite finish his degree plan. By contrast, Doctor Octopus has multiple doctorates and was the recognized world authority on radiation before his accident. In terms of pure genius, Doc Ock is the only villain who can possibly outmatch Spider-Man. More, with his mechanical arms, he is just a little bit stronger than Spider-Man, able to break through his webbing with a concentrated effort.

3. The First Defeat and First Umasking

Doc’s keen genius and enhanced strength made him the first super-villain to ever actually defeat Spider-Man in a one-on-one fight. (Amazing Spider-Man #3) Granted, Peter was still a high-school kid and just getting into the costumed crime-fighting gig… but Doc was still new to being a criminal. This also marks the first example of when Peter really should have kept his mouth shut about his good fortune, as he declared that he had run out of enemies who could present a challenge and “I almost wish for an opponent who’d give me a run for my money!” Well, Peter got a run… and a-runned over. And while he would always bounce back and stop Doc Ock’s plans at the end, Peter often seemed to take his worst licks from the good Doctor, who would escape at the last moment about half as often as Peter was able to catch him.

And let’s not forget that Doc Ock was able to unmask Spider-Man before a whole crowd! (Amazing Spider-Man #12) Only the fact that Peter was ill and unable to fight saved his secret identity, as everyone on the scene was convinced that Peter had foolishly dressed as Spider-Man to rescue his girlfriend, who was one of the hostages. Had he not been so tired, he might have been insulted that nobody had even considered for a second that Puny Parker might really be Spider-Man.

Still, Doctor Octopus would be one of the few to figure that secret out years later and the only one to fully take advantage of it. At least until the need for a way out of the quagmire of the Clone Saga would push the long-dead Norman Osborn back into the land of the living. And even he, so often counted as Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, has done little in the time since then to truly warrant being considered Spider-Man’s arch-enemy.

4. A Sinister Plot

Reincarnated in various forms and ripped-off even by other super-villains (such as the infamous Legion of Losers that was known as the Sinister Syndicate), The Sinister Six was based on the simple idea that if two heads were better than one that six super-powered baddies with a mad-on for Spider-Man would surely allow at least one of them a chance to defeat him.

And who was the mastermind behind the formation of The Sinister Six? Who created the battle plans and arranged the meetings between all these dangerous criminals? Who organized these various lunatics, thugs and geniuses into a fighting team capable of mayhem on scales inconceivable?

Well, it sure as heck wasn’t Aunt May!

5. Nice Day For A White Wedding…

But while we’re on the subject of Aunt May, Doc Ock managed to make Peter’s life more difficult even outside of the superheroic battlefield. During the first battle with the Sinister Six, Doc Ock took Aunt May and Betty Brant hostage (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1) Far from being his usual psychopathic self, the Doctor was sweet and nice as can be to Aunt May, who became convinced that Otto was a persecuted genius and that his crimes were all misunderstandings.

This paved the way for Doc Ock to move in with Aunt May shortly after Peter moved out. Seeking a hideout to lay low in, he answered an ad for a boarding house only to find that the landlady was… well, you guessed it! (Amazing Spider-Man #54)

Peter tried to convince Aunt May that the Doctor was up to no good, but to no avail. May later accepted a position as Doctor Octopus’ housekeeper after he “procured” a large mansion and was sent to prison yet again. (Amazing Spider-Man #114) Aunt May gleefully cleaned up after Otto’s “business associates” re: hired goons in Doc Ock’s latest attempt to take over the New York Underworld since his brief stint as The Master Planner.

And in the ultimate last-straw, an escaped Octavius would later attempt to wed Aunt May, in the issue that spawned perhaps the most famous “funny” Spider-Man cover of all time (Amazing Spider-Man #131, if you must know!). Of course Otto’s motives were less than pure: he discovered that May had inherited an island with an active nuclear reactor and a uranium mine and was hell-bent on collecting it for his own experiments.

Aunt May remained blissfully unaware of her potential beau’s past until recently, where shortly after discovering Peter’s secret identity she saw Otto for the danger he was during a fight with Peter and the man who had stolen his new and improved tentacle suit.

6. The Death of Captain Stacy!

So far, we have a pretty impressive list of famous firsts. First one to defeat Spider-Man. First one to unmask Spider-Man. First one to form a team of villains to defeat Spider-Man. And probably the first super-villain to seduce a superhero’s mother! (Let’s not quibble- she’s the closest thing he’s had to a mom, okay?) Throw in the similar origins, animal themes, power levels and a slightly higher I.Q. and we have one good list to go out on. But we have one more famous first to add; the first person close to Peter to die after he became a superhero.

Of course The Green Goblin gets all the glory for throwing Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy off a bridge. But a scant thirty-one issues before that infamous and overplayed scene, Doctor Octopus was responsible for the death of her father: Police Captain George Stacy. (Amazing Spider-Man #90)

In yet another battle with Spider-Man, Doc Ock threw Peter through a chimney, which collapsed sending a rain of bricks and rocks down onto the street. Spying an oblivious child underneath the falling rubble, Capt. Stacy ran and pushed the boy out of the way only to be pummeled to death himself.

Shocked, Spider-Man swung down and took the Captain up on the roof. It was here that Capt. Stacy told Peter that he knew his secret identity and asked him to look after Gwen. With that, Capt. George Stacy left this earth, his last act, like so many of his acts in life, made to save another.

Though it was the indirect result of his trying to kill Spider-Man, Doc Ock was able to make Peter’s life more difficult yet again. Because the crowd on the scene only saw Spider-Man being pushed against the chimney and his taking Capt. Stacy’s body later, it was assumed that Spider-Man had pushed the chimney onto the retired cop and was trying to hide the body to prevent it from being used as evidence. This marked the first crime that Spider-Man became wanted for over an extended period.

More, not only was Capt. Stacy “the second-best friend I ever had”, according to Peter, but the guilt over being unable to stop Doc Ock then would leave Peter barely able to speak to Gwen for the next few months. And so he was never truly able to square things with her before her death at the hands of The Green Goblin. This makes an already tragic pair of deaths all the more so. We can only imagine the kind of happiness Peter might have found in the Stacy family, had his secrets been revealed to everyone earlier.

And that all might have been… had it not been for Doctor Octopus.

And for those who must have a happy ending after ending the list on such a sour note, take comfort in this. Those two boys I mentioned left the store with their eyes opened to the light. I don’t know if I totally convinced them that Doc Ock is better than Venom but they admitted that the stories I told them did sound pretty cool. And with the youth of today as jaded as they are, I think that’s a pretty good start.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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