Today we will be taking a look at An Obituary for Octopus by Tom DeFalco and Ron Lim in SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED vol. 1 #3 from 1993.
SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED first launched in 1993, becoming the fifth title to be published featuring the wall-crawler; the other four being AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, WEB OF SPIDER-MAN and NO-ADJECTIVE SPIDER-MAN. But much like WEB and NO-ADJECTIVE, UNLIMITED proved to be an ultimately superfluous series, never really obtaining a unique identity to set it apart from its sister titles and containing few memorable stories within its pages. Thankfully, gems can often be found amidst the mediocrity in even the blandest of books, which brings us to today’s tale.
Otto Octavius a.k.a. Doctor Octopus (or just Doc Ock) is truly a villain that needs no introduction. First appearing in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #3 in 1963, the dreaded doctor immediately established himself as a fearsome adversary and quickly captured readers’ attention.
Since then, Ock has been declared one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes (with some even claiming he is the greatest) and has made numerous appearances, many of which are now considered classics. There was even a period where Otto actually switched bodies with Peter Parker and became Spider-Man!
With such a popular villain, you would think the story that finally reveals his past would get more recognition. However, An Obituary for Octopus is rarely ever discussed despite containing a definitive and detailed backstory for our favorite science squid. In just one issue, legendary Spider-scribe Tom DeFalco (best known for creating the black costume and Mayday Parker/Spider-Girl) manages to flesh out Otto Octavius like never before.
Our tale begins with the oh so shocking announcement that Doc Ock has once again escaped police custody. I mean, it’s only about the 200th time that has happened. Anyway, a Daily Bugle reporter by the name of Dilbert Trilby is informed of the not so good doctor’s escape and immediately pulls detailed files on Octavius in order to write an obituary of the man in case of his demise.
It is from these files that we begin delving into Otto’s past. Like most great villains, he had a rather dismal childhood.
Despite the undesirable upbringing, Otto possesses a truly gifted mind and eventually graduates with the highest of honors. Pursuing his passion for science, Otto joins the U.S. Atomic Research Center. But while there, he forms a rather unexpected bond.
Back in the present, Doc Ock finally makes his move and attacks an armored vehicle. But as the old tune goes, “he arrives just in time…”
Not wanting to waste valuable time battling his jovial nemesis, Ock tries a different tactic.
What exactly is Ock’s sinister plan this time? And what in his backstory sent him down his villainous path? Well shucks, that would be telling.
In his 55+ years of publication, this is definitely some of the best development Doctor Octopus has ever received. His backstory is intriguing and even mirrors Peter Parker’s in many respects. Otto is subtly presented as the person Peter could have possibly become without the guidance and love of his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Both were gifted youths who were endlessly tormented and scorned by their peers, but Peter at least had a warm and stable home life; something Otto never did.
Another welcome story element is the essence of Ock’s present day scheme. A clever twist at the end of the issue serves to further humanize Ock and even lends a surprising amount of sympathy to his character; no small task as this is a man who has tried to destroy New York City on more than one occasion.
Even though An Obituary for Octopus has never been collected in any form, it’s easy to track down due to being a singular issue. If you’re a Doctor Octopus fan, you owe it to yourself to read this comic. It easily ranks among Tom DeFalco’s strongest Spider-Man work.