Overlooked Gems #6: “An Obituary for Octopus”

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.

I’m certain this will have a happy conclusion.

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.

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(8) Comments

  1. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    @John Simons Thank you for the kind words, John. I'm glad you're enjoying the articles.Regarding the SUPERIOR TEAM-UP story, I did like it. Otto's and Norman's interactions were great, as was the reveal that Norman was behind this issue's plight. That tale really reinforced Norman Osborn as the fiend we all love to hate.

  2. John Simons

    Joshua, thanks for doing these articles. I completely agree with you in that this story is definitely a forgotten gem. What did you think of the follow up that Kevin Shinick did in Superior Team-Up #11-12? Did you like the reveal of who was behind Ock's plight in this issue? I, for one, did. I thought it made Otto into even more of an anti-Peter to have THAT person damage Otto's life the way he damaged Peter's. Keep up the good work!

  3. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    @Andrew C -- Since my goal with Overlooked Gems is to convince people to track down and read good yet relatively unknown stories, I'm quite pleased at your newfound desire to track this issue down. Like I discussed in the article, it's a truly great Doc Ock tale.While I don't intend to cover the WEB issue you mentioned, I do in fact have plans for that series, so stay tuned, Andrew! Thank you for reading as always.

  4. Andrew C

    You know I consider myself a huge Spidey fan... so much so that I had read and appreciated all the previous 5 Unknown Gems you had written about before (and agree that they were gems). But this one took me by surprise; you finally dug up one I had no idea about. Probably because like you said, UNLIMITED wasn’t known for its stellar quality. But they were occasional highlights. So I’ll have to check this out now.I think it’s a good idea to focus on some gems in the rough from these lesser books like Web, Unlimited, and so on (not sure I agree adjectiveless is lesser though). One Web comic I loved is a single issue story in which Pete’s clothes get taken (complete with wallet and old web cartridges) after a surprise renovation of the Statue of Liberty’s torch (he had a habit of changing there, I guess). The cover alone is gorgeous enough, but the story itself is tightly told and charming with some great Parker luck moments (like him tracking the torch to Miami to retrieve his civies... while there he tans too long on a beach and has to fight the rest of the issue with his skin-tight suit clinging to his terrible sun burn). http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/File:Web_of_Spider-Man_Vol_1_28.jpg

  5. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    @hornacek -- Beginning and ending an overlong mess like "Maximum Carnage" is definitely not the best way to start a new title.And yes, I also got DeMatteis vibes from this issue when Otto's childhood was explained. Perhaps DeFalco took a page from DeMatteis's book?That SUPERIOR TEAM-UP story was actually pretty good.@Jonathon O'Neal -- You are absolutely correct. For some reason I thought UNLIMITED came before ADJECTIVE-LESS despite the latter being launched three years before the former. Thank you for pointing that out and I have now fixed that error.@ABC -- Long story short, Doc Ock is now in a younger body and is a member of Hydra.

  6. Jonathon O'Neal

    Spider-man Unlimited was the 5th Spider-man title published. You forgot adjectiveless Spider-man (the one started by Todd McFarlane), which was the 4th regular title featuring Peter Parker as Spider-man (I'm ignoring Marvel Tales which was publishing reprints of the Roger Stern/Tom DeFalco era at the time).

  7. hornacek

    Spider-Man Unlimited is notorious known for starting and ending Maximum Carnage with its first two issues. That probably more than anything diminishes the title's legacy.I always forget that it was DeFalco who gave Doc Ock his middle name and not Slott ... unless his middle name was already established before this story? But I can't think of a previous Doc Ock story where it would have come up."Like most great villains, he had a rather dismal childhood." Wait - you said DeFalco wrote this. If a villain has a dismal childhood, doesn't that mean it's written by DeMatteis?Without giving anything away, I loved this issue, and how it was referenced in the Doc Ock/Norman team-up in the Superior Team-Up two-parter. I think (?) that's the only story that's ever referenced this story (at least the present-day stuff).

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