Welcome to Spider-Man Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers were asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Dr Devin King, who chose number #55 for the roulette!
By Steve Morris
Amazing Spider-Man #55 sees the return of Doctor Octopus. Now, this isn’t his first appearance back in the comic since his debut back in issue #3 (which Shelfdust covered only an issue or two ago), but cannily it is an issue which builds directly from that debut. The roulette is chosen at random, and yet somehow we’ve got the two perfect issues to follow on from one another. Great work, everybody!
In his first appearance, we got everything we needed from Doc. His whole personality formed immediately, and everything you expect from the current day iteration of the character can be seen right there from the start. The key points, as a reminder: he’s an egomaniac who thinks he knows better than anybody else because he’s the greatest mind in America. That’s built up even further when he beats Spider-Man in their first altercation – thus settling in his mind that he really is the best there is. Spider-Man decides to use his brains rather than his brawn, fuses the arms together, and webs Ock right in the eyes. One punch later, everything’s settled.
It’s important to walk through all those points from that previous appearance, because it’s clear that artist John Romita Sr is drawing carefully from all of them in this issue. I’m once more going by the assumption that Stan is working “Marvel Method” and scripting whatever artwork he’s been handed by the artist at the time, having given a plot summary – and going by that assumption, you have to give John Romita Sr a hell of a lot of credit. The man’s done his research, and it pays off throughout this issue. It takes fifteen pages for the fight between the two characters, but when it comes it plays straight into their previous battle back in issue #3, and immediately reminds you of the history between the two characters.
Spider-Man’s first move is to go for the tentacles, and tangle two of them up – the successful tactic from last time, which allowed him time to reach Doc Ock’s face with his fists. Romita throws Spider-Man straight into that manoeuvre this time, which leaves the villain with six arms left. Crucially, though, Romita also knows the psychology of the two characters – in the next page he draws a scene which steers the storyline, as one of Doc’s goons asks if he can get involved. Doc, who believes himself superior, won’t let him, and then starts to display some of the new powers he’s learned for himself since last time.
That’s the problem with boss fights: the second time round, the boss always reveals secret attacks he never had before. Romita draws the reader’s eye each time to the most important act on each panel – showing how the guard is trying to intervene, making it clear that Doc can now un-knot his arms and release himself, and more. When you have a writer who uses your narrative to construct a story, it’s vitally important for someone like Romita to make such he steers what the narrative could be. There’s only one way to tell the story laid out by Romita’s artwork, and it means Stan can only follow his artist’s lead. The story of the fight keeps leading back to their previous fight, but Romita is a much faster-paced storyteller than Ditko ever was: his depiction of Doctor Octopus is terrifying here, flailing arms and tentacles and overwhelming Spider-Man in their fight.
Once more we see how Ock has all the tools available to beat Spider-Man just like he did in their first battle… and worse, he’s learned from last time. There’s a page which shows Peter repeatedly trying to shoot Doc in the eyes and incapacitate him, but each shot of web fluid is deflected away by one of the other arms. Because Doc can free his arms from being tied up, he’s operating at complete efficiency, and Spider-Man is quickly overwhelmed by the fight itself. Peter’s first move would have given him an advantage if only Otto hadn’t learned from last time – and now they’re at close quarters, Spider-Man is hopelessly outnumbered in the battle. Doc grabs both his arms with one tentacle each, and merrily lands a haymaker using a third tentacle. Spider-Man is definitively losing the fight.
It’s not just headstrong storytelling which gives Lee no choice in the way he’ll narrate the action, but it’s drawn straight from the first appearance of both characters. As he continues to win the battle, Ock gets more and more confident as he sees his own self-belief justified. In comparison, Spidey’s beatdown gets worse and worse because Peter doesn’t have the self-belief that he can defeat the villain. That’s what makes their dynamic so enjoyable and so nuanced: Peter is relatable because he doesn’t have the self-confidence of a mediocre white man. Ock thinks himself brilliant and it’s that sense of self-belief which helps carry him along from failed experiment to failed experiment whilst Peter – who has to clean up the mess from each time Ock overreaches himself and causes chaos – is the one who doesn’t think he’s good enough.
Towards the end of the fight Ock has Spider-Man essentially bang to rights, but he’s not just winning their fight: he’s relishing it. And that leads him to try out his new super weapon on Peter just to see what will happen. He’s a scientist running freak experiments on the fly, and it’s his sense of superiority which allows him to try such a bizarre end to their fight. Everything that annoys you about Elon Musk is present in Doctor Octopus – but the worst part of all is how he always seems to prevail. It turns out that Ock’s new weapon makes Spider-Man amnesiac: something which gives Doc even more to smile about! He drops the fight immediately, because he wants to have some fun with his enemy. Romita gives him the smarmiest grin imaginable as he explains what’s going on and why – it’s infuriating.
That’s what makes this such a great issue, though. It builds on an excellent introduction to Doctor Octopus right back in issue #3 and adds layers to it, without ever sacrificing that core story which makes the two characters such terrific foils for one another. Romita leads the reader by the hand throughout the issue – including Stan Lee – and it leads to a comic which feels grounded and intelligent, even as it takes in some of the silliest tropes of the medium. I love it.
Amazing Spider-Man #55: Doc Ock Wins!
Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita Sr.
Inked by Mike Esposito
Lettered by Sam Rosen
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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