In some of my recent write-ups of Superior Spider-Man and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up, I mentioned that I had resigned myself to the fact that the writers of both those series, Dan Slott and Chris Yost respectively, had taken Spider Ock far enough along a dark path that there was no hope of redeeming the character by the time the status quo inevitably switches back to Peter Parker. Then Mike Costa and his “Arms of the Octopus” special came along just to prove me wrong.
The Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special, which marks the conclusion of the “Arms of the Octopus” arc, marks the nicest the Spider Ock character has been since its inception. While teamed up with the time traveling, teenaged X-Men, Spider Ock is more patient than we’ve ever seen him. He’s more encouraging than we ever seen him. And he’s determined to prove his superiority as Spider-Man by doing the right thing.
In many ways, Costa’s characterization of Spider Ock is exactly what I’ve been clamoring for since January. And yet, given where things are in the two main Spider-Man titles – both Superior and Team-Up seem to be setting up the downfall of Spider Ock, not his redemption – Costa’s characterization comes across as being well off-base. Sadly, despite me liking (as a person) this version of Spider Ock more than what Slott and Yost have put forward in recent months, this entire mini strikes me as being even more inconsequential and irrelevant than I first expected. Not only will Otto’s confrontation with his former, thought-to-be-dead alter-ego Doctor Octopus be long forgotten by the time the next issues of Superior and Team-Up hit the stands, but I’m willing to wager that Spider Ock’s character, as put forward by Costa, will not carry over either.
For example, while Spider Ock is apparently planning something quite sinister for Doctor Lamaze after the frumpy professor denied Otto his doctorate and accused him of career-destroying plagiarism to boot, in the Team-Up Special, Spider Ock appears to get flustered with the dopey adolescence of the Bobby Drake’s Iceman (eliciting a rather funny use of the phrase “Hells bells” from Otto) only to regain his composure and mentor the X-Men to victory against Dr. June and his army of robotic (deceased) villains. I can’t be the only one who thinks if Slott or Yost were writing this mini-series that Iceman would have been a puddle of roadkill after not demonstrating the mental aptitude to keep up with Spider Ock and his complex game-planning.
I was especially surprised with Otto’s patience with Jean Grey. Slott and Yost’s Spider Ock generally demeans all the female character in his universe as “woman” save Anna Maria and Aunt May (who he affectionately calls “dear woman”). In the Team-Up Special, Otto shows sympathy for Jean’s youth and inexperience as a telepath. While he voices some frustration with her inability to harness her powers, he remains encouraging – never demeaning – without any undertones of romantic interest.
By the end of the issue, I even developed a kinder, gentler version of whiplash from re-reading all of these Kumbaya moments between Otto and the X-Men. Spider Ock and Hank McCoy complimenting each other for being so bright and intelligent? Since when does Otto Octavius regard anyone as being even remotely competent and where’s the token “Spider-Man sure is a jerk these days,” throwaway line from the team-up hero du jour? The final note Costa leaves us on is Spider Ock celebrating the value of teamwork. Who are you and what have you done with Otto Gunther Octavius?
Again, that’s not say I didn’t enjoy this story. After seriously ticking me off in the mini’s second part with an anti-climatic “the villains are actually robots” reveal , Costa self-corrects a bit in the final chapter with this character-centric finale. Artist Michael Dialynas maintains the vintage, Silver Age look and feel from the arc’s first two parts while giving the issue a necessary quieter tone since the bulk of the comic focuses on these interactions between characters.
But after 10 months of stories involving these characters, does the final chapter of this arc breed any kind of familiarity for readers to hold on to? “Arms of the Octopus” was a lot of fun, but at a pricey $15 for three issues, I can’t even say with any certainty if it’s a “true” Superior Spider-Man story or something that exists in its own alternate timeline. Instead, it’s just kind of there, which in many ways is more frustrating than it being just actively bad.
All images from the Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1: Mike Costa, Michael Dialynas & Rachelle Rosenberg. Cover by Alexander Lozano.