Fifty years ago, the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko launched an intense rivalry in “Amazing Spider-Man” #3 between the title character and a super villain who was essentially his dark mirror, Doctor Otto Octavius AKA Doctor Octopus. Over the years, their never-ending battle has had many twists and turns, but virtually every skirmish between the two characters resulted in a victorious Spidey and a bruised and battered Doc Ock.
The amount of physical punishment Doc Ock endured began to add up over time, and his body began to fail him. The tentacled super villain accepted this fact and found himself more determined than ever to make his mark on the world before he died. He attempted to do so on two recent occasions, but as usual, his arch-foe got in the way.
Now, Doc Ock has just hours left to live, but that’s plenty of time to punish the man who foiled every one of his attempts to change the world. In “Amazing Spider-Man” #698, by writer Dan Slott and artist Richard Elson, readers saw Otto Octavius do just that. CBR News spoke with Slott about the events of the issue and its surprise twist ending.
CBR News: So, Dan — now that the secret is out —
Dan Slott: The secret was spoiled online days before it officially came out. Boo! Hiss! The thing that’s frustrating about that is a lot of people were just posting the third to last page on their Tumblrs and blogs. It was just like, “Dude! Come On!” I drove Marvel crazy by making everyone swear to secrecy, making sure that nothing was revealed in the solicits and begging not to have any kind of news story that came out on the day. And everyone at Marvel were complete saints with this. They moved heaven and earth to give you an unspoiled story, and unfortunately one bad apple spoiled things.
In the long run, I think it’s going to be good because it really drummed up a lot more interest in this issue. It got more people going to the stores and more people picking it up. So it’s a double-edged sword. On one level, I’m glad the book sold so well and it’s going back for a second printing, but me, Richard and everyone who worked on the book would have preferred that you got a chance to read the book and got that surprise where it was supposed to come.
It’s like, “Big spoiler warning for ‘Psycho!’ Norman Bates was dressing up as his mother!” I’ve now grown up in a generation where you know that going in. You know from being part of pop culture that Norman Bates is his mother, and his mother is really dead. So every time someone sees the movie “Psycho” for the first time, they’re walking in already knowing the secret, and that’s a completely different experience.
I’m not comparing “Amazing” #698 to the greatness of “Psycho.” I’m just making an analogy. One of the fun things I’ve seen on people’s Twitter and Facebook accounts is that they’re saying they had a fun time rereading the book. They’re now looking for clues on the flip side, but for so many people, it meant when they read the book the first time they were actually reading it for the second time, and that’s a shame.
Of course, you’re talking about the revelation that Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man have swapped bodies and all of issue #698 was told from the point of view of Doc Ock. Why did you choose the body swapping angle for what may very well be the final confrontation between Peter Parker and Otto Octavius?
You will see in issue #699 that it isn’t something where we went, “Let’s do a crazy stunt out of the blue.” You’ll see that we’ve been laying the track for this story since issue #600. This is something we’ve been building too for quite some time, and many different stories that we’ve told have actually sown more seeds. There’s stuff in this from “Ends of the Earth,” “Spider-Island” and several other stories. It will all become very clear.
So you’ll wind back the clock and show the actual event that caused them to switch bodies?
You’ll see everything in #699. The one thing we really haven’t shown you is the exact moment. That’s something that’s never been shown.
Let’s talk about what your characters are doing because of the switch. It’s interesting that Doc Ock is content at least at first to be Spider-Man and doesn’t actively try to ruin Pete’s life. Why is that?
What’s Doc Ock doing? Why is he doing it? You’re going to have to wait and see. The biggest reason, of course, is that he doesn’t want to die. Peter Parker is his lifeboat.
Were some of his actions in this issue motivated by the simple fact that he now has a working body he can enjoy?
Yes. He’s been a prisoner of this decaying body since issue #600, and now he’s got a new lease on life, and not just any life! He’s bested his greatest enemy! And when you think about it, Doc Ock has always been sort of less than human. He’s been someone who’s had this thing grafted to his body and he’s always been a bit of a schlub.
Now, he’s younger than when we first met him. So he’s in this youthful vigorous body. That’s something cool for Otto.
Doc Ock foils a robbery as Spider-Man, and he seemed to enjoy it. Is there a part of Doc Ock that enjoys being heroic?
I think it’s more that he enjoyed beating the crap out of a guy. [Laughs] It’s like, “Look at me! All these years I was the one being punched. Now I get to do the punching!” So I don’t think we can call Otto heroic because at the end of the day he’s thumping some one in the head.
The person that Doc Ock thumps in the head is a robber with an interesting angle. He’s dressing like a super villain to avoid being prosecuted by a mandatory gun crimes sentencing law. Where did your idea for this come from?
We needed something in that story that would allow Doc Ock to punch somebody so hard that they would have to be picked up by paramedics. At the same time though there had to be a gray area where if it was Peter Parker as Spider-Man you’d be able to go, “There’s no way Peter could have known that, and that guy is an idiot for doing that.” So you feel like he got what’s coming to him and at the same time I got my scene where Doc Ock put a super villain in the hospital.
Will we see this phenomenon of ordinary crooks appearing to be villains again in future Spidey books or some of the other Marvel New York titles?
The cruelty Otto displayed in clocking that crook suggests to me that the body swapping hasn’t affected his personality at all.
Right. This is Otto in Peter Parker’s body, but he does have access to all of Peter’s memories. So if someone like the Human Torch came up to him and asked, “Remember that time when we did this?” And it’s some private thing that only Johnny and Peter would know, Otto could reply, “Yes, I do remember that time and the secret code word we entered to enter the villain’s lair was this.”
No one can fake him out on something that Peter should know. There’s not going to be a moment where they trip him up by asking him if he remembers a specific time that never happened.
In #698, you explored more than just Doc Ock’s actions as Spider-Man. You also explored his reaction to being Peter Parker, and it seems like Ock’s taking a liking to Peter’s personal life. His attraction to Mary Jane is clear, but the character has had a history of interactions with Aunt May, so I’m curious about his feelings towards her.
When he’s putting on his suit and tie (and he’s wearing a suit and tie all the time now? That’s not Peter Parker!) and hears the message about Aunt May, he stops and says, “That dear, sweet, woman.” Doc Ock cares for Aunt May. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have tried to disrupt her wedding in “Amazing Spider-Man” #600.
I seem to recall some stories, I believe in the ’70s, where they almost got married. Am I remembering those correctly?
Yeah, he was going to marry her to gain control of Aunt May’s secret nuclear reactor! [Laughs] That was one of those things where if you look at it too long you go, “WHAT? Aunt May was going to inherit a nuclear reactor?”
Plus, she was Doc Ock’s housemaid for a while, and that’s when he slowly started wooing her. [Laughs] So he does think fondly of May Parker (who’s now May Parker-Jameson).
And he appears to be especially fond of Mary Jane Watson.
Well, look at it this way: Doc Ock has got an in with Mary Jane Watson, one of the most gorgeous women in the Marvel Universe. Since “Spider-Island,” where Peter broke up with Carlie, Peter and MJ have been taking small steps towards getting back together to the point where Aunt May and other characters in the book are left to wonder, “Are they dating?”
â€¨They’ve been going very cautiously and very slow. Now, with Doc Ock suddenly in control, he’s speeding things up. He’s like, “Come on! Let’s get back together! Let’s do it right now!” But does Doc want anything like a relationship? Eh. In this issue, we have that horrible moment where MJ is off to get her coat and he turns to the other girls in the club and goes, “Ladies”
For a while, Otto Octavius has been this pudgy, bespectacled nerd, and now he’s Peter Parker. There’s something cool about that for him.
So your message to people who wanted Peter and Mary Jane back together is be careful what you wish for.
[Laughs] One of my favorite moments of this year’s New York Comic Con was when I was in Artist’s Alley and I was signing books for people. This adorable couple comes up through the line. The girlfriend says, “My boyfriend loves Spider-Man, and he wants to know if you’ll tell us any secrets?” I asked, “We’re you guys at the panel?” And they said they missed it. So I said, “Okay, here’s a big secret. You want Spider-Man and Mary Jane back together?” The guy responded with, “YES! YES! YES!” So I said, “Well, they’re back together.” He then went, “YEAH!” And his arms are outstretched and his face is all happy. Then I said, “And Spider-Man is not Peter Parker.”
He was still in the same arms outstretched pose, but his face morphed from ultimate happiness to ultimate despair. [Laughs] It was like I opened the Ark of the Covenant underneath him. His whole head kinda melted. It was earnest, pure, honest emotion. I knew then that we were in for a good ride.
I don’t want to torment people. [Laughs] But I know the squirm factor is part of the appeal of this story. That’s part of the fun of it. If I’m getting you to squirm, good. We’re getting the job done.
We don’t get much of Pete’s reaction to the body switch because the story in “Amazing” #698 is told from Doc Ock’s point of view, but I can imagine it’s something along the lines of, “Holy crap! How did this happen?” And then he goes into cardiac arrest?
[Laughs] Yep! That’s pretty much it. Except he’s been sitting in that cell for quite awhile going, “Peter Parker!” So he’s actually had some time to dwell on it. But how?! How did it happen?! Next issue.
Let’s talk about that last page, where Doc Ock/Spider-Man walking away from a Peter Parker/Doc Ock in cardiac arrest. It’s pretty effective, but I’m wondering how much more effective it would it be in an age without solicits, where people wouldn’t be sure if they were going to get an issue #699 or #700.
[Laughs] Yeah, just imagine! I’ve been watching people’s reactions to that last page, and they’ve leapt to some really big conclusions that will immediately be shattered — or confirmed — in issue #699.
We’ve talked about the story, so let’s start to wrap things up by talking about art. I loved Richard Elson’s Loki in “Journey Into Mystery,” and in this issue he drew a great Spider-Man. Plus, Antonio Fabela’s colors really popped. What’s it like working with these guys on a story like this?
The colors were gorgeous, and it was a joy to work with Richard. I couldn’t stop gushing over every page that came in. I would go to my editor Steve Wacker, “I want to keep him! Can we put him in the rotation? I love him!” His storytelling is so crisp and clear and he did a great job with all the characters. I’m kind of bummed he’s moving onto “Morbius: The Living Vampire.” That’s great for the writer of that book, Joe Keatinge. [Laughs] It’s wonderful for HIM.
It was the same feeling I had when we got Ryan Stegman to do a done-in-one issue of “Amazing.” He did the issue right before “Spider-Island.” When the pages started coming in, I was like, “Can we keep him?” And Steve said, “No. I’ve got plans for Stegman.” Then, when I saw what they were, I was like, “Awww. You’re putting him on ‘Scarlet Spider!’ That lucky [Chris] Yost!” Now that I’ve got my hands on Stegman though, he’s mine! So I’m hoping to someday get Richard back as well.
I want all the toys. [Laughs] They ask me, “Well who do you want to give up? Do you want to give up Camuncoli?” And I say, “Hell no! I love Cammo.” They then ask, “Humberto?” And the answer there is still “no.” Humberto is joined at my hip. Come at me and try to take Humberto Ramos away from me. I’ll cut you. [Laughs] I just got Stegman, but it hurt like Hell to lose Stefano Caselli. I want to keep working with all my artists. I still want to work with Andrea DiVito from “The Thing.”
So I can’t wait until the day comes around when I get to work with Richard again. He killed on this issue
Finally, can you hint or tease what we’ll see in “Amazing Spider-Man” #699, the second part of “Dying Wish?”
Issue #698 was the magic trick. Issue #699 is where we turn over all the cards. You will see how we built this bridge to get here. I was very lucky with Marvel NOW! The initiative is all about shaking everything up, and a big portion of that was changing creative teams. I had been building this thing for so long, and when I was approached about Marvel NOW! I said, “We’ve got this massive change coming up naturally. We’ve been building this organic development for ages.” I told everybody, “Here’s where we’re going.” That was enough of a hook for them to go, “Okay. We’ll keep Slott on Spider-Man.” So thank God I had already been building this bridge. It’s fun and it only gets more messed up we hit the stunning end of “Dying Wish” — and people see where we’re really going when we get to “Superior.”
We’ve already said, Spider-Man will not be Peter Parker. But what does that mean? You’ll have to wait and see. My advice is that if you haven’t looked at those preview pages for #700 yet, don’t. I think the lesson of issue #698 is, the more you go in not knowing what’s happening in the issue, the more fun you’ll have at the end of the story.
“Amazing Spider-Man” #699 goes on sale in print and digital on December 5.