Spidey, the X-Men & the Hulk Are Ensnared in Costa's "Arms of the Octopus"

In 1963, the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to a diverse collection of mad scientists, monsters and malcontents designed to make life miserable for their ultimate creation, the Amazing Spider-Man. One of the most formidable of those adversaries, Doctor Otto Octavius (AKA Doctor Octopus) made his debut in "Amazing Spider-Man" #3, just the first of many times he would cause massive amounts of trouble for Spidey.

Doc Ock's powerful robotic tentacles made him an undeniably formidable physical opponent, but what made him truly dangerous was his devious and brilliant mind. Eventually, after years of battles, Octavius' transferred his mind from his dying and deteriorating physical form into the body of Peter Parker. As a result, Octavius found himself faced with the opportunity to abandon his villainous ways and to try to become a hero in his own violent and vainglorious fashion in the pages of Dan Slott's "Superior Spider-Man."

Beginning this week, writer Mike Costa and artists Kris Anka, Jake Wyatt and Michael Dialynas bring the Superior Spidey face to face with the one man he never dreamed he would encounter: Doctor Octopus. In "Arms of the Octopus," a three part tale running through the "All-New X-Men: Special," the "Indestructible Hulk: Special" and the "Superior Spider-Man: Special," Costa explores what happens when a "hero" is confronted with the man he used to be -- literally -- and how one of Spider-Man's greatest foes has managed to come back from the dead even though he's very much alive.

CBR News: Mike, you made your Marvel Comics debut this year with your Thing and Gambit story in "A+X," but you've been working on some big pop culture franchises like "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" for a while now,not to mention your work on DC's "New 52." You're no stranger to big, company-owned franchises, but how does it feel to be working with Marvel?

Mike Costa: Working with Marvel has really been great. They're very supportive. Nick Lowe was my editor on "A+X" and he's my editor on this project, which is sort of a unique challenge from the editing and writing angle because it involves characters from three different offices. 
There's the X-Men Office that Nick runs. There's the Hulk Office that's overseen by Mark Paniccia, and then there's the Spider-Man Office that Steve Wacker runs. That's a situation that could grind things to a halt, but everything went smoothly. It was a great experience.

I've been working with IDW for five years, and I worked with DC for a while, but I thought I would be the new kid on the block at Marvel and wouldn't get a lot of attention. It was really great though.

As you mentioned, "Arms of the Octopus," is an unusual story in that it's a three-part tale running through three different specials. How did this assignment evolve after you were offered it?

I started work on my "A+X" story back in January, and it came out in March. Since then I've been bugging Nick about doing more work for Marvel. It's difficult as a freelancer, because you don't know what's coming up. I don't know what Marvel has planned for the next year, so I have to throw out ideas and hope that they're good or just wait for them to think of me for something. Nick, for some reason, thought of me for this. I think he wanted to give me a chance to write a larger story with big characters that are very recognizable -- so people would buy it. [Laughs]

Honestly, I think this is a really great thing that Marvel does; doing these kinds of stories that are almost mini-events. These are three oversized specials, at 30 pages each. That's a huge opportunity to give to a young writer, and they're able to do that with these kinds of projects because obviously I couldn't do something like an arc on "All-New X-Men." The fact that I can still work with those characters though in these types of stories is really great.

Which cast members of "All-New X-Men" will we see in "Arms of the Octopus?"

It's, as I call them in the script, the X-Kids. It's the time traveling original team members, minus Angel, because Angel has joined the Uncanny X-Men at this point. So it's Scott, Jean, Bobby and Hank.

Which aspects of those characters, and which aspects of Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Spider-Man, do you explore in this story?

The X-Kids are from the past, and they're here, in the future, so there's a lot about the world that they don't know, and there's a lot of people who aren't aware of who they actually are and that they're here in our present day. Then, Superior Spider-Man is obviously Doc Ock, but no one knows that, so you have these characters who have a lot of unknown qualities in between each other and their personal dynamics, which makes their interactions really fun.

You've got the incredulity of Spidey-Ock dealing with these kids, and you've got these kids dealing with Spider-Man and not understanding why he's behaving the way he is, because the Spider-Man they know from the past is a guy who's just starting out and is constantly being labelled a creepy menace by the "Daily Bugle." They had not met him before. That's a lot of fun.

Really, the most straightforward character in the whole thing is Bruce Banner, because everyone kind of knows who he is. One of the dynamics -- and Nick really encouraged this because he's such a good editor and saw it right away -- was that, with the X-Men, you have Hank McCoy. Then you have Banner and Spider-Man, who is Otto Octavius. All three of those characters are genius scientists. That was something Nick really encouraged me to bring out in the story. He thought, "Let's make it a fun super hero romp, but let's also not ignore the possibilities of what might happened when three of these incredibly smart people get together and try to solve a problem with their brains." That became a huge element of the story; how these three geniuses work together. We melded that together with the super hero action elements.

Sounds like there might be some bickering going on! We've seen Otto behave behave in rude and condescending ways to other geniuses, and Bruce Banner has recently developed a sort of scientific rivalry with Tony Stark.

Exactly! I'm a huge Marvel fan. I started reading comics back in the late '80s, and I distinctly remember the "Fantastic Four" arc where Sue Richards is pregnant and Reed Richards is really worried about the baby. They reach out to Otto Octavius because Reed considered Otto the premier brain on the topic of radiation. I remember finding that very compelling. It was like, "Wow, Otto Octavius really is this genius! Even Reed Richards recognizes him as such."

I wanted to create a similar moment to that in my story. In "Arms of the Octopus," Otto comes up against a problem that he can't really solve. He has to swallow his pride and reach out to somebody else who is better than him on the topic of that problem, and that person is Banner.

While we're on the topic of characters, let's move on to the titular character, the man who appears to be Doctor Octopus. I imagine you can't say much about how or why Doc Ock is back --

Yeah, that's the central mystery, the engine of the story. How is Doctor Octopus back? And this is the Doc Ock of a very specific era, the one who wore the green leotard, not the more recent version of the character. This Dock Ock appears to be clearly from the past, so how did he get here? And what does this mean?

It's also a really great way to bring the characters together, because the All-New X-Men are time travelers and the Superior Spider-Man is Doctor Octopus. Each of them have a stake in figuring out how it is that Doctor Octopus is here, right now. Did he come from the past? Is it something else? That's what they've got to figure out.

What can you tell us about Doctor Octopus' mental state, goals and motivation?

I would describe his mental state as incredibly agitated. Even he seems confused as to why he's there. He's looking to get in touch with, or possibly kidnap, because he's a violent super criminal, a former teacher of his and Banner's. A lot of this story takes place on and around Empire State University.

I imagine another fun aspect of this story is the chance to play the Superior Spider-Man off of his original incarnation. What can you tell us about the dynamic between the present and seemingly past incarnations of Otto Octavius?

That was my favorite part of the story, because as soon as Doc Ock starts causing a ruckus in the middle of Midtown, the Superior Spider-Man finds out about it and shows up on the scene. When the ruckus is over, he's the only one who's certain that this can't be Doctor Octopus. He keeps insisting that it's not Doc Ock because he's thinking, "I know this isn't me -- because I didn't do this!"

He, of course, can't explain why he's so insistent, though. He can't tell the X-Men why he knows it's not him, so he has to go through the motions and try and disprove other theories. In his opinion, someone is playing some kind of a cruel joke. They don't realize that this is personally offensive to him because this is him. A really offended and enraged Otto Octavius is a great character to play with.

Spider-Man knows that's not him, but will Doctor Octopus recognize that this Spider-Man might not be who he claims to be?

I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but that's certainly a concern that Spidey-Ock has. [Laughs]

I really did my best to make sure the story was as exciting and fun and possible and didn't get too bogged down in things like explanations of who people are and what they're thinking. The hardest part with a mystery story is always keeping it fleet and moving forward as opposed to constantly having people explain what's going on all the time. I made a strong effort to make sure that it's a really fun and breezy story with a lot of big action moments. We had 30 pages an issue, so I made sure that I used a lot of that. We've got big, double-page spreads, and the three artists are all uniformly fantastic. For the "All New X-Men: Special," we're obviously talking about Kris Anka, and his stuff is just amazing. He did an "A+X" story as well, but this is his first major, single issue all to himself and he really just destroyed it. It's incredible.

You're also working with artists Jake Wyatt and Michael Dialynas. What do you feel they bring to the chapters they're doing?

It's interesting -- all three artists on this story are very different from one another, and I think that's a really bold move on Marvel's part. Plus, it gives these guys a chance to shine on characters that they normally wouldn't be able to work on because just like me this is their big Marvel debut work.

Jake does the Hulk issue, and he's got a very Manga-inspired look. And when I say that, I mean like Katsuhiro Otomo "Akira" style Manga, not the more cartoony Manga. Plus, he has a lot of innovative story pages. I sent him the script and I would get these layouts back where he would do Marcos Martin-style stuff that I did not at all envision. It really impressed me and blew me away. I think Jake is an amazing talent. I wasn't too familiar with his work before this, but I think he really knocked it out of the park.Michael is really interesting because his work has a really indy-style to it. You really haven't seen that on a Marvel book outside of something like "Strange Tales" or some other specials and miniseries where they really go indy in a big way. So to put him as the final chapter of a big super hero story is an interesting choice. He brings a tremendous amount of personality to the story. The end is where all the emotional stakes get wrapped up and I think he's particularly great at that.

Is this a three part tale told in chapter-form, or three interconnected standalones?

It is absolutely three parts, but each part focuses on the titular characters. The "All-New X-Men" issue focuses on Hank McCoy. It's his narration that takes us through it. The story then continues in the "Indestructible Hulk: Special," where we focus on Banner. Then, the final issue is the "Superior Spider-Man: Special," which focuses on Spidey.

Doctor Octopus isn't the only antagonist in this story correct -- I read that the Abomination is set to appear as well.

Yes, Ock isn't the only villain. In the Hulk issue, once Banner gets involved, the Abomination shows up. The Abomination's current status in the Marvel Universe is that he's dead, so another seemingly dead villain has returned, which deepens the mystery and forces our heroes to make another move to figure out what's going on. It's also a good opportunity to have them punch the Abomination, and not every writer gets to write that. It's pretty awesome.

Does this also make the story a bit more personal for Banner? Because she may be back among the living, but the Abomination did murder his now ex-wife some years back.

Exactly, and I also took it from the perspective that Banner is brought in originally just to consult. He's there to help them solve a problem scientifically. He sort of jumps at that chance because he's excited to be asked to do something just with his brain by somebody who isn't S.H.I.E.L.D., so when the Abomination shows up, he's thinking, "I thought I would get out of this without having to turn into the Hulk, but now it's too late." Because you can't have a Hulk issue without the Hulk.

Overall "The Arms of the Octopus" sounds like a fun, mystery-adventure which happens to explore the concept of "identity."

I just wanted to tell a really good, old-fashioned super hero story with the heroes that you love getting to work with each other, banter back back and forth, argue and punch a lot of bad guys. Hopefully, the central mystery of the story resonates with all them emotionally, as well, because at the end of the day, every story is about character. If the story has nothing to do with the characters themselves, it's a boring thing. I tried to anchor it and make sure there were real emotional stakes on top of all the fun, explosions and punches.

Do you have any other Marvel projects in the works? And if readers enjoy your work on "Arms of the Octopus," which of your projects would you point them to next?

The work I'm probably best known for is my work on the "Cobra Files" book of the G.I. Joe franchise. That's very different, though, because it's a very dark espionage story whereas this is my fun super hero stuff. It's probably closer to "Blackhawks," the New 52 DC book that I wrote for eight issues, which is now all collected in a single trade. With this book, I tried to write a much sunnier and more fun super hero story.

I can't really talk about anything else that might be happening with Marvel, but if fans do like my writing, I hope that they make that known, because I would like to keep writing for Marvel. They have the characters that I grew up with and I love working for the company. It's very exciting.

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