This is part 3 of my quest to read and review every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man from start to finish, the first two issues were hit and miss, but this time we’re introduced to a really famous foe.
The Amazing Spider-Man #3
In the first couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, we’ve really seen Peter Parker take shape from a slightly goofy, classic nerd archetype to more of the wise-cracking, down trodden hero we’ve come to know and love. Issue 3 actually takes a lot of the ideas Stan Lee and Steve Ditko have been working through, and puts them together into the first really great book of the run. It’s probably as good as anything we’ll see for the next few years too, and most of this success is down to Doctor Octopus.
As the book opens we find a more confident Spider-Man taking down cheap thugs with ease. In keeping with Parker’s penchant for bringing his biggest problems down on himself, he starts to wish he could actually go up against a villain with a bit more oomph, which kicks off Doc’ Ock’s origin story.
He’s pretty complete here too; a brilliant scientist who conducts research on nuclear power with the aid of four robotic arms, he goes mad after an accident damages his brain and fuses the arms to his body. He becomes fixated on using his new appendages to finish his research, holding a hospital full of staff hostage while he does it.
Otto Octavius is a goofy concept for a character but he’s pure gold here. They enjoy the fun of the character completely, but there’s a sadness to him too; his brilliance is completely destroyed by his madness and power but he still isn’t driven by greed or self interest. He wants to complete his work. Spidey doesn’t fall short in the drama too, and after getting soundly thrashed by Octavius the first time they fight, we see the first of Peter Parker’s many doubting moments. He’s convinced he can’t defeat Doctor Octopus, until Johnny Storm gives a pep talk to the local school and Peter decides to get back on the horse. We also see a little of the classic Parker genius, as he synthesises a new chemical to help him out by fusing Doc’ Ock’s arms together. It doesn’t go quite to plan, but he’s already using that scientific genius to get the job done.
The story is full of tropes we’d revisit in this book for years to come, but it pulls it off so earnestly here it’s hard not to like it. Peter’s on-again, off-again, love affair with his crimefighting career begins here, but we also believe his pain. He really hasn’t fought a villain like this before, and when he loses there’s nobody he can turn to for support. Octavius himself is something new for the book too. Sure, after the accident he gets a little cliche, but there’s never any question of his brilliance, or his capabilities. The Vulture, the Tinkerer, and The Chameleon were all great villains, but they were usually brought down by some failing or underestimating of the hero. Doctor Octopus isn’t like that, he’s a passionate scientist and a strategic thinker. He isn’t beaten until Spider-Man ups his game.
Peter’s personal life takes a back seat here again, although we do see some more of Jameson and Aunt May. The cast of supporting characters is being reinforced bit by bit, but the book is definitely taking a back seat to the villains. It’s rare to see an early run of a book so full of familiar faces, with every major villain faced so far still a player in the current Marvel universe. This is a good era for the company, and it’s not hard to see why. They really set up a tone and stuck to it. No wonder forty years later, Sam Raimi didn’t see the need to change much.
Probably my favourite feature of these early books is Spider-Man as the growing hero. This isn’t a perfect, generic, costumed avenger archetype. It’s a character who is new to the job, knows he isn’t one of the big fish yet, and makes mistakes. He beats The Human Torch to the punch in the story, but he makes it clear he’s still a minor player compared to the Fantastic Four, and that’s something that will stick with Spider-Man as the years go by. It’s something DC have got wrong over and over with Batman, insisting that because he’s a major player on store shelves, he needs to be a top-dog in the DCU continuity too, and it’s so much less interesting than a character who’s popular in fiction, but less well liked in his own reality.
These books continue to be fantastic, and hopefully it’s as good next time when we meet The Sandman!