Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Man, this whole Otto Octavius as Spider-man thing? This was weird. Really weird. Uncomfortable kind of weird. I'm quite glad to have Peter finally back in the driver's seat of his body. And of course, it's sort of perfect writing to keep Peter Parker in a perpetual state of confusion and one down in his life. Otto did a lot of things Peter wouldn't have as Spider-man, burned a lot of bridges, etc..

I believe Spider-man has the dubious honor of having some of the best--and the worst--written comic book stories ever. The Clone saga and that whole nonsense comes to mind. I still look back fondly at Maximum Carnage, although I admit it might not age as well as I wish it might over time. Now, what I'm going to say about Superior Spider-man is this: it was well executed. You can't half-*%$ a story as bizarre as that. You've got to embrace it and go with it. And give Marvel a lot of credit here...Superior Spider-man ran for like, what, a year? That's a lot of issues starring Otto as Spidey.

I am a big Doc Ock fan. By far my favorite of all the Spidey villians, Spider-man 2 holds a special place in my heart because there's just something so classic about the Spidey vs. Ock match-up. Given that Otto and Peter actually have some strange things in common, this kind of story is not totally untoward. It's not like Electro or the Vulture became Spider-man or anything. Peter and Otto were both science nerds who couldn't quite fit in as kids.
Still, one of the things I sort of love about Dr. Ock (and this might be a strange reason to love a Spider-man villain) is that he isn't so closely connected with Peter. He isn't the Green Goblin and he isn't Venom. He doesn't have this personal vendetta against Spider-man. He's a supervillain. He robs banks, builds giant lasers, stuff like that. He's Spider-man's enemy, not Peter Parker's. I mean yes, the one obviously has to lead to the other, but my point is I sort of like that there isn't some wildly complicated origin story linking Peter and Otto together forever.

Because for me, that's part of what always seemed to give Dr. Ock a little bit of an edge as compared to many Spidey villains. Yes, he's insufferably jealous of other people and can't stand Spider-man making fun of him, but he's a little bit more calculated and a little bit brighter than the average lunatic Spidey goes up against. Spider-man can get under his skin as a tactic but not because they're long lost brothers or something like that. See, this is what comic books used to be about: superheroes fighting mad scientists.

Spider-man has always seemed, to me, to have this strange thing going on where his villains seem slightly sympathetic. I mean to some extent all Marvel comics villains are sympathetic at least in the sense that they tend to be well created characters and what motivates them seems very human. But I've read more than a few Spider-man stories where you almost feel bad for Spidey's bad guys. Electro has such low self-esteem he doesn't even use his considerable power that well, the Vulture never did make that big score that he wanted to and Dr. Ock? He just seems lonely, sometimes.

This kind of storytelling always leaves me feeling sort of icky. I do think it's cool to get an accurate sense of what's driving a character, but whenever I see a villain acting out of some childish frustration it always ends up feeling like you're watching a train wreck. Spidey comes along and beats the snot out of them, but you're left feeling sorry for the villain instead of vindicated by their defeat. Of course, morality in the real world isn't so simple and black and white and stories of this ilk demonstrate that. And hey, big bad guys like Dr. Doom are clearly acting out of some childish need. But Doom never seems to feel childish and pathetic. He's scary. Spider-man villains sometimes just seem so pathetic you feel embarrassed for them and what they're doing.

To me, Superior Spider-man was chock full of that; that kind of feeling that I'm trying to describe here. And it was painful to read through it. I suppose I just don't like the idea that one of Spidey's arch-nemeses is just this under-developed teenager deep down that really needed a hug from his dad (although, ultimately, that's exactly the kind of person who would be dangerous wielding superpowers). Having Ock walking through Spidey's life, trying to have all the experiences he never got to have--both as a normal person and as a villain--was all just a little too close for comfort for me.

Still, the point was to be disturbing and like I said before Marvel got behind this story and made it work. It's a well written run on a comic book and that's what often makes the difference when you do something this off the wall. You can't have one foot out the door of something like this, you can't be ambivalent as a writer; you've got to take the reigns and make it seem like this is the story that we want to tell you. The Clone Saga, by contrast, can't seem to make up it's mind what it wants to accomplish. So the final product is a really strange but excellent Spider-man arc that will probably be memorable and I'm glad for that.

Of course ultimately they've got to bring Ock back. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but sometime down the road Spidey and Doc Ock will clash again. Of this I'm sure. I suspect it'll be a long time after this before we have a return of the more classic animosity between Spider-man and Otto but these things go in cycles. You know my final thought for the future of Spider-man is a plea to get back to Peter and Mary Jane. I do get the appeal of a young, single, confused Peter Parker. But for me it's Peter and MJ's marriage that make the comic work today. Things change. Characters change. I'd be interested in what anyone else would like to see for Mr. Parker?


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