Until Kaine killed him, Otto Octavius, the infamous Doctor Octopus, was undoubtedly one of Spider-Man's greatest foes. Now, through a miracle of modern ninja sorcery and editorial correction, Doc Ock has been brought back. But his memories are in need of a little jogging, so we embark on the time-honored tale of the flashback...
Though the whole idea of Doc Ock dying was a poor one, this issue very neatly brings everyone (new readers and old alike) back up to speed on just who this bedeviled, bespectacled, beoverweighted, being is. It even fleshes out the stories behind the "new" Doctor Octopus, Dr. Carolyn Trainer, Octavius's onetime virtual-reality lover (now there's a sorry guy :) ), Angelina Brancale (AKA Stunner), and the guy who writes the obits at the Bugle, Trilby.
On the writing front, I have to admit that the interweaving of the three separate recollections of Doc Ock's past(s) was very smooth, and effectively described how differently he is perceived by different people. Dr. Trainer thinks of him as a powerful, incredible man who doesn't get the respect he deserves. She reminisces about his personal life, and seems to have had followed him around while he went on dates (with a woman whose motivations for dating such a man aren't provided). Trilby and Bugle mainstay Ben Urich think of him with an eye towards his origin, and how and why someone who seemed to be set for a great career could end up a deserted, hated, overworked scientist who, in turn, ended up a ruthless, mentally-troubled, super-villain. Peter and Mary Jane see him with a super-hero's perspective, focusing on his criminal activities and how bravely Spider-Man fought him (a shallow, but understandable view). In a sense, Otto Octavius can be seen as a tragic figure: even with his vast scientific successes and all the hard work he put into them, his life just refused to work out.
Artwise, this was a fresh change of pace from the core Spider-titles. Unique, but not soggy; stylish, but trademarkedly American; Realistic, but not gritty; colorful, but not cartoony. Good angles and facial expressions, characters who look the perfect age, well-captured emotions, and the best-looking Mary Jane I've seen in a long while. The coloring certainly helped, with scarlet reds (see any page with Spider-Man or MJ) and vibrant greens (check out the cover!). Even the tentacles were extremely well-colored on the cover. I can't vouch for the inking (looking at the finished art as done by the penciller), but I'm sure it had a large part in the final product.
The allusion to HEROES RETURN was amusing, and, of course, Peter's and Mary Jane's laughing at the Chameleon was priceless! The two back-up features were interesting--it's always nice to see Pat Olliffe's renditions of Spidey history. But I was a little bothered by the second back-up, the one about Angelina "Stunner" Brancale. It goes on about how Otto empathizes with her and visits her "at least once each day" (she got comatized in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #427 trying to help resurrect him). So he supposedly cares for her--the real her--on some level. That is, he may have enjoyed the company of her virtual-reality projection, but he really does care for her human self. Yet the back-up says he still sees her as Stunner, "and always will!" Doesn't this suggest that her real self is somehow not good enough--that Stunner's physical beauty is more important to him?
This was a different sort of UNLIMITED, in that it was mostly a character study. It didn't even have any events occuring in the present time, apart from three separate conversations, all about Doctor Octopus. It was very good overall, but difficult to compare objectively to previous issues, since it's a totally different kind of story. But I suppose this was superior, as flashback stories go. As a postscript, I can't help but correct two typos made in the letters page: first, I think the third letter-writer, Ivan A. Martin, meant to refer to the year 2005, not the year 1005; apparently, whoever replied got it wrong, too. Second, the Next Issue box spells Curt Connors's last name wrong--arggh! It's CONNORS, for crying out loud! (The fourth letter-writer spells it right.)