The Octopus Agenda by Diane Duane concludes the trilogy begun by Spider-Man: The Venom Factor and continued in Spider-Man: The Lizard Sanction. All three books are produced by Marvel Comics/Byron Preiss Multimedia, and published by Putnam. You can find more general information about this and other Spider-Man books on the Spider-Man Books Page.
The first two novels put Spider-Man and Venom as uneasy allies on the trail of an international conglomerate which is responsible for the decidedly illegal shipment of unmarked radioactive materials, not to mention various other prohibited substances.
The Venom Factor pitted Spider-Man and Venom against The Hobgoblin, while the Lizard Sanction had them battling The Lizard. Both of these villains were however, clearly pawns in a greater game played by the shadowy mastermind who was working behind the scenes. As the title clearly reveals, this mastermind is The Master Planner himself, a.k.a. Dr Octopus.
While this final part does at least reveal a little of the overall plan which seemed so confused in the first two books, it also leaves just as many questions unanswered. Over the three novels we see characters and artifacts introduced and then forgotten, motivations left unjustified, and plot lines left dangling in a most untidy fashion.
I also found parts of the book rather 'padded'. Among other things, at least two chapters are dedicated to detailing Mary-Jane's efforts to find employment, which really is irrelevant to the story as a whole. Other chapters start very slowly with too much narrative before finally picking up speed - only to lose it again as the next section begins. The book as a whole seems to suffer from this same fault. After the padding and irrelevent plot strings are removed, there is precious little substance remaining - just Peter Parker steadily tripping over clues which lead him along a confused trail towards the final battle.
Spider-Man in fact only meets Doc Ock in the last twenty pages of the final novel. This is a shame, because Diane handles her villains very well - giving them plenty of dark character and menace. She also handles fight scenes well, although she interrupts most of them with rather long, artificial, and unnecessary paragraphs describing the weapons used in ridiculous detail (sorry Peter).
Sadly, I cannot say that she handles her minor characters so well. Each one has the same character - friendly, co-operative, and ready to lend the required information or equipment to a grateful Spider-Man or Peter Parker. Even Mary-Jane and suffer a little from this 'Perfect Person Syndrome', facing lifes trials with patience and humor. I feel as though Diane has made many of her characters into the kind of person she would like to be, rather than working at giving them personalities of their own.
The Super-Hero genre of comic book is a world apart. A wide gulf separates it from the world of literature, and I find it hard to know what standards to hold up to such a novel.
On one hand the novel lacks enough conflict, the pace is erratic, its characters are homogeneous, and the plot is frequently convoluted and obscure. On the other hand the language is clear, the villains are convincing (if rather thin on the ground), and the technical detail is highly accurate, even if overbearing at times. Most importantly, the good guys win in the end, and a sense of fun prevails.
In the murky world of Super-Hero literature I'm not prepared to go too far out on a limb. I'm giving it a finely balanced three webs.