Months ago, Doc Ock nearly destroyed the world, as shown in the ‘Ends of the Earth’ arc that began in ASM #682. Fortunately for people who live in world, Spider-Man thwarted Ock’s scheme and brought him back to New York, where he is expected to expire shortly from terminal illness. Spidey hasn’t thought much about Ock since then, having been distracted by a rampaging Lizard, an irresponsible sidekick, and warring Hobgoblins. But we readers know that a gold-coloured Octobot has been prowling New York recently. Peter Parker, blissfully unaware of that fact, is enjoying some downtime between adventures.
So is Doc Ock really dying? Seems so. According to his doctors, “he hasn't shown any [brain?] activity in weeks. We think he only has a few hours left...” But he’s showing some now: over at the Raft, in his hospital cell, he’s woken up and is muttering something, over and over. As his doctors, and about twenty armed guards, watch, Ock struggles to make himself heard. What’s he saying? The same thing that, back on Manhattan, the gold-coloured Octobot is saying:
Cut to Spider-Man, who is web-swinging through New York, and who is thinking to himself that “today is going to be the best day ever!”
Yes, this appears to be another ‘day in the life’ issue, much like ASM #666. And why not? That issue led into the ‘Spider-Island’ arc, and this one is leading into the landmark ASM #700, which Marvel has indicated will be the last issue of the title. What, no more Amazing? Yes, coming soon is Superior Spider-Man. So clearly big changes are afoot: why not a last farewell to the status quo?
So far, so straightforward: Spider-Man web-swings over New York, takes out a pathetic supervillain wanna-be with a single punch, and switches back to his Peter Parker persona. As he does so, he contemplates how well life is going: he’s got a great apartment, good looks, and a good family in MJ and Aunt May. He’s got a great job at Horizon, where he’s finally living up to his potential as a scientist.
What else is going on? Well, he’s got to check in with MJ and Aunt May. With MJ, he’s taking steps towards re-kindling their romance, much to MJ's surprise; with Aunt May, he’s there to help with her physiotherapy. (May injured her leg in ASM #694, as a consequence of Alpha’s irresponsible assault on Terminus.) Unfortunately, he’s dragged away from his Aunt, and from MJ, by Avengers business at the Raft. Peter’s annoyed by this - more so by having to leave Mary Jane than his aunt - but MJ covers for him, and he’s off. Jay Jameson is annoyed on May’s behalf, but May herself isn’t, as she’s delighted at what seems to be the beginning of a reconciliation between the two ex-lovers. “I might finally get some grandchildren after all.”
At the Raft, Peter meets Spider-Woman, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Wolverine, who explain that Doc Ock is dying.
“...he’s asking for you,” says Cap. I guess the doctors were able to interpret his mutterings from the beginning of the issue.
“I understand,” says Spider-Man.
“No, you don’t. He’s asking for Peter Parker.”
Spider-Man doesn't flinch or miss a beat. “Take me to him.”
Spider-Man enters Ock’s chamber alone, having asked for some privacy.
“Peter Parker,” mumbles Ock.
Spider-Man removes his mask. “Yes, I’m Peter Parker.”
“I’m Peter Parker,” manages Ock.
“Not anymore, Spider-Man. From now on I am Peter Parker,” says... the person wearing the Spider-Man costume. “I have all of your memories. I know everything you knew. I have your life and everything that comes with it.”
Ock, or perhaps I should say the person in Ock’s body, can’t handle the truth. Ock’s heart flatlines, and he passes out. As the doctors come in, Spider-Man departs. As the Avengers ask how Spidey is feeling, he coolly deflects their sympathy. “Honestly? I’m not going to give it a second’s thought. I've got better things to do with the rest of my life.”
Reading this issue blew my mind.
Or rather, re-reading it did.
See, the first time through, I took it to be just another day-in-the-life stories. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I like day-in-the-life stories. And this one was a good entry in the genre. It’s good to remember that things are finally going Peter Parker’s way: he’s got a good home, a good job, and good friends and family. Plus he’s an Avenger now. He’s finally come into his own! And then, the way I read it the first time, he walked into Ock’s room and Ock hit him with a brain-switching whammy, leaving Peter in Ock’s body to die, while he walked out and took all of those good things for himself.
A story like that deserves three webs. Nothing special here, just a good setting up of an adventure to come. Held back a bit by the several uncharacteristic elements in the story - Peter flirting with the girls at MJ’s club, his relative indifference to May as opposed to Mary Jane, his overall humourlessness, even as Spider-Man.
But then, as I prepared to write this review, my colleagues at SpiderFan pointed out what I should have seen from the beginning: the brain-switching happens before the issue begins.
Re-reading the issue, all of those uncharacteristic elements fall into place. Of course Ock is cold and serious; of course his tone with Max Modell is boastful and cocky rather than eager-to-please; of course Ock is interested in macking up the ladies. And finally, of course Ock is dutiful to Aunt May, his former wife (see ASM #131, True Believers!), but more attentive to MJ, his supermodel ex, whom he’s obviously eager to get back in the sack.
How much harm to Peter’s life will Ock inflict? Can Peter get his body back in just two issues?
All of a sudden, the title of the new Spider-Man book - Superior Spider-Man - sounds ominous indeed.
I like a surprise, and this one delivered. I completely bought into this story, even as the hints mounted up that something was wrong. And re-reading it with the right frame of mind showed how all of those hints pay off. Well done indeed, and I look forward to the next installment!
In all of the Ock-Peter confusion, let’s not overlook the return of Sha Shan as May’s physiotherapist. Apparently she re-appeared briefly as part of Brand New Day, specifically in ASM #622 (Story 2), but I missed that issue: this is the first I’ve seen of Sha Shan in almost twenty years.