John Romita first tackled Doc Ock in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #53 (October 1967), in “Enter: Dr. Octopus,” written, of course, by Stan Lee.
Here Doc Ock attacks a science exposition, where he attempts to steal the Nullifier, a new revolutionary piece of defense technology that can nullify the homing devices of enemy missiles. Unfortunately for Ock, Peter Parker just happens to be there, along with Gwen Stacy and their science professor Miles Warren (whom you should all know better now as the man who would become the Jackal). Spidey manages to fend off Doc Ock and safely get him out of the crowded auditorium, and even makes him drop the Nullifier, thanks to the patented “web fluid on the glasses” trick.
Flush with victory, Peter enjoys some downtime with his friends at the local coffeehouse, where he’s met by his Aunt May, who announces that she and her friend Anna Watson will be taking in a boarder at their house. Unfortunately, it looks like they didn’t check the references closely enough…
Yes, that’s right, Doc Ock actually moved into Aunt May’s house for a while, since Aunt May fondly remembered their earlier meeting way back in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1. Naturally, Peter is none too pleased to see Doc Ock sitting down to tea with his aunt, and attempts to lure Ock out as Spider-Man so as to get him out of the house. Unfortunately, Ock is two steps ahead, and sends his goon squad in for the kill. After Spidey defeats Doc Ock’s thugs, he heads back to his aunt’s house to deal with the man himself, and has him on the ropes until Aunt May comes home, and immediately passes out from the shock. A distraught Spidey even unmasks in the hopes of showing May that there’s nothing to fear, but the unconscious May never sees it.
Spidey and Ock’s battle continued in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #55, “Doc Ock Wins!”, in which Ock manages to finally steal the Nullifier, and in a moment of desperation, tries using it on Spidey. The device somehow interferes with his spider-sense (or so I assume – it’s never really made clear) and gives him amnesia.
The confused Spider-Man is then convinced that he’s a criminal, in the employ of Dr. Octopus. Spidey and Ock’s crime spree makes Spidey’s reputation even worse, or course, until Spidey finally realizes, amnesia or not, that he’s not a criminal and probably shouldn’t be working for a guy with four giant mechanical arms. With the help of J. Jonah Jameson’s son John, a former astronaut now working in government service (and who we’ll reportedly see in SPIDER-MAN 2), Spider-Man defeats Doc Ock once again.
Ock’s next high-profile appearance came in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #88-90, written by Lee and drawn by Romita and new Spidey-artist Gil Kane. Here Ock has continued to hone his ability to control his mechanical arms from afar, this time managing to summon them from a New York holding facility to the Midwestern prison where he’s serving his most recent sentence. Ock hijacks a jet liner heading back to New York, which of course just happens to be carrying Colonel John Jameson and General Su, a Chinese official heading to the U.N. for a conference.
Once the plane lands in New York, Spidey sneaks on board and makes with the old webbing to the eyes again, allowing Jameson to get General Su to safety. Ock manages to get to the cockpit and get the plane in the air again, only to crash it at the end of the runway. Could this be the end of Doctor Octopus?
Yeah, probably not. Spidey doesn’t believe it either, and begins a citywide search for the criminal as only artist Gil Kane could portray:
When Spidey and Ock finally do meet up, they engage in a barnburner of a rooftop battle, in which Ock gets the better and Spidey, exhausted and out of web fluid, barely escapes.
Spidey decides once more to use his head for something besides mask storage, and uses his scientific knowhow to devise a chemical fluid that will jam the electronic impulses between Ock’s brain and his mechanical arms. It works, but tragically, it works a little too well, as Ock completely loses control of his arms, and they flail wildly, destroying a chimney and sending the rubble downward to the street below, where they’re about to kill a small child.
Luckily for the child, Spider-Man’s friend Captain George Stacy, his only ally at the NYPD and the father of Peter’s girlfriend Gwen, is on the scene and pushes the child to safety. Unluckily for Captain Stacy, no one’s there to save him, and he dies of his injuries in Spider-Man’s arms, his last words telling Peter to look after Gwen.
Stacy had known Peter was Spider-Man, and trusted him all along, and now, thanks to Spider-Man, he was dead. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
As Spidey moved into the 1970s, new writer Gerry Conway took the reins, and it was under Conway’s tenure that Ock’s relationship with Spidey’s Aunt May, sick as it may sound, blossomed. Following a not-so-friendly chat with Gwen Stacy in which she accused May of smothering Peter, Aunt May accepted a position as Dr. Octopus’ housekeeper, still oblivious to the fact that he was a supercriminal and gang boss. When Spidey finds out, he goes on the attack, and when Ock declares his love for May Parker, well, the webslinger doesn’t take it too well:
Even worse, May decides to protect Otto from “that awful Spider-man” and pulls a piece, holding Spider-Man at gunpoint.
Luckily, an arriving police siren startles May, allowing Spidey to escape. Spidey changes into Peter and tries to take his Aunt May home, but she refuses, saying that Peter doesn’t need her, but Doctor Octavius does.
The subplot, like most under Gerry Conway’s pen, was a lengthy one, with May continuing to live in and take care of Ock’s house while he was in the slammer, usually under armed guard. It was two years later, after months of Spider-Man trying to figure out Ock’s interest in Aunt May and how rival gangster Hammerhead was involved, when Spidey finally discovered the missing piece of the puzzle, in the form of a document Hammerhead had stolen, which revealed a mysterious inheritance that was due to May Parker. Spider-Man heads to Ock’s house in Westchester to warn his aunt, only to find, well, words can’t describe it. You’ve got to see for yourself.
In what had to be the Wedding of the Decade, Aunt May was marrying Doctor Octopus. And no invite for Peter? Before Spidey can decide what to do, Hammerhead shows up, with his own plans to kidnap Aunt May, determined to get his hands on the mysterious inheritance. Doc Ock, resplendent in his fine tuxedo specially fitted with tentacle holes, grabs May and heads for a waiting helicopter, which is followed by Hammerhead in his own chopper, and a hitchhiking Spidey. The aircraft touches down at the subject of May’ inheritance: a privately owned atomic processing plant which both Ock and Hammerhead have designs on, so as to create devastating weapons. Just precisely who it was that left a billion-dollar nuclear plant to a feeble old woman from Queens is never sufficiently explained. Spidey and Ock duke it out once more, and once more Aunt May passes out from the shock.
Spider-Man grabs his aunt and decides to hit the road, and luckily manages to find a supply plane that’s “been modified so even an idiot can pilot it.” Convenient. Still, it’s a good thing, because just as Spidey is taking off, Hammerhead corners Doc Ock in the plant’s atomic breeder room, and charges at the groom with his steel-plated head, which apparently isn’t a good idea in an atomic breeder room, because …
All evidence to the contrary, both Hammerhead and Doctor Octopus survived this ground-zero mushroom cloud, which is a pretty impressive trick, all things considered. By the way, all of the above Doc Ock stories can be found easily and affordably in THE ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN, Volumes 1 – 6.
That’s about three thousand pages of Spidey goodness for a relatively small price. I say you can’t go wrong.
As we move into the 1980s, some of my favorite Doc Ock appearances came outside the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. First up is the companion book to AMAZING, PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, which in my opinion became the significant Spider-Man series through much of the 1980s, thanks to the excellent scripting of writer Bill Mantlo, who was the only writer other than Gerry Conway to really recapture the unique wisecracking Spider-Man persona that Stan Lee created. One of Ock’s most ominous appearances comes in an issue he’s barely in, PPTSSM # 78, “The Long Goodbye,” by Mantlo and artist Al Milgrom.
Here Spider-Man, who at this point was in love with and had begun a relationship with his former foe Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. the Black Cat, must protect the gravely injured Felicia from Octopus, who had nearly killed her the night before. As he prepares for that night’s encounter with Ock, who’d promised to return to finish the job at nightfall, Peter Parker spends his day taking care of responsibilities and spending time with friends and family, half-expecting to never see them again.
This devotion of time to Peter’s expectation of defeat does wonders for Octopus’ perception in the reader’s eyes, conveying just how much of a threat Spidey considers him.
The next issue’s story, “The Final Battle,” doesn’t disappoint, as Spidey desperately fights Doctor Octopus through the corridors of the hospital , just trying to delay him long enough for the police to safely get Felicia away.
Even Spidey’s policewoman friend Jean DeWolff pitches in, ramming her roadster into one of his arms. Ock is more determined and powerful than ever, as seen here when he derails a locomotive.
Spidey manages to outwit him by taking the fight to a building under construction, where he pins Ock’s arms together with a steel girder while at full extension, trapping him. A panicked Ock brings the whole building down atop them, but Spidey’s speed and agility allows him to save both their lives, after which he gives the defeated Ock a piece of his mind.
One of the best Doc Ock stories ever wasn’t even in a Spidey comic at all, but instead can be found in John Byrne’s 1980s FANTASTIC FOUR run, in issue #267, “A Small Loss.” A desperate Reed Richards needs the help of Doctor Octopus to help save his wife Sue and their unborn baby, both of whom are suffering from an unknown type of radiation poisoning that threatens to kill them both. As the world’s foremost authority on radiation before his accident, Doc Ock is perhaps the only one who can save Reed’s wife and child. Unfortunately, as Reed discovers when he visits Ock at a Brooklyn psychiatric facility, Ock hasn’t been well since his last defeat at the hands of Spider-Man.
Using subtle psychological reinforcement, Mr. Fantastic convinces Octavius to help him, and the two head back to the hospital to treat Sue.
Unfortunately, on the way, Octavius sees one of the Daily Bugle’s ubiquitous “Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?” billboards, subconsciously stirring his dementia and psionically summoning his mechanical arms from their holding facility 70 feet below the surface. Soon, Doc Ock and his arms are reunited once more, and Reed Richards is fighting for his life against the now-furious supercriminal.
Ever the smartest guy in the room, Reed notices that the manual control dials on Ock’s harness move in conjunction with the arms, and deduces that the controls must still be functional. Reed manages to grip the controls and contract Ock’s arms, while he attempts to reason with the mad scientist:
Reed releases Ock’s arms as a show of good faith, and the two continue on to the hospital, where, tragically, Reed is told it’s too late:
This issue in particular showcases Byrne’s strength as a storyteller, in taking familiar characers and making us see them in a new light, while not invalidating what’s come before.