Amazing Spider-Man 398: Never accept drinks from strangers OR MAD SCIENTISTS!!


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Credits: Written by J.M. DeMatteis, pencils by Mark Bagley, inked by Larry Mahlstedt and edited by Danny Fingeroth.

Cast: Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker, Mary Jane Watson Parker, Dr Otto ‘Doctor Octopus’ Octavius, Stunner, Kaine and maybe Detective Jacob Raven?

Plot: As Doctor Octopus walks by his apartment, Peter Parker reacts to some surprising news. His wife Mary Jane is pregnant, they are having a baby. He is both over the moon and full of worry, May maybe dying, he is dying, but yet, none of this matters, they are having a baby. Peter goes to get a shower and get changed, Mary Jane takes a second to worry, Peter isn’t entirely human, radiation changed his DNA years ago, gifting him those amazing powers, but that radiation is still there, will that pass to the baby?

The pair visit Aunt May, still comatose in hospital. Peter tells her the news and begs her to come home. She can hear him and his visits seem to be the tether, holding her to the world and preventing her from drifting off and passing on.

The happy couple go for dinner, but Peter is still ill and it’s beginning to show. Someone at the restaurant tries to help Peter, MJ thinks he works there, he doesn’t but he knows them and suggests that they head home if Peter isn’t well. Guessing at this point it’s Jacob Raven (last seen in Web of Spider-Man 121 which I looked at here ) but that doesn’t come into play in this issue after that. The pair leave, but on a nearby rooftop, Doctor Octopus is waiting and Peter changes to go after him.

Doc Ock tells peter he has refined the cure before and thinks he has cracked it, Spider-Man, only seeing him as an adversary can’t imagine that he wants to help. Doc Ock points out that while they are at odds, there’s an inspiration there, a challenge in their back and forth. He doesn’t want a dead Spider-Man, a grim and relentless Spider, he wants Spider-Man as he was, hale and hearty. He wants to game to carry on and for that, Spider-Man has to live and they need to work together to make that happen.

Out in Central Park, Stunner is exercising, tearing up tress and throwing them. She’s exuberant in her strength and beauty, indicating that this isn’t who she has always been. She hears a warning to stay away from Doctor Octopus. This forcibly ends her reverie and she calls out to whoever is there. It’s Kaine, he’s warned her and is aware that she has made her choice.

At the lab, somewhere in Manhattan, a maskless Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus finally have the serum ready. Spider-Man has doubts. He has lost faith in people, but his desperation wins out when Doctor Octopus threatens to pour out the beaker. Spider-Man drinks it, with Doctor Octopus wishing only the best, but aware that trust is not something he should expect. After drinking it, Spider-Man smiles, then cries out in pain before collapsing. Above him Doctor Octopus smiles.

Peter awakes, but not his body, his spirit, his soul and is going up, bumping into an old antagonist Nick Katzenburg who was a rival photography before his death. Peter refuses to accept his fate and flies to Aunt May, whose own spirit is waiting for him. She is happy to see him and tells him to continue his journey. He moves on, heading towards the light she pointed him towards using the story of Peter Pan, so this Peter does the same, flies towards the second star on the right.

Notes: This was a better issue that the last few that I have been looking at. From the jubilation of prospective parenthood to the immense wave of panic and fear that comes with it, this issue balances those two experiences in a way I identified with very strongly. This was an issue full of character moments and pathos that is a hallmark of good Spider-Man comics. I liked how Peter was portrayed here. I also really enjoyed how Otto came across. Rather than being the moustache twirling villain of the past, this was an older and more measured Otto. He wanted to save his adversary, because he liked him. He enjoyed that better man facing off against him and looking back has found meaning in those battles. Seeing this man he has spent so much time with and thinking about, fall from grace to an almost unrecognisable degree, truly saddens Otto and that motivates him to save this man’s life. As both a parent and a man who has more than a couple of grey hairs, both sides of this story had something for me to recognise.

The dinner scene was a bit confusing and there didn’t seem much of a need to have either Stunner or Kaine in this issue, this was between Peter and Otto and that’s where this story excelled. The ending with Peter seeing the souls of the dead and giving up his life was quite beautiful in it’s own way. Web of Life had such a ropey third part, but Web of Death showed you how it should be done and makes me eager to read part four.

Art: 4 out of 5 – I do love Bagley’s work, but there does seem that tendency to make everyone’s face shiny that I have never understood. The appearance of Doctor Octopus as a well dressed man letting the mechanical arms he has do the work is not original to Bagley, but he does it so well. The idea of him dressing well to hide his belly and flaunt the money he has stolen over the years makes so much sense and I would love to see this version more often. The action is smooth and exciting and the talky scenes do not look boring by any stretch of the imagination. The scene were Peter falls is particularly great as we get a very Mona Lisa smile from Otto as his old friend/adversary falls to his apparent death.

Writing 5 out of 5 – J.M. DeMatteis has a great strength as a writer in which he can drag some psychology and pathos into what are very often ridiculous situations. A man in a lycra bodysuit is being saved by a scientist with mechanical arms shouldn’t be anything to take seriously, but you buy it. He fits enough real in there, that it reinforces your suspension of disbelief and just go with it. This comic elevates the ideas and makes a story full of pathos and stakes, despite knowing that it will probably all work out. Knowing that there are 25 years of Spider-Man stories after this moment does not take away from the impact of Peter’s apparent demise.

Overall: 9 out of 10 – This may not be the best comic of the whole saga so far, but it is a high mark of quality and it makes me want to read the next part now, not when I am due to do this again. That’s a win for a comic.

Next time: Back to the Age of Apocalypse.

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