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Spider-Man's History With Doc Ock Explained

Spider-Man's rogues gallery is one of the most diverse and well-known in all of comics. Few villains, however, have done as much damage to the web-slinger's dual lives as Dr. Otto Gunther Octavius, the eight-limbed egomaniac who goes by the nefarious nom de guerre Doctor Octopus.

Sure, the Green Goblin kills Spider-Man's first love and nearly drives him nuts with a massive scheme involving clones. Yes, Venom's strength, skills, and cunning easily make him one of Spidey's deadliest enemies. But one can definitely argue that neither of them have messed with Spider-Man as terribly and thoroughly as Doc Ock has. After all, the not-so-good doctor's long list of offenses against the wall-crawler includes nearly marrying his aunt, bringing his crimefighting partner-slash-lover to the brink of death, killing one of his father figures, and even taking over his mind and body.

To a greater degree than any other Spider-villain, Spider-Man and Doc Ock are like twisted parallels of one another — and not just because both of them are associated with eight-legged creatures. This is Spider-Man's long, messy, and brutal history with Doc Ock, explained.

Otto Octavius, boy genius

Brilliant, bashful, and bullied, Peter Parker and Otto Octavius come from similar backgrounds. In fact, if Peter hadn't received so much love and encouragement from his parental figures, he probably would have gone down the same resentful path Otto does.

As the 2004 "Spider-Man – Doctor Octopus: Year One" limited series chronicles, Otto is the only child of Torbert and Mary, a low-income couple living in New York. Torbert is a construction worker who regularly beats his son, perceiving Otto to be a weakling. Mary, on the other hand, believes that Otto's impressive intellect will help him amount to much more than his father. Unfortunately, this turns her into an overbearing parent with incredibly high expectations of her genius son.

Otto gets into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to his mother's intense delight. A year into his studies, however, his father passes away in a work-related accident, leaving him his mother's sole caretaker. Otto begins a promising career in nuclear research right after graduation, even creating a harness with four metal tentacles that allows him to safely work with deadly chemicals. Tragically, following an argument with her son, Mary suffers a fatal heart attack. Otto becomes so wracked with sorrow and guilt he can't properly focus on his work responsibilities, which leads to the accident that changes him forever.

Doc Ock versus Spider-Man, round 1

A fledgling Spider-Man first meets Doc Ock in 1963's "Amazing Spider-Man" #3. This adventure sets the stage for what would become one of the greatest enmities in Marvel Comics history.

In this issue, Otto is seen wearing his harness while conducting a dangerous radioactive experiment at the Atomic Research Center. Unfortunately, things take an unexpected turn when an explosion affects both his physiology and his sanity. Otto wakes up in a hospital bed with his metal harness fused to his body and his mind severely affected by the radiation he received. The paranoid patient immediately assumes he is being held captive, and quickly takes over the entire building. He begins to call himself "Doctor Octopus," the nickname his colleagues at the research center gave him because of his four-armed harness.

Spider-Man swings into action, but receives a swift beating from his unhinged opponent. This unexpected defeat affects him so severely, Spidey briefly mulls over the possibility of hanging up his webs for good. Fortunately, a pep talk at his school — given by none other than the Fantastic Four's Human Torch — motivates Spider-Man to go after Doc Ock a second time. The webslinger emerges triumphant from their rematch, leaving a restrained Doc Ock behind for the authorities to pick up. Notably, Doc Ock calls Spider-Man "Super-Man" in one panel, an apparent typo that was fixed in reprints.

Spider-Man's first unmasking

Spider-Man and Doc Ock tangle quite frequently in the earliest "Spider-Man" comics. One of their most memorable tussles takes place in 1964's "Amazing Spider-Man" #12, which marks the first time Spider-Man's secret identity is exposed by his opponent in front of a crowd.

After suffering repeated defeats at Spider-Man's hands, Doc Ock sets a trap for his nemesis. He kidnaps the Daily Bugle's Betty Brant — who, unbeknownst to him, is actually Peter Parker's love interest — and challenges the web-slinger to an amusement park showdown. Doc Ock's timing can't have been worse: Peter's nasty cold has put his spider-powers on the fritz. The mad scientist quickly gains the upper hand against his powerless foe, and unmasks him before a stunned crowd. In a stroke of luck, because the victory comes too easily, Doc Ock assumes that Peter is merely impersonating the hero to save Betty. He hastily leaves in search of the "real" Spider-Man. Peter's apparent show of bravado impresses both Betty and his classmate Liz Allan, who subsequently develops feelings for him.

It takes a day for Peter to recover from both his beatdown and his cold. He wakes up feeling like a million bucks, however, and goes after Doc Ock once again. Predictably, the outcome of their battle is the same as their previous fights, with Spider-Man handing Doc Ock over to the cops.

The Sinister Six and the Master Planner

As someone who fancies himself a skilled tactician, Doc Ock is not above teaming up with — or manipulating — other criminals to achieve his ends. In fact, in 1964's "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #1, the supervillain kicks off what eventually becomes a tradition in the Spider-Man mythos: The banding together of six costumed evildoers, with the singular mission of killing Spider-Man.

Along with the Vulture, the Sandman, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, and Mysterio, Doc Ock forms the Sinister Six. They capture Betty Brant and Peter Parker's Aunt May (without knowing Spider-Man's secret identity) to lure Spidey into a fiendish gauntlet, spread across the city: The hero must fight one villain after another, in order to rescue the hostages. To further complicate matters, Peter's powers are malfunctioning when he receives this challenge. Regardless, he suits up and rushes into action, soundly defeating each villain with a combination of luck, skill, and sheer bullheadedness. Over the years, many rosters of the Sinister Six emerge, often with Doc Ock as ringleader.

That said, Doc Ock does not completely abandon the idea of working alone. Posing as the mysterious Master Planner in one classic storyline, Doc Ock steals numerous reagents in a quest for world domination. Things come to a head in 1965's "Amazing Spider-Man" #33, when a desperate Spider-Man lays waste to Doc Ock's secret lab. Against insurmountable odds, he manages to retrieve an expensive serum to save his hospitalized aunt from death.

The death of a Stacy

One of the reasons many consider Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's primary nemesis is the fact that he's responsible for the death of Spider-Man's first love, Gwen Stacy. However, the Goblin isn't the only villain to take away a Stacy from Peter Parker's life. In 1970's "Amazing Spider-Man" #90, Doc Ock causes the death of Police Captain George Stacy, Gwen's dad and a father figure to Peter.

Two issues prior, Doc Ock successfully escapes imprisonment by mentally controlling his metal tentacles from afar. The maniacal scientist wreaks havoc across New York, with Spider-Man giving chase. A violent confrontation ensues, with Doc Ock losing control of his metal appendages and causing wanton destruction across the city's rooftops. In the chaos, the combatants end up toppling a chimney. A child is nearly crushed by the falling debris, but Captain Stacy heroically pushes the youngster out of harm's way.

Sadly, the aging officer is unable to avoid the crumbling chimney himself. Spider-Man swings in and tries to save him, but to no avail. However, Captain Stacy does manage to drop a bomb on Spider-Man with his dying words: He reveals that he knows Peter's secret, and entrusts the care of his daughter to him. In typical Parker luck fashion, Spider-Man gets blamed for the police officer's death.

With this ring I thee ... web?!

In one particularly memorable storyline, Spider-Man almost becomes Doc Ock's step-nephew. 1974's "Amazing Spider-Man" #131 sees the supervillain come close to marrying Peter Parker's Aunt May, whose affection for the doctor matches her disdain for the wall-crawler. However, Doc Ock's marriage proposal isn't motivated by love, but greed. During his time in prison, the supervillain discovers that a relative of Peter's aunt has died, bequeathing her an island upon which a nuclear facility has been built. The moment Doc Ock leaves prison, he proceeds to charm May, tricking her into agreeing to marry him. However, the eight-limbed supervillain's plan is foiled — not just by Spider-Man's interference, but by another bad guy's unexpected arrival. 

Hammerhead, a criminal enforcer, attacks Doc Ock. Their battle ends up destroying the nuclear reactor. Both villains survive, though the former ends up stranded in a different dimensional plane, while the latter becomes a drifter. 28 issues later, Spider-Man, Doc Ock, and Hammerhead find themselves in a three-way conflict. Hammerhead takes May hostage, forcing Spider-Man and Doc Ock to temporarily team up to save her. In the end, the mob enforcer seemingly dies in a helicopter crash, while Doc Ock successfully escapes after mistaking the sound of fire trucks for police car sirens.

Doc Ock develops Spideyphobia

1984's "Secret Wars" event brings together some of Marvel's most prominent characters, including Spider-Man and Doc Ock. Finding themselves on opposite sides of a war manufactured by the cosmic being known as the Beyonder, the eternal enemies fight alongside their respective teammates on the patchwork planet Battleworld. After the heroes emerge victorious, Spider-Man and Doc Ock return to Earth and resume their own conflict.

However, Doc Ock ends up being institutionalized after a string of humiliating losses, including a particularly brutal defeat in which Spider-Man says Doc Ock can never hope to defeat him. This causes the villain to develop a severe, irrational fear of the webslinger. Doc Ock's mechanical arms allow him to escape from his ward in 1985's "Web of Spider-Man" #4, and Spider-Man soon discovers how much his formerly lethal sparring partner now fears him.

Some time later, in 1988's "Amazing Spider-Man" #296, a still-Spideyphobic Doc Ock decides that the only way to deal with his dreaded enemy is to annihilate everyone in New York with a biological weapon. Spider-Man realizes that to make Doc Ock abort his plans, he will have to help the villain snap out of his phobia. Thus, the hero swallows his pride and fakes an embarrassing defeat. His plan works: Doc Ock junks the mission and turns back into his overconfident self, sparing Spider-Man so that he may live with the knowledge of Doc Ock's "victory."

Doc Ock saves his greatest foe

The dynamics of Spider-Man's rivalry with Doc Ock are a bit more complicated than the average hero-versus-villain relationship. At one point, Doc Ock comes to the realization that for all his hatred of Spider-Man, the hope that he could one day crush the web-slinger gets him through everyday life. Thus, when he discovers in 1994's "Amazing Spider-Man" #397 that "there is something horribly wrong" with Spider-Man, he goes to great lengths to save his foe.

At this point, Peter Parker has nearly abandoned his civilian identity due to the turmoil of his personal life. From the realization that he was posthumously tricked by his best friend Harry Osborn to the reemergence of his clone Ben Reilly, Peter is pushed to the brink of sanity. By the time he realizes he's dying from being poisoned by the Vulture in a previous battle, he has no one else to turn to but Doc Ock.

Despite Peter's initial hesitation about trusting his hated enemy, Doc Ock miraculously saves his life in 1994's "Spectacular Spider-Man" #221. As Peter returns to Mary Jane, Doc Ock happily prepares to resume their skirmish ... until he meets his unexpected demise at the hands of Peter's violent and imperfect clone, Kaine. Doc Ock doesn't stay dead, though: Criminal ninja organization the Hand resurrects him in 1997's "Amazing Spider-Man" #427.

The superior Spider-Man

Doc Ock has made a habit of cheating death. In 2009's "Amazing Spider-Man" #600, the sinister scientist learns that years of tangling with superpowered types have left his body damaged beyond repair. Seeking to immortalize his name in history, he comes up with various plans, ranging from dominating New York's technology to destroying the planet. Spider-Man and his allies foil him at every turn — but Doc Ock's last trick turns out to be a truly superior play.

The deteriorating doctor sneakily swaps minds with Peter Parker, trapping the hero's consciousness in his deteriorating body. Shockingly, Spider-Man fails to return to his own body in 2012's "Amazing Spider-Man" #700, though he manages to convince Doc Ock to be a hero before he dies. Inspired by Peter's example, Doc Ock swears to be a superior Spider-Man, employing his technological genius to become a more efficient, albeit brutal, crime-fighter.

While in Peter Parker's body, Doc Ock is able to improve Peter's quality of life by obtaining a doctorate, inventing new gadgets, finding new love, and even becoming the CEO of his own company, Parker Industries. However, during the events of 2014's "Goblin Nation," Doc Ock realizes that his so-called superior methods still don't measure up to the original. He voluntarily relinquishes control of Spider-Man's body to a figment of Peter's consciousness, sacrificing himself so that the true Spider-Man can live again.

The superior Octopus

When Doc Ock (masquerading as Spider-Man) joins the rest of the Spider-Verse in battling the Inheritors, he realizes that Peter Parker eventually gets his body back. He hastily comes up with a plan: Using technology appropriated from Spider-Man 2099's cutting-edge future, Doc Ock creates a backup of his mind, scheduled to come back to life after three months. Thus, Doc Ock gets a fourth shot at life in 2016's "Amazing Spider-Man" #18, after he successfully transfers his consciousness to the Living Brain, a former Spider-Man villain repurposed as Peter Parker's personal robotic assistant.

Ben Reilly's return as the Jackal in 2016's "Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy" provides an opportunity for Doc Ock to become flesh and blood once more. Taking control of the proto clone developed by Ben's company New U Technologies, Doc Ock finds himself in a new, healthy body. However, many of his secret hideouts have been ransacked by HYDRA, forcing him to team up with Arnim Zola to take Parker Industries away from Peter (as seen in 2017's "Amazing Spider-Man" #29). Christening himself the Superior Octopus, Doc Ock battles Spider-Man once again. What's more, he manages to escape after the hero destroys Parker Industries' resources to prevent them from falling into Doc Ock's hands.

A second shot at being good

Doc Ock's return as the Superior Octopus may start out as a villainous pursuit, but it quickly becomes apparent that his time pretending to be Peter Parker has had a profound effect on him. In 2018's "Amazing Spider-Man" #800, he shows up to save Aunt May from Norman Osborn's grandson Normie, who is under the influence of the Carnage symbiote. For Peter, this is enough to wipe Doc Ock's slate clean, and they part ways as uneasy allies.

Doc Ock creates the identity of Elliot Tolliver and relocates to San Francisco, finding employment at Horizon University while moonlighting as the Superior Spider-Man. While on this second hero's journey, he reunites with former flame Anna Maria Marconi, who becomes his confidante and partner towards redemption. As the Superior Spider-Man, he even gains the trust of other members of the Spider-Verse, thanks to his role in thwarting Spider-Geddon. The reformed supervillain continues to perform many acts of kindness in San Francisco, slowly changing his perspective on what it means to be a hero.

Back to being sinister (or not?)

Sadly, the twice-Superior Spider-Man turns out to be the textbook definition of a leopard incapable of changing his spots.

In 2019's "Superior Spider-Man" #12, an alternate reality Norman Osborn leaves Elliot Tolliver's life in tatters. Desperate, the man formerly known as Otto Octavius strikes a deal with Mephisto. As a result, he becomes Doc Ock once again. Nearly all traces of his heroism are wiped away, and his sadistic genius persona is put firmly back in his former body. He soundly beats his foe, leaves San Francisco behind, and returns to his wicked ways. He even reforms the Sinister Six, forcefully separating the Lizard persona from Dr. Curt Connors in the process.

However, a shred of hope still exists for Doc Ock. During 2021's Sinister War, he becomes Spider-Man's unexpected ace in the hole by successfully incapacitating criminals the hell-spawned villain Kindred sends to kill the web-slinger. Time will tell if a seed of goodness truly remains in Doc Ock's heart, or if he simply wants to kill Spider-Man with his own hands.