If there are just two things that writer Dan Slott is exceptional at doing in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man they are raising the stakes before a line-wide event or major status quo change and having a vision for long-running stories, whether or not these events or stories pay off in a satisfying way. Just like the previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #18 satisfyingly reveals a previously obscured story of one of the title’s supporting cast; in this case that person is none other than Otto Octavius.
From its opening pages, Amazing Spider-Man #18 operates very similarly to the events of the unforgettable Amazing Spider-Man #700, as Peter Parker scrambled to find any way to survive his mind being trapped inside the body of the dying Doctor Octopus. Here it is Otto who downloads his mind into his Superior Spider-Man-era web-shooters, set to reactivate one hundred days in the future. If this all sounds familiar, its because a large part of this issue is spent recapping the ongoing adventures of Doctor Octopus from “Spider-Verse” on.
For a Spider-Man obsessive like myself this recapping might not be the most exciting story but it serves as an excellent entry-point to the ongoing adventure for newcomers to the series. Fortunately the story is told through the internal monologuing of Dan Slott’s Doctor Octopus, perhaps the character he’s written the most consistently since first writing him back in Amazing Spider-Man #600. This very week, Dan Slott has reached the point that he can claim to have written 1/5th of the published Amazing Spider-Man stories, with a large part of them being from the perspective of Doctor Octopus. Fans of the Superior Spider-Man (that’s everyone, right?) will find a ton to enjoy upon reading the refreshingly arrogant voice of Otto on the page.
Otto has two things on his disembodied mind: getting his mind out of the constrained physical limitations of the Living Brain and winning back his beloved Anna Maria. Along the way, readers are provided a great deal of information to fill in the eight-month gap left after the destruction of Parker Industries in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #18. Many of these developments, specifically Otto’s behind the scenes manipulation of Parker’s success, would have be well-timed much earlier in the series, but here they are welcome revelation. There’s always been something inherently wrong about Peter being both successful as a private citizen and as Spider-Man and this does a little work to rebalance the scales.
Additionally, this issue finally gives readers insight into Anna Maria’s thoughts about her former relationship with Otto Octavius, then Peter Parker, after waiting since Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #2 for any kind of details that would allow us to reframe the character and her relationships to the supporting cast. Previously, Anna Maria was seen secretly reactivating the nano-technology research as started by Otto, claiming that his brilliant work needed to live on, but clearly she’s maintained no actual love for the man. Again, these wonderful moments of introspection are much appreciated in this issue, but would have gone a long way if presented dozens of issues earlier.
Lastly, Amazing Spider-Man #18 rounds out its trio of character studies by offering a complicated and fascinating angle through which characters are reintroduced to Otto. Readers might initially balk at the quick return of Otto after his memorable (if anti-climatic) surrender to Peter in the final moments of the Superior Spider-Man series. However, Dan Slott’s clever plotting does everything but invalidate the end of that series, instead he reintroduces a version of Otto that never saw the conclusion of his previous character arc. Here he is presented as a still “superior,” arrogant Otto who is unable to comprehend how someone like Peter could have gotten the better of him, much less caused him to willingly surrender. This characterization does a good job of illustrating just how much growth the previous version of Otto went through before ultimately proving that he could be a good man, if only for one defining moment.
Character, it’s the element that allows for this story to elevate itself from being a simple recap/prelude story and become something more intriguing and ultimately emotionally engrossing, like the best of Spider-Man comics of years past. It is an element that Dan Slott should continue to focus on, especially as he seeks to bring former character’s back to life. Here’s hoping that the events of “The Clone Conspiracy” continue to focus on solid, consistant characterization as presented here instead of stunning shock surprises and big action that is satisfying only in the moment.
That said, Slott incorporates a wonderful sequence of action as Otto lashes out one last time as the Living Brain and Spider-Man springs into action. While the resolution to this fight is a bit of a cheat, specifically regarding Otto’s new status quo at the end, the action is spectacularly rendered by artist R.B. Silva and does a tremendous job at (again) exposing character through action.
After heaping praise on R.B. Silva in my previous review, I have no choice but to continue to do so here. His pencils are the freshest take on the world of Spider-Man since the introduction of Ryan Stegman, but oriented in the absolute opposite direction of Stegman’s sharp and gritty pencils. Silva packs his panels with incredible detail, utilizing foreground, middleground, and background to build up the stuffy, technical environs of Parker Industries. One gets the sense that traversing these grounds would be akin to walking through tentacles of interviewing pipes and machinery before accidentally stepping on and tangling oneself in wires.
Silva’s heroes are big, bold and always manage to strike the most dramatic pose, while his villains are creepy, twisted, and slithering around the pages. His work is the perfect middle-ground between Humberto Ramos’ caricature-like renderings and the grounded, textured work of Stefano Caselli, presenting a Spider-Man and his world that is emotionally complex and realistic but not above becoming iconographic at the drop of a hat (gotta love those hearts floating around Anna Maria’s head).
Adriano Di Benedetto’s inks are fuller in this issue than in the previous, particularly in a stunning full-page spread, and are further reinforced by the beautiful, albeit limited in range, colors provided by colorist Marte Gracia. Together the three or a formidable art team that unfortunately is coming to a quick end. With all the advertising of Jim Cheung as a master artist in the upcoming event, one can’t help but wonder if this team of creatives is already providing the triple-A quality work this series demands.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #18 is another successful flashback/prelude issue for “The Clone Conspiracy” (or is it “Dead No More”?) and the type of character-centric Spider-Man story that made the series so relatable and successful from its beginnings in the pages of Amazing Fantasy to its complicated inversions in Superior Spider-Man.