Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20

Or how the Superior Spider-Man became Doctor Octopus again. And why after just getting started, Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy is already in reruns.

Before seeing a resurrected Doctor Octopus in all his glory in Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #1, and even before Clone Conspiracy started, readers, thanks to several teasers and creator interviews, already knew Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis would return in this event. It was only a question of how? Part of this answer revealed itself in Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #18, where we see how Otto Octavious survived post-Superior Spider-Man and “Spider-Verse.” Taking place mere moments after that issue ended, other than the opening and closing pages, Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20 shows us how Doc Ock managed to look like his classic, chubby, google-wearing, mechanical arm-waving self again. Which really amounts to Doc Ock, along with his A.I. version Anna Maria Marconi, undertaking a quest for his own corpse.

It’s also another Spider-Man comic without Spider-Man despite the comic’s title being The Amazing Spider-Man. Although technically, it still has a “Spider-Man,” but not really. Trust me, it’s complicated. Needlessly complicated, at that.

Granted, Dan Slott and co-writer Christos Gage do manage, however clumsily, to sprint through an obstacle course of twisted logic and pseudoscience to bring Otto Octavious back-to-basics in both appearance and personality. It somewhat helps that Slott was the architect and builder of this very obstacle course, as he also sets about finally resolving long abandoned subplots and unsolved mysteries from Superior Spider-Man. One of these involves Doc Ock’s body being stolen from Potter’s Field. Well, after three years and more than fifty comics later, Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20 at long last reveals the person or persons responsible for stealing Doc Ock’s corpse were…an anonymous group of black market grave robbers. Wow. That certainly was worth the wait. And by worth the wait, I mean not at all. One would think after all this time and paper wasted, Slott could’ve come up with something a lot more satisfying.

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20
…what we have here is a copy of copy of copy (Doc Ock) murdering a copy of a copy (Spider-Man) inside the mind of copy (Doc Ock again) in the midst of a story involving someone who may also be a copy (the Jackal) creating clones, which are, by definition, copies.

Moreover, because this comic must address unanswered questions and resolve long-dormant subplots, Slott and Gage resort to an overuse of exposition. As is so often the case with Slott, much of what’s explained via dialogue and narration is information either already deduced by readers, or information already provided in previous issues. But given how Doc Ock is this issue’s protagonist, the abundance of exposition is appropriate and in-character. Otto after all is the quintessential mad scientist who, because of his excessive ego and pride, cannot help monologue. The same goes for the Jackal, who also fits into the megalomaniac mad scientist mold. It’s fitting then that, by issues end, both Doc Ock and the Jackal come to a quid-pro-quo partnership to solve the unintended side-effect of the clones cellular deterioration.

Yes, if there was still any doubt before, it’s more than clear now that the Jackal is making clones. The Jackal even admits he’s creating clones in this very issue. And for the first time, we’re shown the Jackal’s process in vivid detail, and it’s obvious he’s not anywhere close to reanimating dead bodies as he (and Slott) have alleged. Which goes back to the main criticism I’ve had since this event got underway: if the Jackal’s just doing what he’s always done for the last forty years, why should we, as readers, care about who he “brings back from the dead” when he’s not actually bringing people back from the dead? So Slott and Gage, with this issue, make another attempt in arguing the Jackal is doing more than just cloning by having him explain how the “reanimations” retain all their memories up to death. Apparently, the Jackal “breakthrough” is he’s discovered how to extract the “psychic imprint” a person leaves behind on “cherished personal objects,” (i.e. psychometry) with the body and it’s genetic make-up being the most “personal.” Sound great, only how is this any different from the clones in past Spider-Man stories who could remember everything from the time the Jackal obtained their DNA while their original counterparts were still alive? It isn’t; it’s just a retcon of the “genetic memory” explanation from past clone stories, and it’s just as nonsensical.

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20

If this wasn’t enough, Doc Ock also refers to the Jackal as a “one-trick pony.” It’s an obvious attempt at lampshading but, just like Slott and Gage’s previous attempts at lampshading, it fails. They don’t seem to understand that merely pointing out the flaws in their stories–while doing nothing to actually correct them–doesn’t magically make those flaws disappear. All this issue accomplishes, and everything we’ve seen in the lead-up and during The Clone Conspiracy thus far, just reinforces how the Jackal really is a “one-trick pony.” Even if this Jackal, as I suspect, is really a Peter Parker clone impersonating Miles Warren, or Miles Warren’s mind inside another Peter Parker clone, the label still stands, and an accurate one to boot.

And while we’re on the subject of one-trick ponies, Slott and Gage also give us a battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus inside a mental landscape for control over an individual’s mind…which we’ve seen from Slott before in Superior Spider-Man. Which leads to Doc Ock “killing” Spider-Man for a third time. The irony is while this Spider-Man isn’t the real Peter Parker, as he’s only a “psychic impression” left from his death, neither is Otto Octavious the real Otto Octavious. This Otto, by his own admission, is a “digital ghost” created from the mind of The Superior Spider-Man during “Spider-Verse.” Which, given how Doc Ock’s mind-swapping device worked, was also a digital copy downloaded into Peter’s brain which rewrote his brain patterns, while also downloading a copy of Peter’s mind into Doc Ock’s dying body and rewriting those brain patterns. And if you really want to stretch things, even that Doc Ock was a digital copy, first downloaded into Doc Ock’s rejuvenated body after Doc Ock’s death during the Clone Saga from the 1990s. Which means what we have here is a copy of copy of copy (Doc Ock) murdering a copy of a copy (Spider-Man) inside the mind of copy (Doc Ock again) in the midst of a story involving someone who may also be a copy (the Jackal) creating clones, which are, by definition, copies. If all this sounds way too convoluted, then don’t thank me–thank Dan Slott. In reducing consciousness to interchangable brain patterns and memories that can be copied and re-written at a whim, it’s unclear whether Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus can even be considered alive anymore.

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20
…the real problem with Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20 and with Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy: it pretends it’s something more than what it really is.

At least Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is comprehensible. As always, he makes it easy who or what is the subject of each panel, and where he wants the reader’s attention drawn towards. It’s just not all that interesting. The majority of his panels are straight-forward, one-point perspective angles without much variety. Except for their facial expressions, Camuncoli’s figures look bland and even disproportional at times. There are, however, a few moments where he does adds some neat flourishes. Doc Ock’s emaciated corpse is rendered in vivid, gruesome detail. The way Doc Ock and “Spider-Man” shed their “skins” to reveal their true selves during their mental combat is appropriately surreal and dream-like. It’s also great to see Spider-Man back in his original suit, even if it just a mental projection. Even so, in contrast with Jim Chueng’s illustrations in Clone Conspiracy #1, Camuncoli’s work looks ordinary.

Which leads to what the real problem with Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20 and with Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy thus far: it pretends it’s something more than what it really is. It’s only been six issues (four of which were just prologues) of what’s been intended as a five-month long Spider-Man event so far, and already readers are can see, to paraphrase Doc Ock, this story is just “a copy–a fake–a cheap imitation” of what’s already been done before. After being told beforehand it wasn’t just another Spider-Man story about clones, of course. Which for a story about cloning, it’s kind of funny that it, too, can be considered just another clone.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #20

    So almost a year in-story after Carlie Cooper discovered the theft of Doc Ock’s body, no one reported it sloten in all that time. Not Carlie, who was an officer with the NYPD and thus should’ve reported the crime as part of her job. Not the groundskeepers at Potter’s Field who apparently just filled the empty grave back up and pretended like nothing happened. Not. One. Person.

  • Oh, so someone stole the body Alistair Smythe, the Spider-Slayer, too. Gee, I wonder if the Jackal’s going to clone him? But of course he will.
  • “Once inside this era’s primitive network…” And yet, A.I. Anna Maria, in spite of your advanced 2099 technology, you still need to use a “primitive” Apple iPhone 7to connect with the internet and make phone calls. Maybe you ought to ask Otto why he didn’t install you with your own wi-fi capabilities?
  • You know you’re in a sluggish economy when even black market grave robbers aren’t getting enough orders for super-villain bodies for almost an entire year. Because that’s how long they’ve tried selling Doc Ock’s corpse, apparently. And by the way, why couldn’t the Jackal have his Miles Warren clones dig up Doc Ock’s body themselves? Especially since Jackal didn’t have any problem sending “Prowler” to steal Doc Ock’s harness from an “extremely secure facility.”
  • If Symkaria sounds familiar, that’s because it’s home country of Silver Sable. It also borders Doctor Doom’s nation of Latveria.
  • So Kingpin’s has his minions conducting surveillance of New U’s operations? Maybe one of these same minions also hid outside of the Salteres residence in Clone Conspiracy #1?
  • “The donor body suffered from a debilitating illness.” If by that you mean radiation poisoning and years of blunt force trauma, then sure.
  • “We want all the bugs out of Doctor Octopus 2.0.” Actually, this would make it Doctor Octopus 4.0.
  • “Get the popcorn.” Um, Jackal? You do realize all you can really see are the brain waves changing on the monitors and Doc Ock’s clone body undergoing muscle spasms, not the actual fight between Doc Ock and “Spider-Man” inside the clone body’s mind, correct?
  • Once again, the Jackal’s real scientific discovery isn’t cloning, but the ability to create form-fitting clothes to cover up the clone’s naughty bits during that very cloning process.
  • “If she’s anything like me…” Sorry A.I. Anna Maria, but you’re not. Doc Ock created you based on his own feelings and projections of Anna Maria, not Anna Maria herself. Because otherwise, you would’ve rejected Otto just like the real Anna Maria did.
  • If the Jackal has taken advantage of clone’s cellular degeneration flaw in order to keep them from turning against him, why then would he be okay with Doc Ock fixing that flaw? After all, if the clones no longer need to take their magic pills to prevent from turning into goop, then there’s no reason for them to cooperate with the Jackal’s plans.
  • Oh, I see how it works, Doctor Octopus. Only you can call yourself by your given name, but everyone else has to address you by the “title” of Doctor Octopus. But does calling you “Doc Ock” count?