February 11, 1964
- This issue sees Dr. Octopus once again, so soon after his release from prison and subsequent scheme last issue. And with this third story, he's now appeared more than any other villain. (The only other baddie to have returned thus far was the Vulture in #7.) To put this into proper context, by Fantastic Four #12 Doctor Doom had appeared three times; by the twelfth Thor story Loki had appeared five times. Were Lee & Ditko setting up Doc Ock to be Spidey's Doc Doom? After all, octopi have eight legs, as do spiders - something that's rarely commented upon with this particular hero-villain match-up. Then again, perhaps the idea was scuppered for this very reason; if they subtly reminded readers of the eight legs issue, might they face of flood of fan mail asking why doesn't Spider-Man have eight limbs? (For which readers would have to wait another seven years to see!)
Apparently Doc Ock rants aloud, even while hanging up the phone?
Hey, if it helps the plot...!
- So: Octopus, PhD, returns to New York City, intent to revenge himself upon the hero who's bested him twice already. And his first plan of attack is to recapture Betty Brant - only just returned to the city herself - as bait. To which we can only say: Man, she's got some rotten luck! Seriously, it's a wonder she's not traumatized. After the momentous events of last issue, she took the brave move of getting back to work and attempting to get on with her life, hoping to leave the memory of all that had happened in the past. But instead, the villain who had just days earlier killed her brother is back in her life, and using her to call out the presence of Spider-Man as well - who Betty had already identified as something of a psychological trigger, and a terrible reminder of the chaos that led to her brother's death. Girl just can't catch a break!
There's really no need for this location but to give Ditko
something cool to draw. But I think that's reason enough!
- This issue also contains a couple of firsts for the title, and for our hero. The earlier, and less momentous one, occurs early on, when Peter starts feeling a bit woozy and out of sorts. Despite his vaunted spider-strength, and the way that his abilities have corrected his eyesight and removed his need for eyeglasses, he's still vulnerable to becoming sick with a common virus, which is exactly what happens here. He's had to take down a super-villain while injured before - that occurred during that second Vulture appearance, in fact - but this is the first time he's had to face a baddie while ill. (And notice that this malady hits him the same week as Fantastic Four #26, in which Reed also began the issue battling a terrible sickness, if one of his own making. Perhaps there was something in the air!) In any case, it only serves to reinforce Spidey's everyman status, as "the hero who could be you"; this here, Lee & Ditko seem to be saying, sure ain't no Superman!
The unthinkable fast becomes a case of mistaken assumptions.
- On the other hand, the other first that occurs in these pages is rather a major one, as the story - against all expectation - makes good on the unbelievable event advertised on the cover: Spider-Man is unmasked! In a stroke of genius, however, Lee & Ditko have laid out the story so that when the worst happens - it is actually unthinkable, and no one believes it! Since Peter has been battling the virus, his strength is gone, and his punches land ineffective; certainly not the same kind of blows that Octopus has faced before. So when Doc Ock beats him easily, and then unmasks him, the obvious conclusion is that he hasn't just beaten Spider-Man; rather, that foolish kid Peter Parker has simply dressed up in a Spider-Man costume in a misguided attempt to save Betty Brant. (Recall that Flash Thompson once dressed up as Spidey too.) It's a clever upending of the secret identity convention, and it comes with an unexpected after effect - for when word gets out at school that Peter Parker tried something so brave yet foolhardy, his schoolmate Liz Allan suddenly shows an interest never seen before! Maybe she'd misjudged this Parker kid....
The relationships aren't unchanged from the first issue; over time,
we see the characters grow and become different people.