by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: A dying Doctor Octopus makes Tony an offer, or rather a demand, that he cannot refuse.

The Review: Tony Stark versus Doctor Octopus?  What the hell?

That was my initial reaction while reading this issue,  having come in expecting more of the Hammer girls, Ezekiel Stane, Detroit Steel, and maybe even the Mandarin.  But Doctor Octopus?  No way did I expect that.

In many ways, that makes this issue and the story it tells all the more appealing.  The fact that Doctor Octopus comes so completely out of left field is a brilliant turn by Matt Fraction, taking Tony similarly off-guard with Stark being, at the same time, dismissive of the terminally ill Spider-villain.  The result is some really great back-and-forth banter, with Stark’s quick tongue being as charming as ever as he acts like a complete dick towards Octavius, despite the fact that the bad guy has a nuclear device and is squeezing the life out of him with his metal arms.

But really, the star is Fraction’s take on Doc Ock.  Put simply, the man is bonkers.  Yet, he’s not that over-the-top, bouncing off the walls, monologuing crazy that we often see in comics.  Rather, he’s mad due to his having been completely taken over psychologically by the massive chip in his shoulder and his ability to recall even the most minor slight against him, expanding it into something colossal.  His reason for attacking Tony, for instance, is ridiculous and what he hopes to achieve is just that as well.  Octavius is a man driven mad by his wounded ego, and as such, he makes for a very interesting villain and a much more compelling sort of crazy.

Salvador Larroca’s art is absolutely stellar this month as well.  While you’re basically getting more or less what you’d expect from the man given his remarkable consistency, he does something very impressive this month, as he completely alters his style in depicting the flashbacks to Stark’s previous encounter with Octavius some years ago.  I really, really thought that there was a guest artist this month and was even wondering if there was an error in the creator credits.  That is a sign of an artist with a massive range.  I also have to mention that Larroca’s depiction of the ailing Doctor Octopus is tremendous.  While the arms and the tech are as slick as expected, so too is the constant sly look he has in his eye, behind the green shades.

Really, the only slight against this issue is the completely lack of Stane, the Hammer girls, etc.  It’s weird having that plot thrown to the side for the moment, given the big cliffhanger it ended on.  That said, crazy old Doc Ock makes up for a lot and allows this issue to promise a highly psychological story-arc, with hero vs. villain more being along the lines of ego vs. ego in an entirely manufactured conflict imagined by a deranged villain.  That is really cool.

Conclusion:  A strong, if surprising, outing.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans