Gettin’ Down ‘n Dirty with Doctor Octopus

Forty-five years ago this very month, the greatest epic in the whole friggin’ history of comic books began.

It was contained in just three consecutive issues of Amazing Spider-Man, numbers 31 through 33. And it was plotted and drawn by the great Steve Ditko and scripted by Stan Lee.

Any comic book geek worth a durn knows about it. We call it “The Master Planner Saga,” for want of a better name. And for a lot of us, it moved “funny books” into the realm of literature.

It may even qualify as the first-ever genuine graphic novel.

The story’s been reprinted many times and is easy to find, so I won’t summarize it in detail.

Besides, I wanna talk about just one moment from the story.

Yeah, webheads — THAT moment. The one cleverly paid homage to in the second Spider-Man movie — you know, the really terrific one with Doctor Octopus.

Lemme set it up.

Aunt May lies dying in a hospital. Her only chance for survival is a vial of ISO-36 serum stolen by Doc Ock.

So Spider-Man and the Doc duke it out in the tentacled one’s secret lair beneath the Hudson River. When a support beam dislodges, Octopus disappears, tons of machinery collapse, and Spidey’s trapped helplessly under a unit the size of the USS North Carolina.

Ironically, the serum is just out of his reach, losing its potency with each passing minute.

Plus, the ceiling’s about to crash in and bring with it the surging river above!

So here’s “the moment”…

In a four-page sequence that still leaves me exhilarated when I re-read it, an exhausted but determined Spidey, after struggling panel after tortured panel, finally cries, “No matter what the odds. No matter what the cost — I’ll get that serum to Aunt May!

“Anyone can win a fight — when the odds are easy! It’s when the going’s tough — when there seems to be no chance — that’s when it counts!”

And like the legendary Atlas, Spider-Man gathers his last bit of strength, hoists the mammoth machinery above his head, and throws it off.

I’m getting gooseflesh just talking about this.

Are you feeling discouraged? Frustrated? Ready to give up your dream of dumping the old 9-to-5 lifestyle for one of greater freedom?

Right this minute, revisit a book, movie, TV show, anything that inspires you to overcome adversity and keep on keepin’ on. For me, it’s always been Amazing Spider-Man #31-33.

By the way, you’ll also find no shortage of inspiration at

See ya in the funny papers.

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Gettin’ Down ‘n Dirty with Doctor Octopus — 2 Comments

  1. Another amazing thing about that story is that the sequence occurred at the BEGINNING of the third chapter. We had waited breathlessly for four weeks to see how creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would get Spider-Man out of this cliffhanger. Spider-Man #33 was one of a pile of comics I bought that day, but it was the first one I read while Dad and Mom were driving us home.

    I HAD to see how it ended, and the way he did it was breathtaking. You just knew Spider-Man would triumph after that sequence, and the rest of the 20-page story was just a matter of seeing how thoroughly Octopus’ gang would be squashed – and of course the reunion with a healing Aunt May. Great stuff!

    Outside of the parameters of the story, the application for the creators-businessmen would be: Get customers (readers) personally involved, promise something terrific, and then give even more than they expect.

    Oh! And inside the story, in “the sequence,” is a beautiful example of the power of the individual who looks past his despair and perceived limitations, gets a sense of urgency and, well, refuses to be afraid!

  2. You’re right, Warren — if ever two storytellers successfully “got customers (readers) personally involved,” it was Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They’d already spent more than two years (and 30 issues) building a strong bond between their fictional hero and their readers. That 33rd issue really paid off…and it lives in the minds of many of us to this day.