Monday, May 30, 2016


Writer-Artist: John Byrne | Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Michael Higgins
Editor: Bob Budiansky | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Walter Langowski convinces Reed that only Doctor Otto Octavius’s knowledge can save Sue and her unborn child. Reed heads for the South Brooklyn Psychiatric Facility and appeals to Octavius’s humanity. In a moment of docility, Octavius agrees to help.

However, en route back to the hospital, Octavius catches sight of one of the Daily Bugle’s anti-Spider-Man billboards. The image of his hated enemy sends him into a psychotic frenzy and he mentally summons his mechanical arms from lockdown nearby. Doctor Octopus battles Mister Fantastic over Manhattan, but Reed manages to shut the arms down. This time appealing to Octopus’s pride, Reed convinces him again to aid Sue. They return to the hospital together, but are too late. Sue is alive, but the baby has perished.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: She-Hulk notes that she joined the Fantastic Four in search of respect, after having been considered a joke by the public at large even during her time as an Avenger. She also recalls her past life as “a hotshot lady lawyer in California,” and reminds readers that the Richardses’ unborn child was conceived in the Negative Zone circa issues 251 – 256.

Bruce Banner recaps Doctor Octopus’s origin for Reed (and the readers):

There’s a continuity flub to be found here, though Byrne was likely not responsible. Reed recalls that Doctor Octopus was “recently captured again” and is being held at the South Brooklyn Psychiatric Facility. Last issue, She-Hulk indicated that it was still the same day as Sue’s collapse, and this issue picks up exactly where the last one left off.

Thing is, when Sue was rushed to the hospital earlier this very same day, Reed, Johnny, and She-Hulk had just returned from the Secret Wars. And in the final issue of SECRET WARS, all the various supervillains – including Doc Ock – are flying through space under the guidance of Molecule Man, bound for Earth. SECRET WARS 12 hadn’t yet been published at this point, however – it was still nearly a year away – and so Byrne perhaps assumed that the Beyonder would have simply returned the villains to the spots from whence he’d plucked them when the series began.

(Later in this run, Byrne will have to jump through a few hoops to explain how Doctor Doom – believed dead by the FF and known to readers to be inhabiting the body of a random civilian, his actual physical form destroyed – appeared in SECRET WARS as well.)

My Thoughts: Due to somewhat similar powers, Mister Fantastic versus Doctor Octopus is a pretty cool idea for a fight, and certainly not something a regular reader of FANTASTIC FOUR might expect. Byrne handles their confrontation well, in a nicely drawn six-page sequence.

But even accounting for this unlikely matchup, the thing for which this issue is best known is Sue’s miscarriage. In retrospect it seems obvious Byrne would find some way out of actually having her deliver the child. He’s on record as disliking Franklin Richards and as being a strong proponent of illusory change over actual shakeups to a status quo. True, we’ve just seen She-Hulk join the FF, but even that is more of a change to the window dressing – There are still four members of the Fantastic Four and one of them is still super-strong. She just happens to be a green woman instead of an orange rock-monster.

Somehow, though I knew Byrne’s intention going in here and I was fully aware of how the story would end, even as I read the issue in an encore performance after having taken it in once before, I still found myself almost wondering if Reed and Octavius would make it back to the hospital in time to save the baby. Hope springs eternal, I guess. I have similar feelings about certain movies and TV shows I’ve seen many times before; I know how things will end, but some weird irrational part of me hopes that this time it’ll be different.*

But it’s not. Sue miscarries as always, and the issue’s sobering final page still hits like a ton of bricks. And note the added tragedy of the doctor's report – this happened over a half hour earlier. For all we know, Sue lost the baby before Reed even picked Octavius up at the psychiatric facility.

When Byrne wants to, he can hit the hard emotions just as well as the best comic book writers, and this is definitely such a case.

* Maybe not the best example, but literally every time I watch STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH, there's some little part of me that hopes this time, Anakin won't lop off Mace Windu's hands and Palpatine will be stopped before he can execute the Jedi and seize power.


  1. I always liked the bit about seemingly mellow Dr. Ock having cut the folded paper stack into a string of octopi. I've been made to cut my share of folded paper into snowflakes to appreciate.

    A year later there will be a straightforward Spider-Man story disturbingly reminiscient of this on in WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #4.


    1. @Teemu — As “octopus” is from Greek, not Latin, if you’re not using “octopuses” as a plural construct in English then it’s “octopodes” [pronounced “ahk-tah-pah-deez”] rather than “octopi”. Which is totally not on you as the vast majority of native English-speakers say “octopi” and, hey, my Finnish is nonexistent.

    2. As an avid supporter of educational elements within entertainment, I thank you for taking the trouble of pointing this out, Blam. I initially though there was something inherently, ah-ha, fishy in my plural word choice when I wrote it, but just chose to go with it for shit&giggles. From henceworth I may likely be compelled to check on the roots for similar words when commenting, but it's all good due to me having a healthy interest in etymologies anyway. In Finnish we btw cheat and call them "ink fish".

      Now, if Doc Ock never has had his henchmen assault someplace with amphibious/aerial vessels named "Octo-Pods", that's a damn waste.


    3. A friend replied to my post on just this subject (6 years ago to the very week), "So if Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus, cloned himself, he would become Octavii yet Doctors Octopodes?"

    4. A Spider-Man villain engaging in a cloning experiment is the beginning of many sad stories.

      I must say I'm appreciative of the English thrive to respect the plural form of loan words from classical languages, yet at the same time find myself growing more and more secure on my native Finnish path of often just slapping our plural 't' ending to the already-plural form foreign word. Many a time get we semi-formally reported of the capers done by (New York) "Rangersit" or (San Jose) "Sharksit" in our medias. A double negative may turn your 180 degree turn to 360, but the dual plural is there to just enstrenghen the idea that they sure are many.

  2. I love this issue, and those final few pages hit like a ton of bricks. Very few comics have ever gotten me misty-eyed, but this is definitely one of them.

  3. Byrne hates when people speculate that maybe Ock was a decent guy before the accident that grafted the arms to his body, but I've always assumed this story is the origin of that theory.

    1. Doc Ock's origin story in ASM #3 literally tells us through doctors that there was uncertain amount of brain damage and permanent damage to his mind from the accident and sees the post-accident Ock show some intense paranoia accusing others from being jealous of him and preventing him from working. There's no hint what his personality was prior to it, but it's fair to assume he was pretty much your regular variety brilliant scientist of Marvel Universe.

    2. Well, right in my screenshot above, Banner says that Octavius was "...a scientist, a man much like you or me..." Not that this says anything specifically about his personality, but it sure sounds like he was a normal, well-adjusted guy before the accident.


  4. // I know how things will end, but some weird irrational part of me hopes that this time it’ll be different. //

    How strange and wonderful the human brain — or whatever else it is within us that can account for such a thing.

    Byrne really did a great job sticking us with, as you say, the possible inconsequence of Reed’s excursion, piling it on top of the horrible mundanity of the situation vis-à-vis the FF’s usual perils. Would any help Octavius had offered have made a difference if not for the delay caused by his attack on Reed? Nobody can be sure of that one. Did Reed simply miss the chance to be by his wife’s side by agreeing to seek Octavius’ help? Reed knows the in-story timeframe, even if we don’t, so he might have an answer on that score, at least, but in a way the climax is still a bizarre relation to Byrne’s short Luthor story “Metropolis 900 Mi[les]”.

    I’ve been keeping an eye out for when Byrne started applying photo backgrounds and while I’m not 100% sure it starts here this is the first time I’ve noticed it since I started reading along a half-dozen or so issues ago. The cover and many interior panels utilize xerography of the cityscape — kind-of an inescapable backdrop for the action, so it would make sense if this issue made Byrne realize he can’t always get away with big non-contextual empty spaces (even though there are still plenty of those on display, or lack or display as the case may be).

    1. I think there were a few photo backgrounds in the earlier issues, but they weren't all over the place as they are going forward.

      For the umpteenth time, I'll play armchair quarterback and wonder why, if Byrne was so set on writing, penciling, and inking two comics a month at this time, he didn't get a background artist for these series!


  5. I meant to add that while I enjoy Byrne’s faithful evocation of the original printed story when it comes to, say, retellings of the FF’s origin like in #261 or Doc Ock’s here, I cringed at just how expository it was of Bruce to tell Reed in such detailed, “narratorly” style what he already knows.

    Although the insertion of active editorial voice into captions is not a favorite trick or trope of mine in most situations, I can see Stan Lee or Roy Thomas or Steve Englehart taking it upon themselves to share the information extradiegetically (to get hifalutin) so it doesn’t have to come so awkwardly from Bruce’s mouth: “You probably know Doc Ock’s wacky origin as well as Bruce and Reed do, if not better, Marvelites — but just in case you don’t have a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #3 handy to crack open, here’s a recap!” Of course, I wouldn’t expect Byrne to go that old-school…

    1. There's an absolutely cringe-inducing scene of "as you already know..." exposition from Alicia coming up soon, and I make specific note of it in the post, along with a screenshot. It's really bad.

  6. Maybe not the best example, but literally every time I watch STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH, there's some little part of me that hopes this time, Anakin won't lop off Mace Windu's hands and Palpatine will be stopped before he can execute the Jedi and seize power.

    I'm right there with you, specifically regarding this scene and generally the idea of still hoping for a different outcome even though I know the story (and how it turns out) well, and the fact that, you know, it's a fixed story that can't change no matter what.