Spider-Man fans are well acquainted with one of his oldest villains, Doctor Octopus, appearing as early as Amazing Spider-Man issue 3 from 1963. So it’s quite a surprise when in Spectacular Spider-Man 221, he dies 32 years later in 1995. Of course, no characters stay dead forever in comic books, but it remains a monumental and memorable piece of writing for those who prefer to track all the events of the famous wall-crawler. The Web of Death story arc has other surprises as well, such as Mary Jane Watson pregnant.
Web of Death starts with Amazing Spider-Man 397, followed by Spectacular Spider-Man 220, then back to ASM 398 and ends with SPM 221. Annoying, right?
As soon as the Web of Death story arc begins, we are introduced to Kaine, the guy that will eventually kill Doctor Octavius, or Doc Ock. But the bulk of the story has to do with Spider-Man being poisoned. Apparently The Vulture, another old enemy of Spider-Man, managed to apply a lethal dose of serum to him. Doc Ock heard about this rumor, and finds Spider-Man near death on the street. He removes his mask, and is unsurprised that it is Peter Parker. He recalls when he had unmasked him in the past but refused to believe the truth.
Web of Death also shows that Doc Ock has a muscular girlfriend, an odd plot point since he is known for being a loner, and sad that he couldn’t marry the woman he loved due to his mother’s disapproval. His girlfriend watches as he tries to create a cure for the poison in Spider-Man’s veins. Peter, while ill, repeatedly has memories of being in some sort of tank with tubes attached to his backside. The reason behind this was to imply that Spider-Man was a clone, a plot line people call The Clone Saga.
Doc Ock succeeds in delaying Spider-Man’s illness with a partial cure. He drops Peter off near his apartment, and he wakes up not remembering what happened. The next morning, he realizes the pain is back and that he is still dying. His wife Mary Jane tells him that she is pregnant. He is ecstatic, as happy as can be. Doc Ock finds Spider-Man and explains that he found a permanent cure for him. Naturally, he is asked why he would help him. He answers by saying that Peter provides a sense of continuity, challenge, and inspiration. Spider-Man accepts his help and offers his hand. He drinks the new serum and instead of his life being restored, it is taken away. He has an out-of-body experience, visiting Aunt May as well as others.
In Spectacular Spider-Man 221, the last part of Web of Death, Doc Ock gives Spider-Man electric shocks and CPR, trying to revive him. It works and he comes back to life. In an odd plot twist, Doc Ock calls the police on himself, just to plan an escape while being transported. His girlfriend was meant to break him out, however Kaine intervenes and breaks his neck in a non-dramatic fashion that disappoints the reader. It happens on the last two pages of the story arc, making you wonder why you bothered reading through all these issues. If there is one positive note in the last issue, it is Peter and Mary Jane building a baby crib, overwhelmed with happiness about the future. In order to get a more complete picture, I would purchase the second Clone Saga book, which not only includes Web of Death, but other issues as well.