Graphic Novel Review: The Arms of the Octopus

10:34 25 February 2014

The Arms of the Octopus

The Arms of the Octopus

Archant

Doctor Octopus lives! But the Superior Spider-Man has something to say about that...

(Panini Books)

There’s nothing new in running a linked story arc between the annual releases of assorted Marvel books, but unlike some of the padded filler of past crossovers, there’s far more going on here than you’d initially anticipate.

Bringing together the Superior Spider-Man (the mind of Otto “Doctor Octopus” Octavius in control of Peter Parker’s body), the Indestructible Hulk (agent of SHIELD) and the All-New X-Men (the original team of mutants plucked from the past into the present day) might seem a remarkably random decision by the powers-that-be at Marvel, but the combination of these disparate characters actually works very well.

A day trip to Manhattan for the X-Men results in Hank McCoy meeting up with his old university professor Dr Jude, a former specialist in gamma radiation now researching time travel theory. An unexpected attack from Doctor Octopus, apparently from an earlier point in his career, draws the attention of Spider-Man, who is naturally curious as to how his younger self came to be transported through time.

Doc Ock is also mysteriously leaking gamma radiation, prompting a call for help from Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, who gains a personal stake in events following an assault by the long-dead Abomination, one of his greatest adversaries…

Although the Hulk has encountered Spider-Man on numerous occasions, the green goliath’s limited intellect explains why he doesn’t recognise the changes in the webslinger since Octavius seized control of his body, and at this point in their careers the fledgling X-Men have only a passing knowledge of the wall crawler.

The arrogant and self-assured Spider-Man decides to inspire and motivate the young heroes to reach their full potential, and there’s a lot of fun in this interaction, although this does leave Banner/the Hulk somewhat sidelined during his appearance.

The story is pretty straightforward once the mystery of the time-twisted supervillains is explained, and yet writer Mike Costa’s real focus is on his protagonists, which means he gives plenty of room for their characters to breathe. Three different artists – Kris Anka, Jacob Wyatt and Michael Dialynas – handle a chapter each, and have plenty to work with from both the narrative and dialogue, ensuring the reader is never simply focusing on panel after panel of talking heads.

Certainly not an example of phoned-in filler by any standard, this is actually an enjoyable, self-contained little tale in its own right, which makes the inclusion of a sub-par Wolverine story to pad out the page count even more of a disappointment.

Imagine teaming the clawed Canadian with Masterchef stars John Torode or Greg Wallace in a hunt for a serial killer and you’d actually be imagining something worth reading, instead of this contemptible waste of paper.

The story In the Flesh finds the X-Man joining forces with Chris Cosentino, the winner of season 4 of US reality series Top Chef Master, for no apparent reason other than Cosentino wanted to write this story, and probably sold his soul for the privilege.

An out-of-character, ineffective Wolverine plays second fiddle to Cosentino’s knife-wielding hero, a Z-lister best known for his offal dishes who somehow becomes a first-rate homicide detective during the course of a few pages, identifying the cuts used on a murdered corpse as carried out by a professional butcher.

He also finds time to launch into an unsubstantiated attack on vegetarians in the midst of a murder investigation, save Wolvie from the Bay City Butcher, prevent San Francisco being torn apart by civil unrest, and then whip up some tasty treats in the high-pressure environment of his restaurant. Smug doesn’t do justice to this man’s attitude.

Whoever let Cosentino loose on a professional comic book deserves to be hung, drawn and quartered for subjecting us to perhaps one of the worst Wolverine stories of all time, and that’s saying something given the X-Man’s prolific history.

Not even worthy of being filed in the so-bad it’s good category of comics, do yourself a favour and stop reading this collection at the end of the very entertaining The Arms of the Octopus instead of subjecting yourself to this tripe (pun intended).

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