Friday, December 19, 2014

SPIDER-MAN: THE OCTOPUS AGENDA - November 1996 (Part Five)

Chapters 9-11
Written by Diane Duane

The Plot:  Spider-Man searches the New York underground for Dr. Octopus and eventually finds a radiation trail.  Venom meets him soon after, but both are taken captive by Dr. Octopus after they’re narrowly killed by Niner’s grenade launcher.  Later, Dr. Octopus explains his plan to Spider-Man.  After destabilizing national economies and devaluing established currencies, he’ll unleash neutron bombs to kill large portions of the population.  Ock will rule a new science-based utopia.  When Ock is distracted, Venom uses his symbiote to escape the cell he shares with Spider-Man.  Dr. Octopus overtakes Venom, but Spider-Man ultimately defeats Ock.  He soon realizes, however, that Dr. Octopus has already triggered a bomb in the city.  Using Dr. Octopus’ computers, Spider-Man locates the bomb and disarms it.  Venom disappears, after taking a printout of Dr. Octopus’ secret bomb locations throughout the country.

The Subplots:  The cartoon MJ worked on has its order cut after a weak debut.  Doris calls with the good news that the cell phone company is dropping the charges, thanks to her investigation.

Web of Continuity:  Niner earned his nickname because he’s Dr. Octopus’ “ninth arm.”

I Love the ‘90s:  The one bomb that Dr. Octopus does manage to trigger?  It’s in the World Trade Center.  Spider-Man finds it in a wine cellar underneath the Windows on the World restaurant.

Review:  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this much of a happy ending.  I was sure that MJ’s cartoon would be prematurely cancelled, but I just assumed that the Parkers would somehow get stuck with the $5,000 phone bill.  Regardless, the personal life subplots have remained enjoyable throughout the novel, and I’m relieved to see Duane avoid any temptation to place MJ in personal danger during the climax.  MJ isn’t totally divorced from the novel’s main story, but her role doesn’t feel particularly forced or distracting.  Venom’s role, on the other hand, has becoming increasingly questionable as the trilogy has progressed.  Looking back over the plot, it’s hard to see any significant role he’s played.  Duane does use Eddie Brock’s past as an investigative reporter to her advantage, but any information he uncovers could’ve just as easily been discovered by Peter Parker with a Daily Bugle reporter.  (Speaking of which, why does Mel Ahrens drop out of the story so early on?)  Venom’s scenes aren’t necessarily bad, since Duane does have a handle on the character, and his final confrontation with Dr. Octopus is brief but fun.  By the end of the novel, however, the reader isn’t left with the sense that he truly needed to be here.  For commercial purposes, sure, although I wonder how much of a draw Venom remained by the time the trilogy completed.

Ultimately, the novel is about society and its uncertain relationship with progress and technology.  A twenty-something reporter eschews it, while a bored retiree embraces it and becomes a wealthy security expert.  Dr. Octopus views mankind’s petty squabbles as an impediment to real progress, so he’s willing to destroy just what he needs in order to make his point and then start his own advanced civilization.  Applying Ock’s intellect to money laundering, world economics, and sociology is a clever move on Duane’s part, and her choices for “ripped from the headlines issues were clearly inspired.  It’s a sharply written novel that never needed the Venom gimmick, I say.  If you’re a fan of the characters or just suspense thrillers in general, it’s worth your attention.  

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