Spider-Man fighting against a mad scientist and their creations has been a commonplace plot over the years, but what raises the three chapter opening encounter with Alastair Smythe above the predictability threshold is that with Dr Octopus now essentially Spider-Man, this is mad scientist versus mad scientist. “I’ve been here months thinking of nothing else. You can’t have imagined every way out”, boasts Smythe, except the one time Spider-Slayer is due to be executed in the premises where Octavius was once also jailed. Throw in J. Jonah Jameson with a personal grudge and several villains Octavius considered he’d already dealt with and there’s the recipe for a fantastic superhero story.

It’s a clever plot by Dan Slott, sparklingly scripted by Christos Gage. Slott set up elements of this unobtrusively during an earlier Jameson rant in A Troubled Mind, and twists the tension by good use of a limited environment. What’s really impressive, however, despite being telegraphed early, is just how this new Spider-Man has prepared for every eventuality. Whereas Peter Parker’s Spider-Man swung into action with good-natured intent to help, Octavius’ version plots as he did when a villain, attempting to leave nothing to chance. It may at times come across as massively over-compensating, but never prompts a groan due to being predictable. Slott also makes good use of a wild card, toys with using one of his previously successful plots, and drops in one final surprise for a satisfying conclusion. Everything being drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli in his economic style adds up to a first rate Spider-Man adventure.

Humberto Ramos and his more cartoony style take over for the second half of the collection. That starts with a look at how arrogant and confident a criminal mastermind is when it comes to a Spider-Man they’re aware is quite prepared to kill them. It appears as if Slott intends to have the Octavius version of Spider-Man go up against every single one of Spider-Man’s notable villains as the series continues, dealing with them in his own fashion to prove himself superior. We might have seen variations of these fights on numerous occasions, but Spider-Man’s new identity and amoral attitude provides a freshness. Throughout the series Slott’s been cutting back to Spider-Man’s other major foe, the Green Goblin, and there’s more of that, intriguing without compelling, which is just as well as we remain three volumes away from a pay-off.

The Hobgoblin features heavily in the final tale. He’s having financial problems, but that’s soon going to be the least of his concerns in another clever story from Slott. It’s not all it could be as Ramos moves beyond a style to plain ugly art that induces winces at the poses he twists Spider-Man into. A shame, as in terms of story this is once again compelling. The series continues with Necessary Evil.