The Psychology of the Superior Spider-Man

The comic series shows that Otto Octavius, “Doc Ock,” has previously transferred his consciousness to Peter Parker’s body, Peter’s to his. Peter, in Otto’s body, has died. Now Otto Octavius is running Peter’s life and is consumed with becoming the superior Spider-Man.


Otto Octavius, having taken over Peter’s body, now has peter’s memories, but somehow Peter’s consciousness is still involved in Otto’s unconscious, indirectly influencing some of Otto’s actions (Issue 1). Otto unknowingly calls Peter’s consciousness “nagging voice in my head” (Issue 4). Peter’s consciousness slowly loses influence until Otto’s consciousness appears to be the stronger of the two (Issue 5).

Talking about consciousness, for me, is actually really difficult because a psychologist cannot point to a section of the brain and say, “there it is.” We can’t say what consciousness is exactly, but there are plenty of theories. Most simply, the conscious is seen as the thoughts and feelings we are actually acknowledge. Sigmund Freud popularized the idea that the unconscious is all those thoughts, feelings, drives that we repress and refuse to acknowledge.

In a way, Otto and Peter represent the conscious and unconscious, respectively. Otto is at the forefront and is mostly in control of the shared body, although influenced by Peter. Staying the in background, Peter attempts to control Otto, occasionally even being recognized by Otto. However, Otto strives to completely suppress Peter and any influence he has on his actions.

Otto seemingly removes Peter’s consciousness by erasing his memories (Issue 9). Without the influence of Peter’s consciousness, Otto further blurs the definition of a hero (Issue 14). This part of the story really puts forth the idea that a person’s consciousness is not only influenced by but is made from that individual’s memories and experiences.


Although not in total control of the shared body, early in the series Peter’s consciousness has access to Otto’s memories (Issue 3). Otto controls which memories are brought to the forefront, but Peter explores them.

Memory involves three different stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval. When people pay attention to stimuli in their environment, what they pay attention to is encoded into a memory. That memory is stored first in the short-term memory (also called working memory), which lasts about 30 seconds, and then if that information is important, it goes into the long-term memory. Memories are retrieved when they are brought out of long-term memory and back into attention in the short-term memory.

Sometimes, memories are encoded, stored in the long-term memory, retrieved, and then are re-encoded with new information. Then next time those memories are retrieved, they are remembered with the newest information.

As mentioned, Otto removes Peter’s consciousness by erasing his personal memories. In order to do this, Otto, somehow, goes within himself to fight Peter’s consciousness with his own (Issue 9). For strength, Peter retrieves his positive memories, while Otto retrieves Peter’s memories of fear, anxieties, doubts, and failures in order to gain control and erase the memories.

Without Peter’s memories, Otto runs into a few snags trying to live as Peter (Issue 18), including not even recognizing key people in Peter’s life (Issue 23). To help with this problem, Otto focuses on the memories he already retrieved and re-encoded them with himself in Peter’s place: “I may have purged all of Parker’s memories, but I can still recall the ones I’ve already accessed!” (Issue 19). After retrieving the memories he had already access, Otto re-encodes Peter’s memories with himself in the images.

Obviously Peter Parker isn’t gone forever and he reappears in this mental space of shared consciousness called “The Mindscape” (Issue 26). Like Otto, Peter also has forgotten his memories that Otto has erased. If Peter’s experiences and memories are the source of his consciousness, how did he return? Peter figures, “The memories you left me are the key ones – the moments that define me! You haven’t wiped me out” (Issue 26). Peter counts exactly 31 of his leftover memories in the Mindscape (Issue 27).

The memories embodying Peter (all 31) are diluted when he enters Otto’s specific memories. As Otto’s and Peter’s memories merge together, Peter is absorbed into Otto. Being absorbed into Otto’s re-encoded memories of Peter’s experiences, Peter starts to mix up his experiences with Otto’s, and he must focus to separate the two (Issue 28). Eventually Peter begins fully experiencing Otto’s memories as his own, even referring to himself as Otto (Issue 29).

Doc Ock may have taken over my brain but ever since learned I could explore his memories I’ve been hunting around looking for a way to regain control. The problem is whenever he remembers something, he takes me along for the ride. (Peter, Issue 6)

Thankfully, retrieving his original old memories, Peter switches from talking about himself as Otto to remembering he is Peter Parker (Issue 30). Peter’s consciousness reappears from the Mindscape to back alongside Otto’s and once again there is communication between Peter and Otto. Peter has no memory of things Otto has done during Peter’s absence, since his consciousness was not there during this time in order to encode the information. Eventually, Peter regains control of his body and has no memory of what Otto’s been doing in his absence (Issue 31).


In the fourth issue, readers meet Marcus Lyman, otherwise known as Massacre. In the story, Massacre is said to have experienced brain damage so that he cannot feel empathy or emotion and is therefore now a homicidal sociopath. However, later, Massacre finally feels fear at threat of death: “Fear. First time in years. I’ve felt something. Real emotion. It feels… wonderful” (Issue #5).

Our brain’s “emotion center” is a structure in core of the brain called the amygdala, especially the emotion of fear. So when Massacre feels fear, his typically dormant amygdala finally wakes up. Research suggests that empathy comes not from the emotion center but from the brain’s right supramarginal gyrus (RSG). A gyrus is one of the squiggly folds on the outside of the brain, this particular one located roughly in the front top middle of the brain.

The comic does not actually describe the specific brain damage Massacre experienced. The fact that Massacre feels fear at the end of his life suggests that his amygdala is not completely missing but must be severely underdeveloped. He does not ever finally show empathy so possibly his RSG is completely missing from his damage. I'd love to see his brain scans.


The brain has two halves that are somewhat physically separated from each other, except by a center connection referred to as the corpus callosum. While the two halves or hemispheres work together and communicate through the corpus callosum, they have some separate - and somewhat confusing - roles. For example, the left side of the brain controls movement on the right side of the body, and vice versa.

Special clinical cases had people who had their corpus callosum cut and their halves of the brain no longer able to communicate. These cases are referred to as split-brain patients because their behavior suggests that the separate halves of the body are controlled by seemingly two different, conflicting brains.

Peter's consciousness attempts to control his body's movements while Otto's consciousness sleeps (Issue 7). He is able to move the body's right arm, thereby using the left side of the body's brain in order to write a message. However, even though Peter has a message formed in his mind/consciousness, he is unable to actually write the words.

The left side of the brain has two special areas that involve language processing. Broca's area deals with creating language. A person may understand written or spoken language, but without Broca's area, that person could not write or speak understandably. Wernicke's area deals with the opposite, understanding language. A person could say or write words perfectly, but that person would not understand the words they were forming.

Apparently, even though Peter's psyche can control the left side of the brain, he must not have access to Broca's area. Later, Peter again tries to write a message but this time draws a picture without words to bypass communicate his thoughts to the Avengers (Issue 8).

While this situation reminded me somewhat of split-brain patients, the story does not directly translate. At one point, Peter controls both halves of the body in order to keep Otto from killing another vigilante (Issue 7) but then goes back to only using the right arm to choke Otto (Issue 9). The comics never explain if Peter then has access to both sides of the brain, including Broca's area, and could theoretically write a message, so the science gets a little wonky here

Spider-Man is my absolute favorite superhero, and not having read this series before, this post was an absolute blast to write!

Created By
Heather Ness


Created with images by Gwydion M. Williams - "2013_12_110054" • kalhh - "head magnetic resonance imaging mrt x ray" • GreenFlames09 - "Brain"

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