Spider-Verse Team-Up #1

Posted by Donovan McComish 14 December 2014

Hello everybody and welcome to my review of Spider-Verse Team-Up #1. Yep, thankfully Marvel realised that even a six-issue long storyline couldn't come close to adapting the sheer scale of Spider-Verse, so they've made sure that we've got plenty of awesome, supplemental material while the main story goes on in Amazing Spider-Man. And since we've been introduced to so many different versions of our favourite wall-crawler, the next logical step is to team them up, and that's just what we get with this series. Not one, but two titanic team-ups per issue! For this first issue, we have a story by frequent Dan Slott collaborator Christos Gage, featuring the Old Man Spider from J. Michael Straczynski's run (Yay), Spider-Ham, and fan favourite Ben Reilly. Then there's a tale from classic Spider-scribe Roger Stern, involving Spider-Man Noir and a six-armed Spidey.

Synopsis:

The Power of Positive Thinking:

On Earth-94, a reality where Ben Reilly remained as Spider-Man, the man himself is battling who he believes is his version of the Vulture and cracking jokes about how he should be in a retirement home. This Adrian Toomes replies that Reilly has no idea what's coming, but that "the mistress" will show him soon enough, and bears his sharp, fang-like teeth, which gets Ben's attention that something's off. He webs Vulchy in the face whilst humorously noting the teeth, but is slashed in the back by another figure, while a third voice remarks that Toomes wanted sharp teeth because the masters only feed on a spider's essence, whereas the bodies belong to them. Turns out that Reilly's facing a whole "flock" of cannibalistic Vultures, consisting of alternate versions of Noir Vulture, the Blackie Drago Vulture, the Jimmy Natale Vulture and a younger Adrian Toomes Vulture, as well as the older Toomes.

The Vultures pin Ben to the rooftop. Still confused, he asks what they are. Noir Vulture replies that they are hungry while Natale prepares his acid spit. Thankfully, help arrives in the form of two more Spider-Men, one of whom plants his foot in Natale's face. That spider is the mysterious Old Man Spider of Earth-4 (clad in the Last Stand outfit from J. Michael Strazynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man), and his teammate is none other than Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (yes, he is a cartoon pig). Old Man Spider orders Ben to get up, saying that this is not a dream, but Ben's more preoccupied with the fact that Porker is a cartoon pig. Old Toomes knocks Spider-Ham over the edge of the building, declaring that his mistress Verna will make their agonies last hours for disrupting her hunt. Old Man webs that Vulture and yanks him back while Spider-Ham saves himself by clinging to the wall. Much to Reilly's surprise, Old Man breaks Toomes' arm and tosses him aside, leaving him to be devoured by the other Vultures.

While Ham fends off Young Toomes, Old Man explains to Reilly that these Vultures are from alternate dimensions as well as slaves to Verna of the Inheritors, who uses them as her attack dogs. While they can handle them, they will need to get out of this dimension before she shows up, or it's all over. Ben disagrees, saying that for him, things always work out, which he punctuates by webbing Young Toomes in the face, also beginning to go into some of his previous adventures before Old Man cuts him short, saying he knows his life story, leading Ben to assume that Old Man is an older version of him. Old Man replies that it's complicated, so he'll make it simple. They need Reilly, but they also need him ready for war, and if he doesn't "man-up" and realise that this is isn't like anything he's used to, then he'll be next in a line of countless dead Spider-Totems. Spider-Ham interjects to say that he knew Reilly wouldn't take them seriously. Reilly again points out that Ham is a cartoon pig, to which Old Man responds "yeah, and he got it faster than you". Ben finds it  hard to believe that Ham of all people would be down with the arm-snapping, abut Ham tells him that where he comes from, an anvil to the head is a flesh wound, adding that the human spiders are fragile by comparison.

"Agreed. And succulent" declares Noir Vulture, choosing now to hurl daggers coated with a short-lived paralytic, which leaves the three spiders unable to move. Deciding to "nibble on nonessential parts" until their mistress Verna arrives, Noir Vulture asks Natale to tenderise the spiders with his acid spit. As Old Man calls Ben an idiot and says that he's killed them all, Ben refuses to accept defeat and manages to move his arm and fire his webshooter through sheer willpower. The resulting web hits Natale in the face, deflecting his acid pit onto Noir Vulture's face and disfiguring him (though there's not much to disfigure there to be honest). Noir retaliates by stabbing Natale with one of his daggers, but before the two Vultures can start fighting, Ben Reilly calls for them to "wrap it up" (which Ham declares to be cheesy even by his standards), and the three spiders encase their would-be attackers in a cocoon of webbing.

Congratulating Ben on his last-minute rescue of them all, Spider-Ham asks how he managed to move. Ben replies that this is nothing compared to when he was possessed by the Carnage symbiote, but Old Man Spider cuts him off again, saying they need to go now. Ben asks if they should call the cops on the Vultures, but Old Man responds that they should just leave them, as Verna will deal with them more harshly than the police ever would. Ben expresses reluctance in leaving his city unprotected from Verna, but Ham assures him that the Inheritors are just interested in Spiders, and as this worlds Peter Parker is powerless, there will be nothing to keep her there once they leave. The three Spiders exit Earth-4 through the portal and arrive on Earth-13 in Central Park. As Ben introduces himself to the other spider-powered heroes there, Spider-Ham quips to Old Man Spider that he's seen puppies less jaded than him, even suggesting they find a version of Reilly that has had a rougher time of it. Old Man says that he would have agreed with Ham an hour ago, but now he's not so sure as Ben Reilly was able to overcome the paralysis when neither of them could because of his optimism, which means there might be things he can do just because he doesn't see losing a possibility. Spider-Ham argues though that if Ben doesn't understand what he's going up against, he'll get "smoked. honey baked, even". Old Man replies that if the future this Ben has in store is anything like his other selves, then death at the hands of the Inheritors would be a mercy killing. "Anyway" he says, "we're all dead men walking. At least he'll die among friends", as the Cosmic Spider-Man of Earth-13 re-joins the group to welcome their newest recruit...

The Luck of the Parkers: 


In another reality in the year 2014, we see two of the recruits of the time-displaced Otto Octavius, the self-titled Superior Spider-Man, looking in a hospital window at another of their alternate selves. They came to recruit this world's version of Peter Parker, but as they can now see, he's in no shape to help. The Six-Armed Spider-Man informs Spider-Man Noir that, according to local news, this Peter Parker had a huge allergic reaction to his spider-bite, and has been on life support for weeks. However, in a twist of irony, his Aunt May & Uncle Ben have practically been living by his side since the accident and in their absence, their house was burgled, meaning Uncle Ben will survive. Thinking there's nothing left for them to do here, Noir says they should leave this dimension, but Six-Armed Spider-Man points out that this Peter is still a target for the Inheritors as he's still technically a spider totem, not to mention that Uncle Ben and Aunt May could be injured or even killed if Karn or his crazy siblings enter the hospital. Noir suggests that they "put the poor little freak out of his misery", but is admonished by Six-Armed Spidey, who insists that they both not use "the F-word" and not euthanise "Lil' Pete". He then has an idea and tells Noir to stay and guard Lil' Pete while he heads for the roof, the two staying in contact via a transceiver Six Arms gave Noir (which also makes his ear itch).

Sneaking into the hospital through the vents, Six-Armed Spidey enters the lab in order to find Lil' Pete's bloodwork. It doesn't take him long to find it and he sets about looking for the chemicals he needs to make his plan work. Noir meanwhile is still keeping watch, noting that he doesn't remember his aunt and uncle ever looking so young. Suddenly, "that tingling sensation" occurs within Noir's head and Lil' Pete begins to stir. Unfortunately, he's the source of the danger, as he starts convulsing, smashing the nearby medical equipment, mutating into a large Man-Spider. Noir informs Six-Arms of this over the transceiver as May & Ben back away, terrified for their nephew. Before the Man-Spider can harm them, Noir crashes through the window, webbing his hairy counterpart and dragging him outside and up to the roof.

"Lil' Pete" continues to mutate, becoming strong enough to rip through the webbing. Noir tries to get through to his alternate self, urging him to stay calm, but is forced to dodge the Man-Spider's attacks. Six-Armed Spidey enters the fray at this point, expressing his surprise at how "Lil' Pete" isn't so little anymore. Using his speed to confuse his opponent, Six-Arms manages to get behind the still-mutating Man-Spider and inject him with a syringe containing a formula he had been whipping up in the lab. The Man-Spider grabs Six-Arms and hurls him at Noir, who remarks in his thoughts that it's like trying to catch an octopus. As the pair land on the floor, Noir draws his pistol and points it at the Man-Spider, saying he's doing what he'd want someone to do for him. Six-Armed Spidey stops him however and tells him to look, as the Man-Spider starts moulting, his hairy, spider-like skin peeling off to reveal good-old, regular Peter Parker underneath. He falls off the roof as he returns to normal, but is quickly saved by Six-Arms."Lil' Pete briefly regains consciousness, but quickly passes out again. A quick scan from Six-Arms shows that he is actually better than okay, as he now has no traces of "Spider-Essence" in him. Six-Arms webs Lil' Pete a cot, muttering that "the crazy serum actually worked", which confuses Noir as he thought that was Six-Arms' plan.

The pair are then forced to hide when Aunt May and Uncle Ben arrive, along with a security guard and a doctor, who confirms that their Peter is going to be okay. As they watch from the shadows, Noir asks Six-Arms what he meant by "sure, but" when he was talking about the serum. Six-Arms reveals that, while he had hoped the serum would work, it was a gamble as it was similar to the one he made to wipe out his own powers, but had instead given him his extra arms. Since Lil' Pete is younger and the spider-DNA hadn't completely altered his cells, Six-Arms had figured that the odds were in his favour, and thankfully, he was right. Since there's now nothing there to draw the Inheritors apart from themselves, the two Spider-Men leave the dimension, with Noir musing that, while he doesn't know what their "superior" will think, he's considering this one a win, because now, at least in one reality, the Parker family has a happy ending...

Thoughts:

Let's get perhaps the only negative thing about this issue out of the way first. In the grand scheme of things, this comic doesn't add much to the overall plot of Spider-Verse aside from showing us how Ben Reilly was recruited, and you could skip it if all you were after was the main story. But it would be a real shame if you did because you'd be missing out on two very entertaining stories with some great interactions between these Spider-Men that harken back to the days of Marvel Team-Up.

The Power of Positive Thinking is a pretty upbeat affair despite some of the darker elements present like the cannibalistic Vultures, and by the end it's clear why. I find it interesting how Verna of the Inheritors seems to keep using Spider-Man villains or allies as her underlings/pets. It's cool that some of Spidey's more classic villains are involved in this storyline (Morlun is fairly recent in comparison to someone like the Vulture), but it also shows how twisted and egotistical the Inheritors are, as well as creepily reducing the Vulture('s) to his animal counterpart's base trait of a scavenger.

I really enjoyed the match-up of Spider-Men here as Gage not only gets to contrast their personalties, but even the very nature of their own dimensions, a good example being Spider-Ham's anvil joke. Ben Reilly is used to great effect here. His optimistic, never-give-up attitude at first seems like it's getting thrown under the bus in favour of Old Man Spider's more weathered, cynical personality, but by the end, it forms the core point of the story. Spider-Man in general may be sometimes considered as naive in comparison to other heroes like Wolverine or Nick Fury because of his optimism, but it's that very optimism that gives him his strength and makes him who he is. Time and again Spidey's faced overwhelming odds that you probably wouldn't think him capable of surviving. From being trapped under a huge pile of rubble in the Master Planner storyline to his very first fight with Morlun, Spider-Man has survived as long as he has because he refuses to give up, because he doesn't see losing as the endgame. While Old Man Spider notes this at the end, it's not enough to change his outlook on the war, and that's actually a good thing as it would have made the story silly if he'd gone through a full character arc.

The Luck of the Parkers meanwhile is a more sombre tale. Here, by having Uncle Ben survive because Peter reacted badly to the spider-bite, Roger Stern makes the slightly depressing point that, if Peter Parker had never become Spider-Man, then his life would be a happier one. There's definitely a reflective tone as well at the beginning, when Noir & Six-Armed Spider-Man watch "Lil' Pete" from his hospital bed. Stern does a great job with this pairing of Spider-Men. Noir is a more hardened superhero, having skirted closer to the darker side of vigilantism as well as living in a tougher time period, and therefore views things more in black and white. Six-Armed Spider-Man meanwhile understands that, like his own physiology, things are more complicated. Despite the smaller scale of this story, it feels like there's a lot at stake. There's a real motivation here for these Spider-Men as they have a chance to ensure that, at least in one reality, Uncle Ben lives and Peter Parker has a "happy ending" and the fact that they succeed makes this story a heartwarming one. The cousins joke then is quite fitting as you get the sense that they feel an almost brotherly sense of responsibility to their younger alternaverse self. Despite the downbeat tone, this story isn't without a sense of humour. I love the running gag of Six-Armed Spidey calling Noir "Bogart", as well as Noir's reactions to present-day technology (he'd probably faint if he lived in 2099 for a day).

As for the artwork, Dave Williams covers the first story and he does a really good job with it, giving the story a real '90's' look in the panels, though some of them are a bit lacking in detail. I do like how he draws the Spider-Men though Bob McLeod's work meanwhile, while very polished and modern looking, also feels evocative of the period of Spidey which Stern worked on, which gives this story a vague sense of nostalgia that goes along well with the core premise. All the Spider-Men (and pigs) here look great. Ham looks perfectly zany and, as a small touch, I like the almost sinister shape of Old Man Spiders eyepieces as it suits his serious demeanour.

Though it's pretty minimal in it's contributions to the overall plot of Spider-Verse, this issue is still essential reading for Spidey fans and a whole lot of fun...

Score: 4.5/5.0

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