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Greatest Spider-Man/Mutant Stories: #9

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Spider-Man’s not a mutant, but he has hung out with them enough times over the years to warrant another SuperiorSpiderTalk.com list! This countdown will take a look at some of the very best stories involving Spidey and a mutant — including team-ups, battles and everything in-between!

For entry No. 9 we look at X-Men & Spider-Man by Christos Gage and Mario Alberti:

Spider-Man X-Men 01X-Men & Spider-Man is one of those books that I never gave second thought to before our podcast’s very informative interview with writer Christos Gage last year put his work into a whole new context for me.  It’s not that I ever had any real issue with Gage’s work as a scripter, but it was hard to separate Gage’s own writing from all of the filling in he did on Dan Slott comics over the years. But during his Amazing Spider-Talk interview (which I obviously recommend you listen to if you haven’t yet already), he came across as someone who is very knowledgeable of not only Spider-Man history, but Marvel history overall, making his voice an excellent match for this miniseries which tells a brand new story involving Spider-Man and the X-Men while viewing it through the lens of a multi-year retrospective. 

Another Spider-Man site described X-Men & Spider-Man as a worthwhile series for a casual fan to pick up because it’s very basic in its approach and premise. I could not agree more. The whole thing is very new/casual reader-friendly. Each issue is set during a different time period in the shared histories of Spider-Man and the X-Men, starting with the Silver Age Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/Jack Kirby days when the X-Men were in their inaugural lineup, transitioning to the new (and more famous) X-Men assembly from the late 70s, and even featuring an issue where Ben Reilly (aka, Peter’s clone) is the one wearing the webs. The common denominator for these stories is a long-simmering plot hatched by X-Men adversary Mister Sinister who uses Spidey foe Kraven the Hunter to steal DNA from the X-Men in order to create some kind of freaky clone monster with all of their collective powers (including Kraven and Sinister’s). 

On the surface, it mind sound daunting or self-indulgent for a writer to cover such a wide swath of comic book history, but Gage’s script deftly balances historical name-checks with reader-friendly prose — thereby scratching itches for all levels of fans. Certainly, readers who have checked out “Kraven’s Last Hunt” or “Mutant Massacre” have a firmer grasp of context when it comes to X-Men/Spider-Man, but neither are required reading to get into this series. Gage provides enough background and frame of reference for even a neophyte to get a grasp of what was actually going on in the annals of Marvel history.

Spider-Man X-Men 02Mario Alberti’s artwork is also critical in painting a portrait of time and place. His renderings of all of the characters and costumes comes across as being historically accurate, adding another level of depth for old-school readers of both franchises while giving newer readers some cool visuals to check out.

The actual eras/timelines captured in X-Men & Spider-Man feels carefully curated, helping to make for a better told story. Unlike some of the other team-up miniseries that Marvel was producing during the late 2000s, X-Men & Spider-Man doesn’t just arbitrarily pick a decade or a landmark creative run for each issue but instead frames this series around past stories that better advance the mini’s plot. For example, the storyline of the first issue is appropriate because it not only captures a classic era in Spider-Man history (the Archie-esque Lee/Romita Sr. years) it also marks a point in Amazing Spider-Man history where Kraven was a frequent (if not goofier) adversary. However, instead of automatically setting X-Men & Spider-Man #2 in the 1970s (or immediately following the formation of the new X-Men team), it jumps all the way to the late 1980s and the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” era — again noting that critical role Kraven plays (alive and dead) to the larger narrative of the series.

Unfortunately, the book’s time-jumping technique does come at a bit of a cost. There are moments where the gaps in time are further hindered but a stark shift in tone. The breezy days of Lee/Romita are immediately followed with the psychologically-dark J.M. DeMatteis era. And where did that pretty blonde (Gwen) and redhead (Mary Jane) from the first issue go? You mean to tell me that one of them was brutally murdered by a supervillain and Spider-Man married the other? You don’t really get that bit of information from this series, which would have provided even more context as to what was going on with Mister Sinister, Kraven and the X-Men.

Spider-Man X-Men 03Additionally the miniseries suffers from something that is completely beyond the control of Gage and Alberti — the lack of shared history between Spider-Man and the X-Men. Books like Spider-Man/Human Torch read like true love letters to the titular characters because there’s so much previously published content to mine and build upon when it comes to Spidey and Johnny Storm. But despite the similarities between Spider-Man and the X-Men — both are introduced into the world of Marvel as young outcasts that are unfairly cast as “menaces” by the general public – their interactions are few and far between (something that will come into play the further into this countdown we go — don’t worry, I promise this top 10 will be filled with worthwhile stories!). 

That doesn’t stop Gage from doing his best with so little to actually work with. In the first issue, he capitalizes on the youthful vibrancy of the cast of Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men during the Silver Age by fueling the comic with teenage hormones. In the third installment, Gage takes a page from the X-Men (and more specifically, Wolverine and other Weapon X “patients”) by having a mind scan of Ben Reilly reveal a truly psychologically tortured individual. 

Ultimately, it’s these machinations from Gage and Alberti that elevate X-Men & Spider-Man from the cynical cash-grab it could have easily been, to something with a bit more esteem and craft behind it. It’s not a perfect series and it’s something that could easily get lost in the shuffle since it was being published at a time where Marvel was pumping out an ungodly number of books every month, but it’s unquestionably worth checking out for fans of both franchises, or someone who loves either Spider-Man or the X-Men, but wants to learn a bit more about the other. 

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