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Top Spider-Man/Mutant Stories: #4

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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. 4 we look at AvX #9 by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert

AvX 01I was not the biggest fan of AvX as it was being published during the summer of 2012. So much so that I think I let my general distaste for the series impact my thoughts on this Spider-Man-centric issue when I first wrote about it over at my old haunt, Chasing Amazing.

Fortunately, time has a tendency to heal old wounds and I’ve since revised my opinions on AvX #9, finding it to be not only among the all-time great Spider-Man/mutants story, but one of the finest Spider-Man/Avengers stories to ever be published. Jason Aaron’s script does an exemplary job capturing what makes Spider-Man such a unique hero and how, in many ways, he’s arguably Marvel’s greatest hero. Meanwhile, Adam Kubert’s artwork — especially in the climatic fight scene between Spider-Man and Colossus/Magik, depicts violence and brutality that’s comparable only to Spider-Man/Morlun’s famed brawl during the early 2000s.

It’s rare for me to turn such a 180 when it comes to my opinion on a comic, which might explain why AvX #9 is ranked a bit higher than some may feel warranted. Still, I cannot emphasize enough how I continue to like this issue more and more every time I read it. If memory serves, this was initially published during Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary month of August 2012 and in nearly every way, it was a far superior tribute to Spidey than the almost universally-reviled “Alpha” arc that was concurrently found in Amazing Spider-Man.

But enough about the past. To put what makes this comic so special into broader context, one should first understand what exactly was going on in the Marvel Universe at this point in time. In addition for it being an excuse to reinvent the “hero vs. hero” wheel that made Marvel a ton of money when it was first done during Civil War in the mid-2000s, AvX had the Avengers and X-Men coming to blows over the return of the nefarious Phoenix Force (which was used by Jean Grey to wipe out an entire planet in what many consider to be the greatest comic book story of all time). The force chooses Hope Summers as its new host. The X-Men want to help prepare Hope and treat her as a savior while the Avengers want to control her and protect the world from another possible bout of cosmic genocide. Engage fisticuffs.

AvX 03AVX #9 marks the first installment of the event’s “third act” of sorts and depicts an Avengers team that is back on its heels and flailing. Other members of the X-Men have received a piece of the Phoenix Force, giving them a decided advantage over “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Spider-Man has been mostly in the background at this point, but this issue shines the spotlight directly on him. Spider-Man hints as much about his coming moment when he tells Hope “you never know when it’s your time to step up to the plate.”

To further demonstrate the tension, we learn at the very beginning of this issue that the X-Men have captured Thor — Thor! A god, and one of the most powerful heroes in Marvel canon. And Spider-Man is so dispirited he hasn’t cracked a joke in weeks! Someone call the police! (To be fair, it was the overemphasis on Spider-Man needing to crack jokes as if it was vital to his well-being that I think initially turned me off to this story. Again, in retrospect, I was being too harsh on it and I think Aaron’s point works).

Spider-Man joins the Avengers on what is supposed to be a rescue mission but resembles more of a suicide run. And then Spidey makes a very specific decision that speaks to all of his core characteristics: he essentially sends the remaining Avengers ahead of him to get to safety while he opts to stay behind to deal with a Phoenix-charged Colossus and Magik.

AvX 02Part of what makes this turn in the plot so wonderful is that Spidey’s motivations are never entirely clear but all of the possible explanations all make sense if you know and respect the character and his history. There’s clearly an element of power/responsibility at play here – Spider-Man makes himself the sacrificial lamb so that his more competent/over-powered Avengers teammates can press on in their mission. But the reader has to also consider how Spider-Man’s choice is a reflection of his often underestimated brain power at work. It suggests that perhaps the reason the Avengers were failing in their mission against the X-Men was their strength-meets-strength approach. Street level Spider-Man obviously wasn’t going to outbox a cosmically-enhanced Colossus or Magik, but in creating a diversion, he’s able to survive long enough to actually defeat them — by having them turn on each other so they could get an even bigger piece of the Phoenix Force.

And the actual fight between Spidey and the X-Men is as breathtaking as it is wince-inducing. After getting punched in the face by Colossus, Spidey talks about blood soaking his mask – what a wonderfully dark bit of verbal imagery from Aaron. Kubert’s pencils capture every single body blow, evoking the sounds of bones and cartridge breaking like a Kit Kat.

On top of all that, this is one of the best Spidey spotlights in a Marvel event ever. He certainly had his moments in the very first Secret Wars, and his decision to unmask in Civil War was one of the pivotal moments of the entire series. But beyond that, Spider-Man has often been relegated to Rosencratnz/Guildenstern-esque background player in books like House of MSecret Invasion and Siege. And even when he got a passing moment in those stories, it felt more obligatory and forced than something so natural and in-character as we receive here in AvX.

Still doesn’t change my overall opinions on AvX as an event, but I can’t deny a good Spider-Man story when I see one. It’s not like I’m the first person on the internet to point out what a great comic book writer Jason Aaron is and how Adam Kubert is a phenomenal visual storyteller when it comes to dynamic fight scenes, but that won’t stop me from repeating it here for the purposes of this list!

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