We all have our favorite Spider-Man villain, but what about our favorite stories involving villains associated with another superhero or team? Why should Captain American or the X-Men get all the fun fighting the likes of the Red Skull or Magneto? This list celebrates the very best stories involving Spider-Man taking on a villain best associated with another hero.
Coming in at #9 is a two-part arc from 1982 by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr:
For the second entry in a row, we’re looking at a Roger Stern-penned story. Spoiler alert: get used to it. Using villains typically associated with other heroes (while trying to steer clear from the same old, same old bad guys that Spidey traditionally fought) was unquestionably a hallmark of Stern’s run on Amazing Spider-Man and it’s one of the reasons I think he was arguably the best scripter not named Stan Lee in the book’s history.
Unlike last week’s entry, Juggernaut, neither Mister Hyde nor Cobra can be considered “A” list villains despite Hyde’s alter ego, Calvin Zabo, recently playing a key role in season 2 of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television show. However, both characters have certainly been around the block since the Silver Age of comics and both have traditionally been associated with other heroes, namely those from the Avengers family tree (Captain America, Thor and Hulk to name a few).
In the case of Hyde, he was especially a provocative choice for a Spider-Man adversary since, like Juggernaut, he’s a heavyweight in terms of strength and power. Pitting Spider-Man against muscleheads always raises some issues with certain fans since it can potentially strain credulity if Spider-Man (who’s still very powerful mind you) finds a way to physically overcome these guys in a one-on-one battle.
Fortunately, ASM #231-232 is very mindful of all of these caveats and conditions. I put the storyline on this list because it’s a great Spider-Man story that demonstrates a profound understanding for the character while also happening to feature two non-Spidey villains as the prime adversaries.
Actually, it’s questionable as to whether or not Cobra, a petty thief, can be considered a true antagonist in this story. Spidey is initially drawn to the villain by happenstance: he’s in a bar as Peter Parker when he witnesses Cobra attack someone that he assumes to be an organized crime informant. In typical Spider-Man fashion, Peter tosses on the red and blues to save the day, but the plot thickens considerably when Hyde, who was presumed dead in an earlier issue of Captain America, shows up looking to take out some aggression on Cobra. Hyde and Cobra are estranged criminal partners and Hyde views some of Cobra’s recent activities as a betrayal of their previous arrangement, which creates some obviously violent consequences.
This turn of the screw from Stern is where this two-parter becomes a distinctive Spider-Man story. As has been beaten over the head of anyone who reads or listens to any of the site/podcast’s critical analysis of the character, Spidey is driven by more than just the need to do “good.” It’s all about using his great gifts in the most responsible way possible, even if responsibility sometimes presents itself in unexpected ways.
In the case of Cobra vs. Hyde, Cobra is not a good person. He robs, cheats and steals and isn’t afraid to throw down if it’s a mean to an end. But Hyde is a full-fledged monster, capable of extreme acts like murder. So when Hyde shows up looking to kill Cobra for a perceived “slight,” it puts Spider-Man in a tough predicament of aligning himself with Cobra because it’s the responsible thing to do.
Those are the complex quandaries I read Spider-Man comics for. Spider-Man has no businesses taking on Hyde, nor is he even involved with the guy’s beef with Cobra. But once it becomes apparent that by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time he’s responsible for Cobra’s life, he makes a moral decision and sticks to it. It’s not like he’s trying to grant Cobra his freedom either. He just doesn’t want the guy to die on his watch (though this would be years before he would naively claim “no one dies” over and over in the comics).
Spidey even takes his dedication to his responsibility one step further when Hyde manages to take off with Cobra in tow. At that point, it would be very easy for Spider-Man to just throw his hands in the air and make the Cobra/Hyde spat someone else’s problem. But this is a guy who is still learning from a mistake he made years earlier. So Spider-Man sneaks a spider-tracer onto Cobra’s costume and after regrouping for a few moments, shows up to continue the fight against Hyde.
Additionally, Stern and artist John Romita Jr., conceive of a way where Spider-Man can defeat the more powerful Hyde, without it coming across as silly or farfetched. Working against the creators is the fact that just one storyline earlier, Stern and JRJR pitted Spider-Man against another seemingly unstoppable powerhouse, Juggernaut. Since the creators came up with a rather unique way for Spider-Man to overcome Juggernaut, they were going to have to come up with something equally new and different for Hyde or risk being repetitive.
Granted, this resolution isn’t quite as inspired as “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” which is considered one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever (is its ultimate placement on this list even in doubt at the moment?), but it’s certainly a fun one. Spidey utilizes his speed against Hyde, essentially tiring him out so he can land a well-placed knockout blow. And this sequence is rendered masterfully by JRJR, who conveys Spidey’s dexterity by superimposing multiple images of Spider-Man within the same frame against Hyde.
In the background of all this is first-class Spider-Man soap opera stuff involving the gang at Empire State University attempting to throw Peter a surprise party, which he naturally no-shows to attend to Spider-Man matters.
ASM #231-232 is one of those storylines that rarely gets tossed around as one of the “best” Spidey tales ever, probably because Stern wrote so many great ones that it’s difficult to distinguish one from the other. But once again, this is an arc that demonstrates his grasp on Spider-Man, the Marvel Universe as a whole, and of course, superhero storytelling.