Spidey Doesn’t Play Well With Others is a monthly column, published every third Tuesday, by Paul DeKams that looks at stories that showcase that while Spider-Man might have many “Amazing Friends,” they don’t always get along.
Just when I’ve thought Spider-Man and mutants could never get along (exhibit A, exhibit B, and exhibit C), a Comic Book of Christmas Past appears, almost magically so, telling a tale in which Spider-Man and X-Man come together to celebrate the season.
(Cue jingle bell-infused version of the Spidey Doesn’t Play Well With Others theme music – yes, it has theme music…you can’t hear it?)
Amazing Spider-Man #420, by Tom DeFalco and Steve Skroce, is not only a fantastic standalone Spider-Man story, its a pretty darn good Christmas special. It manages to juggle the tropes and expectations of of a super hero team up, it touches on the concerns of the ongoing plotlines, and it tells a heartwarming tale of a friendship formed during the holidays between two broken people.
Amongst all the tragedy in Peter Parker’s life: he’s recently lost his mother figure (Aunt May was believed to be dead), the man he considered a brother (Ben Reilly), and a daughter (Peter and Mary Jane’s child was delivered stillborn – according to a hench-woman hired by Norman Osborn); his biggest concern is getting the perfect gift for Mary Jane. In order to do so, he picks up two freelance assignments from the Daily Bugle, one of which is to shoot photos of a crime scene, and the other is to get coverage of a new street prophet in Central Park.
That street prophet just so happens to be Nate Grey, the Age of Apocalypse version of Cable, who had recently made his way to the proper Marvel Universe. Being from a universe where mutants nearly exterminated humans, Nate had a bit of a problem fitting in with or trusting his fellow mutants, and sought to use his powers to help normal people on a smaller scale, acting as a guru of sorts in Central Park.
When Peter and Nate meet, each of their internal warning sensors go off. But in a departure from typical super hero form, they agree to not fight in public, and ultimately agree to not fight at all. Thanks to Nate’s somewhat rude mental intrusion, the two heroes experience large chunks of each other’s lives psychically. With this understanding of each other, Nate accompanies Peter on the rest of his errands, with the two bonding further through conversation, thanks to Peter’s insistence that intruding on others’ thoughts is not a responsible use of great power.
The two don’t engage in any crimefighting, but instead bond through Peter’s introduction of a ‘normal’ life to Nate. The action of the issue comes in the form of a battle between the hench-folks of the warring crime lords The Rose and Black Tarantula. This fight (and the massive property damage) occurs across town away from the attention of our super friends, but still manages to bring in a smidgen of the Christmas spirit, as the victorious Rose gift-wraps and mails back the head of Black Tarantula’s faithful servant.
But this isn’t the focus of this story. It’s about friendship and family and how two people can help each other find some happiness with the help of the holidays. Peter coaxes Nate to not only join him for Christmas dinner in Queens, but to take the subway like normal folks.
Nate, the super-powerful mutant from a horrific world of terrors and genocide, gets to experience a real Christmas with a real family in the form of Peter, Mary Jane, and Aunt Anna. In return, Spider-Man gets to briefly forget his troubles, and gains a new friend who fully understands what he’s been through. Nate also grants Peter a parting gift in the form of a dream visit from Aunt May (remember, she’s supposed to be dead at this point), offering words of comfort as he sleeps. Played differently, it could have come off as weird, but executed by DeFalco and Skroce, it reads as a very sweet moment.
I really enjoyed looking back at this comic. I dug Skroce’s artwork back then, and I still love it now. His action is kinetic and he puts Spider-Man into some truly weird poses that play to the character’s flexibility while also crafting a visually interesting ‘normal’ world for Peter Parker via some cartoonish and expressive faces. Having grown up during this period, its no surprise that DeFalco’s dialogue feels like “MY” Spider-Man, while also feeling in step with the work of modern creators like Dan Slott or Brian Michael Bendis and the originator, Stan “The Man” Lee himself.
Amazing Spider-Man #420 is also, as I mentioned, a nearly perfect Christmas tale. Because on one magical, wonderful, wintery day: heroes meet without fighting, mutants and radioactive arachnid-enhanced humans get along, and Spidey DOES Play Well With Others.