Dating back to the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four have been intrinsically linked as allies, adversaries and frenemies. With the Fantastic Four starring in their own movie this summer, superiorspidertalk.com is taking a look at the 10 very best Spider-Man/F4 stories.
Despite all the acclaim he has received over the course of his storied career, Chris Claremont is rarely someone you associate as being one of the better Spider-Man writers of all time. And yet, his is a name that is destined to pop up a few times over the next few weeks as this greatest Spider-Man/Fantastic Four story list moves along.
Claremont’s stint scripting Marvel Team-Up in the late-1970s/1980s was consistently solid as he and his cadre of artists (which included for a short while, his X-Men co-plotter, John Byrne) had a knack of creating the right kinds of stories that heightened Spider-Man as a character and Marvel Team-Up as a series. That’s quite a tall feat when you consider just how mediocre-to-bad Marvel Team-Up was as a book whenever Claremont (and later, J.M. DeMatteis) weren’t involved.
“A Child is Waiting” is the perfect example of the ear Claremont had for writing Spider-Man and compelling team-up stories. In this comic, he and Sal Buscema pair off Spidey with Sue Richards, aka, the Invisible Girl (later, Woman) after her son, Franklin, is kidnapped by a gang of thugs. Considering how often Spider-Man had teamed up with fellow Fantastic Four members, Human Torch and the Thing in the past, the Spidey/Sue dynamic might seem less than ideal at first blush. But the story works precisely because of the tense, uneasy mood Claremont and Buscema establish from the very first page of the comic.
The story kicks off with an out-of-his-element Peter Parker, who is photographing a social function that is being attended by such upper-crust Marvel characters as Sue, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. In a neat bit of characterization and juxtaposition, Peter, in normal clothing, sticks out like a sore thumb in the crowd due to his social awkwardness and aloofness. But oddly enough, Peter is able to get comfortable when overhears Sue’s end of an apparently stressful phone call. He follows her (as Spider-Man) to Alicia Master’s house and learns of Franklin’s kidnapping. The crooks tell Sue that if she wants to see her son again, she needs to help them take out a rival gang. For that extra bit of tension for the story, the crooks tell Sue that if she involves any other superheroes (i.e., her teammates), then they will kill Franklin, no questions asked.
Claremont and Buscema proceed to turn the dramatic screw from scene to scene. When Spider-Man reveals himself to Sue and volunteers to aid her in the retrieval of her son, she is initially furious that Spidey’s involvement will trigger the crooks to kill Franklin. But Spider-Man is also very cognizant of the stakes of this adventure, and even tells himself that he needs to develop a well thought-out plan (and not fly by the seat of his pants as he’s wont to do).
It’s these moments of character introspection that set “A Child is Waiting” apart from other, paint-by-numbers team-up comics and sell the story as being important. This comic isn’t just another instance of Spider-Man randomly joining forces with somebody like Iron Fist or Doctor Strange to take on some low-level villain. Instead, he’s working with one of Marvel’s flagship heroes in order to preserve the safety and harmony of the publisher’s self-proclaimed “first family of comics.” As a result, Marvel Team-Up #88 is inherently stressful, but in a good way that keeps the reader turning pages until the inevitable happy ending.
The comic also features some moments of humor and lightness. There’s a customary car chase scene where Spider-Man inadvertently finds himself behind the wheel. Of course, any long-term Spider-Man fan (especially one whose read the “Spider-Mobile Saga” of the mid-1970s) will tell you that Spidey doesn’t know how to drive. But moments before the entire chase sequence devolves into a state of incredulity, Spider-Man stops driving and is visibly shaking. When Sue presses him as to what’s going on, he nervously admits that he doesn’t’ know how to drive.
The final confrontation between Spider-Man/Sue and the crooks is also well staged by Claremont and Buscema. Given that the two heroes were just fighting bad guys with guns, the story could have easily delivered a no fuss/no muss, quickly resolved fight scene. But instead, the creators opted to string it out a bit and create some drama. The comic acknowledges that Spidey and Sue are critically undermanned for this confrontation, and as icing on the cake, there’s the uncertainty of having the young Franklin in the middle of the melee and in harm’s way. At one point, Sue is able to gather everyone behind her invisible force field, but is physically fading fast as they get peppered with bullets, putting the happy ending into doubt. That’s when Spider-Man’s meticulous plan referenced earlier in the story comes to fruition and we discover that he tipped police Captain Jean DeWolff to his whereabouts (using a Spider-Tracer and a radio signal to boot).
In retrospect, “A Child is Waiting” is extraordinarily simple in concept, but is executed so well by the creative team, a standard inventory story is transformed into something unique and special. It’s difficult not to credit Claremont for this comic’s good qualities, in large part because he has consistently proved throughout his career that he’s one of the industry’s very best storytellers. Naturally, no one is about to compare his Marvel Team-Up run with iconic stories like “Days of Future Past” and “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” but he definitely made the book much better than it needed to be, and probably and more captivating read than what we were generally getting in Spidey’s “main books” like Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man during the same era.