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. 7 we look at Uncanny X-Men #346 by Scott Lobdell and Joe Maduriera:
Over the course of Spider-Man comics history, there have been a limited number of stories that focus on J. Jonah Jameson the newspaper-man — i.e. a deeper, below-the-surface look at Jonah’s values and ethics and how they drive his agenda as editor/publisher of the Daily Bugle (in contrast to the vast quantity of stories that paint Jameson as blinded-by-rage antagonist whose sole objective is to purge Spider-Man from our collective consciousness). In the rare instances that a creative team has decided to take a more nuanced approach to JJJ, the results have been mostly positive. And in the case of Uncanny X-Men #346, aka “The Story of the Year,” it might be one of the best Jonah tales ever.
The issue, which comes in the midst of a very 90s storyline, “Operation: Zero Tolerance” has two very strongly crafted subplots from Scott Lobdell and Joe Maduriera that are relevant to the Spider-Man universe — one that involves Spider-Man teaming-up (sorta) with the militant mutant Marrow, and the aforementioned Jameson plot. But let it be said clearly and explicitly — the Jameson storyline is what elevates this comic into an underrated classic from an otherwise downtrodden period for the X-books and Marvel Comics as a whole.
In it, Jameson is approached by the mysterious Bastion, a proponent of “Operation: Zero Tolerance,” a government program that called on hunting down and capturing/killing all mutants. Given Jameson’s long-standing issue with costumed “vigilantes,” one would think that JJJ would immediately side with Bastion and support his cause through the front/editorial pages of The Bugle. Instead, Jameson thinks something about Bastion “stinks like yesterday’s garbage,” and calls on his Bugle staff to investigate him.
In one of Jonah’s most powerful scenes ever, Bastion offers the publisher a CD-ROM (gotta love the 90s) with personal information about all of the X-Men on it, in exchange for some favorable coverage of “Operation: Zero Tolerance.” Jameson dismisses the offer/extortion and destroys the CD.
The reader’s ability to fully “buy in” to this story probably boils down to their ability to accept that the cigar chomping, sensationalistic Jonah has that kind of sensitive underbelly when it comes to the idea of an even greater social injustice than having costumed vigilantes fighting crime and making their own set of rules and values. As I alluded to earlier, we’ve certainly have seen this side of Jonah in microscopic doses: there’s a scene in a Silver Age issue of Amazing Spider-Man where Jameson sticks his neck out for Joe “Robbie” Robertson by rejecting a racist political candidate who was running on an anti-Spider-Man platform. We also saw some legit soul-searching from JJJ during the great Roger Stern “Hobgoblin Saga” when his role in the development of the Scorpion is about to be made public and he resigns as editor of the Bugle (but stays on as publisher).
But for every moment of equity and self-awareness, we get double or triple doses of Jameson insisting that Spider-Man murdered Norman Osborn, or JJJ joining forces with Spencer/Alistair Smythe in the creation of the Spider-Slayers. Such erratic behavior raises the question as to whether or not an individual can truly represent both sides of the coin.
It’s quite possible that I relate to this story due to my own personal experience in the media industry. As somebody who worked for five years as a newspaper reporter, I’ve witnessed some fairly erratic/inconsistent behavior from those in power. But I’ve also had the pleasure of working with individuals who would never compromise their principles/beliefs for a story. The goal of a newspaper reporter is to present the truth to the public — even if the truth is inconvenient or flies in the face of the writer’s beliefs.
Jameson makes it clear to Bastion that if his reporters fairly stumble upon the information that was contained on his top-secret CD-ROMs, it’s fair game. However, Jameson wasn’t willing to hand over all of the leverage to an individual he didn’t trust (and also suspects played a role in the death of one of his reporters a few weeks earlier). That reads as enough of a justification for me to accept Jameson’s otherwise inconsistent position on costumed heroes.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man and Marrow have a nice little story together in this issue as well. Marrow and her associate Callisto are on the trail of the anti-mutant Henry Peter Gyrich when Spidey runs interference and keeps the two mutants from doing something stupid to their adversary, like murder him. When Spider-Man ends up putting his own life on the line protecting both Marrow and Gyrich, the mutant asks him why he’s so insistent on everyone doing the “right” thing here. Spidey delivers the “with great power” spiel to Marrow which is initially laughed off as a “foolish motto.” Still, Spidey is able to eventually talk reason to Marrow, or at least get her to temporarily stand down in her feud against Gyrich.
Despite being chiefly associated with the X-books in this time, Lobdell absolutely nails Spidey’s voice in this comic so perfectly that his entire exchange with Marrow reads as being sincere and significant rather than just another Uncle Ben story rehash. The fact that Lobdell has Marrow initially reject (before learning that the Web-Slinger is in the right) one of the greatest morals in comic book history is a neat twist that again gives Uncanny #346 the verbal aesthetic of being more of a Spider-Man story than an X-Men one.
This story probably would have ranked higher if it had more of a long-term impact on either the Spider-verse or the comic book world in general, but like so many other things from the 1990s, “Operation: Zero Tolerance” marched to the beat of its own drum until the next “seismic” event was introduced by Marvel. And of course Jameson would go back to being an irrational, uncompromising jerk-face once Howard Mackie and John Byrne took full control of the Spider-books less than two years after this was published. Still, fans who love Jonah or who like to see Spider-Man gain a win based on his principles need to check out this story because it’s a really wonderfully-done comic from Lobdell and Joe Mads.