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.
Kicking off the list is “Something Can Stop the Juggernaut” by Roger Stern and Lee Weeks:
Despite the character’s claims of the contrary, something has stopped the Juggernaut plenty of times since Cain Marko was first introduced more than 50 years ago. Otherwise we’d be reading about a Marvel Universe where the Juggernaut ruled everything while endlessly running through walls and plate glass windows like the perpetual motion machine that he is. I’m sure Jonathan Hickman would love to take a crack at writing such an alternate universe, but until that day comes, let’s just all agree that while he’s immensely powerful, the Juggernaut, to wit, is not unstoppable.
So with that point in mind, if a creative team is going to name a storyline, “Something Can Stop the Juggernaut” as the Spider-office did for this 2010 three-parter found in Amazing Spider-Man #627-629, the arc better present a compelling premise that glosses over an otherwise too on-the-nose title. Fortunately, ASM #627-629, written by a returning Roger Stern with art from Lee Weeks, does just that. The main narrative relies heavily on past events involving Spider-Man and Juggernaut, and then manages to masterfully play with this continuity in order to establish its thesis.
The storyline doesn’t play stupid regarding the Juggernaut’s larger published history as much as it really hones in on the perspective of the comic’s titular hero — which, by the way, is a great example of what makes for a successful comic book story involving a hero fighting someone who is not traditionally one of “his” guys. In the very first issue of this arc, upon finding a soundly beaten Juggernaut, Spider-Man reflects on his past encounters with the villain — all of them ending with Spider-Man surviving through sheer luck or tactical brilliance. By turning the lens to Spider-Man, Stern is able to add true gravity to the situation. Sure, a team of X-Men or the Hulk could stop the Juggernaut, but this is essentially new terrain for Spider-Man, thereby making his discovery of the unconscious villain a true emotional shock for him. It also establishes that somewhere out there, there’s an even bigger threat to Spider-Man’s well-being — the person or persons who stopped the Juggernaut.
Stern and Weeks reach back to another classic storyline involving other people’s villains in establishing the other key player in “Something Can Stop the Juggernaut:” Captain Universe. Spider-Man, of course, played around with Universe’s cosmic power in the aptly-titled “Cosmic Spider-Man Saga” of the early 90s. In that storyline, readers were treated to a hero who used that immense power responsibly. This time around, Spider-Man faced someone who was not so keen on showing restraint or mercy to anyone who opposed him.
Spider-Man’s primary “fight” with Captain Universe, which takes place mostly in ASM #628, is classic Stern in that the action comes quickly and is tightly-paced, with witty banter from Spider-Man to match this controlled freneticism. The reader never truly believes that Spider-Man is doomed until that precise moment seconds before the Juggernaut surprisingly returns from his comatose condition to bail Spidey out because he “owes him one.”
After years of reading superhero comics, especially Spider-Man comics, I think I can say that a creator’s ability to oscillate between hope and despair with the precision and pacing of Stern is not something that can be taught or even learned over time. The creator either has that ability innately or they don’t. Stern has it, always has, and just as he did during his landmark run on ASM in the early 1980s, uses it to great effect as the storyline transitions from the middle chapter to its final one.
ASM #629 relies on established Spider-Man continuity more than the two preceding issues. In the arc’s final chapter we learn the identity of Captain Universe and his reasons for wanting vengeance against the Juggernaut. As it turns out, the cosmically-powered individual used to be a lowly office worker named William Nguyen, whose life was dramatically altered by the most-famous Spider-Man/Juggernaut battle from the early 1980s (which, as it works out, was also written by Stern). During the melee, Nguyen’s office area was wrecked, leading his company to downsize and fire him. After wallowing for a bit, Nguyen attempted to commit suicide before he inherited Captain Universe’s powers.
Stern plays off his original great story a bit more when he revisits what happened to Juggernaut at the end of his battle with Spider-Man. He apparently damaged the Earth’s tectonic plates when he spent more than a month breaking his way out of a building foundation that was filled (by Spidey) with cement. It just so happens that in “Something Can Stop the Juggernaut” the Earth starts shaking and it’s up to a cosmically-powered Juggernaut to right his wrong from a few years earlier.
Both subplots deal with the age-old issue of how the super-powered indirectly affect the “little people” of the world with their fighting and conflicts (it’s such an age-old issue that the entire plot of “Captain America: Civil War” is based around this idea). And it’s a good dilemma to revisit specifically for this story since the original Stern/Juggernaut story is notorious for the amount of destruction found throughout (at one point, Spidey even hurls a tanker truck at Juggernaut and immediately regrets it when it causes a huge explosion).
In the grand scheme of things, “Something Can Stop the Juggernaut” does not carry the clout or historic ramifications of its predecessor (can we find out how Nguyen’s tell-all book performed?), but it does show how, even years later, with the right resources, Stern can still spin a tale as good as any of the modern Spider-Man writers. And that Juggernaut, despite being saddled with the X-Men since his first appearance in 1965, is a pretty good antagonist for the Spider-Man universe.