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.
At #3 is Amazing Spider-Man #269-270 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz:
Amazing Spider-Man #269-270 is best known as the time Spider-Man beat-up Firelord, a cosmically-powered herald of Galactus. Keep in mind Spider-Man accomplished this task without any gimmicks or caveats. He just straight up slugs the ever-loving you know what out of Firelord until the Avengers eventually show up and have to peel Spidey off of the puddle of goo that once was once known as Galactus’s right-hand man.
Needless to say, this story is a bit polarizing. And finding out someone’s opinion on this two-parter basically comes down to a simple question: do you think Spider-Man could beat Firelord in a fistfight? Those who think he can — that even the most powerful supervillains in the Marvel Universe have a bad day and Spidey could have definitely matched up with Firelord on that bad day — think this story is an all-time classic.
Others find the story to be farfetched and unbelievable. And we’re not talking about a bunch of nobodies here. Current Spidey scribe Dan Slott has talked about his distaste for Spider-Man wasting Firelord. And the Comics Should Be Good blog dedicated an entire article to the fight as part of its “Wrong Side Won” series (and yes, Spider-Man is considered the “wrong side” here).
Considering this story is coming in at No. 3 on my countdown, I obviously have a soft spot for it. But that’s not to say I don’t see the flaws in what Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz have put together.
But let’s start with the adulation, since that’s what these articles are (mostly) about. For the bulk of this story, DeFalco and Frenz closely follow the plot points of the more famous “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” arc from Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. In both cases, an overpowered villain shows up in Spidey’s world and he’s the only one around who can do anything about it. Like the Juggernaut story, Spider-Man throws everything he can at the villain with no results. Spider-Man even crosses a line and attempts to blow Firelord up in an abandoned building (and his guilt is only assuaged by the fact that such an explosion was not enough to beat him, no less kill him).
However, one thing that does distinguish the Firelord two-parter from the Juggernaut tale is that Juggernaut basically treats Spider-Man as a minor annoyance — a fly that needs to be swatted away. Whereas Firelord has a major chip on his shoulder over Spider-Man’s interference, and he threatens to go after innocent people in an effort to draw Spidey out to fight him.
That distinction is important because it sets the table for why DeFalco and Frenz chose to resolve the story the way they did. Juggernaut is not a good person, but because he never treats Spider-Man as a serious opponent, it makes sense that Spidey would use chicanery and gimmicks to subdue him. Firelord, on the other hand, is a punk who’s looking for a fight. Yes, he’s got the Power Cosmic behind him, which makes him an extraordinarily strong punk (like on the level of Thor or maybe even Hulk), but he’s projected in a way that he deserves some comeuppance. And he gets that comeuppance in spades.
Basically, after throwing everything he can at Firelord, Spider-Man shrugs his shoulders and says “screw it,” taking the fight directly to him. He hits the herald with punches and kicks in rapid succession. And the way DeFalco and Frenz sell the moment to the reader is by telling them that Firelord never expected Spider-Man to be so aggressive, so he let his guard down. OK DeFalco and Frenz, you may now have your “No Prize.”
Don’t let my glibness gloss over how glorious of a moment this is. Frenz knocks the whole sequence out of the park. It might be his most dynamic and fluid Spider-Man yet, as he gracefully lands a flurry of body blows to Firelord like he’s a prizefighter in a video game. In a very early post on Chasing Amazing, I ranked this moment as part of my “Stand Up and Cheer Series,” because quite frankly, that’s what this moment is. If you’re a fan of Spider-Man, there’s no reason you shouldn’t love this scene in the heat of the moment while you’re reading it. It’s absolutely designed to play to the rawest, most irrational emotions a Spider-Man fan may possess.
Of course it’s really not believable … at all. Firelord has fought much mightier heroes than Spider-Man to a standstill, and even if he underestimated Spidey, that still doesn’t explain how being blown up in a building didn’t knock him out, but a bunch of kicks and punches could put him down long enough for the Avengers to show up, cart him back to Avengers Mansion, and even study him for a bit, before he woke up.
But dang this book is fun. So I’ll just continue to look the other way and stick my fingers in my ears whenever I hear someone give me a reality check over Spider-Man vs. Firelord.