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 #5 is Marvel Team-Up #69-70, with a script by Chris Claremont and art by John Byrne:
It’s pretty much an unofficial fact that when I conduct one of these lists, at least one entry will be from a Chris Claremont-scripted issue of Marvel Team-Up in the 1970s. It’s just one of my all-time favorite runs in Spider-Man comics that rarely gets recognition because it transpired in a “B” book that was primarily being published for commercial gains (rather than to try and curry critical praise).
For the purposes of this list, MTU #69-70 has Spidey teaming up with the mutant Havok and the Avenger, Thor, to take on the Living Pharaoh/Monolith, a villain who first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #54.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t really pick this story for this list because Spidey’s struggle against this non-Spider-Man villain was all that memorable. Instead, MTU #69-70 is probably my second favorite team-up story (second to this one, featured in a list some months ago) because of how it perfectly encapsulates the once-in-a-generation-type superhero stories produced by Claremont and his Uncanny collaborator, John Byrne, during the Bronze Age of comics.
In retrospect, Claremont has occasionally been criticized by modern comic book readers for his overlong, overwrought dialogue. This critique is especially applicable when flipping through an early 90s X-Men comic that’s been penciled by Jim Lee (who, as was the style at the time, liked to rely on big dramatic poses regardless of how they meshed with the text on the page). But Claremont and Byrne just worked perfectly with other.
And Claremont also really had an ear for Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s voice. In these two issues, he manages to balance Spider-Man’s sense of humor, crummy luck and noble/heroic nature in a way that stands up to some of the better writers who ever tackled the character. And the fact that he can accomplish this characterization in what amounted to a bunch of throwaway stories makes Claremont’s work all the more admirable.
For example, in MTU #69, Peter is investigating a break-in at Empire State University and once he finds another Marvel hero in peril in Havok, he immediately dons his Spider-Man attire and attempts to save the day, no questions asked. Of course, this being Spider-Man, things never come easily for him. We have a scene where Spidey gets trapped in his own webbing while trying to apprehend the Living Pharaoh and then he manages to double down on his misery when he accidentally punches the villain into Havok’s cosmic power source, leading to the Pharaoh’s transformation into the monstrous Living Monolith.
So in attempting to be the hero, Spider-Man has managed to make things 100-times worse. That’s more or less every Steve Ditko/Stan Lee Spider-Man story in one sentence. Claremont captures this 60s formula with some choice Spidey one-liners, including one where he compares the Pharaoh’s costume to something that would be found in “Star Wars 2” or “The Wiz” (remember, this comic pre-dates “The Empire Strikes Back” by a couple of years). These references might feel dated now, but what can I say? I’m an old soul so I still laugh at them today.
Byrne, for all the criticism he gets as a human being (and Spider-Man: Chapter One … never forget because I won’t), is a really, really good artist. Outside of a few exceptions, I am a sucker for a classic Spider-Man look and Byrne delivers some great spreads, including two fantastic splash pages of a terrifying Living Monolith – one that closes out MTU #69 and another to kick off MTU #70.
Probably my favorite sequence of the arc, and a great example of why the team-up format can really be a lot of fun when handled by a good writer who understands a range of different characters, is Thor’s arrival in MTU #70. Thor shows up in the nick of time to save a free-falling Spider-Man and then calmly tells him that he has Spidey’s back for all the help he provided the Avengers when they were fighting Thanos (during the Marvel Two-In-One Annual … yeah, I talk about that comic a lot and probably will again soon). Thor then proceeds to do battle with the Living Monolith, providing Spider-Man with the time he needs to use his brain to rescue Havok and save New York City from this monster.
I know this really shouldn’t be a big deal, but I love that Thor references the Two-In-One battle with the Avengers and Thanos. Those nods to continuity and prior events go a long way in making the story I’m reading come across as important. I imagine if I was reading this for the first time in the 70s and I didn’t know what Thor was talking about in that scene, I’d want to seek out that other comic post-haste.
In just another example of how this one little story (which I admit is not going to suddenly top a “best of” list not written by me any time soon) encapsulates an incredible moment in history, on the final page of issue #70, Marvel editorial announced that Claremont and Byrne would be taking a short break from Team-Up in order to start their epic run with Uncanny X-Men #108. I wonder how that worked out for them?