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Greatest Spider-Man vs. Other People’s Villains #1

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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. 

asm229_01-e1376847309593OK folks, after a long and rambling list of stories about Spider-Man fighting other people’s villains, we’ve arrived at the top spot and in a shocking revelation it’s …

“Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr.

In other words, not even remotely shocking. So why did it take so long for me to post this entry?

I appreciate if you did not invade my personal space thankyouverymuch.

In all seriousness, this two-part from the early 80s was more or less the reason I thought to put together a list of Spider-Man fighting atypical (for him) villains. Not only is “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” the quintessential example of the theme of this list, it’s arguably one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all-time (and I would vote his greatest battle ever … Spidey villain or not).

My love for this story is no secret. Dan and I podcasted about it some time ago, and for me, “Juggernaut” is truly an essential Spider-Man tale. There are other stories that might be more historically significant for the character and comics, like “The Master Planner Trilogy” or “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” but for my money, very few Spider-Man comics quite capture what makes Spidey such a unique and compelling hero like “Juggernaut” does.

asm229_03In short, since its publication, “Juggernaut” has functioned as a template for all other creators, in terms of stories that feature Spider-Man versus another villain that’s way above his paygrade and power-level. So much so that probably about 75 percent of the entries in this list have all been inspired or influenced by “Juggernaut” one way or another. It’s just so undeniably perfect in how it shows Spider-Man take on such an insurmountable challenge despite all the odds being against him, and prevailing regardless because of a mix of guile, smarts and luck.

In the story, Juggernaut arrives in New York City looking to capture Spidey’s friend, the psychic Madame Web. Say what you will about Madame Web, a character I honestly never cared for as part of Spider-Man’s general orbit, but regardless of her mental powers, she was no match for the Juggernaut, who is somebody even the entire X-Men team has had problems subduing. Web naturally contacts Spider-Man looking for help, and after Spidey foolishly attempts to stop Juggernaut (whose catchphrase is of course, “nothing can stop the Juggernaut”), he gets swatted away like a fly. Like a monster in a horror movie, Juggernaut eventually reaches Madame Web, yanks her out of her life support chair, and callously drops her after realizing that by “unplugging” her, she is now useless to him. That’s when things get personal for Spider-Man and he vows to stop Juggernaut or die trying.

Part of the brilliance of this story lies in how Stern’s script expertly leaves no backdoor for Spider-Man to get out of having to go one-on-one with the Juggernaut. Stern inserts a very simple and straightforward plot point: the X-Men and the Avengers are both out of town dealing with other threats. There’s nobody left that can even hope to stop Juggernaut, and while Spider-Man is probably not powerful enough to do it either, because the fight has become personal, he has no choice but to honor his “with great power/responsibility” mantra and figure something out.

asm230_03-e1376847294255Amazing Spider-Man #230, the story’s second part, is when things get beautifully chaotic in terms of a knockdown, dragout fight. Spider-Man’s persistence in trying to stop the Juggernaut registers with the villain, who is now game to fight his adversary rather than treating him as a minor annoyance. Spider-Man pulls out every stop he can think of during this battle, and when that doesn’t work, even sinks to (for him) unthinkable depths when he crashes a loaded oil tanker into Juggernaut, igniting an explosion (completed with Spider-Man “honking” the horn of the truck in a wonderfully humorous touch from JRJR). 

Of course, the tanker scene also ends up elevating this story to more than just another comic featuring two guys punching and kicking each other. Prior to that moment, Spider-Man had been battling Juggernaut to the point of exhaustion. Plus he’s risking his life in trying to take down a guy who’s an unstoppable tank. Regardless, when Spider-Man considers the kind of damage that exploding tanker truck caused his opponent, he’s horrified about what he thinks he’s done. Spider-Man doesn’t kill, and there’s no way Juggernaut survived that blast.

Except, he does. And that’s when Spider-Man has one final gambit to try. He leaps onto the Juggernaut’s back and covers his eyeholes. Juggernaut responds by clawing at Spider-Man, ripping his costume to shreds (in another masterfully rendered sequence from Romita Jr.). Just as it looks like Juggernaut is going to grab Spider-Man and smash him into a puddle of good, he falls into a building foundation that is filled with freshly-poured cement. Juggernaut laughs off the obstacle but as he sinks further into New York City’s bedrock, he has finally been stopped. And Spider-Man emerges victorious.

I’ve said this phrase so many times in regards to this story, but I’ll say it again: “Juggernaut” is a story of the unstoppable force meeting the unstoppable spirit. Spidey’s perseverance and never quit attitude is the only reason he’s able to ultimately succeed. Additionally, “Juggernaut” as a story seemingly understands the nuance of Spider-Man’s impulsiveness and improvisational skills — Spidey certainly takes a lot of risks when he’s fighting a villain, but he’s rarely illogical or irrational in the moves he makes. Jumping on Juggernaut’s back was quite the gamble that could have gotten him killed, but he knew, if he could play things just right, that he could win the fight if he just guided the villain toward the wet cement. And that’s what makes Spider-man such a great hero. He’s relatable for his lack of perfection and precision, but he still finds a way to accomplish the impossible against all odds.

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