Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marvel Unbound - X-Men and Spider-Man

I remember seeing the first issues of the X-Men and Spider-Man miniseries on the shelf at my local comic shop when it was first released and thinking how cool it looked. But over the last year, I have slowly and consistently moved to trade-waiting. So I consciously made the decision to not buy the singles and pick up the collected edition down the road.

I was excited when it was released and showed up in my DCBS box the first week of the New Year. Unfortunately, the story turned out to be a confusing mess. I read the four issues in one s
itting, hoping with each turn of the page that things would improve. I wasn’t so lucky.

The concept, I think, could’ve been really cool. Each of the four issues takes place during a different era of Marvel history. Beginning, naturally, with the late 1960s, the first issue is by far the most entertaining. It holds in its pages the promise of an engaging story. It begins with Kraven the Hunter announcing on television that he has discovered Spider-Man is a mutant. The rest of the issue is a fun collision between Peter Parker’s world (inclu
ding Gwen, MJ, Harry, and Flash) and the original X-Men, who are seeking out Spider-Man to offer their assistance (they know he’s not a mutant, but feel they should warn him about all the new enemies and bigotry he might encounter if the world believes he is a mutant). The last page sets up some intrigue and reveals Mister Sinister as pulling the strings behind the scenes, but also becomes the recycled blueprint for everything that follows.

As we move through the subsequent issues, the
novelty of seeing the characters in different eras wears off quickly as the repetition of the heroes joining forces, battling the Marauders and Mister Sinister, then Carnage and Mister Sinister, then clone Kraven (Xraven. Seriously.) and Mister Sinister wears thin. It was kind of neat to see Spidey with the various incarnations of the X-Men, but I had a bad feeling about things as soon as the second issue started.

As if the subject of clones isn’t convoluted enough in every comic book universe, writer Christos Gage piles on the meta here. Issue #2 finds a black-suited Spidey and a powerless, Mohawk-sporting Storm leading Wolverine, Dazzler, and Rogue ag
ainst the Marauders, ultimately destroying incubating clones of the original X-Men. Spider clone Ben Reilly, the Spider-Man of issue #3 (who doesn’t know he’s a clone), teams up with an Adamantium skeleton-less Wolverine, Archangel, Cyclops, and Storm in an attempt to stop Mister Sinister from procuring a piece of Carnage’s alien symbiote. The final act features Spider-Man and a Cyclops/Wolverine/Nightcrawler/Kitty/Colossus team battling Mister Sinister’s hairless, albino Kraven clone. The story finally runs out of gas when they defeat Xraven by – yeah, I’m gonna spoil this mess because you should save your money – hurting Xraven’s feelings, who then turns on Mister Sinister.

When I finished reading the book, I turned to the back cover in hopes of finding a synopsis of the story that might make some sense of what I’d just muddled through. Sadly, based on the three-sentence attempt at a summary, I’m not sure Marvel
really knows what this is all about either.

What Marvel does know, however, is damn fine art. And Mario Alberti’s work on these four issues is gorgeous. Every page of issue #1 shines, from the awesome page one Hulk cameo to a great Scott Summers to a sexy Gwen Stacy! Hank McCoy, Marvel Girl, Kraven? They all look stunning. And the atmosphere Alberti infuses into each panel adds depth to the world the characters inhabit. Unfortunately, the subsequent issues get bogged down by too much visual noise from the action, but the individual character renderings are beautiful. I’d let Alberti draw every single entry in an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe just to drool over how he would craft each character.

For bonus material, we get a reprint of the first meeting between the X-Men and Spider-Man, which took place on a single page of X-Men #27. Then we’re given a full 20-page story originally presented in X-Men #35, “Along Came a Spider…” (You have to wonder how many times over the years a variation of that phrase has been used in comics where Spidey guest-stars.) It’s a fun Roy Thomas story that includes a Banshee cameo over the first few pages to set things up.

Maybe if I was better-schooled in the clone history of the Marvel Universe (I missed Spidey’s Clone Saga altogether in the ’90s while I was away from comics), I might have appreciated X-Men and Spider-Man more. As it stands, I got away with paying less than cover price for the original single issues by picking this up in trade, but I could have saved even more if I’d just bought the first issue and walked away.

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