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Thursday, January 2, 2020

X-amining Spider-Man Versus Wolverine #1

This review comes courtesy of Patreon supporter Bob McClennan. After supporting the site at the "Extraordinary" level for twelve months, he chose this issue for review. To get the chance to pick your own issue for review, and support the site, become a Patron here

"High Tide!"
February 1987

In a Nutshell
Spider-Man battles Wolverine in Berlin!

Writer: James C. Owsley
Penciler: Mark Bright
Inks: Al Williamson
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colors: Petra Scotese
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Years ago, before joining the X-Men, Wolverine helped defend his friend Charlie from KGB agents. Afterwards, Charlie disappeared. In the present, Spider-Man runs afoul of a series of murders. Frustrated by his inability to help the victims and screwing up his relationship with Mary Jane in the process, he swears off being Spider-Man. Meanwhile, reporter Ned Leeds believes the murders to be connected, that all the victims were former KGB agents targeted by the freelance mercenary Charlemagne. He prevails on J. Jonah Jameson to send him to West Berlin to investigate further, and Jameson sends a reluctant Peter Parker with him. Meanwhile, Wolverine also recognizes the work of Charlemagne in the killings, and heads to Berlin himself. There, he runs into Peter Parker and identifies him by scent as Spider-Man. Confronting him, Wolverine convinces Peter that he is in over his head, and Peter agrees to go home. However, when he returns to the hotel, he finds Ned dead, murdered by the KGB.

Wolverine helps Peter escape from the authorities questioning him about Ned's death, telling him once again to go home, before Wolverine heads to East Berlin in search of Charlemagne. He finds her - his old friend Charlie - and vows to protect her from the KGB agents targeting her. But their reunion is interrupted by Peter, who had put a tracer and Wolverine and acquired a Spider-Man costume from a local costume shop. In the ensuing fight, Charlie disappears and continues her killings, for which Wolverine blames Spider-Man. Eventually, Charlie finishes her revenge killings and sends a message to Wolverine. They meet in a graveyard and Charlie begs Wolverine to kill her now before she can be captured & tortured to death by the KGB, but Spider-Man objects. He & Wolverine fight, and the ferocity of Wolverine's attack makes Spider-Man lash out when Charlie reaches out to him from behind, and he inadvertently kills her, as she had planned. A shell-shocked Spider-Man then returns to America with Wolverine, and finds comfort in the arms of Mary Jane.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is notable for killing off long-time Spider-Man supporting character Ned Leeds, a reporter at the Daily Bugle and husband to even longer-time supporting character Betty Brant.


His death is doubly notable for the way it affects the then-ongoing mystery surrounding the identity of the Hobgoblin The story (as I understand it; I am by no means a Spider-Man expert and even moreso not an expert regarding all the twists-and-turns of the Hobgoblin saga, in-universe or out-universe) goes that Roger Stern, the writer who introduced the Hobgoblin (and made his identity an ongoing mystery) intended for some combination of Rodrick Kingsley and his near-identical brother to be the villain (this is the official canon today, thanks to a limited series Stern wrote in the 90s). But Stern left the book before resolving the mystery, and new Amazing Spider-Man writer (and future Marvel Editor-in-Chief) Tom DeFalco, without knowing what Stern had planned, pivoted, intending Richard Fisk, son of the Kingpin, to be the culprit while also using Ned Leeds as a red herring. But due to various editorial machinations involving Spider-Man editor Christopher Priest (working under the name Jim Owsley), DeFalco was forced off the book, and Priest stepped in to write the "Gang War" story, which revealed Richard Fisk to be the identity of the villainous Rose. He then wrote this issue and (rather unceremoniously) killed off Ned Leeds (mostly out of spite for DeFalco, goes the story), the red herring DeFalco had been developing. In the end (at the time; see above re: Stern's eventual return & retcon), Peter David anti-climatically resolved the Hobgoblin mystery in Amazing Spider-Man by revealing he was the...now-dead Ned Leeds (that story also retcons this issue, revealing that Ned wasn't killed by KGB agents, but by agents of Peter David uber-baddie The Foreigner, which is only slightly a step up from the super-villainous Hobgoblin being killed by random KGB agents).

While this isn't the first time Spider-Man have Wolverine met (they interacted with each other to some extent in at least Marvel Team-up Annual #1 and Secret Wars, and certainly were generally in the same room together for other stories even if they didn't interact directly on panel), this is more or less the first time the two spend any significant time together one-on-one, and the first really notable, direct fight between just the two of them.


Wolverine figures out Peter Parker is Spider-Man thanks to his scent; I don't recall if this knowledge ever gets referenced in any of their later interactions.


Spider-Man accidentally kills Charlie at the end of the issue (an act which haunts him in the issue's closing panels). It is framed as a suicide on Charlie's part (she got Spider-Man's attention at a time he knew he was likely to lash out with his full strength) and while I can't say for certain this is the first death Spider-Man can claim direct involvement in (outside of something like Uncle Ben's death being his fault), I imagine it doesn't sit terribly well with devout Spider-Man fans (I don't love it as a character beat, but have plenty of bigger beefs regarding creative choices made with the character *cough* "One More Day" *cough*).

The sequence in which a poisoned & dying Charlie begs Wolverine to put her out of her misery is eerily reminiscent of Mariko's later death in Wolverine #57; Charlie is even dressed in clothing not unlike Mariko's traditional garb.


This is another story featuring an old friend of Wolverine’s we’ve never heard of before and will never hear about again (Charlemagne aka Charlie).

A special one-shot, this issue cost $2.50 and is double-sized, with thicker paper than usual.

The Chronology Corner 
As far as Wolverine & the X-Men are concerned, this takes place in the gap between Uncanny X-Men #219 (when Havok rejoins the team) and #220 (when Storm heads out on her own to find Forge and reclaim her powers while the X-Men head to San Francisco), the same gap into which the limited series pitting the X-Men against the Fantastic Four & Avengers fall (this technically takes place before both).

A Work in Progress
As the story begins, Spider-Man is wearing his non-symbiotic black costume.


J. Jonah Jameson apparently uses the Internet model of “paying you with experience”.


Peter swears off being Spider-Man at one point in this story, which I have to imagine is a worn trope even when this was published.


Later, when he has to go into action in Berlin, he gets a Spider-Man costume from a costume shop, which I think is another recurring Spider-Man thing.


Storm & Havok appear briefly as Wolverine heads out on his own.


Peter is somehow able to store a English-German dictionary in his...wallet.


The Reference Section
Peter compares J. Jonah Jameson to Darth Vader.


I Love the 80s
Peter & MJ see the movie “Python” starring Sylvester Rambone.


The Best There is at What He Does
During the opening flashback, Wolverine flies into a berserker rage.


Austin's Analysis
Narratively speaking, from the perspective of Spider-Man, this is a not-insignificant issue, for the way it in-universe eliminates a long-running supporting character and in the real world, represents an odd bit of editorial interference and a notable swerve in the unfolding mystery of the Hobgoblin. From the perspective of Wolverine and/or the X-Men, not so much (which is why we've been able to go this long without really looking at it). As much as this issue can be seen, like the roughly contemporaneous "Death of Jean DeWolff" and "Kraven's Last Hunt" stories, as part of the ongoing darkening of Spider-Man's world and an examination of his personal ethos at a time when darker, edgier anti-heroes (like Wolverine) were on the rise, for Wolverine, this issue really just represents another day at the office.

So much so that, from Wolverine's perspective, this reads pretty much like what will later become the standard Wolverine one-shot/pseudo-annual. It features the kind of hard-boiled Claremont-by-way-of-Miller voice that had already become standard for the character, an exotic locale that takes Wolverine away from his usual trappings, and a new character who this story takes great pains to assure us is a significant person in Wolverine's life despite having never been mentioned before (or since). Of course, in 1987, there was still some novelty in the notion of breaking Wolverine out of the X-Men ghetto (a ghetto containing one of comic's best-selling titles, of course) for a solo adventure and/or pairing him up with other Marvel Universe characters (this was published about a year ahead of Wolverine's regular featured role in Marvel Comics Presents and the subsequent solo Wolverine book, both of which would make the circumstances of this issue less novel), and much like Punisher guest appearances, there is some thematic hay to be made by running Wolverine up against a character with more traditional morals like Spider-Man. But that is all felt on the Spider-Man side of things: Wolverine comes out of this story more or less the same as when he started, whereas the impact on Spider-Man, thematically, narratively, and publication-wise, makes it very clear this is, first and foremost, a Spider-Man story that happens to feature Wolverine.

Next Issue
Another Retro tale as we journey back to the Silver Age for Strange Tales #120!

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19 comments:

  1. It goes without saying that I love this book, and a good chunk of that affection comes from being lucky enough to read it not long after its original release (probably just before or just after Wolverine got his own series.) Austin's right: there are TONS of story and character beats that would be seen on a monthly basis for Wolverine throughout the 90s (and further, probably) but in 1988, this book was (relatively) fresh and fun, and pairing him up with one of the more upbeat heroes made for some terrific contrasts in character (I particularly love Spidey busting in on Logan and Charlie's dinner date.)

    Coming to this book from an X-Men perspective, this was still a pretty familiar tone for Wolverine, but it was the addition of Spidey that was the novelty for me. I always wondered what fans who approached the book from a Spider-Man direction thought of this considerably darker story, although I love how well Owsley/Priest contrasts Peter Parker's mopey, angsty attitude with the more happy-go-lucky persona he adapts when he puts on the mask. Spidey gets knocked around both physically and emotionally here, and it's made clear early on that he's fully aware how much he's in way over his head, but at the end of the day he's still Spider-Man, and Spider-Man does the right thing whenever he can.

    I'm usually not a fan of the "heroes fight each other over some kind of misunderstanding," but I love love love the final throw-down in the cemetery. There's no way Wolverine should be able to take out someone with Spider-Man's speed and sheer power, and indeed the only reason he ever has the upper hand is because Spidey's heart just isn't in it.

    As an artist in general, Mark Bright wasn't particularly better or worse than most other pencilers of the day. His figures were solid and he gave people distinct faces and they all looked like they were wearing actual clothes with wrinkles and whatnot instead of the "everyone's in a skintight bodysuit and maybe they have a jacket on too" style that would dominate the next decade, and I like all of that just fine. But as a comic book artist, he was absolutely superb. His figures show wonderful body language, his choice of framing/angles is terrific, and his layouts are top-notch without ever being flashy. Every panel flows seamlessly into the next, whether it's those great fight scenes, a fun few pages of the two heroes leaping over rooftops, or just Peter and Mary Jane sharing time in her apartment. It's the type of book (along with stuff like Paul Smith's X-work, Simonson's Thor, and Giffen's Legion/Justice League) that really stood in contrast to the later pin-up heavy, self-indulgent Image style.

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  2. As an aside, thanks for digging into this book for me, and thanks for providing me with years of entertaining comic (and other pop cultural) commentary. Maybe after the next twelve months we can look into Bendis' much, much, much* lighter Spidey-Wolvie team-up from the Ultimate universe.

    *MUCH!

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    1. That's definitely a possibility - the Ultimate Universe being it's own thing, I wouldn't mind jumping ahead of my current place in the timeline.

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  3. I remember getting this back in the day, even though the significance of Ned Leeds' death was lost on me for years. The scene of Spidey bludgeoning Charlie still stays with me.
    According to Roger Stern, what got him back to fixing the Hobgoblin ID was that it strained credibility that normal agents would have been able to kill a man with superhuman strength.
    Also, the German Spidey duds is what Peter wears when he retires the Black Costume for good (at least until "Fade into Black") in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN#300.

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  4. The costume-store gag was hilarious!!

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  5. In view of the 'Peter gives up Spidey' trope, it should be considered Marv Wolfman tried to retire the trope with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN#200. That issue ended with Spidey swearing never to consider that again. And for maybe 6 years & 75 issues it was like that until Peter does it again around the 'Gang War/Hobgoblin' storyline.

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  6. To answer your question, it IS cannon after this that Logan knows Spidey's secret ID. It would get referenced basically every time they met up after this.

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    1. Good to know. Sadly, the first Spider-Man/Wolverine team-up after this that came to mind was their MCP story...and I didn't want to go back and check it. :P

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  7. I can't say for certain this is the first death Spider-Man can claim direct involvement in

    Snap.

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    1. Oh, and Norman Osborn too.

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    2. Yeah, I should have been more clear that I meant more first death of a quasi-innocent bystander/someone he's not personally invested in, as opposed to a long-time supporting character, love interest or villain.

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    3. In the Sin-Eater story (PPtSSM #108) Spidey jumps away off Sin-Eater's shotgun blast, which hits a by-stander, who is confirmed dead in a news broadcast that Peter sees and comments on in the next issue.

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    4. Well then, I really don't buy his angst over Charlie's death in this issue.

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  8. I don't remember exactly when I read this, though I know it was a few years after it was published. I've never been a fan (though I also haven't looked at it in at least a couple decades now). I'm not big on "dark" Spider-Man stories, and this is -- or was at the time -- one of the darker ones out there. Plus, I've never felt that Owsley/Priest had a good handle on how to write the character -- and while I like Mark Bright's artwork sometimes, here it just doesn't impress me much.

    And then there's the way it screws up the Hobgoblin mystery. Your basic understanding of the behind-the-scenes Hobgoblin stuff is correct, except that Tom DeFalco did know that Roger Stern intended Kingsley to be the Hobgoblin. Per Stern, DeFalco called him up after being offered the job writing AMAZING, and said he'd only take it if Stern told him who the Hobgoblin was. Stern did, adding that DeFalco was free to make it whoever he wanted since he would now be the writer. DeFalco felt the "evil twin" idea, as he called it, was dumb, and went his own route instead. He did, however, intend to pay some homage to Stern's idea by making Kingsley the Rose.

    If you read DeFalco's stories, Kingsley as the Rose makes great sense and adds up perfectly. But I call shenanigans on his "intention" that Richard Fisk was going to be the Hobgoblin. Perhaps early on that was the plan... But as time went on and DeFalco wrote more Hobgoblin stuff, dropping more and more hints, things clearly changed. And when DeFalco announced the Fisk-as-Hobgoblin/Kingsley-as-Rose thing, he merely said at the time that he had unearthed his old Spider-Man notes... but for all anyone knows, they could've been spitball ideas from when he started the run, and not concrete plans from later on. DeFalco himself admitted at the time that hadn't even remembered his plans until he found the notes.

    And besides all that, Fisk not only didn't fit Stern's orignal Hobgoblin clues (though Leeds fit them even less), he didn't fit DeFalco's clues! Just as one example, there's a scene where the Hobgoblin, back to the audience, is walking down a street and bumps into Mary Jane, who recognizes him as a friend. MJ had never even met Richard Fisk.

    DeFalco also says that Owsley constantly removed his Richard Fisk sub-plot scenes from the book, but that rings false to me somehow. What was he doing, crossing them out of the plot before it was sent to Ron Frenz to draw? What scenes replaced them? It doesn't add up. If you read DeFalco's issues, there is absolutely no way he planned for anyone other than Ned Leeds to be the Hobgoblin. If Leeds was truly meant as a red herring, there should've been clues pointing at anyone else, but there weren't (aside from occasional, very obviously fake hints toward Flash Thompson).

    The "red herring" stuff is DeFalco ret-conning real life to make Owsley look bad. (And Owsley/Priest, as he himself admitted and owned up to at length in the "Why I Never Talk About Spider-Man" column on his website many years ago, needed very little help to look back at that time!)

    Yeah, I know... "Sir, this is a Wendy's."

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    1. Oh, wait -- Wolverine was in this story too? Huh.

      "Wolverine figures out Peter Parker is Spider-Man thanks to his scent; I don't recall if this knowledge ever gets referenced in any of their later interactions."

      During the "continuity-lite" Jemas era, there were TWO separate occasions where Wolverine "learned" Spider-Man's secret ID -- despite the fact that he had already learned it over a decade earlier!

      I hate that period at Marvel for so many reasons. This is one of them.

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    2. I hate that period at Marvel for so many reasons. This is one of them.

      Yeah, the laissez-faire attitude towards continuity in that era drives me nuts - not just the ignorance of everything that came before it, but also everything happening IN IT AT THE SAME TIME.

      To this day, I lament that Busiek's "Kang Dynasty" story wasn't handled like "Surtur War" and reflected in more non-Avengers books. But because it came out during the "continuity silo" period, it just never felt as epic as it should have.

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    3. Yeah, I remember the Kang storyline being referenced in THUNDERBOLTS once, and that was it. The odd thing is that, as best I can remember, Busiek didn't even show how other Marvel characters were reacting to it in the pages of AVENGERS, either. Of course there were tons of Avengers in the storyline, but you didn't get, say little one-off panels showing Spider-Man or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four reacting. Back in the old days, even if a story didn't reach out to touch every Marvel book, you'd at least get little bits like that for a major event (see "Dark Phoenix" or the fall of Galactus in Byrne's FF, for example).

      I do wish the Kang stuff had at least registered in some of the other titles, but at the same time, I'm happy the story wasn't done by modern Marvel, or we'd have a KANG WAR limited series running several months with tie-ins for every book in the line. I've never liked that approach.

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    4. It definitely feels like the post-Jemas, Bendis-led approach to crossovers that began with CIVIL WAR was something of an over-correction to the previous era of linewide crossovers (ie they didn't happen).

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