John DiBello picks 13 epically weird adventures for SPIDER-MAN WEEK!
By JOHN DiBELLO
If the Marvel Universe handed out report cards, Spider-Man’s would almost certainly read “plays well with others.”
Because despite being Marvel’s poster boy for lone wolves by not joining any teams for most of his career (darn you, Bendis), he’s certainly battled alongside and joined forces with pretty much every hero, most of the villains, and quite a few of the inanimate objects of the Marvel Universe.
Nobody does more team-ups than Spidey. Why do you think they call him the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? The guys knows absolutely everybody. In the Marvel Universe, Kevin Bacon plays “Six Degrees of Spider-Man!”
Sadly, Spider-Man won’t be teaming up with Captain America, the X-Men, or the Guardians of the Galaxy in this summer’s movies, because — like the perpetual loner he is — he’s at a completely different movie studio.
Instead, let’s relive some of the wackiest, craziest, most oddball Spider-Man duets from the original Marvel Team-Up series:
1. Days of Spidey Past: Spider-Man and the X-Men
Hooray, it’s the X-Men! No, wait, before you get too excited, not those X-Men. It’s 1972 and still three years away from the All-New, All-Different, All-Money-Making X-Men Starring Wolverine, so what you get here is four of the five original X-Men (the Beast is away having solo escapades in Amazing Adventures) battling against Spider-Man, conveniently forgetting they’d already met the webslinger in 1967’s X-Men #35. Also, none of the X-Men are in costume, which really seems unwise. After all, Professor X warned his charges to remain unobtrusive. And yet here Cyclops is out in public in an orange suit.
Those meddling kids solve the whole mystery — really, it’s mostly Marvel Girl performing a Vulcan mind meld on Spidey — and the story ends with Spider-Man planting a wet kiss on Jean Grey’s lips and then leaping through a closed window. If I was running Marvel I’d have every Spidey team-up end this way, no matter who he was working with: Spider-Woman, Storm, Captain America, Wolverine — they’d all get a hot kiss and then Spider-Man would leap through a window. This story idea is gold, I tell you, sheer gold.
2. “London calling to the faraway towns”: Spider-Man and Captain Britain
Most issues of Marvel Team-Up co-starred already popular Marvel characters, so MTU #65-66, which introduced Marvel UK’s Captain Britain in his first American-published story, was more unusual. It was published in the heyday of Marvel’s weekly black-and-white British comics and a period when American color comics were also reprinted in the UK, like these British editions of “Marvel All-Colour Comics,” which cost a mere 12 pence each. In 1970s American money, that’s three cups of tea and a plate of bangers and mash.
It’s no surprise that Captain Britain made his US debut in MTU. Spider-Man’s team-up book was then being written by Chris Claremont, who created Captain Britain (with Herb Trimpe) for Marvel UK a couple years previously. This isn’t the big, beefy, Union Flag-clad bruiser Brian Braddock whom we know now, but the earlier Brian, a slim university student who’s been assigned to room with Peter Parker. Let the sitcom style wackiness begin!
In the style of one of 1978’s most popular sitcoms, “Three’s Company,” the red-suited, star-scepter-wielding Captain Britain meets and battles Spidey in compliance with union rules that all superheroes must, upon first meeting, battle each other for most of the issue. Although he’s less experienced than Peter, Brian gets in some pretty good punches, at one time even completely knocking Spidey’s head off. I don’t care if you have the proportionate power of a spider, that’s still gotta hurt.
Then they team up to fight Arcade (also making his first appearance!) inside a giant pinball machine.
So, yes: a subtle and nuanced allegory for American/British political and social relations and the “Special Relationship” founded in 1776, when Thomas Jefferson kicked King George III’s head clean off at Valley Forge.
3. “Everybody was kung-fu fighting”: Spider-Man and the Daughters of the Dragon
I can’t understand why the Daughters of the Dragon didn’t get their own book in the 1970s, as they combined Every. Single. Trope. of popular period action cinema. They’re both modern, sexy, kickass women! Misty Knight is black, like action goddess Pam Grier! Colleen Wing is a Japanese samurai! (Even though she was seldom drawn as Asian.) Misty’s got a bionic arm! They’re private eyes! They wear groovy ’70s outfits! I do not understand why this mix of concepts, tossed into a blender together, was not a license to print vaults full of folding money.
Well, maybe it’s the fact that they didn’t have a distinctive nemesis of their own, but had to fight a guy who appeared to be Iron Fist’s evil twin brother.
And then at the end of the book Iron Fist himself stepped in and finished off the bad guy for them. I’m telling you gals, Charlie’s Angels never needed Baretta to come in and solve their cases for them. And that’s why Misty and Colleen didn’t get their own series until 2006.
4. “Let me introduce his frogness”: Spider-Man and Frog-Man
Frog-Man, Frog-Man / Does whatever a frog can!
He was the son of Daredevil villain the Leapfrog, member of a team called the Misfits, which also included the Toad and Spider-Kid, fought against the White Rabbit and the Walrus, and got replaced by a Skrull during Secret Invasion. His name is Frog-Man, and no one has ever demanded his return.
5. Almost but not quite Conan: Spider-Man and King Kull
Spider-Man’s pretty much the poster boy for the New York City superhero, because when take him out of Manhattan — say, Des Moines, Iowa — there just aren’t any skyscrapers for him to swing from. He’s also the last hero you’d ask to go time-traveling into the distant, mythological past.
Nope, Doctor Strange, no sir, uh-uh: He ain’t going into the past, no how, no way. Of course, faster than you can say “doodly-doodly-doodly,” he goes into the past, via Superman’s usual route of giant prop year numbers.
In the deep Robert E. Howardian past of 100,000 BC (Tuesday), Spidey finds himself leaping, Deadman-style, from body to body, hoping to put right what once went wrong, such as our having to see him swinging off draperies in a tiny leopard-skin loincloth.
There’s old-fashioned barbarian-style battles galore, but the main reason Spider-Man was sent back in time was to ensure the creation of a mystic elixir, which he hops into Kull’s body to ensure that it gets drunk. Drunken? Drinked? Whatever word it is, the climax of the story is Spider-Man drinking out of an Atlantean-era pimp cup. Uncle Ben Parker on his best days would have never predicted that one.
And that, folks, is the true origin of Mountain Dew Extreme.
6. “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one”: Spider-Man and Killraven
For Pete’s sake, Pete, what is with you and Marvel Team-Up and the time traveling?
This time Spidey’s not going to the long-ago past but to the not-too-distant future to team up with Killraven, star of the “War of the Worlds” feature over in Marvel’s Amazing Adventures, battling the Martian tripods of H. G. Wells after they returned to earth in 2001. Remember when that happened? But now he’s in 2019, era of the metal-hair-band warrior!
Battle successfully won, Spider-Man bids farewell to Killraven and heads back to his own time, and no one will ever remember this meeting or this story, ever again.
Except Brian Michael Bendis, whose memory is better than an elephant on ginkgo biloba.
7. Doomsday: Spider-Man and Doctor Doom
Spider-Man didn’t only team up with heroes, of course. But no one was more surprised than Spidey when his agent told him he’d booked the Latverian Legend, Doctor Victor von Doom, to co-star in MTU #43.
“What, was Norman Osborn too busy?” Spider-Man asked his agent.
Doctor Doom’s grudging admiration of Spider-Man’s heroism overcame his initial loathing of the man he called “that accursed arachnid,” and from that point on every year at Christmastime Peter Parker gets a lovely fruit basket from Doom. Still, all the pears have time bombs in them.
8. Duck season! Spider season!: Spider-Man and Howard the Duck
It’s the story that is set up by the entirely believable premise of a super-villain taking a taxi from Cleveland to New York. And that taxi is driven by an extra-dimensional, talking, cigar-smoking, movie-franchise-killing duck.
Also known as “the one where Spider-Man teams up with naked Howard the Duck.”
Comic book collectors and completists know this issue best, however, as the first comic in which Spider-Man invokes Godwin’s Law: the longer a Spider-Man series goes on, the more probable it will invoke Hitler.
9. Holding out for a hero: Spider-Man and Hercules
There are tales of the Roman gods that have evolved from mere stories into myths of pure legend, and many of them involve the mighty Hercules, he who slayed the Nemean Lion, captured the Cretan Bull, and cleaned the Augean stables in a single day without using a Swiffer. And yes, the bards still tell the tale of the day that Spider-Man and Hercules were caught in New York City during a massive earthquake.
And if you think that Herc shoveled a lot of bull before, get a load of this: a supervillain who is … heh, heh, heh … towing Manhattan Island out to sea … ha ha ha ha!
After he’s defeated by Hercules and Spider-Man, Herc tows Manhattan … hee hee hee hee … back into place … ha ha ha ha ha! … with a big-ass chain … heh heh heh!! … BACKWARDS … BWAH-HA-HA-HA!
HA HA HA HA HA HA HE’S PUTTING THE BATTERY WHERE THE BRONX USED TO GO BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA
AND EVEN THE EDITOR OF THE COMIC BOOK THINKS IT’S RIDICULOUS BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA
Heh heh heh heh let me just catch my breath here. Heh heh heh. Okay. To be fair to the story, this might just be another one of Herc’s ridiculously exaggerated tales best told over a barrel of ale, like the one Jarvis the butler called him out on:
And to be fair to Hercules, he did hold Manhattan together using chains during World War Hulk.
I could have sworn I’d once read a further retcon in the series Incredible Hercules about Herc towing Manhattan (backwards! hee hee) — but I couldn’t find it. Still, these couple of panels from that excellent series best explains exactly how big a shaker of salt you should take with one of Herc’s tall tales:
10. “Face it, tiger: you hit the Cimmerian jackpot!”: Spider-Man and Red Sonja
You might expect a story teaming 20th century Spider-Man and Hyborian Age Red Sonja would involve, yet again, time travel. Nope! Yes, it’s a Spider-Man story that remembers how alien the concept of going back and forth in time is to the Spider-Man mythos and instead focuses on a concept well rooted in the real world of Marvel Earth’s ground-level, everyday New York City: a magic sword. Which gets picked up by Peter Parker’s girlfriend Mary Jane Watson.
Faster than you can say “BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!” M.J. is transformed into R.S. in one of my adolescence’s favorite comic book full pages of all time.
Oddball as the team-up may be, it’s a clever story with gorgeous art from the days when the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team were turning out some truly great comic books, and it ends with a lovely panel of Peter and a symbolic Sonja in the clouds, as Pete hypothesizes that the evil necklace that caused the whole wacky adventure will probably never be found again.
Which it isn’t until Chris Claremont uses it again five years later in Uncanny X-Men #188-191. Truly, there are no subplots buried so deep in the Marvel Universe that they can’t be swallowed by a fish and brought up to the surface again.
11. “I always feel like somebody’s watching me”: Spider-Man and the Watcher
One of the oddest — and one of my favorite — issues of Marvel Team-Up pairs Spider-Man with that cosmic peeper, Uatu the Watcher. Together they go swinging across the city and punching bad guys in the jaw and…no, I tell a lie. Spider-Man swings and punches. The Watcher…watches.
It’s Christmas Eve, and without saying a word, the Watcher has instructed Spider-Man to find the granddaughter of one of Aunt May’s friends. Spider-Man does, with exertion and difficulty, exactly that, only to find he’s almost too late.
The Watcher acts, healing the girl just enough for Spidey to get her to a hospital. What’s the matter, Uatu, that you couldn’t heal her all the way? Break your vow of interference a little bit more, huh? Didn’t she have the right HMO?
Of course she survives — it’s a Spider-Man story…wait, cross that out, forget that part. Of course she survives — it’s a Christmas story. Peter’s adventure ends without him ever quite realizing what has happened and who the big bald guy in the toga was, and why he called Peter to help.
In an epilogue, the Watcher orates that each year on Christmas, he does meddle — just a teensy bit — in the affairs of man, to better understand and relate to them after his millennia of just staring at them. Say, that’s a nice Christmas present for everyone, isn’t it?
And maybe some day we’ll find out why the Watcher was at Black Panther and Storm’s wedding. Maybe just for the canapés.
12. Live from New York…: Spider-Man and Saturday Night Live’s Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players
If I were ever to write a revival of Marvel Team-Up, my first order of business would be to make it more like another great pop culture phenomenon of the 1970s: The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries! Not that Spidey should be fighting ghouls who turn out to be the old caretaker in a rubber mask, but that in each episode he should team up with a comic book version of a popular celebrity of the day. Scooby teamed with 1970s stars like Sandy Duncan, Phyllis Diller, and Don Knotts. I’d have Spidey star in the New Marvel Team-Up with Taylor Swift! Jay-Z! Daniel Day-Lewis! Jack Black! Miley Cyrus! Eh, maybe not that last one. I’ve always wanted to see Spider-Man team up with popular celebrities of the day just like he did in MTU #74, where he met the stars of NBC’s Saturday Night Live!
It’s 1978, so we’re talking the original crew of SNL comedians (minus Chevy Chase, who left after the first season). Clockwise from upper left in decent if not perfect caricatures: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, and Garrett Morris. Give yourself extra ’70s points if you could name them all!=
Belushi’s been accidentally sent a mysterious ring that was intended for villain the Silver Samurai, so goons have been dispatched, in the way that goons are, to 30 Rock’s famous studio 8H to retrieve it. Say, who’s the host of this week’s edition of SNL? None other than Stan Lee! (Special musical guest: Rick Jones!)
The bad guys kidnap the stars throughout the live show. Luckily Peter Parker is in the audience, ready to slip away from his date with Mary Jane, to save them!
And this is where the fun really starts…the SNL crew starts fighting back against the Samurai’s minions! Since the cast had superhero costumes ready for comedy sketches with Stan, they’ll try to scare off the bad guys by dressing up as the real heroes! Which gives us the wonderful, never to be forgotten sight of the great Garrett Morris as Thor. (“Hey, ain’t Thor Swedish?” one of the baddies asks.)
If you remember your SNL from this period you also remember the running sketch “Samurai Chef/Baker/Delicatessen/Dry Cleaner/Stockbroker/etc.” Which, natch, leads to a katana showdown between the Silver Samurai and the late great John Belushi. We have never had enough American comedy legends battle Marvel supervillains, in my opinion.
Marvel later teamed up the Avengers with David Letterman and Spider-Man with Jay Leno, but since then we’ve had no future collaborations between NBC and Marvel. Let’s hope that Daredevil and Law and Order will be crossing over soon. Or, Dazzler on The Voice! Or, Squirrel Girl on Parks and Rec! Or…well, I could go on for days with this idea.
13. Shoot the moon: Spider-Man and Captain America
Hmm, what should I pick for the weirdest and most off-beat issue of Marvel Team Up? Maybe it’s that story where Galactus was thwarted from eating Earth by Aunt May becoming his herald and Franklin Richards offering him Hostess snack cakes.
But that one doesn’t star Spider-Man! I know…I should choose a team-up between Captain America and Spidey. Maybe the one where they were on the cover together…in a photograph!
No, no, what we really need here is that time when President Ford ordered Spider-Man and Captain America to fly into outer space, shot out of enormous rubber-band guns, to break cosmic spider-webs trapping the Earth!
Which only goes to prove: Spider-Man will team up with anyone, anytime, to do anything.