A while back, I professed my love of diving in the discounted back issue boxes to search for undiscovered gems. Or as is probably more true: discovered, read, and then practically discarded gems. That’s right, folks; welcome back to another edition of…
IT CAME FROM THE DOLLAR BOX!!!
Today’s gem is one with deep personal value, only because it captures the time perfectly when I was just starting to dive heavily into one of my favorite superheroes: Spider-man. I was fortunate to start reading Spidey right near the tale end of the McFarlane issues into the Erik Larsen run. Dave Michelinie was writing the book throughout, and he did a masterful job with Amazing Spider-man. He had a freshly married Peter and MJ, the ever evolving terror that was Venom, and appearances from many of Spidey’s premiere rogues. And Styx and Stone. Regardless, those issues in the early 300s hold a special place in my heart. Of course, thanks to a cousin I also had a stack of Gerry Conway issues of Amazing from the mid 100s, and that’s not to mention Spectacular Spidey with Sal Buscema or the Web of Spidey book with Green Goblin and Molten Man as good guys—there was a lot to love about Spidey at that time. I love them all.
*Editor’s Note: Check out last week’s article where I got to review a new book by some of these very folks!
Somehow, though, during this time, Erik Larsen wrote a 3 part Spider-man story for Marvel Comics Presents that snuck past me. MCP was a cool book, but it was never a top priority for me. It would be quite a while for me to be able to get enough issues strung together to be able to read one of their entire stories. I remember picking up an Sam Keith Wolverine/Cyber storyline, not because I liked the characters, but because I loved the art. I don’t even know if i read the words. Otherwise, the anthology format wasn’t for me. 8 pages at a time for some stories that were 10-14 parters… no thanks. That Sam Keith story was much later than this one that appeared originally in Marvel Comics Presents issues 48-50. Issue 48 was published the same month as Amazing Spider-man 331, coincidentally which is very early in the Larsen run on the book. I wouldn’t find the story until I stumbled upon the 1995 reprint: Wolverine Versus Spider-man twenty some odd years later in the dollar bin.
Wolverine Versus Spider-man is written and drawn by Erik Larsen, with Josef Rubinstein on inks. The cover here caught my eye, for sure, but I was disappointed it did not include the original covers to MCP, which had additional fun Larsen art. I’m assuming the rest of the story portions are all contained in this single-issue sized volume.
I should note, Wolverine Versus Spider-man is not to be confused with Spider-man Versus Wolverine, where Ned Leeds was killed in Berlin while Spider-man pummels Wolverine’s head into a gravestone and then kills someone. That story was a lot darker than this one. Here, Larsen parodies all of the necessary coincidences and machinations that keep our favorite soap opera super heroes’ worlds turning. This one starts with two pages of Spider-man recapping his life, making it woefully evident that he had 3 (and soon to be four) monthly books going on at that time. He even throws some shade at the Ned Leeds Hobgoblin revelation, so the stories are tangentially related.
Spider-man swings past Wolverine, who’s supposed to be dead (remember that? The X-Men couldn’t be photographed and were all Outbacky and whatnot). The only possible way to handle someone in a Wolvie costume? Start a fight, obviously! This is a crossover team up story, after all.
This story is chock full of Larsen-y goodness, not larceny goodness; goodness, no. Bit players Whiplash (not the Iron Man one) and Feral knock off Bloodlust who would show up in future issues of Amazing Spider-man make their first appearances here.
Remember the Powerless issue, with the cover homage to the Captain Universe storyline? They were in that story.
Man, I loved those books. The whole Spider-man line at that time was just so much fun, and not afraid to take shots at themselves or others. Anyway, even the Savage Dragon (not really, but erase some gill-ears and the moustache and he’s there) makes an appearance as a goon.
At the end of the story, Spidey punches out a goon in a classic Ditko homage, only to exclaim, “That-that face! It’s…oh no..it can’t be! It’s my dentist! And he’s wearing the same type clothing as the guy who shot my Uncle Ben!”
It’s almost like Larsen was taking shots at the craziness of the Spidey universe just as he was starting his gig drawing the main book in the Spidey universe! That’s stones, dude. No Styx, though.
One thing that might not be as coincidental as some of the story tropes are several panels where the McFarlane influence is strong.
It almost reminded me of the first John Romita issues where he tried to stay within Steve Ditko’s style before branching off and making Spidey his own. Maybe it was an editorial transitional thing, or maybe it was the inker, or maybe Larsen was just still working out his Spider-man, but you can’t tell me this isn’t a Todd McFarlane Spidey here. Maybe it was a joke? I’m not faulting the guy. If you’re going to ape another artist, that was the guy to ape at the time, I guess, for a number of reasons, including that he was the most popular thing ever, and Larsen had to follow him on his most popular book.
So the rest of this story is pretty of its time. For me, feeling like an archeologist digging back into the wilds of 1990 Marvel, it was a delight. Also, for me, writing a review of this book, I have to admit that the story isn’t much. It’s fine for what it is. And at the end, there’s a nice little nod to C.C. Beck, the creator of Shazam who had recently passed away at the time this was written. I’m a huge fan of Erik Larsen, the artist. Erik Larsen, the writer, not as much. He reminds me of that friend who just doesn’t know where the line is and always finds himself tripping over it and wondering why everyone isn’t still laughing. I recognize that’s a personal taste thing, not intended to be biting criticism. His humor might be to your tastes. Here it was tempered slightly in a thin 90’s comics shell, but it did feel like it took the humor elements in the story just a little beyond the point of still being funny.
Final Grade: B. The writing is fun and very of its time, but there’s only so much depth you can fit into 8 pages at a go. The art is great, and also very of its time–in a good way. This was a tough grade. I feel like on objective quality, the grade should be lower. On subjective did I love it factors, this is off the charts. This was like hearing that lost track, like seeing an episode of your favorite show you haven’t seen before–only close to thirty years after it was originally produced. “Free as a Bird” will never be anyone’s favorite Beatles song, but it’s nice to have after all that time. That’s what we’ve got here. Would I recommend Wolverine Versus Spider-Man? Yeah. For me. Especially for a buck. If you don’t look back on thirty year old Spidey stories with a smile, your mileage may vary.
Until next time, I’m going to be checking the credits to old Marvel Comics Presents issues to see if there are any other gems lost to time in there!