Patrick: We’ve gotten to understand the rhythms of Spider-Verse pretty well at this point. Meet some Spiders; have some fun with them; there’s some meta-commentary; maybe someone dies; repeat until you’re no longer having fun. Spider-Verse Team-Up 3 subverts that trend, turning thematic patterns on their head and insisting that Spider-Verse is more nuanced and interesting than it ever let on. But is what we sacrifice in fun worth the extra depth?
Too Many Spider-Men
Patrick: Okay, so what’s the point of Spider-Verse? If there’s some greater meaning to be gleaned from the Inheritor’s unquenchable thirst for Spider-blood, it seems like it’s fairly bleak. We’ve argued numerous times that the Inheritors are audience surrogates, ravenously devouring Spider stories, draining them of everything that makes them special and then heartlessly demanding more. That’s a pretty cynical perspective, and honestly, I don’t know how much I can back a comic that casts me as the villain (unless I’m fighting Aquaman, because fuck that guy). Too Many Spider-Men puts that concept back on its heels and allows one the Inheritors an opportunity to be hero, but only because the Spiders themselves offer up their own lifeforce to sustain him.
Okay, so that’s like, a ton of text and subtext firing at once, so let’s hash out the in-universe who-what-whys of this thing first. The line-up of the away-team here is dizzying: Spider-Girl, Spider-Punk, Spider-Man India, Ashley Barton (a.k.a., also Spider-Girl) and Spider-Man U.K. (a.k.a., Spider-U.K. of the Captain Britain Corps). If I don’t identify what Universe everyone is from — or what their real names are — you’ll have to forgive me; even the issue itself can’t land on a single naming convention as it introduces the characters. Some of them are introduced by hero-name first, civilian name second, some are reversed. I’m not saying the cast is unmanagable, but… well, let’s just say that the story is aptly named. This team descends on the home of Spider-Ma’am (a new contender for my favorite pun-name, with apologies to Spider-Ham), and stops Karn from claiming yet another totem.
We’ve seen issue after issue of Spider-fights, so it’s rewarding to see how our heroes — none of whom are Peter Parkers, by the way — manage to win the day through sheer force of compassion, understanding and sacrifice. Plus, their sacrifice enforces the idea that the relationship between the heroes and the villains is actually more symbiotic than parasitic. If we trace those metaphorical lines back up through our original interpretation of this event, it means that the readers aren’t just sucking Dan Slott and company dry.
Writer Christos Gage has always had such a steady hand on the themes expressed in Slott’s main series, and any time he tells a story within this universe, it’s consistent with those themes. Here, Gage may even be taking the central conceit one step further, celebrating the fan-base’s willingness to follow the creative team now matter what crazy chances they’re taking.
It’s also cute to see all the various Spiders express a little bit of their own personalities while trying to convince Karn to turn on his families. I almost can’t believe that they all even have distinct personalities, let alone that they’re all expressed in this 10-page story. My favorite little characterism is Spider-Punk offering his delightfully anti-authoritarian advice by referring to the rest of the Inheritors as “the power structure.” It’s so charmingly punk!
Spencer, did you have a favorite character moment from this story? No fair stealing mine.
Spencer: Patrick, at this point you know me well enough to know that you already used my favorite moment (no fair!). So, ignoring little bits like Spider-Punk beating Karn over the head with a guitar or the concept/design/very existence of Spider-Ma’am, I’d have to say my next favorite character moment is actually the following:
Those of us who read The Superior Spider-Man already know of Otto’s own issues with his father, making this a remarkably astute and well-observed moment, especially considering that Otto only appears on this one page; the thought Gage has put into each Spider in this story, even the bit players, is impressive.
Anyway, Patrick, I appreciate your exploration of the underlying themes behind the Inheritors, and I especially love the idea of Karn’s redemption representing a more symbiotic relationship between creators and consumers — after all, while rotten, entitled brats can feel like a vocal majority of comics readership at times, there are just as many fans who show their appreciation for creators at every turn, and it just takes a few peeks at the Twitter feeds of creators such as Gail Simone to see the overwhelming support they have from fans and their gratitude for it.
Karn’s appreciation for the beauty of the Multiverse ties right into this idea. If the Inheritors are greedy fans who gobble up all their media in one bite and instantly demand more, then at his best Karn is the kind of fan who takes his time and actively appreciates the stories he reads and the hard work that goes into them. I certainly don’t think every fan needs to put out the kind of effort we here at Retcon Punch do in this regard (though it would undoubtedly make the world a better place), but even just understanding a bit of the effort it takes to produce a comic (or any piece of media!) should move fans to have more appreciation for every new book they get.
Yeah, the more I think about it the more I like the idea of Karn representing appreciative fans and the kind of relationships they can develop with creators; it’s a strong theme that just makes an already fun, tight little story even more enjoyable.
Spencer: Our second story has a much more narrow focus: specifically, on Mayday Parker — Spider-Girl — and the grief she feels after the loss of her parents to the Inheritors. Mayday’s creators, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, reunite to tell the tale, zeroing in on the anger now fueling Mayday but leaving little room for anything else, including an actual team-up.
Mayday’s partner in this tale is Uncle Ben, the Spider-Man of Earth-3145. As seen in Amazing Spider-Man 13, this Ben hid himself away when his Peter died, allowing his world to be destroyed in a nuclear war in the process. His hesitance to fight is a direct contrast to Mayday’s reckless drive to go to Loomworld and rescue her brother, and despite DeFalco and Frenz attempting to inject a little action into the story via an attack by irradiated spiders, the bulk of the story is simply devoted to these two characters arguing about which one is right.
It gets old fast, especially since the story ends with their dispute still unresolved. Ben regains his will to fight over in ASM 13, meaning DeFalco and Frenz couldn’t have Ben learn anything in this story no matter how much they may have wanted him to. Mayday, meanwhile, remains in a frenzy throughout the entire story; her feelings are perfectly understandable, but it doesn’t make them any more enjoyable to read about. If we could reach some sort of resolution the angst might be worth it, but there is none — there’s barely a story at all. This is just ten pages of Mayday’s anger and grief, and sadly, there’s only one point where those emotions come into focus for me.
I love this image. Instead of directing her anger towards fighting/insulting Ben, we see Mayday getting to the root of her emotions and feeling real grief, rage and pain. Frenz nails Mayday’s pain in the first panel, and the cramped layout and small panels clearly shows the way Mayday’s grief is closing in on her and taking control of her life. I can feel what Mayday is feeling, and that’s thanks to an effective layout.
If the rest of the story packed that kind of emotion I would have enjoyed it much more, but Uncle Ben’s presence sort of sidetracks the whole thing. I know this is Spider-Verse Team-Up, but the actual “team-up” here is easily the weakest part of the story; if a story spotlighting Mayday’s grief was really necessary at all it probably would have been a better fit in almost any other title.
Thus far “Spider-Verse” has been my favorite event of the past few years, and Spider-Verse Team-Up has perhaps been my favorite part of that event. That’s why I’m so bummed to see the title go out on its weakest story, but I can’t deny that the Mayday/Ben team-up just doesn’t work for me. Then again, maybe the fact that they’re incompatible is the whole point. I dunno. Patrick, any thoughts?
Patrick: I was also struck by how little “team-up” there is in this second story. Bugged is a relentlessly crushing story about two people who cannot find the love or comfort in the second chance they’re presented. That’s an honest emotional core, but that doesn’t make it any more convenient or any less frustrating to read.
Ultimately, I think that’s why I do like this story. Spider-Verse largely occupies the genre-space of “fun comic book romp” — even as the Inheritors darken the tone of this thing considerably — but there’s something to be said for filling in the corners with material that doesn’t totally keep with the same breezy fun of the rest of the event. Not only are we embracing the Spider-Manses from all across comics, film, TV and video games, but this also means embracing just as many different Spider-Man creators. It’s a little dangerous, sure, but that’s almost in the same spirit as Grant Morrison’s take on Batman: every story that’s ever been written about a Spider has happened to one of these Spiders. That means that DeFalco and Frenz — who, Spencer points out, created Mayday in the first place — have to have an opportunity to express their character honestly in the moment she’s presented. If that means a frustrating conflict with no resolution, then that’s at least honest.
And even if the story isn’t totally in-step with the ol’ Spider-Verse feeling, I do think DeFalco and Frenz are just excited to let their creation do the things she can do. They make a point of showing her unique powers, and making Ben react to each one.
They’re making a case for their Spider-Girl; both physically and emotionally, she could lead this series, we just so happen to be locked in to the perspective that Peter Parker of Earth-616 (post-Otto-mind-switch-back) is our hero. It’s a sticky little reminder that any of these characters could be our protagonists, which may not be the most comfortable idea as Spiders are dying left and right.
My only real beef with this story is that it does feel like this is the second time we’re seeing Ben convinced that he should join the fight. I’m not totally clear on what the sequence of events is, so maybe this encounter with Mayday happened before Peter and Otto accosted him in ASM 13, and it softened him up before the 616ers delivered their final rhetorical blow. I’m just saying, one editor’s note here could make this whole thing make sense.
And I’ll round us out with one pithy observation / question. What color are Pavitir Prabhakar’s pants supposed to be? Blue or white? Within the issue, colorist Chris Sotomayor and Andrew Crossley can’t seem to agree.
This is a really petty complaint, but the series is just so heavily focused on clarity of design — it has to be with so many nearly-identical heroes running around — and I just wish editors Nick Lowe and Devin Lewis would have caught it.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?