Wednesday, January 14, 2015

WOLVERINE Vs. SPIDER-MAN - March 1995


Life’s End
Credits:  Erik Larsen (writer & penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Jade Moede (letters)

Part One - Fist Fight
Summary:  Spider-Man spots Wolverine on a rooftop and impulsively attacks him, believing him to be an impostor.  Eventually, Spider-Man realizes that he was wrong.  Wolverine explains to Spider-Man that he’s staking out a warehouse where a young mutant and her father are being held captive.  Spider-Man’s shocked to discover the warehouse is where he caught his uncle’s killer years earlier.  Spider-Man and Wolverine enter the warehouse and trigger a trap.

Part Two - Child’s Play
Summary:  The heroes dodge the automated defenses, then face armed criminals and the supervillains Whiplash, Bloodlust, and Critical Mass.  Spider-Man’s stunned when he realizes that Critical Mass is his fourth grade classmate Arnie Gunderson.  The villains order the captive mutant to use her powers against Spider-Man and Wolverine.  They’re knocked unconscious by her blast of light.

Part Three - Breaking Point
Summary:  Spider-Man and Wolverine recover from the blast and retaliate.  Spider-Man’s in for another shock when he discovers that one of Critical Mass’ armed goons is his dentist.  To force the heroes to surrender, one of the villains puts a gun to the young mutant’s head.  Her powers erupt and destroy the warehouse.  Later, Spider-Man questions if the entire ordeal was a dream when talking to MJ.  Elsewhere, Wolverine sees the girl and her father off at the airport, as they leave to start a new life.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The story is set pre-X-Men #1, when the X-Men are still believed dead.  That’s why Spider-Man thinks Wolverine is an impostor at the beginning.
  • Based on Wolverine’s dialogue on the final page, no one was hurt in the explosion because the girl teleported everyone away.
  • The mutant girl and her father are intended to be the original Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel, although they’re obviously not identified by name.  When writing the monthly Wolverine series, Larsen planned on reviving the girl as the new Marvel Girl, but Chris Claremont used the name for a character in Fantastic Four before Larsen had a chance to reintroduce her.
  • Whiplash, Bloodlust, and Critical Mass all debut in this serial.  Whiplash and Bloodlust soon reappear in Amazing Spider-Man as members of the Femme Fatales.  Another one of Critical Mass’ henchmen is a thinly veiled version of Erik Larsen’s Dragon character. Looking online, he's been dubbed "The Savage Fin."
  • Spider-Man’s dentist is dressed as Uncle Ben’s killer, as seen in Amazing Fantasy #15.  He claims that he owes Spider-Man for “what he did to my brother,” but no further information is given.

Creative Differences:  Erik Larsen complained in a Savage Dragon letter column about this serial being reprinted without his original credits, implying that it was an intentional slight on Marvel’s part.  The truth is, Marvel was bad about including credits in a few of the Marvel Comics Presents reprints, presumably because the credits were on the inside front cover in MCP and not written on the actual artwork.  Also, Larsen has said that Marvel’s lawyers claimed that Marvel owned the Dragon based on his cameo appearance here, overlooking that Dragon debuted years earlier in small-press B&W comics.

Production Notes:  This is a thirty-two page reprint of Marvel Comics Presents #48-50.  The reprint includes ads, but does have a cardstock cover and glossy paper at a $2.50 cover price.  Amazingly, nothing in the comic tells the reader it’s a reprint; however, the indicia is clearly recycled from the original Marvel Comics Presents issues.  A note at the bottom tells readers to write to Weapon X (the name of one of MCP’s longest-running serials) for subscription information.

Review:  It’s not hard to guess why this material was recycled by Marvel a few years after its initial release.  Not only does it feature work by an Image founder, but it’s also Spider-Man and Wolverine together in the same story.  They also fight for a few pages, which gives Marvel an excuse to name it Spider-Man VS. Wolverine, even though it’s hard to imagine that their three-page fight scene pleased any fan of hero vs. hero brawls.  Oddly enough, some of the more obvious MCP candidates for reprints remained untouched by Marvel in the ‘90s.  I’m specifically thinking of the Wolverine/Venom serial, featuring art by Sam Kieth, which didn’t earn a reprint special during the ‘90s.

This is one of Erik Larsen’s earliest writing jobs, which helps to explain why it’s so nuts.  For starters, this is Larsen from his “Name Withheld” era, which means he seems to have a chip on his shoulder regarding most professional comic writers.  Larsen starts the story with Spider-Man delivering an extensive monologue cataloging every coincidence that’s occurring in his life, a thinly-veiled jab at what Larsen perceived as lazy writing.  (Although all of the more recent examples cited by Spidey aren’t coincidences; Black Cat was dating Flash specifically to agitate Spider-Man, the Puma purchased the Bugle explicitly to repay a debt to Spider-Man, and Glory Grant was wooed by Eduardo Lobo in order to gain access to Daily Bugle files.)  Larsen then goes out of his way to write the most ridiculous coincidences he possibly can, making them increasingly absurd until it’s obvious he’s doing this as a joke.  In case anyone thinks this is too dumb, Larsen throws in a half-hearted “maybe this was all a dream…” conversation towards the end, although it’s unlikely to appease anyone who hates parody stories.  The overall tone of the story isn’t particularly jokey, and Larsen seemed serious about returning to these characters one day, so I’m not clear on what he thought he was doing.  Surely Larsen doesn’t want to establish that Peter’s dentist is his uncle’s murderer’s brother, but if the story is canon, that means all of the dumb coincidences “count” too.  

So, it’s not really a comedy story, but does it work as a simple superhero team-up story?  Yes and no.  On a very basic level, it’s entertaining.  Larsen was upfront at the time about not doing “boring” stories and giving the readers what he thought they wanted, which is relentless action.  Larsen crams a lot of action into the three brief chapters, and given that the eight-page format of MCP doesn’t lend itself to deep material, I can’t blame him for the choice.  Larsen’s art from this era can be polarizing, but I like his quirky Spider-Man and think his Wolverine doesn’t look so bad when Larsen is channeling Walt Simonson’s interpretation.  (On other pages, Wolverine looks very Liefeldian, and that ain't pretty.) Larsens art is certainly packed with energy, and I’ve always enjoyed Larsen’s panel layouts.  Every page grabs your attention, at the very least.  Not surprisingly, the weakest element of the serial is the story.  The parody elements make it impossible to take the plot seriously, and other elements, such as the girl developing vaguely defined powers whenever the story needs her to, are annoying.  Spider-Man also has a few lines of dialogue that are so random, such as spontaneously mentioning that his “friend” is a photographer to Wolverine during the fight, I have to wonder if some of the word balloons disappeared somewhere along the way.  Overall, it’s not nearly on the level of early Savage Dragon, and it’s certainly not much of an argument that Larsen can write anything better than the “hackwork” he was forced to pencil back in the day.  If you like simple team-up stories and have a high tolerance for shenanigans, though, you could do worse.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I picked up this one-shot when it came out and was mystified as to its origins. As you note, nothing within indicates that its a reprint (other than that indicia, which I didn't check). But it obviously was, due to Wolverine's costume and the references to old continuity.

At any rate, I liked it and I got some good chuckled out of all the weird coincidences. And, as I just opined over at Gentlemen of Leisure the other day, I tend to really like this era of Larsen's artwork.