Last issue was a gem; a pairing of Spider-Man and Hawkeye that used their contrasting personalities to near perfection. Now, Zeb Wells teams Spidey with Captain America, a very different, though still distinct, character mix. Leinil Francis Yu subs for Greg Land who subbed for Joe Madureira on the art.
At Avengers Mansion, Spidey, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine make fun of Captain America’s old comic book work from his pre-super soldier days when he was struggling cartoonist Steve Rogers: in this case, the super-hero doings of Sir Spangled, the Human Tank (a.k.a. Roger Stevens) who breaks up a counterfeit liberty bonds racket with the assistance of his dog Liberty Bonds in a story whose original art was recently unearthed by an antique dealer (who is putting them up for auction) and featured in the Daily Bugle. Everyone mocks the clunky obviousness of it until Cap enters. Shown the article, Cap declares, “I was a kid when I drew these and I think we’ll all agree it wasn’t my calling,” wads up the paper and throws it in the wastebasket. He tells the Avengers that they have a mission. However, once alone, Cap pulls the paper out and gets a bit of pleasure from it.
While heading to the Avengers’ miniquin jet, Spidey realizes that Cap’s super-hero comic book work makes him a nerd. “This is huge,” he says, “I’ve got something in common with Captain America.” Joined by Red Hulk, the group goes out to combat the Serpent Society. Spidey, all awash in that sympatico feeling he has with Cap, gushingly volunteers to accompany the shield-slinger as the Avengers break into groups. (“It’s almost embarrassing,” Hawkeye says of Spidey’s hero worship.) In their part of the mission, Spidey and Cap take out Copperhead but the web-slinger chats all the way through, asking Cap if he was beaten up a lot in High School and if he ever wishes he hadn’t received the super-soldier serum so that he could have been “a famous artist…[who] created a classic character.” “Well, if you ever wanted to spit-ball ideas I’m always here,” Spidey says, “I’ve read my share of Science Fiction and I always wanted to give it a shot. How about we meet in the kitchen tomorrow night and give it a try?” Cap seems less than enthusiastic.
With the others succeeding in capturing two other Serpent members (off-panel), the Avengers return to the mansion. There, later, Spidey shows Cap the framed Liberty Bonds page that he has bought at the auction. But Cap tells him “That page was drawn by a kid. A weak, sick kid who thought that was the only way he could help his country…make his mark. That was a future I was saved from. I don’t draw adventures, I’m a soldier. I have them,” adding, “Do you still play with your first Chemistry set?” Shame-faced, Spidey tells Cap he doesn’t but turns back while leaving the room to admit, “I do though, you know…I do pull my first Chemistry set out from time to time. Don’t know why I lied about that,” giving Cap pause for thought.
Spidey retires to his room where he has stuff from Aunt May’s house stored…including his Chem set. He carries it to the incinerator. But Cap intercepts him, saying, “Thought a lot about what you said…decided to do some doodling. See if I could create a super hero that wasn’t an insensitive idiot. Couldn’t crack it, though. I needed some help. But you weren’t in the kitchen to brainstorm like you said you’d be.” Leaving his Chem set unincinerated, Spidey joins Cap in the game room to work on creating a super-hero. “I have to say. This is coming back to me,” Cap says. “How do you know it ever left?” Spidey replies.
Last issue, Zeb presented us with a scenario in which only one of the two lead characters could learn from the experience. Hawkeye, for all his bravado, is too insecure to cope with failure and therefore can’t face it. When Spidey places the arrow into Sidewinder, he preserves Hawkeye’s ego but prevents any possible character growth. This feels like the right thing to do because Hawkeye seems incapable of character growth. But this issue Zeb goes one step further. Cap and Spidey are both capable of self-reflection and growth and they do both in this story. I’m not sure if Cap’s pre-war cartooning aspirations are actually part of his history but he certainly worked as a comic book artist for a time in the 1980s so this wrinkle doesn’t seemed false or forced. And once Zeb establishes Cap’s “nerd” credentials, he finds a connection between the Sentinel of Liberty and the web-slinger that no one (to my knowledge) has exploited before. Spidey’s starry-eyed response to this is great fun. Cap’s reluctance to identify with weak, inept Steve Rogers is just right and leads to character development all over the place as Spidey starts to feel that Cap’s refusal to embrace his nerdy past is an indictment of his own unbroken life of “nerdiness.” When Cap sees that he has wounded Spidey, he comes around, possibly just to please the web-spinner at first but ultimately (apparently) truly re-embracing his past. Spidey gets to confirm that he was right all along yet to also see how tenuous his own self-confidence is. Along the way, both characters grow and develop. Neither one is as self-assured as Hawkeye. Then again, both can withstand blows to their egos that Hawkeye could never withstand.
So Zeb nails the character mix again, perhaps even better than last time. He also gives us some nice humorous moments. The Spidey-Hawkeye relationship continues from last issue with banter (in fact, all of the Avengers’ banter is good), the visual of the sign “Spider-Man’s Personal HQ, Keep Out!” on Spidey’s door followed by a taped-on reply of “You are a giant dork! –Hawkeye”, and the off-panel Hawkeye remark of “Hey, who webbed up my laundry?” All of this works. (The laundry gag refers to Hawkeye wearing an old costume in this issue. When questioned about it, he explains, “Laundry day.” I can’t help but suspect that Leinil Yu, not being a regular Hawkeye penciler, accidentally put him in the wrong costume and Zeb ran with it. Note that the “webbing in the laundry” comment comes from off-panel, perhaps because Hawkeye was not supposed to be in the scene at all. I may be creating something out of whole cloth here but, if I’m right, it’s an inspired way to correct a mistake. As they used to say about winning a No-Prize: “Don’t tell us the mistake. Tell us why it isn’t a mistake after all.”)
Other things I like in this issue:
The thing I don’t like about this issue: the silly gags on the credits page. Enough of this, okay?
It’s still no “Spider-Man No More” but when I give four and a half stars to an issue and the next issue is even better, what else can I do but give it five webs?
Zeb Wells is on one hell of a roll. Too bad he’s not writing the next issue. Greg Rucka and Mark Waid are. They are no slouches but they’ve a tough act to follow. I wish them luck.