Any series that spotlights the women opponents of Spider-Man really ought to include the Femme Fatales. The problem is their only Spidey appearance is in the first and last parts of the overly long and not-very- interesting "Powerless" storyline (in ASM #340, October 1990 and ASM #343, January 1991), which has already been well covered in seventeen seconds by Erik Engelhart anyway. What to do? Well, half of the Femmes appeared in a three-part Spider-Man/Wolverine story from Marvel Comics Presents #48-50 before ever joining the group. It only has half the creative team (Erik Larsen alone as opposed to Larson and David Michelinie in ASM) and it's only about half as good. But it's also a lot less than half the length.
So, here's what Erik is faced with. He is writing a Spider-Man story disguised as a Wolverine three-parter that may be read by various X-fans who are not necessarily familiar with the web-slinger. This means he must not only clue in the reader on all the latest happenings in the Spider-verse, he must also, just in case, explain who all the characters are. Rising to the challenge, Erik gives us one of the all-time great series of expository thought balloons that have ever emanated from Spider-Man's head as he webbed his way over the streets of New York. There are twelve in all and I'm going to give them to you verbatim so you too can have the pleasure of imagining Spidey actually thinking all these things as he travels along. Not to mention that they may be the best thing about the entire three-part story.
"My life's taken a very surreal turn of late" Spidey thinks, "These preposterous coincidences are getting out of hand. My former High School worst enemy turned best buddy Flash Thompson is dating my former foe turned partner/former love interest, The Black Cat A.K.A. Felicia Hardy. It's all part of some crazy revenge scheme of hers to get me away from my wife, Mary Jane. Also, my former foe turned semi-friend Thomas Fireheart A.K.A. The Puma, recently bought the paper I work for, The Daily Bugle from J. Jonah Jameson, my ongoing concern. Added to that my former neighbor and Jonah's former secretary, Glory Grant, accidentally killed her werewolf boyfriend trying to shoot me. Mary Jane used to date Flash and Harry Osborn. Flash and I both dated Harry's wife, Liz. Liz is related to the Molten Man, who recently returned. Harry's dad was the original Green Goblin, who killed my old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (who also dated Flash). Flash saw Betty Brant (another former girlfriend of mine and former secretary of Jonah's) while she was married to Ned Leeds who turned out to be the Hobgoblin. I still have trouble buying that one."
I don't know what I like better: the idea that Spidey thinks things like "A.K.A." and "partner-slash-former love interest" and parentheticals like "another former girlfriend of mine and former secretary of Jonah's" or Erik's editorializing on the ridiculousness of some of the previous storylines. Too bad Erik's effort here isn't any better. (But, don't worry Spidey! Ned Leeds wasn't the Hobgoblin after all!)
The web-slinger would probably just keep on this way through thought balloon after thought balloon except he spots Wolverine perched on the roof of a building looking over the ledge to the street below and he knows it can't really be Wolverine because Wolverine is dead... "It was on T.V. and everything". (Now I'm not an X-Men reader so I can't be certain but I vaguely recall that the X-Men faked their deaths around this time to protect themselves from Sentinels or Morlocks or Apocalypse or something. Feel free to write in to me with the details if you want but I have to warn you that I don't really care all that much.) Anyway, the thought of somebody dressing up in Wolverine's costume just tics the web-spinner off so much that he can't help himself: he has to attack. "Wolvie gave up his life saving the world, darn it! No two-bit punk's cashing in on his good name while I'm around", he thinks as he lets go of his web high above the rooftop, falls toward the roof, somehow twists himself around so he comes in punching (without taking half of the ledge off with the punch) and... misses his target. He looks to his left and there's the fellow in the Wolverine costume, lighting up a cigarette and casting a very cool shadow on the chimney behind. "What's all the hubbub, bub?" (I can just picture Erik chuckling to himself as he wrote that line.), he asks the startled Spider-Man.
(I don't have to say anything much about Wolverine here, do I? Mutant. Claws. Calls himself Logan. Played by Hugh Jackman in the movies. I hope that's enough because I didn't read Origin.)
Now, you would think that the costume, the speed in avoiding the attack, the smoking, and the "bub" talk would be enough to convince the Amazing Spider- Man. But, no. We need a super-hero fight here which is going to pretty much fill up the entire first installment so Spidey has to decide that Wolvie is "probably one of those evil twins, ghosts, clones, or sinister look-alikes I run into with increasing frequency" (and this is even before the whole furshlugginer Clone Saga!). So instead of asking a few questions, he barks out, "You're impersonating days are over!" and the slugfest is underway!
Spidey swings a hard right hand at his opponent but Wolverine ducks out of the way. The punch ends up shattering the chimney behind and the wall-crawler belatedly wonders if he "should cool it" seeing as "this guy may not have super- powers". Well, that's the least of his problems. Wolverine, lit cigarette in mouth, moves in and backhands Spidey with such force that the wall-crawler goes flying across the roof and crashes into the rooftop entrance, smashing the door down. So, as he crawls out of the wreckage of the door, does Spidey finally get it? Are you kidding? We've still got a couple pages to go. "He's good," he thinks of his opponent. "Maybe as good as Wolverine." Doy! Peter Parker: Genius.
Spidey gets to his feet and rushes Wolverine with such speed that he puts a left-handed thump right onto the mutant's jaw. Holding on to his lame little theory with the tenacity of a Flat Earth Society member, Spidey calls out as he punches, "In case you don't know it, bunky, Wolverine's dead. I don't think he'd take kindly to some pinhead pilfering his pajamas". Wolvie recovers from the blow immediately, pops his huge adamantium claws out of his knuckles right before Spidey's face, and then kicks the web-slinger in the solar plexus, sending him flying across the roof again. "Outfit's mine, bub" says Wolvie, "Always has been." Then as Spidey perches in front of that broken door once again, Wolverine gets into a very intimidating crouch with his claws flashing before him. "Still want me?" he asks Spidey, "Come to papa!"
So, now, finally, faced with the claws, Spidey decides to stop and think about this for a moment. He tells himself that his opponent is "about the right height, sounds about the same, has razor-sharp claws" just like the real Wolverine. He further reasons "people were convinced I was dead on more than one occasion". He forces himself to "stop" and "calm down" and "take it easy". He notices that his spider-sense isn't tingling. "Even if he is an imposter, he's not out to get me", he figures. And it is only after all of these mental gymnastics that Spidey decides to believe that this is the real Wolverine. When he tells Wolvie that he thought he was dead, Logan replies, "I hear that all the time".
Then, in a nice bit that lampoons such super-hero battles as the one to which he has just subjected us, Erik has Spidey raise his arms into the air and ask the powers above, "This is ridiculous! Why do I always attack first? What's wrong with me?" It would have been a nice joke if Spidey had just shut up right there but Eric has him blather on with, "This is getting to be a really stupid habit. Do I always have to make an idiot out of myself and pummel some unknowing do gooder without stopping to question him first? Geez, I'm impulsive" (Who's the editor here? Terry Kavanagh? Terry, do your job and get Erik to shut Spidey up.) He only stops when he notices that Wolverine is back at his post looking down at the street. He asks him what's up and Wolvie replies that a girl has been kidnapped and is being held in the warehouse below. Spidey looks down and is shocked to see that the warehouse in question is the same one in which the Burglar hid out after shooting Peter Parker's Uncle Ben. Is this going to come to anything? Of course not. That is, if you're looking for more than Spidey putting his hand to his head and indulging in some more thoughts about all the coincidences in his life... "My ex-roomate (sic) now landlord, Harry Osborn, taking up the Green Goblin guise after his father died I can believe. Harry's shrink taking up the role I can swallow. Aunt May almost marrying Doc Ock I can buy. Now this?"
Spidey settles himself down. "It's the same warehouse, big deal," he thinks. "Doesn't mean a thing. Nothing." (You got that right, Spidey!) While Spidey has doped this all out, Wolverine has removed his mask. He explains that the girl is the captive of "a group of evil mutants". He then gives the full explanation: "She's a potentially powerful mutant whose limitations haven't been determined. Bad guys want her. Kidnapped her father too. Hope to force her to do their bidding." Simple, no? And it never gets any more complicated than that, believe me.
Clenching his fist, the web-slinger declares that "We've got to stop them" and Wolvie echoes the sentiment. He puts his mask back on and orders Spidey to "Shut your yap. Don't do anything stupid. Follow my lead." Then, he leaps into space with Spider-Man web-slinging behind. They make it to the roof of the warehouse, whispering as they go, but they then bust right through the roof, sending all sorts of debris tumbling to the ground which must make some noise, you would think. Down on the floor, Wolverine is in the process of whispering to Spidey to "keep quiet" when a gun is leveled right at his face. And it's "continued next issue".
Not much to show for it so far. Erik is doing his best to make all sorts of amusing reflections on the stereotypical super-hero team-up story but he goes way overboard, losing most of the humor and turning it into an exposition-fest where nothing really happens. This entire first part could be compressed into a splash page. In the next issue, it is!
One web. Eric's erstwhile erudition is entirely empty.