I love team-up books. I’ll read any team-up book. (I mean it. I even read Scooby-Doo Team-Up.) And a team-up book with Spider-Man? It doesn’t get any better than that. Spider-Verse Team-Up is only a three-issue series, with two stories per issue, and the characters Spider-Man teams with are other Spider-Men but I’ll take it. Now… is it any good?
We don’t get off to the greatest of starts. The contents page says the first story features “Spider-Man, Old Man Spider-Man and Ben Reilly,” when it really features Spider-Ham, Old Man Spider-Man and Ben Reilly. Fortunately it’s easy to figure out that Spider-Ham is actually featured in this story.
Now, here is the set-up of Spider-Verse in case you haven’t been paying attention. It turns out that Spidey’s old foe Morlun has a whole family that consumes the energy from Spider-powered people. Known collectively as the Inheritors, they are traveling to all sorts of alternate Earths and feeding on the various Spider-Men. This story begins on Earth-94 where Spider-Man is battling the Vulture (a winged Adrian Toomes edition, first seen in Amazing Spider-Man #2, May 1963), only this Vulture has obsidian eyes and very sharp teeth. Spidey dishes out quips as if this is his regular foe, finally webbing up the Vulture’s head. He does, however, note the Vulture’s teeth. He is then slashed from behind by another Vulture (the Blackie Drago version from Amazing Spider-Man #48, May 1967) who tells him “He wanted sharp teeth because the Masters only feed on a spider’s essence.” “Their bodies are ours,” adds a third Vulture (the one from Spider-Man Noir #1, February 2009) who is standing on a rooftop, flinging knives at Spidey. Also flying in for the kill is the James Natale Vulture (first seen in Amazing Spider-Man #592, June 2009). “A flock of Vultures?” asks Spidey upon seeing them, “Worst new wave band name ever.” (Hah!)
The Natale Vulture takes Spidey down and prepares to feast on him but two other Spideys arrive to help out. One is Old Man Spider-Man (who originally hails from Spider-Man: Reign #1, February2007, though word on the street is that he's going to be a very different character) and the other is Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (from Marvel Tails #1, November 1983). “And it ain’t kosher to take a bite outta Spider-Ham,” he says as he kicks Blackie Drago in the jaw. Ham webs Blackie to a chimney but the original Vulture knocks Peter Porker off the roof. “For disrupting her hunt, Mistress Verna will make your agonies last for hours!” he says. Spider-Ham saves himself by sticking to the wall, while Old Man grabs Vultch and breaks his arm, horrifying Spidey. Natale and Vulture Noir pounce on Adrian and start to eat him. “Verna doesn’t feed ‘em much,” explains Old Man. As Ham tangles with the young version of the Vulture (from Amazing Spider-Man #387, March 1994), Old Man tells Spidey that these aren’t any Vultures he’s familiar with; that they are the “hunting dogs” to “Verna of the Inheritors.” “We need to get out of this dimension before she shows up, or it’s all over,” he adds. Spidey doesn’t buy it. “I don’t know how things are where you came from,” he tells Old Man, “but for me, things always work out.” “There’s no time for your life story, Ben Reilly,” says Old Man, revealing that this Spidey is from a dimension where Ben stayed the web-slinger while Peter Parker lost his powers and moved to the West Coast with Mary Jane (a la Sensational Spider-Man #0, January 1996 or thereabouts). “We need you,” Old Man tells Ben, “But we need you ready for war.” Ben doesn’t buy it, especially the part where one of the Spideys is a “cartoon pig.” “I’m supposed to believe [Ham] is down with the arm-snapping?” Ben asks. “Hey, where I come from, an anvil to the head is a flesh wound. You people are so fragile,” says Ham. The trio gets so involved in their conversation that they don’t notice that the other Vultures have stopped eating Adrian. Vulture Noir impales all three Spideys with his knives, paralyzing them. Somehow, however, Ben manages to move just enough to shoot his webbing. It strikes Natale, whose acid spit hits Vulture Noir in the face, burning him. Enraged, Noir stabs Natale. The Spideys regain movement and web the Vultures up. Ham asks Ben how he was able to move. “What, you never overcame impossible odds?” Ben replies.
The Spideys use the dimensional portal to return to the “safe zone” of Earth-13. Ham worries that Ben is too naïve to be a help in the upcoming fight but Old Man reminds him, “He overcame the paralysis when neither of us could, because of his optimism. There might be things he can do just because he doesn’t see losing as a possibility. He’ll rush into the lion’s den confident it’ll all be okay.” He reminds Ham that the other Ben Reillys on other Earths haven’t fared so well. “Anyway, we’re all dead men walking,” Old Man says, “At least he’ll die among friends.”
Like Ben Reilly here, I have a hard time dealing with a cartoon pig being in the “real world” but I’m getting used to it. Otherwise, I love the mish-mash of characters. It’s great to see all these Vultures together, including the young Adrian Toomes (but where is Clifton Shallot?). It brings back fun memories of Spider-reads of the past. I also love seeing Ben Reilly living out the fate of which he was deprived because some fans got grumpy about it all back in the 1990s. I was looking forward to a long run of Ben-as-Spidey issues back then before the whole thing was so shabbily derailed. Don’t get me started.
Christos Gage writes an entertaining script. I like his little jokes, the Flock of Seagulls bit, Ham’s kosher joke, and the “anvil to the head” comment. I like the emphasis on Ben’s optimism and how not-knowing-you’re-licked can often lead to not being licked. I’m also happy with the artwork here. I’m not familiar with Dave Williams' work but his art is clean and dramatic, very reminiscent of Ron Frenz. It’s like a big nostalgia fest, like a reward for those of us who have been in it for the long haul but this particular story really isn’t anything more than that. What happens here? Verna sends her hounds to grab Ben Reilly (and Morlun has a sister named Verna? Really? Wasn’t that the name of Laverne and Shirley’s landlady or something?) (Okay, I know that the landlady was really Edna. It’s just a little joke.) Ham and Old Man arrive and stop them. They return to Earth-13 with Ben. Yes, there’s the “he doesn’t see losing as a possibility” thing but I needed something more than that. So, just a little disappointment.
I love everything about this except the skimpiness of the plot. I hope the other stories in this series don’t follow this pattern. That skimpiness forces me to give this four, instead of five, webs.