SMTU #5 is $2.99 US, $4.05 CAN, with two 27-page stories. The first is a nice little Spidey/Gambit team-up written and pencilled by Darick Robertson and inked by Jerome K. Moore. The second (and more important) is a Spidey/Howard the Duck team-up written by Howard's creator Steve Gerber, drawn by James W. Fry & Chris Ivy, and crossing over with The Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1, a 37-pager written by Gerber, with art by Chris Marrinan and Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen, published by Image, and costing $3.95 US, $5.65 CAN. Cha cha cha.
|Writer:||Darick Robertson, Steve Gerber|
|Pencils:||Darick Robertson, James Fry|
|Inker:||Chris Ivy, Jerome Moore|
The law of averages finally catches up with SMTU. After a dorky X-Men team-up (Spider-Man Team-Up #1), a bland Silver Surfer team-up (Spider-Man Team-Up #2), an idiotic Fantastic Four team-up (Spider-Man Team-Up #3), and a just-plain-dumb Avengers team-up (Spider-Man Team-Up #4), we finally get something worth reading.
Not only that, it's the world's most subtle intercompany crossover, as the second story ties in with TSD/DD #1 with basically no fanfare whatsoever.
Before we get to the good stuff, let's hurry up past the lead story, meant to appeal to younger fans who don't know Howard the Duck from Donald Duck by giving us Spidey teaming up with an X-Man. It's exactly what a team-up story should be. Unsurprisingly, given the Cajun guest star, the city of New Orleans plays a role in the story, most of which takes place in a New York club called N'awlins, which re-creates that city's atmosphere in a warehouse-turned-nightclub (or tries to, anyhow -- having been to New Orleans, I can assure you that the warehouse hasn't been built that could contain it). There's also a flashback to Ben Reilly's wandering-around-looking-for-America period where he blew through New Orleans and encountered a corrupt cop named Creaux.
The plot involves Creaux showing up in New York City working for Tombstone, who -- like everyone else since the Kingpin's fall in Daredevil #300 -- is trying to set himself up as the city's main crime boss with the help of some voodoo dust that Creaux used on Ben Reilly waybackwhen.
Oddly, given the Bayou flavor of the plot, Gambit has comparatively little to do in the story. Mostly you wonder at the lengths he goes to to retain his look -- he wears that damn duster of his at the beginning of the story over a "Xavier Institute" sweatshirt and jeans, then changes into his costume, but puts the duster back on over it. (Some of us are just slaves to fashion, I guess.)
Robertson's story is pretty straightforward, the only puzzler being the appearance of the heretofore unknown sister of the deceased Jean DeWolff, Meredith (who, you'd think, would've been mentioned in the flashback at the beginning of the "Death of Jean DeWolff" story way back in Spectacular Spider-Man #107), and the art is quite nice. Robertson shines with a good inker (like Jeff Albrecht on Spider-Man: The Final Adventure) but is horrible with a bad one (the plethora of losers on Spider-Man: The Power of Terror); luckily, Moore is one of the good 'uns.
Okay, enough of that -- let's get to the good part.
Steve Gerber created Howard the Duck in the 1970s, and he was a cult favorite. Gerber had a major falling-out with Marvel over the direction of the character and, since Marvel owned the character, Marvel won. (Actually, there was a lawsuit involved, but it was settled, with Marvel owning the character lock, stock, and feathers.) Then the Howard the Duck movie came out, became the new definition of the term "bomb," and nobody cared who created it. Both Gerber and Marvel moved on.
However, in a market that seems to enjoy nostalgia (viz. Marvels, Untold Tales of Spider-Man, revived careers for the likes of Ghost Rider and Morbius, the recent Heroes and Legends special, etc.), it was inevitable that Howard the Duck would start attracting interest again. SMTU editor Tom Brevoort somehow convinced Gerber to come back to write the character he created -- which would only do on the condition that he could informally tie it in to the Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck crossover that he and Erik Larsen had been talking about doing. To his surprise, Brevoort said, "Sure fine!" (The irony here is that Destroyer Duck was created by Gerber and Jack Kirby for a comic book for which the proceeds went to paying for Gerber's lawsuit against Marvel regarding Howard the Duck. Does your head hurt yet?)
Enough background: what we have here are two nifty-keen comic books that make a semi-coherent whole, but which more or less stand on their own. The plot is next to irrelevant -- it's mostly a fun-fest. In SMTU, Gerber works in not only Howard and his girlfriend Beverly, but also the Kidney Lady from the old Howard comic and the homicidal elf from his run on The Defenders. Thrown in for good measure are the Ringmster, the Circus of Crime, Peter Parker working with the Ben Reilly Spider-Man, a mailing snafu that leads Spidey and Peter to Cleveland, and a big fight scene at the end.
The Dragon/Duck portion is a bit less fun, partly due to an opening segment that plays up everything that's wrong with The Savage Dragon -- Larsen seems to enjoy doing sick stuff for the sole purpose of doing sick stuff, just 'cause he's the publisher and he can. The result are characters with powers relating to bodily functions and -- as we get at the beginning of TSD/DD #1 -- a character with a huge festering pustule for a head, which is then punctured by a guy with a razor sharp nose, followed quickly by the latter character having his nose ripped off by the Dragon.
Once we're past the queasy stuff, we get the triumphant return of Destroyer Duck to the land of the living, a cameo by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the aforementioned mailing snafu, which also brings the Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck to Cleveland. The characters all come together in a warehouse on the corner of Floss and Regret, with Spider-Man and Howard carefully shaded by Chris Marrinan and Larsen in TSD/DD and the Savage Dragon and Destroyer just as carefully shaded in SMTU by James Fry and Chris Ivy.
The warehouse fight scene is exactly the same in both books -- except for two flipped panels and an expletive of "Crap!" in TSD/DD that the prudes at Marvel altered to "Rats!" in SMTU -- with one major exception. I won't give it away here, but suffice it to say that the three extra panels in TSD/DD manage to give creative control of Howard back to Gerber in a manner far more elegant and satisfying than any lawsuit.
I personally prefer Fry's artwork to Marrinan's -- though Fry's limited repertoire of faces means that Beverly looks annoyingly similar to Mary Jane Watson-Parker -- but the art in both books is very good, with refreshingly straightforward storytelling and a minimum of the gimmicky art at the expense of coherence that has so populated mainstream comics of late.
The Gambit tale was a nice, average two-hero team-up story, so it gets a nice, average three webs. The Marvel half of the crossover gets five webs; the Image half only gets four webs by dint of the unnecessarily disgusting opening sequence and the too-long climactic fight scene that comes after the crossover scene in the warehouse and drags the story on far longer than necessary. Pages 1-6, 19, 22, and 27-36 could've been cut (or at least cut down drastically) with no loss to the world. Still, these are two excellent comic books and are highly recommended.