I love team-up books. I prefer team-ups with Spider-Man in them, but I’m not choosy. Marvel Team-Up, Spider-Man Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, Brave and the Bold, DC Comics Presents, they publish it, I read it. I’m so fond of the things that I’m much more forgiving of a team-up book than any other. A good story is always preferred, of course. Claremont and DeMatteis’ MTU runs, Steve Gerber on MTIO, Jim Starlin’s occasional DCP tales top my list. But give me a lousy story like Spidey and Hercules versus the City Stealers and I eat it up. Why is this? What is it about the whole team-up concept that entertains me? Well, I enjoy the characterization mix of the (usually) two headliners. The odder the teaming (Spidey and Frankenstein Monster, Batman and Brother Power), the better. If the stars are written as if they are two sides of the same character, I’m not interested. If one of them is used as a prop or a device, I’m not interested. So, proper characterization, seeing how two characters play off each other, is key. But beyond that, I don’t know why I like what I like, such as a different guest star in every issue (maybe I get bored easily) in either single-issue or continued stories. I realize this can result in some contrived continued tales but I’m willing to accept that. (The greatest of these mash-ups is Bill Mantlo’s MTU #41-46 in which Spidey teams with the Scarlet Witch, Vision, Dr. Doom, Moondragon, Killraven, and Deathlok; a bonanza of different and odd guest stars in one long continuous tale. It should be required reading for team-up authors.) I also like a next issue heads-up to tell me who the next guest star will be. Don’t ask me why but I get very annoyed when I don’t get it. So, fair or not, these sorts of things will play a hand in my reviews. But, let’s face it, after DC let the latest incarnation of Brave and the Bold quietly fade away as if they determined no one was reading it, I figured that was the end of team-up books for awhile, so getting a new one so soon, and one with Spider-Man to boot, makes me very favorably disposed to it. I’m not thrilled with the concept that “Avenging” will restrict its guest-stars to the Avengers but it’s a decent size pool from which to choose, I suppose, and if it ensures the book’s survival, then I can deal with it. Here’s hoping it ensures the book’s survival.
The announcement of the creative team for this series didn’t do much for me. I know Joe Madureira has a passionate fan base but his artwork seems too cartoony for Spider-Man. (It may work just fine with other series but, for the web-slinger, I’ve always preferred more Romita than Ramos.) Zeb Wells is a familiar name but I couldn’t place any of his previous work, which isn’t encouraging. He came on strong with issue #1, though, writing lively funny dialogue and creating a nice dynamic between Spidey and Red Hulk. I haven’t been reading much Hulk lately, but this is the first issue I can remember in which Red Hulk actually seemed to be Thunderbolt Ross. His military mind versus Spidey’s civilian mind was the issue’s highlight. Unfortunately, by the time we got to issue #3, everything had fallen apart, partly because two of my requirements were violated: Red Hulk was the guest star for an insufferable three issues and he was used as a doorstop in the last issue. I realize that Red Hulk’s ineffectiveness is part of the point but that doesn’t excuse it. So, now, issue #4. New guest star. New storyline. Let’s see how it goes.
While waiting for Spider-Man in Central Park, Hawkeye disrupts a kids’ archery expo by hitting the bulls-eye on each target before the contestants can shoot. Spidey arrives and tells him that Captain America wants them to go out on patrol, which Hawkeye thinks is unnecessary. (“We’re looking for people to help. It’s not that weird,” says Spidey. “I don’t know,” Hawkeye replies, “Seems kind of desperate.”) They find two men in snake costumes preparing to rob Landers Chemical Supply. Hawkeye shoots them both with electrical-charge arrows before Spidey can act, forcing them to wait until one recovers consciousness to get info from him. This leads them to a van being driven by another guy in a snake suit and again Hawkeye jumps the gun. Learning that the Serpent Society is planning a “snake gas attack at Grand Central Station,” the heroes take up position but while Spidey observes, Hawkeye cannot sit still and fires arrow after arrow at a “No Smoking” sign. When Spidey calls him on it, Hawkeye admits that he is so sensitive to the fact that he is a normal-powered man amongst super-powered teammates that he must constantly train to make sure that his archery is super-powered; in effect that he must never miss a shot. Just then, the villain Side-Winder shows up with a big gas gun and some of his snake-garbed henchmen attack the heroes. Hawkeye insists he can make the shot that will stop Side-Winder but Spidey breaks off to attack Side-Winder himself. After breaking away from the henchmen, Hawkeye takes a long, blind, impossible shot that lands at Side-Winder’s feet. Spidey knocks Side-Winder out and, knowing that, to Hawkeye, his very career is on the line, takes the arrow and plants it in Side-Winder. (Side-Winder is wearing some sort of armor so I don’t think we have to worry about Spidey ramming the arrow into Side-Winder’s flesh.) When Hawkeye arrives and sees his arrow sticking out of the target, he gloats. “I got ‘em! Ha! Nailed it! Sorry, pal. Too slow. Why are you an Avenger again? Now we know why Cap put us together. I guess he did know what he was doing, huh?” “Yeah,” Spidey replies, “I guess so…”
Hawkeye may not have actually “Nailed it,” but Zeb Wells sure did. This is exactly the kind of team-up story I’m looking for. Single issue, simple in plot but strong in characterization. The banter nicely contrasts Hawkeye’s arrogance with Spidey’s humility. But then Zeb gives us Hawkeye’s true face; the fear, doubts and “normal man” inferiority that drive him to perfection. It is logical and entirely in keeping with his character but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it presented this way before. It is also entirely in keeping with Spidey’s giving and supportive character to take the arrow and put it on target, something many other heroes would not do. As Hawkeye says, Cap knew what he was doing putting them together. Zeb Wells did too. This story uses Spidey and Hawkeye’s characters to perfection.
The artwork this time is by Greg Land, spelling Joe Madureira for an issue. Greg’s work is so beautiful and precise that it makes you want to stop and appreciate each panel. Unfortunately, it also has a static feel to it. Each panel feels like a pose, the action feels frozen in air, all sense of a continuous flow is lost. Still, it’s great to look at and I’d welcome Greg back any time.
I loved the last page with the “Next Issue” illustration of Spidey and Captain America but I could have done without the first page with the silly false origin of Hawkeye (“After attending a demonstration in radiology, orphan Clint Barton was shot by a radioactive arrow…”) compounded by the unnecessary “apology” from Zeb Wells explaining that “Wacker’s an idiot who doesn’t do a lot of research.” I have no doubt that Stephen Wacker is the furthest thing from an idiot but if he wants to play one in the comics, more power to him. Only it’s wearing a little thin and becoming less and less funny. This intro started me off in a sour mood. Fortunately, Zeb and Greg’s story overcame that but there’s no reason why it should have had to start with this disadvantage.
A one-issue gem with gorgeous artwork and a script that demonstrates a sure knowledge of how a team-up story works. Well done, Zeb and Greg! The only reason it’s not five webs is that, well, it’s not “Spider-Man No More” or “The Final Chapter.” But four and a half webs… I can do that.