There was once a time when I was familiar with whomever would team up with Spidey. Not so much anymore. This issue, for instance, with the Future Foundation. I read two or three of those FF issues from a couple of years ago because Spidey was featured in them but soon gave it up as a bad lot. So my knowledge of the Future Foundation is slight. About the same level of knowledge as the Superior Spider-Man’s.
But the story doesn’t open with either Spider-Man or the Future Foundation. Instead it opens with the Time Variance Authority. The TVA is an extra-chronal organization that monitors and cleans up various disparate timelines. They first appeared in Walt Simonson’s Thor #372, October 1986, with their next appearance in Walt Simonson’s Fantastic Four #338, March 1990. Then other people got ahold of them and they started showing up all over the place. Here, a bell goes off at the TVA’s bureaucratic offices. A faceless employee reports an infraction to Mr. Oborus (who is, as far as I can tell, a new character) who checks the report and is distressed to learn that the origin point is the Baxter Building.
The Superior Spider-Man is summoned to the Baxter Building by the replacement FF, a group put together to cover for the Fantastic Four who “left to parts unknown.” These four are She-Hulk, Medusa, Scott Lang (who I was pretty sure was dead), and someone called Miss Thing, a woman in a Thing exoskeleton. Spidey-Ock checks out the four and finds Medusa “acceptable” but not the others. Of Miss Thing, he thinks, “I have no idea who this is.” You and me both, Otto. You and me both. The FF tell him that they’ve received a distress call from the Microverse. Spidey-Ock, as arrogant as ever, says, “You were right to call, as you obviously need me. I’ll lead this mission into the Micro-Verse.” But that’s not why he has been summoned. They don’t need him to join the mission. “We need you to babysit.” What follows is a great full-page illustration of a very displeased SpOck surrounded by the Future Foundation having pillow fights and who knows what else all around him.
Now, the next page is the recap page and it gives us a list of the Future Foundation members but it doesn’t help all that much. I recognize Alex Power from Power Pack, Leech and Artie Maddocks from X-Men and X-Factor books, and Dragon Man from all sorts of places but I only have a vague recollection of the others from my short time with FF. Otto helps out a bit by thinking of “Richards’ collection of little brats, supposedly a group of forward-thinking geniuses trying to create a better future.” Some are Moloids from Subterrania, some are fish-creatures of some sort. Artie and Leech play “Spider-Men!” complete with a spray can that shoots webbing. All of this drives Otto nuts. “God, I hate children,” he thinks but tells an erudite Dragon Man (wearing pince-nez and reading the newspaper), “I love children.” He tries to palm the job off on Dragon Man who refuses, saying, “Sadly, my pacifist nature precludes me from babysitting.” A great line.
Spidey then looks in on Bentley-23. “I ‘ve checked in with the yellow Gollum creatures, the fish kids, the arrogant girl, the smug boy, and the purple and green bumpy children,” he says, “What are you working on, Clone?” (Now, I don’t know anything about Bentley-23 either but I do know that the Wizard’s name is Bentley Wittman and SpOck calling 23 a clone seems to explain that.) The snide Bentley tells Spidey, “When I subjugate this world under my rule, you’ll find your neck beneath my heel!” which makes Otto think “I might actually like this one.” He checks Bentley’s blueprints and learns that he is making a “chronal engine.”
The other kids ask Spidey to join them but first he has business in the Baxter Building vault; the main reason he agreed to take the babysitting gig. Before he can enter, Death’s Head (another character of which I know nothing but we do learn here that he is a robot) appears and confronts him. Then the TVA agents appear and attack the children. In spite of his disdain for kids, Otto realizes “the thought of them in danger, it’s unbearable.” Reed Richards’ automatic defenses fight back against the intruders. Then Mr. Oborus arrives and announces that “the Future Foundation must be eliminated.” Being from the future, Oborus knows that the Spidey in this time period is Octavius. SpOck seals Oborus’ mouth with webbing before he can reveal anything. That aggressive act sets off the battle once again. When Death’s Head attacks, Spidey knocks his head off. The TVA pulls Death’s Head from “an earlier point in the timestream.” When this version of Death’s Head arrives and sees his head on the ground, he asks, “Why am I dead?” Spidey kicks him out of a window.
The others convince Spidey to talk things out. The TVA tells him that “In two days, a device created by the Future Foundation will rip a hole in space-time” and that the person who created it does this on purpose. Bentley-23 protests his innocence but quickly fesses up by saying “Come on! It will be glorious!” Confronted, Bentley promises to not build the device but this is not sufficient. According to one of the TVA drones, “This timeline is still going to be destroyed.” Realizing “this Bentley is a super villain in the making. A young me, so to speak,” Otto knows how to deal with him. He tells Bentley to destroy the plans or else…and he whispers the rest. (My eyes are not good enough to tell if the tiny print of Otto’s whisper is actual dialogue. If it is, I’d love to know what he says. Can anyone read it?) Whatever he whispers, it is enough to get Bentley to promise. With that, the TVA drone declares that “the event has been eliminated.” The TVA departs but Oborus tells SpOck they will be watching him.
When the FF return, Spidey tells them he “saved the universe from these children, who you were meant to be watching.” He announces that he is out of the babysitting business and leaves. Meanwhile, the Death’s Head who fell out of the window emerges from the sidewalk rubble. And back at TVA headquarters, the faceless drone reads the file on SpOck and says, “Oh Lord, why…why don’t we stop it? We could stop all this from happening, all the lives…” Oborus tells him, “We can’t. The threat I made to him. I can’t back it up. It’s out of our jurisdiction. The pain he’ll soon cause, the lives that will be destroyed. What happens will be horrible, have no doubt about it. But it’s not about time. It’s about something far more sinister.” And what of that Baxter Building vault? It is open and something is missing, while back at Dr. Octopus’ underwater lab Spidey approaches a transparent tube that looks like it fit in the vault’s vacated space. It has a gritty, screaming head in it. “Welcome home, Sandman,” he says.
You’ve got to love all the loose ends left lying around here. Death’s Head in New York City. The Sandman stolen from the Baxter Building vault. The ominous hints that Spidey-Ock is going to bring about something terrible. And don’t forget the Jackal from last issue. All of this has to get you coming back for more. Chris Yost continues to have a wonderful grasp of the Otto-in-Peter character, again giving us Ock’s internal monologue as narration rather than resorting to things like “Ghost Peter,” the weak link in Superior Spider-Man. And it’s a nice plot twist that the ruthless Dr. Octopus side of Spider-Man was needed to convince Bentley to abandon his plans.
If you love time travel stories, as I do, this issue has a couple of nice wrinkles to it, primarily Death’s Head being brought from an earlier time to see his own dead body (“Why am I dead?”) and the TVA drone being able to see that Spidey’s threat to Bentley works because the future resets properly. It’s all so very imaginative and clever and witty that’s there nothing to complain about.
Well, I have one thing to complain about. The Future Foundation. Much as Chris tries, I don’t get a full sense of what all of these characters are all about. You can say, “if you want to know them then you need to read their comic,” but I should be able to enjoy an issue of Avenging without having to fill in the blanks with another book. And what is the deal with Scott Lang no longer being dead? Who thought that was a good idea?
This is Paco Medina’s best artwork on the series so far. My favorite page is #2 with the sun reflecting off the Baxter Building and Spidey’s new armored costume in panel #1 and a muscled She-Hulk looming over the crouched Spidey in panel #3. In fact, Spidey’s costume shines and glistens in different places depending on the position of the light source throughout the issue, which is very cool. There are also some nifty camera angles here; the high shot on page 11 panel 1 looking down on Spidey, Death’s Head and Oborus, the low angle shot on page 9 panel 3 as the TVA agents intrude on Dragon Man. But the fight scenes feel stagey and unreal. Even something like Spidey kicking Death’s Head out the window somehow lacks an impact, though the full-page pillow fight in the making has plenty of action.
My complaints are just quibbles that are not Chris’ fault but they are enough to earn him his worst Avenging rating from me so far. A measly four webs.