Saturday, June 08, 2013

Review: Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine

This fairly nutty 2010 six-issue miniseries came out during the rather brief period during which Marvel seemed to be trying to establish something of an "Astonishing" line of books or, at the very least, to have the adjective's appearances in titles suggest a certain level of quality.

The word has a long history at Marvel, from the 1950s Astonishing comic to the Marvel Age Tales to Astonish, but it gained a new, more prestigious meaning in 2004, when Marvel launched a new X-Men book entitled Astonishing X-Men to house the stories of the Joss Whedon/John Cassaday creative team (The title was itself taken from the mid-90's, when one of the "Age of Apocalypse" X-teams used the moniker).

After Whedon, Astonishing X-Men became first a showcase title for continuity-lite stories by Warren Ellis and various A-List artists, but has since become just another X-Men ongoing, and had rather long ago relinquished its flagship status (I'm no X-expert, but Uncanny and All-New seem to be the X-Men A-titles at the moment, yes...?).

Nevertheless, in 2010, Marvel attached the adjective to this Jason Aaron-written, Adam Kubert-drawn miniseries teaming their two most popular characters (and, not long after, launched Rob Rodi and Mike Choi Astonishing Thor five-part miniseries, before seemingly retiring the adjective for use anywhere outside of one of the half-dozen X-team books).

Aaron's plot for his Spider-Man & Wolverine story is a tough one to describe without spoiling much of anything, as it features Aaron at his most excessive, with a Morrisonian technique of throwing big, huge, imaginative ideas at the reader and barely developing them before moving on. It also features Aaron working in what I've heard some refer to as a Silver Age-like method, where insane comic book things happen, often seemingly at random, and the characters, who are written as their modern-age "selves" rather than 1960s pastiches, essentially play straight-men to the plot.

The plot here is, in one way, a bunch of crazy, random things happening, so it' shard to discuss without simply pointing at scenes and sequences and saying, "And then this awesome thing happened! And then this awesome thing happened!"

Suffice it to say that Spider-Man and Wolverine, two characters who don't generally share a lot in common within the Marvel Universe save for their recent time on multiple Avengers line-ups together (a fact dictated by what they do share in the real world: Popularity), find themselves being literally knocked around time together, landing in the prehistoric past, one another's adolescent years and a post-apocalyptic future.
There's a scene set in the future where Doctor Doom has transformed himself into Doom, The Living Planet and is set to devour earth until Wolverine shoots him with a Phoenix Gun, which, like it sounds, is a gun that shoots the Phoenix Force in bullet-form (Wolvie approaching the planet packing that particular heat is revealed in a three-page fold-out splash).

And as big and crazy and cosmic as that sounds, it's only issue #2, not a climactic moment.
The villain of the piece is a drug-dealer named Czar who has gotten his hands on "time diamonds," with which he has studded his teeth and encrusted a baseball bat he calls his "timestick" (when he whacks Wolverine with it, for example, he literally knocks him into a different time period). He is aided and assisted by Big Murder, a dwarf. The pair are black dudes, and while Aaron depicts what, exactly, they use their fantastic powers for in his typically clever, witty, funny way, the portrayals veer so close to stereotype and parody (Big M, for example, functions as a sort of hip hop hypeman to Czar, and wears Flava Flav like accessories).

When a character refers to Czar as a "buck," it sure made me flinch—even if the context was "young buck" and the person saying it was an old man version of Czar himself from the future.
They are actually working at the behest of another villain, a familiar face that certainly makes sense within this context (and explains why Spider-Man and Wolvie are together in this), but he's also such a lazy, predictable stand-in for comic book writers that Aaron might as well have written himself into the story as the Big Bad; that, at least, would have been a more original twist.

It's not Logan's big brother Dog, who appears in this and, apparently, in issues of Wolverine and The X-Men that are the stands now, making this book a bit more relevant to readers of the ongoing X-Men saga, I suppose. Nor is it The Orb, one of my favorite of Marvel's oddball villains (I still have a very distinct memory of picking up a copy of Ghost Rider as a child from a drugstore rack and being fairly bewildered by the site of a guy on a motorcycle with a giant eyball for a head), although he's in this too.
It's a hell of a showcase for Kubert (inked here by first Mark Morales and Dexter Vines, and then by Mark Roslan), and the ideal sort of project for an artist of his talent and particular relationship with deadlines—a continuity-lite miniseries in which no other books depend on the narrative's timely completion, full of wildly different settings, characters, opportunities for designs and style-switching (In one section, for example, Wolverine finds himself in Spidey's teen years, during the brief period between the spider bite and the Uncle murder that he tried being a professional wrestler, while Spidey finds himself in Wolvie's teen years, which Kubert renders in the style of Origin).

It's not a perfect comic, and it's not all that astonishing a comic either, but a few uncomfortable bits aside, it easily was one of the most fun superhero comics I've read in a while (Probably since the last Jason Aaron-written Wolverine story I read, actually, and Aaron writes Spidey just as well as he does Wolvie).

But I can see while they called it Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine; Most Fun Spider-Man & Wolverine just doesn't sound quite as marketable.

Writer Matt Fraction had the Fantastic Four travel back in time "2.66 million years ago" in in the first issue of his rebooted Marvel NOW! Fantastic Four, where they were attacked by a dinosaur...despite the fact that dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago (and it wasn't just a typo, as it was repeated again the very next issue).

In the opening issue of this series, our heroes are marooned in the prehistoric past, where multiple species of homindis (The homosapien-looking "Small Folk," and the more bestial, ape-like "Kill Folk") live side by side with dinosaurs, some of which they've managed to domesticate. We can probably date this pretty closely to 65 million years, as Peter Parker sees the asteroid that wipes out the dinosaurs as it comes speeding out of the night sky.

So that's two Marvel comics I've read lately that has humans and dinosaurs co-existing; is the modern Marvel bullpen full of creationists, or is it just a function of the Earth-616 having a very different natural history than us, what with the Savage Land and that meteor that killed the dinosaurs off being encrusted with time diamonds...?


Andrei said...

It's just fun to have humans and dinosaurs interact, plus it's comics, so who cares if it follows history accurately? Let me rephrase that: who cares besides you?

Aki Alaraatikka said...

I read the comic that contains Orbs first appearance, a few years ago. Just wanted you to know.

Also, I`m so gonna read this.

Vanja said...

Due to a romantic subplot involving Spider-man, this story actually benefits from Marvel's decision to break up Peter and Mary Jane's marriage...

Akcoll99 said...


I care, because it makes an otherwise smart writer look stupid. If you're going to have humans and dinosaurs interact, at least make it clear it's some weird pocket of dinosaurs that managed to survive to a later time period or something. You can have something be "COMICS!" and still have it be at least partially accurate...

Michael Hoskin said...

The Small Folk/Killer Folk are both characters from Kirby's Devil Dinosaur - just one reference to Devil Dinosaur in this series. Aaron was just referencing another comic book in this instance.

Eric Lee said...

I read this series recently and I gotta say that it is the most random comic I read in a while. It was a pretty great roller coaster ride until the last issue where the plot is wrapped up in a screeching halt. Weird...