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May 17

Spider-Man & The X-Men

Posted on Sunday, May 17, 2015 by Paul in x-axis

Once Marvel decided to kill off Wolverine, there were obvious knock-on effects for the other titles that he appeared in.  Of course, in most of those books, he basically stood in the background padding out the roster, so his disappearance wasn’t such a big deal.  For Wolverine and the X-Men, not so much.   That book was really about the X-Men’s students, not Wolverine – its name seems to reflect a conviction on Marvels part that the problem with books like Young X-Men was positioning them too explicitly as not proper X-Men titles – but still, he’s there in the title.

Throw in the fact that they only had six issues to pad out before Secret Wars – meaning that any sort of wider relaunch was going to be held off for a while to come – and you have a recipe for glaring filler.  And indeed, when solicitations appeared billing Spider-Man & The X-Men #1, you could pretty much hear the collective groan across the internet.

But this is pretty good.  It helps, to be sure, that we now know it’s a six-issue miniseries; promoting it as an ongoing may have helped sales but gave the ominous impression of an overly protracted tenuous team-up.  As a single short-run arc, it’s another matter entirely.

The premise is that, before dying, Wolverine discovered that one of his students was a mole working for an unidentified villain.  He’s placed the suspects in a re-formed version of the Special Class from Grant Morrison’s run, and left a message asking Spider-Man to help figure out who it is by mentoring the Class.  Why Spider-Man?  Erm… well, he’s a fresh pair of eyes, and who knows who else might be in on it.  But the book doesn’t spend too much time trying to justify that particular choice.  The basic tension is that even though nobody knows why Spider-Man is there, the members of the Special Class can see a mile off that they’ve been singled out for some reason, and the rest of the X-Men regard the whole set-up with the same understandable suspicion and bafflement that greeted the solicitations.

Sensibly, the book chooses to largely ignore the sprawling cast that occupies the school, and focus in tight on Spider-Man and the Special Class (with the role of suspicious regulars being mostly assigned to Ororo and Rachel).  That allows him to actually do something with the characters in the Class – Hellion, Rockslide, Glob Herman, No-Girl, Ernst, Shark Girl and Eye Boy.  Some of these guys have been in semi-regular use, others have been languishing in obscurity for a while – when was the last time somebody did an Ernst story?  At any rate, it’s a smart balance of characters from assorted incarnations of the X-books’ school titles.

It would be fair to say that the story isn’t actually that interested in the mystery of who the mole is.  But it takes until issue #4 for the series to strongly hint at who the mole is.  It’s a red herring, obviously, but it doesn’t take an enormous leap of imagination to get to the right conclusion once you know who’s being set up as the misdirection.  We never actually find out what evidence led Wolverine to think there was a mole in the first place or why he identified the Class members as suspects in the first place.  Most of them are at least potential future villains or manipulatable dimwits, but what on earth is Eye Boy doing there?

None of this really matters, because the mole plot is simply an excuse to get Spider-Man to the school, and an obstacle that can be placed in the path of him bonding with his students.  And the reason for the choice of characters is entirely to do with how they interact together, rather than whether there’s any particularly plausible reason for them to be suspects.  (Rockslide, for example, is there to provide a role model for Glob of another none-too-bright bro who’s already on the path to becoming a much better person.)

The actual story is really a series of encounters with completely unrelated villains, in the course of which Spider-Man and the Class overcome their mutual distrust to work as a team, and individual Class members get a chance to develop and grow towards being better, happier people.  All of which it pulls off well.  It’s a charmingly nice comic that leaves pretty much every member of its cast better defined and more entertaining than it found them.  Even Hellion and Rockslide, who don’t really change that much, are at least firmly re-stated in a way that’s useful given how they’ve been drifting of late.

Elliott Kalan is the head writer for The Daily Show.  He’s written a couple of one-off stories before, but this is the first time he’s done a full length arc.  Obviously, it’s no surprise to find that he can write a good one-liner, and he does.  With Spider-Man around, he’s got an excuse for non-stop wisecracking, but there’s good deadpan and character stuff in here too.  So, faced with Sauron and Stegron using a machine that turns people into dinosaurs, Spider-Man objects that such a machine could have incredible medical applications.  “With tech like that you could cure cancer!”  Sauron’s response: “But I don’t want to cure cancer.  I want to turn people into dinosaurs.”  Or there’s the Chameleon lamenting that it’s really difficult to impersonate Gambit because his accent is so unconvincing.   Or Spider-Man worrying about how his company is faring without him, followed by a one-panel cutaway to the Parker Industries staff delighted that they can finally get some bloody work done now that the crazy boss is on holiday.  Admittedly, the gag hit rate is a bit patchier when the jokes are visual rather than character-based.  For example, there’s clearly meant to be a running gag that we never actually see Ernst use her powers, only the aftermath.  But it doesn’t land.

But Kalan also turns out to be a strong character writer, and if anything the level of craziness is dramatically scaled back from the full-bore nonsense which Wolverine and the X-Men often offered (except in the Mojo issues, but hell, they’re Mojo issues).  The Class are well defined, their relationships make sense.  There’s even a genuinely sweet little cameo from the X-Babies where somebody has to break the news to Mini Wolverine that the original has died; the whole reaction is covered in about two panels but it works, without coming across as a grinding gear shift.

Artist Marco Failla is doing his first Marvel Universe work, though he did previously draw Marvel Italia’s obscure footnote X-Campus.  He’s good with the characters, and does sterling work in telling some stories which are unusually dense for modern Marvel.  In the course of these six issues, which do tell a single story, the book also ploughs through three sub-arcs – an initial fight with Stegron and Sauron, and another with Mojo and Chameleon, before getting to the main villain at the end.  There’s enough plot in here to keep most modern Marvel titles occupied for over a year, which means a lot of panels per page and not that much room for the art to show off.  But Failla isn’t trying to show off, he’s trying to serve the story and get the beats across, and he does that very effectively.  It’d be interesting to see how he’d approach a more typical modern script that gave him more room for manoeuvre, but he’s certainly very capable when it comes to a story like this.

Okay, some of the mystery plotting is a bit ropey, and the pairing of Mojo and the Chameleon borders on random.  But these bits are largely incidental to what the story is really about, and the parts that matter work.  Definitely worth checking out.


Bring on the comments

  1. kelvingreen says:

    Peter Parker is at least a qualified high school teacher, although given the nature of the soft reboot I’m not sure if Wolverine remembers that.

  2. Tim O'Neil says:

    I liked this series but the one bit of trouble I had with it was why everyone in the X-Men was so suspicious of Spider-Man. Yeah, his secret identity is no longer public knowledge . . . but every member of the X-Men has fought alongside Spider-Man dozens of times, had their lives saved by Spider-Man and vice-versa. That conflict seemed pretty much manufactured out of thin air. There are lots of characters who could conceivably still distrust Spider-Man but I don’t think it works for the X-Men, who have historically been very sympathetic about the whole “hated and misunderstood” thing.

  3. Suzene says:

    Agreed with Tim; that angle was way overblown. Plus I wasn’t all that keen on Spidey lecturing the X-Kids (some of whom have been under direct attack and seen their friends murdered by genocidal fanatics) on how they need to be more trusting and less isolationist. It just didn’t work with the X-Men’s history.

    That said, I really did enjoy this series. It wasn’t perfect, but it had a good heart and some genuinely funny moments. Plus, it was just nice to see some attention paid to students who aren’t Quire or the Bendis kids. I wound up shelf-reading the final issue instead of buying, though. Marvel decided to up the price by a buck for the last part of the story, and I’m not going to support that nonsense. They’re getting way too fond of slipping that $5 price tag on to non-event books.

  4. joseph says:

    Absolute pleasant surprise, this title. Hats off to Kalan. Unlike Latour’s take (which picked up on the wrong aspects of what made Aaron’s WatX work, ie the plots) this actually captures the zaniness and do something that makes you care about these characters.

  5. Paul says:

    I’d agree that the tension with the X-Men is exaggerated, but it’s not something that really affects my enjoyment. I suspect it’s a case of Kalan deciding that if you’re going to do a random and artificial team-up book, you might as well lean into the randomness of it instead of playing it down.

  6. Mulder says:

    I thought the mistrust was supposed to be based on the fact that Spider Man wasn’t a mutant.

    Also, while $5 for one comic is insane, the issue was double-sized, so it wasn’t actually a random price increase. I question whether upping the price on a third-tier title, I’m sure that Marvel had to rush a finale in time for Secret Wars.

  7. Tim O'Neil says:

    The whole bit about the X-Men refusing to trust anyone who isn’t a mutant is really a cliche that needs to die, because in practice it turns the characters into unsympathetic, blinkered morons.

    “Hey, let’s distrust CAPTAIN freakin’ AMERICA because he’s not a mutant.”

  8. Frodo-X says:

    I wound up dropping the book after Latour, but out of curiousity, who did wind up being the mole?

  9. Cory says:

    Gotta agree with Tim. More often than not the X-Men should be distrusting of other mutants than non-mutant super-heroes. Could be an interesting (if not controversial) commentary in there somewhere…

  10. Kenny says:

    I decided to check out this book on a whim because the premise intrigued me. I found it really fun and hilarious, and I wonder if there were ever plans to continue it after the “mole” plot ended. I also wonder if the series would have been as good if it took longer to get to that plot.

  11. Jamie says:

    “Faced with Sauron and Stegron using a machine that turns people into dinosaurs, Spider-Man objects that such a machine could have incredible medical applications. “With tech like that you could cure cancer!” Sauron’s response: “But I don’t want to cure cancer. I want to turn people into dinosaurs.””

    Okay, Paul. You’ve sold me.

  12. Suzene says:

    @Mulder – The last issue had some extra pages, but it wasn’t double-sized; I wouldn’t have been too bent about ponying up another buck if that had been the case.

    Where I am with value for money so far as Marvel comics go right now, the usual page count for a single issue is an anemic 21 – 22 pages that take about five minutes to get through. So when Marvel goes “Oh, hey, how about we give you an whole extra five pages (or whatever) of content for $5!” for books like this, or the Ant-Man and Star Wars launches, it’s actually more a turn-off than just letting things run as normal would be. One, it’s a notable price hike for additional content that probably won’t make a huge difference to my reading experience. And two, the more instances I see of $5 price tags popping up, the warier I get. The gradual creep from $3 to $4 as the usual price for single issues didn’t look so dissimilar. First it was justified by extra pages or back-up stories or it was just the price for event books or whathave, next thing you know, “holding the line at $2.99” is a selling point for your standard monthly.

  13. SteveJeffery says:

    Anyone who enjoyed this series should check out Elliot Kalan on his bad movie review podcast, The Flophouse.

    This week: Fifty Shades Of Grey.

  14. Chris says:

    I remember when $2.50 was the reason I stopped buying new comics. I was very careful about picking maybe one $1.25 comic a month. I was wary at a buck fifty. But when a special or mini was two fitty I never considered it.

    Then they all that got expensive.

    I reiterate. Screw you Marvel Comics and bleed.

  15. Nu-D. says:

    The thing about the inflationary period from $1 to $2 is that it roughly corresponded with a significant increase in the quality of the product–the transition from newsprint to gloss paper, and a concurrent leap in coloring technology. At the time it was hard to tell what was inflation, and what was increased cost for a premium product.

  16. Chris says:

    my allowance at the time did NOT increase in response to gloss paper.

    Also, considering that the X-Men comics were being shifted into Lobdell mode, The Crossing was going on and then Iron Man became a time traveling teenager… oh and Spider-Clone… I wouldn’t call it a “premium product” anyway.

  17. David says:

    I know for certain that those of you who just don’t get why Marvel mutants don’t trust non-mutant heroes and organizations are all straight, white people. You probably never will get it.

  18. Jamie says:

    “I know for certain that those of you who just don’t get why Marvel mutants don’t trust non-mutant heroes and organizations are all straight, white people. You probably never will get it.”

    Careful, David. Your victim card is showing.

  19. ChrisKafka says:

    I keep telling myself I won’t buy comics at $5 an issue, but here I am actually excited about Secret Wars.
    I realize they’re priming us to accept all books at $5 by starting out with just a few books, but I can’t stop myself.
    I told myself I wouldn’t support comics at $4 an issue, but I gave in, and was actually less excited by Marvel when I decided to accept $4.
    I’m a sucker.
    Eventually it’s going to catch up with me, that I can’t keepbuying books at that inflated a price.
    Comics are going to kill their physical market, just like magazines. $10 for a thin little magazine? No wonder hardly anyone buys them at stores!
    Comics just lasted longer due to our obsessive collector nature. Still, sales on monthly books have been dropping for years.

  20. Taibak says:

    Not only that, but sales for comics have been declining while sales for manga have stayed high. Where $10 gets me 44 pages of Spider-Man and $9 gets me 208 pages of Rurouni Kenshin… it’s not really a hard choice.

  21. Chris says:


    Take away the page count.

    15 years ago you get a complete story, or part 1 or 3, for about 1.75 say, give or take.

    Now $4 gets you 1/13 of a story?

    No effing way.

    I won’t ever do that.

  22. Thom H. says:

    $4/issue is part of what drove me away from both Marvel and DC. (Heavy-handed editorial influence and incessant crossovers are the other reasons).

    Luckily, Image was waiting with open arms to accept my $3 or $3.50/issue. Not only do I get books that feel meatier because of a regular page count (22 pages) or higher, but there are fewer ads and no editorial meddling.

    And with comics news/review sites, I can keep up with what’s going on at the Big 2 fairly easily without having to spend a dime. If I hear about something I want to own, I pick it up from the $1 bin 6 months later. That also scratches my collector’s itch and need to search for back issues.

    I’m not contributing to the sustainability of the industry, I realize, but it works for me. And I feel like Marvel and DC have brought this on themselves by driving away long-time collectors like myself.

  23. Thom H. says:

    P.S. Just been re-reading the Helfer/Baker run on The Shadow from DC recently. I can’t believe I used to pay $1.75 per issue for books that still take me half an hour to read. So worth it.

  24. Taibak says:

    Thom: But that’s just it – you have no obligation to contribute to the sustainability of the industry. If Marvel and DC make policies that drive away readers, that’s their choice. If that means bigger sales for Image, Dynamite, or whoever, great. If that means that sales plummet, then hopefully their corporate overlords will take the hint.

  25. Suzene says:

    @Taibak – More likely, Disney or WB just decide that the comics publishing branches aren’t sufficiently profitable and take a knife to them. :/

  26. Thom H. says:

    @Suzene: Yeah, I guess that’s why I was getting defensive about it above. I *want* superhero comics to continue being published (with some changes, obviously), but I know that if enough people did what I’m doing then the whole enterprise might go belly up.

    And the sad thing is that if Marvel and/or DC stop publishing comics, then direct market retailers stop making enough money to survive, which means that they take Image, Dynamite, IDW, Archie, etc., etc., with them. It’s such a precarious business right now — the dwindling audience/rising cost problem could be the death of it.

  27. Jamie says:

    The whining is strong with this crowd.

  28. Taibak says:

    The truly sad thing is that there’s no real need for the declining sales. Make it easy to buy comics as ebooks. Figure out what manga is doing right. Tell accessible, well-written stories. Keep the characters true to their concepts. Get books out on time.

    With Avengers setting box office records, Batman getting Oscar buzz, and Flash packing in the viewers, there’s no excuse for not being able to grow the readership.

  29. Taibak says:

    @Suzene: I actually don’t think that’s likely to happen. These properties are only valuable if they’re in the public eye. Disney seems to have learned that lesson after they let the Muppets languish for so long.

    @Thom: I think the direct market may be doomed, but I’d imagine that some of the publishers you’d mention would shift to a more bookstore-friendly model.

  30. Suzene says:

    @Taibak – I agree with the observation, but the movie division reaches a lot more eyeballs. So long as the movies and comics continue to feed into each other’s sales, I’m sure all will be well. If the comics really start sinking, though, I do wonder if they’d retain enough value as a straight-up IP farm to keep around.

    That’s a lot of Chicken Little talk for the moment, though. Marvel Comics just sold millions of $5 Star Wars and Secret Wars comics, so I doubt anyone’s boo-hooing over sales on their end atm.

  31. ChrisKafka says:

    Yeah, sales continue to decline, but there’s always going to be some demand for these books.
    There are other ways that Marvel and DC go around the falling overall sales, and why they can push up prices to hugely-inflated costs in order to make up the difference in lost readership.

    The fact that Marvel and DC are both owned by huge corporations which will continue to allow Marvel and DC to exist just to have these huge movie franchises in a big reason why Marvel and DC don’t need to worry.
    Sales might decline, but as long as Marvel and DC have books like Secret Wars or Batman which make a nice amount of profit for the companies, no one is going to really take a hard look at where the industry is at, compared to where it could be.

    Also, variant covers are the big deal now. There’s almost an early-’90s style market with the creation of rare variants.
    Collectors still rush to get these rarer variant editions, so they can turn around and make a big profit on EBay.
    Overall, fans are giving the message that it’s ok for comic books to outprice a large percentage of their base, because they’ll be ok in the long run.

  32. ChrisKafka says:

    I also wonder how many actual copies of Star Wars were sold at the stores, compared to how many copies the stores ordered?
    Because, I’m seeing plenty of copies of Star Wars #1 all over the place on the internet. The prices have been hugely upped for the collector’s market, but it doesn’t seem to be because of scarcity.
    Marvel published so many variant covers, and each store has to order a certain amount of copies to get the different variants. Some stores would need to order an insane amount of copies (far more than they could ever sell) just to get the rarest of variants, which can sell for well over $100, for just that one copy.

    The store I go to to buy comics has been really disappointed by sales on Secret Wars.

    I mean, this can’t be good for the direct market in the long run. If stores are ordering so many copies of these books because they’re supposed to be “hot” and then only selling a percentage of their total.
    It may be a million sales for Marvel Comics, but stores need to be selling what they buy in order to make a profit also.

  33. Brian says:

    All the talk about prices reminds me of why “Marvel Comics Unlimited” remains basically my favorite thing ever. for a bit under $80/year, I just get digital access to every book (including nearly the entire back catalog, stretching back to the 1960s and in some cases to the 1940s), provided that I’m willing to put up with a six-month release delay (which I consider sort of like trade-waiting). Each week on Monday, the app on my iPad has 20-30 new issues ready – although they just added the entire back catalog of Dark Horse’s STAR WARS line, 500+ books, over the last few weeks too – so I’m reading titles that I wouldn’t usually think to buy, were I putting out money individually (in stores or on ComiXology), but end up really enjoying and then having whole back issues runs to go back to in most cases. I stand by the thought that “priced-out” Marvel fans (especially fans of the old stuff, since they’re going on 20,000 back issues up on MCU) should at least look into the month’s-trial of the app/service…

    (Reviews like Paul’s give me suggestions of what to search out for in usually two months or so when the full run of a trade that he’s discussed comes out on MCU.)

  34. The original Matt says:

    I’m actually seriously considering the move to marvel unlimited. One question, are the comics accessible without an Internet connection? Can you download to read later, or is it like an online streaming service?

  35. Brian says:

    There’s a “My Library” section where (quoting directly off my iPad screen):

    “You can download up to 12 comics at a time to your device to read while not connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular network. Choose ‘Read Offline’ on any issue in your library to download it to this section.”

    So it’s a streaming service that does buffer downloads, but the cache in the app can hold up to 12 files at a time for use offline. should have more information.

  36. Chris says:

    I don’t regret dropping the $300 for the entire library of Dark Horse Stars Comics, including Marvel reprints.

  37. Jamie says:

    Torrents are awesome.

  38. Dave says:

    I gave Marvel Unlimited a trial mostly to get older X-books and was quite disappointed. New Mutants and X-Factor are largely missing, along with Uncanny Annuals. Hama’s Wolverine has a big chunk missing. Some of the limited series don’t even have an entry to show that the issues haven’t been uploaded yet.
    In the wider Marvel U, big chunks of Daredevil aren’t there, andd Spider-man has all of Amazing, but almost none of the secondary titles, which made up a huge part of the stories for 20+ years.

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