When discussing the major difference between the DC and Marvel Universes, you can look at the interactions of their teams as a prime example. The Justice League and Justice Society had frequent team-ups and Thanksgiving dinners at their various headquarters. The Titans and Infinity, Inc. each sent members up through the older teams. Conversely, the Avengers and X-Men rarely interact and only have a few members in common -- Wolverine and Beast being the most notable. Young superheroes are often too fractured to ever move past their teams. It’s a dynamic currently being explored in Avengers vs. X-Men, which feels like a war that’s been a long time coming.
Acting as a sequel of sorts to Dan Slott’s Spider-Man and the Human Torch, Christos Gage's X-Men and Spider-Man depicts a refreshingly positive interaction between two disparate Marvel elements. Peter Parker first met the X-Men in issue #9 of their title, which is also collected here at the end. I almost wish they had put this issue at the front, but then the reader would probably have been distracted by how bizarre Banshee looked in the 1960s.
Issue one of the mini-series picks up afterwards as J. Jonah Jameson decides to combine his hatred of Spider-Man with the rising anti-mutant sentiment by claiming that Spidey is a mutant. Meanwhile, proving that New York is too small for the sheer number of heroes in the Marvel Universe, the X-Men end up in the same coffeehouse as Peter, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, Gwen Stacy, and Mary Jane Watson. Beast and Iceman decide to have some fun by dancing with Pete and Harry’s dates, and the inevitable fight is broken up by the arrival of Kraven the Hunter and the Blob. In the standard team-up fight, DNA samples of the X-Men and Spider-Man are taken. It’s a fairly tame team-up issue . . . until the last page.
As it turns out, Kraven is working for Mister Sinister, and it’s here that Christos Gage starts working wonders with the characters he’s been given. The Marvel Universe is lousy with cloning and mad scientists, so it’s natural that Sinister picked up on the Jackal’s research. It’s a thread that drops out of sight and gets picked every few years when the topics of “Mister Sinister,” “Kraven” and “cloning” happen to coincide. This is a neat way of understanding the inner workings of a universe told in multiple titles simultaneously. When you consider that one six-issue Batman mini-series can take place over the course of a night, there’s lots of open time for heroes to be moving around in, and this is what they get up to: researching leads.
In issue two, a black-costumed Spider-Man encounters the X-Men during the “Mutant Massacre” storyline. Beaten to a pulp by Sinister’s Marauders, led by Sabretooth, the X-Men consist of Wolverine, Dazzler, Rogue, and a depowered Storm. What’s really cool about this issue is that Christos Gage did his research. If you look through the X-Men chronology, you can tell exactly when it took place. At one point around Uncanny X-Men #211, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Shadowcat were all taken out of combat, leaving the team we see here. The fight is brutal, with the X-Men in an utter rage over the massacre; there’s even a Wolverine/Sabretooth rematch.
Issue three sees the characters in the 1990s, with Jim Lee’s X-Men roster and costumes; these are the default for me thanks to the animated series. Spider-Man, however, is Ben Reilly, during his brief tenure in a unique Spider-Man costume. Gage uses a combination of the rosters of the previous two issues—Cyclops, Iceman and Archangel from the first, and Wolverine and Storm from the second. Quite a bit of the issue is about Spidey dodging questions about the Clone Saga; at the time, Ben believed himself to be the original Peter Parker. In his quest to create more and crazier henchmen, Mister Sinister decides enlist Carnage, driving the '90s theme home even further.
Issue four finds the modern-day, post-"Brand New Day" Spider-Man teaming up with the Astonishing X-Men. Mister Sinister’s plan culminates in the creation of a cloned being with the powers of Spider-Man and the X-Men . . . and the silliest name possible. Christos Gage went into naming this villain with the best of intentions, and ended up with “Xraven.” I understand the thought process: “X-Men” plus “Kraven.” But how do you pronounce that? Perhaps it’s supposed to be “Ex-Raven” like the common pronunciation of Professor X as “Ex-Zavier,” but to me, it sounds like “Shraven.” Perhaps an extra hyphen would have helped; “X-Raven” or “X-Kraven” would have served the same purpose.
Otherwise, Xraven is a competent enough villain, with a combination of Kraven’s outfit in Mister Sinister’s colors and with Sinister’s pale skin tone and coloration. After rebelling against Sinister and his manipulations, Xraven escapes for the world at large. I could see him returning as a member of a future Brotherhood of Evil Mutants incarnation, or perhaps a new team of Marauders. However, considering the weirdness of recent X-Men lineups, it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up on X-Force.
The art is provided by Mario Alberti, and it’s unique and memorable. It uses a faded-out coloring style, especially in the first issue. This can occasionally obscure the action, but Alberti’s characters and backgrounds are certainly solid enough to keep the story moving. You can see the coloring on the cover of the trade if you think it might affect the readability.
All things considered X-Men and Spider-Man isn’t an essential story by any means, but it’s certainly a fun one. In the crush of long-running events, characterization can sometimes slip by, and stories like this one, Spider-Man and the Human Torch, and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes give some room to look into the past and see how characters evolved. I really like that they included the 1960s issue; while it’s mostly there to justify the cost of $14.99 for a four-issue collection, it does provide a lot of context.