Graphic Novel Review: Avenging Spider-Man: My Friends Can Beat Up Your Friends

(Panini Books)

IN the 1970s and ‘80s, for all but nine of the 150 issues of its run*, Spider-Man found himself allied with various other superheroes in the popular Marvel Team-Up title, in increasingly contrived circumstances which even included an appearance on Saturday Night Live alongside the Not Ready For Prime Time Players…

Eventually the series was relaunched as Web of Spider-Man, with less reliance on guest stars, although the title had two subsequent revivals in 1995 and 2005. But what goes around, comes around, and the powers-that-be have obviously decided the time is right for a new Spidey team-up book, with the initial issues collected here featuring appearances from Red Hulk, Hawkeye and Captain America.

One of the strengths of the original MTU was seeing the predominantly solo webslinger joining forces with characters he might usually not work alongside, but with Spider-Man now a member of the Fantastic Four and two Avengers teams, this situation is no longer the case, and his reasons for meeting up with fellow heroes are no longer as contrived.

That means these stories are affectively Avengers-lite tales of the wallcrawler and his team-mates, and although there are suggestions of an ongoing plot involving the Serpent Society, they are largely self-contained narratives, which begs the question – does the world really need another Spider-Man comic book?

The opening five issues collected here are all very entertaining, and there are some stand-out character moments involving all three guest stars, but these tales would all have sit comfortably as random issues of Spidey’s own series, and don’t really justify the existence of yet another title for the already over-stretched Peter Parker.

Hopefully future issues will see the inclusion of more unconventional characters, the likes of which don’t often find themselves working with the streetwise Spider-Man, because otherwise the series is in danger of never really finding an identity of its own.

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But these are minor criticisms, and certainly shouldn’t put you off investigating Avenging Spider-Man if you’re hungry for more webspinning goodness, as the title does work very well as an entry point for new readers whose experience of Marvel’s universe might be limited to the recent movies.

Writer Zeb Wells handles these debut issues with aplomb, ably assisted by art from such stand-out talent as Joe Madureira, Greg Land and Leinil Yu, and it’s actually refreshing to enjoy some relatively continuity-free superhero stories in today’s era of world-shattering summer crossovers.

* The remaining issues featured the Hulk and the Human Torch, trivia fans!

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