Spider-Man vs. Wolverine (1987, February)
Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). So, somehow, I totally missed this before. I don’t know how I managed that. Well, I can still do it now. So, by Christopher Priest (writing, back then, as Jim Owsley, but I’ll refer to him by his present name), Mark Bright, Al Williamson, Petra Scotese and Bill Oakley, “High Tide.”
It starts with a flashback. Wolverine is remembering a time he and a friend, Charlie (short for Charlemagne), were on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, fighting Soviet operatives, who really, really wanted Charlie dead. Wolverine unleashed his berserker rage. Oddly, while this is supposed to have happened “a long time ago,” he’s still wearing a costume and has his claws. So it happened after the Hudson found him. Anyway, Charlie sneaked away while Wolverine was killing, but left behind a heart-shaped charm. That was the last Wolverine saw of Charlie.
Then we cut to Spider-Man. Since this is an X-Men blog, I’ll skip most of this, except to note that he spots an attractive, high-class woman, and finds a couple who owns a little mom-and-pop shop shot dead in a professional hit. After catching a movie with MJ, there’s a sniper attack. A little after, he kisses MJ, even though they’re officially not dating (even though they’re both pretty clearly in love with each other). He also declares he’s giving up being Spider-Man.
At the Bugle, Ned Leeds – who would soon be revealed as the Hobgoblin, and then later retconned into being framed as the Hobgoblin – tells JJJ that the dead mom-and-pop owners were KGB, as were the two pedestrians killed by the sniper. And at the scenes of the crimes, there’s been heart-shaped charms left behind. The mark of Charlemagne.
Wolverine’s in Berlin. He learned of Charlie’s murders, and took a leave of absence from the X-Men to investigate. Storm wasn’t happy about it, but he was determined. He’s being followed by a couple guys. He gives them a quick slip, and determines they’re muggers. He beats them up, in order to keep his KGB tails from killing them. Unfortunately, the KGB still kills them, thinking they might be Wolverine’s contacts. He confronts the tails, and they leave. Then they get killed by Charlie.
Later, he catches Spider-Man’s scent on the street, and goes to confront him in his hotel room. And I love Wolverine’s assessment of Peter Parker:
First, I love the idea that Wolverine thinks Peter Parker might be a KGB agent. Second, I love his description of Peter. “He was overdoing it with the Aunt May bit.” Of course, a few comics since then have had Wolverine and Aunt May interact, and it’s never not great. Regardless, Wolverine tries to tell Peter to leave, and to try to get Leeds to leave, too. When Peter returns to his hotel, he finds Leeds dead.
His killers are still there, and Peter’s frozen, until Wolverine busts in through the window to rescue him. Peter wants to leave, he can’t bring himself to do it. So he goes to a costume shop, asking for a black body suit. The guy doesn’t have one, but he does have . . . a Spider-Man costume. He tracks Wolverine into East Berlin.
Wolverine tracks Charlie to a steel mill that was a KGB front. And we find out Charlie is a woman! Which should’ve been obvious. We never saw her face in the flashback. She wore a hat, sunglasses and a heavy suit that concealed her gender. Wolverine – the only one in the story who knew Charlie – never used pronouns, but always said “Charlie.” And, of course, we saw an attractive woman right before the first KGB bodies were found. So, yeah, obvious. Anyway, they head out to Charlie’s mansion. She tells him she’s leaving him her money when she dies. She also talks about how much things have changed since the old days. She’s learned too much, and now everyone wants her dead, and there’s nowhere she can hide. But Wolverine says he’ll keep her safe.
They go out to dinner, in a room filled with people ready to kill her. And then Spider-Man shows up.
These two make for a fun pairing, which is why they get teamed up so often. Anyway, during the ensuing fight, Charlie slips away. So Wolverine and Spidey find another bunch of old KGB agents that are probably next on her agenda. Spider-Man almost freezes up again during the fight. Wolverine yells at Spider-Man, and the two split ways.
Charlie calls Wolverine, and they meet at a cemetery. Charlie wants Wolverine to kill her. She’s going to die anyway, but he’ll kill her fast and painless, while the KGB would make her suffer. He stabs her, but it’s not a kill wound. Before he can deliver the kill wound, Spider-Man gets involved. They fight, with Spider-Man getting increasingly freaked-out the whole time. He ends up relying on his Spider-sense to get a shot in, and then keeps pounding away. Wolverine keeps smiling, and comes right back. They tangle, and Spider-Man grabs Wolverine’s neck, but Wolverine says he doesn’t have the guts to kill. He also says – not for the first time – that Spider-Man simply can’t understand the world Wolverine lives in.
A helicopter appears, and Wolverine slips under cover. Spidey senses someone behind him, thinks it’s Wolverine, and unleashes a punch. It was Charlie! And his blow just killed her. And it’s pretty intense. The last few pages have him keep thinking back to that moment.
This was a great comic. It does a good job handling the two characters. It’s Spider-Man put into a Wolverine story, and it works so well, because Spidey is so far out of his depth. It’s full of murder, and filled with shades of grey that he doesn’t know how to deal with. He’s very much a classic superhero: Good guy fights bad guys. Here, he’s not so sure who the good guys are. And more than that, he’s all about preserving life, while the end game here is ending lives. And that screws him up, leaves him doubting himself, and doubting his instincts.
Speaking of which: In the original draft, Spider-Man was going to lose to Wolverine. The whole point of the story was that he kept second-guessing himself, stopped trusting his instincts, and so also stopped trusting his Spider-sense. But someone in the Marvel office – Priest didn’t say who – heard about it, and kicked up a big stink about it, making a huge issue of the fact that Wolverine shouldn’t be able to lay a hand on Spidey because of the Spider-sense. So Priest was forced to change the fight. He still did a good job with it. It’s an exciting fight, largely due to the narration. We still get a sense of Spidey’s panic, and his feeling of being overwhelmed. I think Jim Shooter made a mistake in giving in to that loud voice in the office, by forcing Priest to change the story. I would guess that it was probably a fairly big-name writer. Maybe DeFalco? He was writing Amazing Spider-Man when this story would’ve been in the process of being written. Though Priest was actually taking over ASM when the comic came out. Well, whatever.
Wolverine is written fine. He’s Wolverine. Priest doesn’t do anything particularly special with him, though this is one of the earliest stories exploring his secret agent past. Getting into the shades-of-grey side of that stuff. Still, it doesn’t really do all that much with him. He’s mostly there as a contrast to Spidey. Speaking of which. . . .
This isn’t the first time the two had fought beside each other. They’d teamed up before, including in Marvel Team-Up. But this is the first time we’ve seen the contrast really explored. They’ve become a popular pairing, because they do play off each other really well, and I think at least some of that comes from this comic. But while most of their team-ups contrast them for comedic purposes, this one is very definitely dramatic; easily their most dramatic team-up, ever. There are some funny bits – the restaurant scene being the highlight for that – but for the most part, it’s all about showing the different worlds they live in, and just how out of place Spidey is in Wolverine’s world. Wolverine is a killer in a world of killers, and Spider-Man just does not fir into that, because he’s so dedicated to the ideal of no one dying.
The art is good. It’s solid art. It’s not spectacular, but it gets the job done. There weren’t many stand-out panels from a visual perspective, but neither were there any that were bad. Bright, Williamson and Scotese do a good job.
So, overall, a great Spider-Man comic and a decent Wolverine comic.