What do you do when you are Marvel and DC and you want to put out a series of comics combining your various heroes? Well, you introduce a character named Access who is in charge of keeping the two comic book universes separate and then you sit back and watch him scamper around trying to prevent the heroes of the different universes from meeting only to fail repeatedly since the purpose of the book is... to have the heroes of the different universes meet... repeatedly. Included, among the bunch is, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Access is Axel Asher, a young man who inhabits the Marvel Universe and apparently attends Empire State University. At least his girlfriend, Ming Kuo-Fan, does. Axel believes that he is in love with her, though he has had a few dates with a young woman in the DC universe as well. (Jeez, talk about your ultimate adolescent fantasy. No embarassing accidental encounters when your girlfriends are universes apart.) Ming thinks Axel's repeated disappearances are as a result of another woman so Axel confesses to her that he is, in fact, the guardian of two super-hero universes. This conversation is interrupted by... guess what?... an encounter between super-beings from two universes. Axel whisks Ming to safely, changes to his Access duds (which make him look a bit like Alan Moore's Marvelman) and tries to help out Spider-Man in his battle with the tag-team partnership of Marvel's Juggernaut and DC's Mantis. (Not to be confused with Marvel's Mantis; the former Avenger who married a plant in the form of the Swordsman.)
The method Access uses to assist Spidey is to bring Wonder Woman from DC to help out. But, surprisingly, it is not the Wonder Woman of the present who shows up but one from an earlier time-line who has never met Axel. Spidey and Wonder Woman mop up on Mantis and Juggy (which means WW is a heck of a lot tougher than I ever thought she was) and a smitten wall-crawler is all set to wrestle the Amazon for the chance to temporarily use her magic lasso when a shout from Mary Jane Parker in the crowd ("Anyone seen my husband, Peter Parker? He's only married to a beautiful ex-model, so I bet he isn't drooling over Ms Amazon here like everyone else!") sends a chastised Spidey to the rooftops.
Access, meanwhile, continues his adventures, moving in time as well as space. He meets up with the savage Hulk from the past and Hal Jordan's Green Lantern. Another journey through his portal takes him to the old West and a visit with Jonah Hex and the Two-Gun Kid. In his final jaunt of the issue, he arrives in the Sentinal-dominated future familiar to X-Men buffs. Also there... DC's Legion of Super-Heroes.
OK, first off, is this book worth reading if you are mostly a Spidey fan? Yes, but not for the story inside. Oh, it has some nice touches, no doubt about it. Karl Kesel can write a flowing, absorbing narrative. The first lines of the story nicely tie in the just published Spider-Man/Batman book to the Access storyline. Details like the ESU student wearing the football jersey that reads "Tiny" on the back and Peter and MJ eavesdropping on Axel and Ming's conversation are charming.
But the real reason to read this book is the art. If you've been wondering where Pat Olliffe and Al Williamson have gone lately, here is your answer. You can have your Manga influenced artists, your Keith Giffen-influenced "loose-drawing-hard-to-tell-what-it-is" artists. In my book, Olliffe and Williamson are the best artist team working in super-hero books today. They are certainly the best Spidey artists. Period. (Well, almost period. I just have to mention one panel from the best scene in the book, where the smitten Spidey sizes up Wonder Woman. The Amazon looms over Peter. If Spidey is about five foot-ten, then Diana is about seven feet even. She looks like she could pound the slight Spidey into paste. This is the way both these characters should look.)
So, there's some nice stuff, but what is the point of this book? To simply see characters from both universes together? Yes, it's fun to see Spidey team-up with Wonder Woman to battle evil (though I don't suppose anyone ever expressed a desire to see the wall-crawler battle Mantis from the New Gods continuity), yes, it's cool to see Jonah Hex with Two-Gun or Hal Jordan fighting Hulky, but is there a point to all of this? Some direction that makes this story worthwhile? Not so far there isn't.
Four webs. Three webs for the story, five webs for the art.