Spider-Verse, as most mega-events usually do, has worn out its welcome. The main storyline has bogged down in repetitive scenarios and inferior, annoying villains. So far, Spider-Verse Team-Up has avoided this by presenting ingenious Spidey mash-ups. Can it keep it up for one more issue?
According to the contents page, this story is called “Too Many Spider-Men,” which is what the first story in the last issue was called. So has Christos fallen into a title rut, or is this a mistake of the contents page compiler, or a commentary on the whole Spider-Verse idea? I’m going with the last option, especially with this story, which is overloaded with some truly irrelevant Spider-People. Besides Amazing and Superior, there’s Anya Corazon (who is now being called “the Spider-Girl of the Marvel Universe”), Spider-Punk (who, as far as I can tell was just created in Spider-Verse #2 (Story 3)), Spider-Man India (the star of the mini-series Spider-Man India, which I never read), Ashley Barton (the grand-daughter of Spider-Man and daughter of Hawkeye from the Old Man Logan storyline in Wolverine (Vol. 3), and Spider-Man U.K. (who, like Punk, is a very recent creation). Oh, and there’s Spider-Ma’am who first appeared in What If? (Vol. 1) #23 (Story 3) in a story entitled “What If Aunt May Instead of Her Nephew Peter Had Been Bitten By That Radioactive Spider?”
In Uncle Ben’s bunker on Earth-3145, the Amazing Spider-Man and Superior Spider-Man argue over whether the spiders should confront the Inheritor named Karn. (Yeah, I’d forgotten him, too, but he’s the guy Otto encountered in Superior Spider-Man #33.) Otto says Karn is unstoppable but Peter says, “thanks to the scroll Spider-Woman got us, we know things about him we never did before.” Anya adds that “his family hates him. And he hates them, especially his father.” When Otto hears that Karn hates his father, he decides there is a chance after all and agrees with the plan.
Cut to Earth-3123 where that world’s Peter Parker and Uncle Ben encounter Karn. He is searching for the world’s spider-totem that turns out to be Aunt May as the Spider-Ma’am. She reveals her identity to her husband and nephew, then tells Karn that she senses he is too strong to fight. “If it’s me you want, go ahead,” she says, “kill me. I’ve led a good, long life. Just don’t hurt my husband and nephew.” This touches Karn. “You remind me of another like you,” he says, “Brave. Strong. Yet loving.” (Are we supposed to know to whom he is referring? His mother?) He promises May a quick death but then the Spiders (Ashley, Spider-Punk, Spidey U.K., Anya, and India) attack. Spider-Punk clobbers Karn with his guitar. “Anybody ever touch you with a Fender before?” he says. Karn repels Punk and prepares to kill them all but Anya tells him that they know all about him, about how he kills to survive, not for pleasure. “How your family banished you. Your endless quest for redemption in their eyes.” Spidey U.K. relieves Karn of his halberd and tells him they are not there to fight him but to ask him to join them.
Karn doesn’t buy it so the fight continues with the spiders trying to convince him that he owes nothing to his family, that they can use the Inheritors’ own technology to find another way to allow Karn to feed rather than consuming animal totems and arguing that, as Spider-Punk puts it, “That’s what the power structure wants you to think!” when Karn declares that there are no alternatives. But it isn’t until Anya reveals that they got the scroll from the Master Weaver that Karn starts to believe and agrees to help. The trouble is his “hunger can be intense, uncontrollable.” The spiders agree to let him “take a little bit of life force from each of us, enough to keep you going.” Karn does so and leaves with the spiders, returning, presumably, to their bunker safehouse. Spider-Ma’am, Peter and Ben watch them go. “Well, that was weird,” says Peter.
What to make of this story? Most of the spiders (Too Many Spiders) are mere placeholders, though Christos does a commendable job of distinguishing the group as best as he can what with Spider-Punk’s Noam Chomsky slant, India’s mention of predestination and U.K.’s familiarity with multiple worlds. Karn is one of the more insipid of this family of insipid villains, although he has enough of a personality to be on the outs with the rest of them. The story assumes that the reader has followed the Spider-Verse saga. There is no explanation for the Earth-3145 bunker, the scroll, or Karn. And maybe no one who isn’t reading the saga is reading this comic. Except, as they used to say, “every comic is someone’s first comic.” There is one plot point important to the overall arc here: Karn’s recruitment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go any farther than that. The reader has to pick up Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 3) #14 to see what happens next. So the whole story, not just the spiders, feels a bit like a placeholder.
The best thing here is Spider-Ma’am, a silly character from a silly What If? from 35 years ago. The one thing I love about Spider-Verse is the return of some of these odd past Spidey variations. In this story, we get to see Spider-Ma’am reveal her identity to Ben and Peter. We get to see her noble offer to Karn before the others show up. More than we thought we’d ever see of this character again. And we get a wonderfully wry ending, with Peter’s “that was weird.” (Imagine what this whole incident is like from Peter’s perspective.) Unfortunately, it’s not quite the end. There is one more bit of text in the story. “To Be Continued in Amazing Spider-Man #14!” Sigh.
I am so Spider-Verse weary, I can’t tell you. Perhaps if I wasn’t, I’d give this story a higher rating. But in my present state, I can’t give it more than two webs.