For Lent this year I’ve given up making sassy/snarky comments while driving. I’m a pretty positive guy…but I can be an impatient driver. Now, when I feel I’m about to say something in that vein, I offer a prayer for the other driver instead. It’s a prayerful effort to cultivate loving-kindness in my own thoughts and deeds and put more positive energy out into the world. In that spirit, I can be cranky about needless crossovers (*cough* Civil War II *cough*) so I wanted to write about the recent six-part “Sitting In A Tree” crossover between Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen. I really enjoyed it! In addition to showcasing two amazing spider-people, it reminded me how much fun a good, old fashioned team-up can be. For all my complaining (which I stand behind!) about crossovers forged in the service of Mammon, I’m giving a little love to one that was worth the cover price of admission.
Without any major spoilers, here’s what Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen found themselves tangled up in. The story opens with the page to the right so…yeah. Who doesn’t want to know more?? The “Sitting In A Tree” people know their way around a hook. We then find Miles Morales in his dorm room, relaying his recent adventures with Gwen to his roommates Ganke Lee and Fabio Medina. Flashing back to the beginning, Miles was contacted by Colbie Smulders S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill and told a) his father Jefferson secretly became an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for their watching out for Miles during his exploits as Spider-Man and b) Jefferson has gone missing during a deep cover mission imbedded in the multiverse. Hill gives Miles a dimension-hopping bracelet and he’s off to Earth-65 where he joins forces with their Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman. The Spideys Miles and Gwen then spend the next six issues thwipping through the multiverse in an attempt to find Miles’ father and untangle whatever nefarious web the Earth-65 evil spy network S.I.L.K. is weaving.
Despite my crossover crankiness, I’d been looking forward to this team-up since I first heard about it. I dig Miles Morales as Spider-Man and I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Spider-Gwen since I first heard about her – even if I haven’t had the chance to read much of her yet. Gwen teaming up with the main Spidey I’ve followed since returning to the comic scene seemed like the perfect chance to meet her! So, with no overarching cynicism, I was eagerly awaiting the first issue. It ended up being as great as I’d hoped! Like so many of the classic team-ups I loved growing up, it was just pure fun.
One of the reasons I’ve always loved team-ups is the stories feel like imagination let loose. As a kid, I always had my superhero toys working with each other. It was waaay more fun that way! Sure, occasionally David and I would just “play X-Men” or “play Spider-Man” and focus on those characters but, more often than not, a wild assortment of superheroes, crossing comic and company dividing lines, would find themselves on the coffee table battling a similarly mixed assortment of villains…or dinosaurs or dragons or random robot toys or whatever we found to challenge our daring do-gooders after school that day. So picking up a comic book as a kid (or as an adult for that matter) and seeing Ms. Marvel and Silk on the cover of Totally Awesome Hulk or Storm on the cover of Black Panther always feels like the little kid I was (or still am…even if I have a mortgage) got the chance to open the toy chest and let it spill onto the page.
There’s also something inherently comic book about the idea of the team-up. It’s a tried and true trope of the genre and it’s a trope that works in comic books in a way you rarely see in other genres. Before the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we never saw superheroes guest starring in each other’s movies. It’s not like Lizzy Bennet and Jane Eyre ever crossed paths in the formal canon of literature. I don’t recall the Muppet Babies ever teaming up with the Smurfs. Nor are the Parks & Rec staff travelling from Pawnee to Scranton to visit The Office. It just doesn’t happen. No matter how often I imagined how great it would be if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles teamed up with the Ghostbusters (I mean c’mon!!! They both live in New York!!!) it wasn’t happening outside of stories I’d tell in my mind or with my action figures (until IDW trapped lightening in a bottle creating the greatest literary achievement in human history). But in comic books – where the only limit to the adventures you can present are what the author and illustrator are willing to think up – they happen all the time.
As a kid they had an extra tinge of magic to them. Now, with the ol’ internet, we all know when a big event is coming months if not years before it occurs. This is why I was able to get excited about Miles and Gwen’s impending adventure for a few months. But when I was little, the earliest hint I had of what was coming next was the teaser blurb at the end of the issue I was reading. More often than that though, I’d wander over to peruse those brilliant (yet, sadly, long gone) spinning racks of comics at the grocery store and be greeted with exciting surprises. I’d stumble upon Wolverine in Spider-Man or Gambit in a solo issue of Wolverine or She-Hulk or Ghost Rider in The Fantastic Four and ask Mom if I could get it. Mom, always one to encourage my reading, would almost always say “yes” and then my afternoon would have planned itself! There were so many questions begged by a cover featuring a team-up. Why were they teaming up?!? What was going on?!? Would they fight first or just work together?!? Was this a one issue thing or would it play out for a few months?!? And there was always fun to be found inside too.
Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen’s adventure made me feel like a kid reading those classic team-up comics again. In fact, I found myself getting antsy/annoyed when I’d go to the comic shop on a week when neither Spider-Man nor Spider-Gwen had a new issue coming out. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next! The story was fast, funny, entertaining, and filled with surprises. I speak often of how important the dimension of a social justice message is in the comic books I read. That’s a central part of what I look for in the art I consume. Nevertheless, plain ol’ escapist fun is important – and necessary sometimes too. Well that’s exactly what “Sitting In A Tree” delivered. And, like the great team-ups of my youth, it left me eager for their paths to cross again!
Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since I was four years old. One of the most exciting things I’ve found since I returned to reading comic books over a year ago was how big Spidey’s world has grown. The idea of the Spider-Verse has exploded! I remember Spider-Ham appearing from time to time as a weird/funny bonus story at the end of some of my Spider-Man comics as a kid. Of course Spider-Man 2099 led the wave of 2099 titles Marvel was running in 1992. And the 90’s also had Ben Reilly, first as the Scarlet Spider and later wearing the webs of Spider-Man himself while Peter and Mary Jane retired to a well-deserved quiet life. (It’s important to note, I loved (and still love!) Ben Reilly and his time as Spider-Man. As a kid I felt his story arc was cut painfully short, far too soon by the angry ranting of fans who can’t handle change, something that still bothers me as an adult – let the artists tell their story!!! Peter Parker will always come back!!! Calm down and enjoy the ride!!) But other than that, it was pretty much just Peter Parker wearing the webs. And Pete did his thing over quite a few different titles; The Amazing Spider-Man, Web Of Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man, The Sensational Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Classic, and Spider-Man Unlimited to name the ones I remember reading regularly or sporadically.
But now? WOW. At present, Marvel has several titles featuring Peter Parker wearing the webs (The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Deadpool, Spidey) along with comics featuring Miles Morales (Spider-Man), Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen), Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman), Cindy Moon (Silk), and Miguel O’Hara (Spider-Man 2099) all doing their respective spider-thing with Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider set to hit shelves next month (something, given my love of Ben Reilly (I still mourn his death in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75 in 1996) I’m a little conflicted about. I’m intrigued but the fact that he’s so angry and broken makes me so, so sad…). And, honestly, I think I like it better this way!
Spider-Man’s omnipresent popularity has led Marvel to cash in on this any way they can allow creators to take the Spider-Man mythos and reinvent it in all manner of ways. As someone who’s loved (and been inspired by) Spider-Man for thirty years it’s thrilling to see new heroes carrying that inspiration in their own way. And since I still haven’t been able to fully jump on board with the I-sold-my-marriage-to-Mephisto Spidey storylines (save his perfect pairing with Deadpool!), this allows me to have my spider-fun and express my spider-love in so many different and contemporary ways.
In addition to how much I was enjoying the story, that was what I kept thinking as I read “Sitting In A Tree.” This is a story that I never could have had when I was a kid. But now, since the Spider-Verse has become a thing, it’s far more regular fair at Marvel. And I love it!
I write a lot about Legacy Characters on this site. Basically, I love them and I don’t get why a certain segment of comic fans let their fear of anything different express itself in groundless hatred of these new characters. Traditionally I write about how important it is that these Legacy Characters are bringing such needed diversity to iconic characters. But “Sitting In A Tree” highlighted another important facet of Legacy Characters. If not for Miles Morales, I’d never have had this story! Legacy Characters open the door to all manner of new story-telling possibilities and I get more and more excited each time I get to read one. Comic books tell a new story every month, indefinitely, for decades. Legacy Characters help writers keep things fresh, interesting, and relevant. After all, Peter can only punch Doc Ock or the Green Goblin so many times before it’s all a watered-down, hackneyed version of all that’s come before. Legacy Characters add a helpful (and much needed) dimension to characters who have been around for over fifty years. So yay for Miles Morales! Yay for Gwen Stacy! And yay for “Sitting In A Tree” being a crossover I craved instead of avoided!
I’ll close with this. The other day I was having a conversation with Rob (of My Side Of The Laundry Room fame) and we were discussing the Spider-Verse. I shared with him something I’ve been secretly hoping would happen for some time. While I know there’s little chance of this happening, I figured I’d write it anyway as I’m sure the decision makers over at Sony Pictures regularly read my blog. How cool would it be if just as Marvel’s building their Defenders world on Netflix, Sony and Marvel created a Spider-Verse series of shows?!? Imagine this with me for one second. They could have one with Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, Jessica Drew, Miguel O’Hara, Cindy Moon…they could even have an animated one with Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham! There could be guest starring possibilities, crossovers, and, every so often, they could do an “event” series where they all team-up. Sony, can we make this happen? Get back to me when you have the chance. Until then, I think I might treat myself to an entertaining evening and go re-read “Sitting In A Tree.”