Spider-Man: Team Player?





Introduction
The addition of Spider-Man to the line-up of The New Avengers was one of the most talked about Marvel Moves of 2004, coming on the heels of the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline which ravaged the Avengers membership, resulting in the death or evisceration of long time Marvel characters and Avenger mates such as the Vision, Hawkeye (since revived), Thor (well, there was "Clor," the Killer Clone from Civil War, and although the real deal hasn't shown up yet - he ain't gonna stay dead), and the Scarlet Witch (though not dead, she went crazy and started the whole disassembly process) and bringing forth a new Avengers line-up with an eclectic mix, including Marvel’s two most popular characters, Spider-Man and Wolverine. And even though the New Avengers disassembled as well, Spidey (and Wolverine) re-upped in the New New Avengers after the events of Civil War.

Not being an X fan, I can’t comment on the likelihood/unlikelihood of the ill tempered, horizontally challenged, crazy Canucklehead being an Avenger, but I can address some of the issues where Spider-Man is concerned.

For many folks, this is a outright sellout to the same sales and marketing mania that contributed to the near fatal crippling of the industry during the mid 1990’s, with one of the sins being the gross overexposure of the Spider-Man character. Fast forward a decade and Spidey is the subject of two of the highest grossing films of all time, with a third in imminent release. To these same people, it also represents their fears that Marvel is simply seeking to cash in on the Hollywood exposure by slapping the wondrous web head on as many comic covers as possible.

Others don’t like the fact that it is Brian Michael Bendis who is doing the disassembling and reassembling of the Avengers, considering that he seems to have his hand in so many of Marvel’s pies at this time. I suppose that you could say that some people are suffering from “Bendis fatigue” or Abendisitis.

Many others simply don’t believe that Spider-Man belongs on a team - period. The wondrous web slinger’s reputation has always been that of a loner. I myself am a long-time fan who treasures Peter Parker’s stubborn independence, iconoclastic behavior, and ”outside looking in” perspective relative to the rest of the superhero community. Of the major super-teams in existence, for example, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers (before they were disassembled, that is), represent the "establishment," the blue-bloods of the Marvel Universe (the X-Men, while another major super team as well as "outcasts" in one way or another, have certain barriers to membership that Spidey would never qualify for - like being born a mutant, for example, although he was actually recruited by the Beast and Iceman waaaaaaaaaaaay back in Uncanny X-Men #27). Oh, it's true that there certainly isn't a figure any less blue blooded or more working class than say, Benjamin J. Grimm, for example, but the unit he is a part of, the FF, is for the most part universally accepted and admired. Same with the Avengers (well, make that the Mighty Avengers, the government sanctioned team in this post Civil War world - CW has played hell with my articles and updates!). Although there may be individual members that are somewhat rough around the edges from time to time, they essentially represent the most elite fraternity on campus, the one with the guys who get all the babes, throw the best parties, and likely wouldn't let schmucks like us in (and no, I never pledged a fraternity, never wanted to - too much of an iconoclast). Captain America and Tony Stark, the leaders of Avenger teams over the years, are guys that the President of the United States puts the President of Russia on hold in order to talk to. Spidey's the guy who can't cash a check at the bank, gets hassled by bus drivers for taking a free ride on the top, is the last superhero picked as a partner for a charity function, gets pelted by snowballs from a bunch of punk kids, and suffers the numerous other little indignities that most of us common folk do.

Additionally, the Avengers have historically tackled the kinds of menaces that just aren’t right for Spider-Man. As the Thing once reminded Spidey “hey – ain’t monster bashin’ a bit out of your line?” (Marvel Two-In_one Annual #2) Going to different planets and dimensions and fighting alien menaces or even all too human despots has never really been his niche, and usually stories that feature him doing just that are awkward and sometimes laughable.

Also, many of the Avengers’ fans simply liked the team the way that it was – that it wasn’t like DC’s Justice League of America, which is front-loaded with all of the heavy hitters of the DC Universe, whether or not they could really function together as a team. After all, if there’s any superhero that is probably less of a team player than Spider-Man – it’s Batman – although when the JLA was created, Batman was in his chummy phase, before Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams turned him into “The” Batman once again in the 70’s. The Avengers usually weren’t the same characters that you would see ad infinitum in their own magazines, or repeatedly guest starring in other titles, or staring back at you from the toy shelves and the underwear rack at Wal-Mart.

Also, it is intellectually lazy to keep plugging the same characters into various storylines over and over and simply playing off their popularity, rather than taking some chances and focusing on developing new characters. After all, you never know when a new hero may prove to be a breakout franchise character, who just needs an "incubator" title to get his/her feet on the ground (Wolverine is probably the best example of this – he was originally just a one-shot character created to fight the Hulk). Spider-Man himself was a radical concept at one time – a teenager as the hero, rather than the sidekick? It certainly would have seemed “safer” to go with Jack Kirby’s and Joe Simon’s concept of “Spiderman” (see The Men Who Made SpiderMan) than Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s. The Avengers served this function at times, providing a proving ground for new characters and ideas, but still relying on stand-bys such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor to anchor the team, keep a sense of continuity with the rest of the Marvel Universe, and ensure a core base of fan support.

Conversely, I must confess that I never understood how you could subtitle a magazine as “The World’s Mightiest Heroes,” and then largely populate it with characters who not only could not support their own title, but whom no one can remember after they leave the Avengers. Yes, yes, I know, my opinion is narrow-minded and actually falls prey to Marvel’s Revenue Maximization Plot, which looms over such popular characters as Spider-Man and Wolverine, ready to exploit and grossly overexpose them at a moment's notice.

Plus, if you follow my logic of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” to the extreme, you could argue that it should then be populated by the Hulk, Hercules, Thor, the Thing, She-Hulk, and other truly “heavy hitters," which obviously wouldn’t work very well either.

Also, Spider-Man has not been a member of the Avengers before for very practical reasons. For one, neither title has really needed the other, and it doesn't make a whole lot of business sense to cross pollinate two rather strong properties and achieve only modest results. Spidey did not need to be a member of the Avengers to support his own title, and the Avengers really did not need him, either. After all, everyone who bought Spidey's titles would not necessarily buy the Avengers because in the latter he would share the spotlight with others, and at times not even be in the story. As the fanfare over Spidey's membership in the New Avengers attested, many of the web slinger's hard core fans simply do not believe he could ever join a team and think it is a violation of his character's integrity merely to boost sales on another title. Conversely, Spider-Man's popularity and personality is such that he could threaten to overwhelm a team title so that it simply becomes "another Spider-Man book" and you lose the folks who liked the Avengers the way they were. So, there has never really been a lot to gain by doing this.

But here we are, with the rebooting of New Avengers (well, the numbers isn't being rebooted back to #1, but the team essentially is), of which Spider-Man is clearly going to be a significant part. So, in order to shamelessly play off this event myself, this series will deal with Spidey's team affiliations, both real and imagined in the last 45 years. We'll take a look at his numerous unsuccessful attempts to join the Avengers in the "real" continuity, his dalliances with not one, but two Fantastic Fours, the one super-team that he himself actually formed (betcha didn’t remember that one, eh?). In this article I intend to focus on those factors that have historically precluded Spider-Man from team membership in the past, whether those factors remain valid today, and examine whether or not he could truly be a team player, given what we know about the character.

Illegitimate son of Marvel’s First Family?
Naturally, we can’t forget that Spider-Man’s very first try at team membership goes back to the very beginning - in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #1(March 1963 - y'know - is it redundant to refer to any of the Lee-Ditko issues as classic? It simply goes without saying). With Uncle Ben dead, and his entertainment career destroyed by J. Jonah Jameson's yellow journalism, Spider-Man needs money - badly. He can’t get a decent paying job while still in high school, and it certainly seems a horrible waste of those super powers and that flashy costume not to be able to make some money from it. He then gets a great idea - why not sign with the Fantastic Four?

Obviously, 45 years later, with the Fantastic Four solidly established as a "family" unit of four rather than a larger team or a team with rotating membership (barring a run by the She-Hulk as a member during the 1980's after the events of Marvel's Mediocre Maxi-Series Secret War, and the current post-Civil War team status of Storm and the Black Panther), Spidey's idea that he could join the team seems bizarre. But in the context of the times, in early 1963 the Marvel Universe consisted only of Spidey, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and Ant Man. The Hulk was based in the American Southwest rather than New York City - and Ant Man, although referenced by Peter Parker in issue #1, really was not integrated into the "Marvel Universe" as we know it until the founding of the Avengers later in 1963. You don't hear much about Ant Man (yes, the same Henry Pym that has also been Giant Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket and has become more or less known these days for being a superhero wife beater), predating Spidey in the superhero race, but he first appeared in the January 1962 issue of Tales to Astonish while Spider-Man first appeared in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy. However, Stan Lee conveniently omitted him in his Origins of Marvel Comics, which back in the 1970’s was one of the first attempts to tell the history of the most popular comics company in America – perhaps because he never headlined his own magazine.

Anyway, the point I was making before I digressed (which I am wont to do) was that it really wasn't unrealistic or inconceivable for Spidey to think he might have a shot at joining the FF. Of course, we know what happens - Spider-Man discovers that membership in the Fantastic Four is not a paying gig and takes off, with a final bitter threat that he'll make all of them look like amateurs.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 has been read, re-read, referenced, and re-printed so often, that we really don't appreciate just how radical it was in its time, and how the character of "Spider-Man" was already beginning to turn the comic book world on its head. Even though Peter Parker had learned from Uncle Ben’s death in Amazing Fantasy #15 that with great power there must come great responsibility, he still had not crossed the threshold from entertainer to full time costumed crime-fighter. In issue #1 he was still trying to make money in showbiz, and in issue #2, he first goes after the Vulture because he thinks he will get pictures of the character up close that he can sell to the Daily Bugle. Only after getting beaten in that first confrontation with the old bird does the thought enter his head "if I am really going to become a secret adventurer," and as a result of this line of thinking he begins to develop the tools he will need (such as a belt for extra web cartridges) to carry out that mission. In issue #3, he actually grows bored with crime fighting because his powers clearly outclass your average punk, and decides to quit after getting his head handed to him in his first confrontation with the deadly Doctor Octopus. Only after a pep talk from the Human Torch and his subsequent clobbering of Doc Ock does he get his feet on the ground and enter the superhero business to stay.

So in issue #1, when he comes knocking on the Fantastic Four's door, he is not really a superhero, he is merely an ill-tempered, ill-mannered, immature, super-powered child. He demonstrates just how true that is deciding that the best way to impress the FF is by picking a fight with them rather than presenting himself in a more professional manner. He really can't help it, though. For most of his life, Peter Parker has been belittled and bullied and unable to properly defend himself. He no doubt has come to equate power and strength as something one uses for self-glorification and to intimidate others. And, being a 15-year-old boy, the only way he knows how to demonstrate his power is either by showing off (as in being an entertainer) or picking fights.

He further demonstrates his immaturity by not only stating as he leaves that he'll make the Four look like "pikers" but he also says "O.k. keep me out of your group!" Spoken like the kid who wasn't allowed to join "the club" (pick a club, any club) or the team, which we have all been at one time or another. However, when you re-read that issue, the FF did not really slam the door on him joining the group. They reacted negatively to his perception that he would be paid a lot of money. He never gave them the chance to seriously consider whether or not to consider adding him to the team. Even if they had flatly told him no, it would never have occurred to him that his own poor behavior more than anything else resulted in him getting the cold shoulder. And you'll notice that the FF did not tell him to leave - he did that on his own. In fact, Sue Storm even calls out to him "wait come back!" but he's too busy stewing to listen. What if he had heard that last statement?

The funny thing is, I have always felt that if Spidey had to be a member of a team, it would be the Fantastic Four, or Five, or whatever. It seems to me that to be not only an effective team member, but also simply to be able to co-exist with the other members, you would have to have something in common that would draw you together even when you’re not out there fighting super-villains and global or galactic threats. In the Fantastic Four, you have the Human Torch, who in addition to being Spider-Man’s own age is now probably his best friend in the superhero community, although the two of them would probably be at each other’s throats half the time and relentlessly bickering, just like two brothers. Also, with Reed Richards, Peter Parker would have a scientific soul mate and a potential father figure. Plus, although not as strong as Ben Grimm, or capable of flight like the Torch, he would be much more agile than the other members, and would bring a deadly combination of strength, high intelligence, and uncanny resourcefulness.

So, from a practical perspective, Spider-Man would be an excellent member of the Fantastic Four. In fact, it’s always amazed me that when a member has gone ill or missing, that he hasn’t been called upon to occasionally fill in (of course the fact that none of them knew who he was might have had something to do with it – although Reed Richards now knows apparently). Plus, there is a bond of sorts between Spidey and the FF, considering that for a while it was just them protecting the city of New York in the early days of the Marvel Universe, and they have crossed paths countless times. For all of the strained feelings that exist between them occasionally, there is genuine mutual respect and affection between the two parties. However, from a creative perspective, he would likely not be a very good fit. For one, the Thing and the Torch already have that bickering brothers routine down to the point they could take it on the road, and adding a third quarrelsome and difficult member might be redundant. Also, with Reed as the FF’s resident genius, would there really be a need for another in the stories? Probably no.

Still, it makes you wonder "what if" Spidey had heard Susan's call and came back, perhaps a bit more contrite and deferential. Well, there is a story about that, but it's a wee bit too early to tell that tale....

Spidey and the Avengers
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3 represents the first time that Spider-Man was formally offered Avengers membership – but we can’t forget Avengers #11 (December 1964), a rather silly tale in which one of the Avengers' arch foes, Kang the Conqueror, creates a Spider-Man robot to lure the super-team into a trap. The robot actually petitions the group for membership, but they are more than a little reluctant to accept him. The Wasp is immediately negative on the prospects (which she pretty well has been for years – she has never really warmed up to Spider-Man), and Thor states (in his usually overwrought and overwritten way) “we don’t accept people just because they have super powers.” However, by the end of the tale, the real Spider-Man shows up and de-activates the robot via shutting off the convenient switch located on the back of the robot’s neck, saving the day. There is no true contact between the real Spider-Man and the Avengers in this story, but I thought it was worth a mention as it does represent his first guest starring appearance in that group’s magazine.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3 (1966) includes both the Avengers’ first serious offer and Spidey’s first real consideration of Avengers membership. As we peek in on their board meeting (shhh – don’t let them know we’re here), Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Goliath, the Wasp, and Hawkeye are pondering whether or not to offer Spider-Man membership. Naturally, the willowy Wasp is loudly and clearly against inducting Spidey, while at the other extreme Hawkeye the archer is resoundingly championing his cause, identifying with the web slinger due to his own scrapes with the law. The rest of the Avengers are in the middle, uneasy and uncertain due to the fact that they know very little about him. Interestingly enough, Goliath and the Wasp met Spidey in Tales to Astonish #57 (July 1964), goaded into a fight by the villainous Egghead (I think I liked the Vincent Price version better). While at the end they realize they’ve been had and make peace, the Wasp remains unimpressed and refers to Spider-Man in the context "Of all the nasty, hateful, unpleasant people I've ever met."

Unfortunately, the story (written by Stan the Man himself) fails to tell us exactly what circumstances prompted the Avengers to consider him. We can assume from the story that it was Hawkeye who officially proposed him, but we never really find out why, nor can I really even fathom an explanation. If it had been the result of his coming to the rescue in Avengers #11, you would have thought they’d have approached him sooner. However, their hesitation is somewhat understandable, since most of them have not really met or talked to him much by this time. After this article was first published, I received this e-mail recently from "Dragon": I was just skimming over your article about Spidey being an Avenger, and came across one query you'd made as far as why Hawkeye would recommend Spidey for membership. Although not mentioned in the text, this is one event that fits into continuity nicely if only by accident. In FF Annual #3 from the previous year, Spidey saves Hawkeye's life by snaring a falling object (A safe? I'd have to look at the issue again to be sure). Spidey quips to Hawkeye to remember him when they're handing out medals to which Hawkeye responds that Spidey can have the whole box. So Hawkeye probably recommended Spidey based on this and his otherwise well-known rep. Works for me. Thanks, Dragon. As a frame of reference, Peter Parker has just entered college, and while he’s crossed paths with the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Doctor Strange more than once, he remains an enigma to most of the rest of the superhero community. After all, this was years before Marvel Team-Up, which probably resulted in Spidey meeting virtually every superhero on the planet – and beyond.

Speaking of the great horned one, the Avengers decide to solicit Daredevil’s opinion of Spider-Man, as he has both fought with him and against him. Now, if you’re DD, this has to suck. You're an established crime fighter in your own right - out of the blue you're summoned to the Avengers mansion - only to find out it's because they want to talk about making Spider-Man a member. Kind of like being approached by a good-looking woman, only to find out she wants to know whether or not your friend likes her. Apparently, DD is a much more gracious man than I would ever be, and so gives Spider-Man his highest recommendation, which is even enough to cause the Wasp to reverse her prior opinion (but then her own notorious roving eye and appreciation of Daredevil's finely sculpted physique seems to play a large role in this change), and Spidey gets an unanimous recommendation. Now, all they have to do is find him.

Thor finally tracks him down first and in all of his thunderous Shakespearean glory commands our hero to show up at the Avengers mansion and be tested (which already gets our hero’s dander up). The Thunder God comes on pretty strong - actually for a guy with little or no sense of humor, Thor’s pretty damn funny. “Stop! I do hereby command!” and “You are ordered to report to our headquarters as soon as possible - I have spoken!” Since he was the one whose lips were moving, I think it would be fairly safe to assume that he was the one who had spoken – but the ways of the gods are different, I suppose. Of course, Spidey’s response is typical “I never said I wanted to be an Avenger!” and he also reacts negatively when he finds out he’s to be tested (“if all you glamour pants don’t know what I can do yet”). As he continues to hesitate, Thor begins to heavily brow beat him, stunned that the webbed wonder isn’t falling to his knees in gratitude for being granted an audience with the almighty Avengers. Eventually, Goldilocks takes a deep breath and gives Spider-Man 24 hours to make up his mind.

Spidey agonizes about accepting the Avenger’s offer, most notably because of Aunt May. His loner status allows him the flexibility to address the needs of his personal life, such as taking care of May, studying, and doing other things that young men who are freshmen in college like to do (such as choosing between Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson). Being a member of the Avengers would be like having a real job, with a real boss, and real peers to deal with and work with and take orders from and all that crap. It would also mean having to do some menial bullshit from time to time being the “new” kid on the block. But on the flipside, even the lowest member of the Avengers is still an Avenger, feted and worshipped by the public at large, and Spidey would finally get the public acceptance he so desperately craves. Hell, even J. Jonah Jameson would have to give him a modest amount of respect (or so he thinks - underestimating JJJ's legendary stubborness and grudge-holding). So, he decides to do it, and receives a warm welcome from the assembled membership – which lasts all of 60 seconds.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Spidey's performance that day in the presence of the Avengers probably solidified for them many of the doubts they had about him, and which still haunt him to this day among the general superhero population. Then, as now, even though he has matured a bit, his hot temper, smart mouth, and deep-rooted feelings of insecurity, still get the best of him. He takes offense to the notion that he must pass some time of test, and completely misreads them, falling into the trap, just like he did when he first tried to join the Fantastic Four, of assuming the way to prove himself is by picking a fight.

In all honesty, the Avengers didn’t really help themselves in this manner. For one, it was clearly very important to them that some kind of test be administered to Spider-Man, but they never sat down and decided what it should be before they went looking for him! Kind of like a personnel director calling a prospective candidate in for an interview, and then not having any prepared questions to ask! You’d think a “super team” would have been a little bit more prepared.

Spider-Man becomes irritable right off the bat, understandable considering that he is an 18 or 19 year old kid who still feels like he gets pushed around too much. It hasn’t been long since he entered college and was immediately dealt a lot of grief from the likes of Flash Thompson, Gwen Stacy, and Harry Osborn, and now that that has settled down, here’s another group of people who are passing judgment on him without getting to know him (for a frame of reference, Amazing Spider-Man #42 came out around the same time as the annual). Iron Man and Thor let their arrogance get the best of them at this time, the former telling Spider-Man to step out of the room because “we’ll be able to think up a test faster without you breathing down our necks” (I wonder if Tony Stark treated prospective employees of his companies this way), and when Spidey gets a little peeved at this, Thor makes matters worse by saying “silence neophyte.” Before long, all hell breaks loose as Spidey incorrectly assumes that the Avengers, rather than being just a bunch of snobby tight-asses, are deliberately trying to provoke him – and a battle royal breaks out.

Looking back at this fight – there’s no doubt that Spider-Man was in the wrong by starting it – but there’s a big difference in how some of the Avengers handle his indiscretion. Thor, by far the strongest member physically, stays completely out of the fight, as does Iron Man, letting Captain America take the lead in restraining the web slinger. Hawkeye was spoiling for a fight anyway (when Spidey first arrives and asks “who do I fight?” the archer readily steps up), but it’s Goliath and the Wasp who exacerbate the situation after Spider-Man realizes he screwed up. Rather than being content with restraining him once he gets hold of him, Goliath has to swat him and lecture him at the same time. And then, disobeying a direct order from Captain America to stay out of the fracas, the Wasp stings the wall crawler, which causes a final explosion of temper before things calm down. It’s interesting that while Cap, Thor and Iron Man each acted maturely, the other three Avengers behaved just as ill tempered and hot headed as Spidey! It must have occurred to the older and wiser Avengers that they could have handled the situation better on their part – perhaps the only reason that they didn’t show Spider-Man the door and revoke their offer – because he certainly had given them reason to do so. Still, Spidey just can’t keep his mouth shut and continues to joke with Thor - the last guy on the team who appreciates a good joke.

During the fight, Iron Man thinks of a test for Spider-Man, which is subsequently communicated to him by Captain America. Bring in the Hulk – and Spider-Man is an Avenger. He isn’t expected to overpower the Hulk – just find some way of getting him there. But guess what – as soon as Spidey takes off – it occurs to the Avengers that maybe they should tell him why they want the Hulk (yeesh - these guys have some definite managerial weaknesses)! By hanging around his buddy J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle, Spidey finds out that the Hulk has been spotted near the Gamma Ray Research Center, which proves to be exceptionally convenient, since during the battle while Spidey is wondering how he’s going to avoid getting his head taken off, the Hulk breaks through a wall at the Center and is bathed in gamma radiation, reverting back to his Bruce Banner identity. Remember, at this time in Marvel history, Bruce Banner’s true connection with his green skinned alter ego was not publicly known, so Spidey, familiar with Dr. Banner’s reputation as one of the world’s top atomic scientists, is flabbergasted. Soon after, Banner becomes the Hulk again, but Spider-Man, now seeing him as a tormented soul rather than a public menace, can’t bring himself to turn him over to the Avengers – not realizing that they only wanted to try to get him some help (after all, the Hulk was one of the original Avengers) as well. Spider-Man swings back to the mansion, tells the Avengers that he couldn’t even find the Hulk, and departs, leaving a lot of costumed superheroes scratching their heads over just what really happened. While the rest of the Avengers ponder Spidey’s “failure,” Thor seems to have an uncommon amount of insight into what really happened, stating “I feel there is more to this than meets the eye…”

Peter later sulks over his lost opportunity “One of the world’s greatest fighting teams – and I threw away a chance to be a part of it,” but apparently he wasn’t familiar with the phrase “some of the greatest gifts are unanswered prayers” as membership in the Avengers at that time would have been a disaster for both parties. For one, the cultural gap between Spider-Man and the Avengers was as far apart as it ever had been. For one thing, all of the Avengers are clearly adults with considerable life experiences. Captain America’s goes without saying, having fought the armies of Adolph Hitler in World War II. Tony Stark had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam and run a global corporation. Thor is…well…Thor! Hawkeye has been around the block a few times, particularly on the wrong side of the law. Goliath and the Wasp are adults in a committed relationship. Spidey is still a young, temperamental teenager. Yes, Peter Parker, if 18 at the time, certainly was an “old” 18, having been Spider-Man for almost three years Marvel-time and faced more than his fair share of super villains- but we really can’t look at Peter relative to the rest of us. We need to compare him with his own peers – and it’s clear that he’s still a boy among grownups. He has had almost no experience in working with the other heroes. He’s very sensitive and takes criticism very hard and very personally. He certainly can’t follow orders. Admittedly, he probably could trade pretty high I.Q.’s with Iron Man, and he and Hawkeye have each had their brushes with the law, but for the most part, Spidey has little or nothing in common with any of the other heroes. It’s a fair bet that none of them has a clue how to handle his bizarre sense of humor at this time, nor is it likely they have much experience in dealing with moody teenagers. Had Spider-Man successfully passed his test, it’s likely that he would have become a problem child almost immediately.

And that was it for a very long time. The Avengers did not coming knocking again on Spidey’s door for another 14 years (our time), in Avengers #221 (May 1982). By this time, due to Marvel Team-Up and Marvel cross-promotions, Spider-Man has fought at the side of the Avengers singularly and collectively more than once, and they’ve had a chance to see first hand what he’s made of and how he handles himself. Now four or five years older, having been graduated from college and enrolled in grad school, weathered the murder of his love Gwen Stacy, rejected for marriage by Mary Jane Watson, he’s certainly older and more mature. However, having been a loner for so long now, he more than before be values his independence. He doesn’t seem to bear any ill will toward the Avengers for the debacle that was his first try at membership (most of the problem was his own fault, but as we discussed, the Avengers were clearly very poorly prepared), and politely refuses their offer. Looking at the cover of Avengers #221, it’s obvious that Spidey was just being used as a tease to get suckers to try the Avengers – and it’s ironic that not only was Spider-Man prominently featured on the cover as a “potential” new Avenger – but so was Wolverine, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, and Doctor Strange, three of whom became New Avengers and all four are New New Avengers! Another cup of irony, please, no cream or sugar....

Although membership in the Avengers doesn’t come up in the following meeting, it does provide me with a couple of interesting observations. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, which wasn’t so much of a Spider-Man comic as it was a dreadfully long advertisement for the new Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau. Peter Parker was very prominently featured on the first page just so folks like me who were suckered into buying the thing (and spending a whopping $1 for a comic book back in 1982), wouldn’t think they had picked up the wrong title. After Spidey gets accidentally zapped by Ms. Marvel(no, wait, that's another super hero) early on, we sequeway into a 17-page origin story for Captain Marvel that I couldn’t have given a rat’s ass about. Finally, when Spidey decides to show up again in his own friggin’ annual, still feeling that the new Captain is a menace, he follows her to Avengers mansion, where she has sought help because she can’t control her power and may literally explode with enough force to flatten the city (when the wall crawler comes in, faithful butler Jarvis thinks to himself “I don’t like to trust this spider-person, we know so little about him”). Spidey, admittedly a day late and a dollar short attempts to subdue Marvel by striking her, which only makes matters worse because unconscience, Monica really begins to go into overload. Iron Man bursts in and addresses Spider-Man with the greeting always guaranteed to make friends and influence people “You young fool!” Of course, there's a happy ending and everyone makes nice at the end, and Captain Marvel, who has no superhero experience, who is a complete unknown, and who has a power of undefined magnitude that she seems to have less that perfect control over, is well on her way to becoming a member of the Avengers! Frankly, I don’t get it. Like I illustrated before, Spider-Man had earlier demonstrated too much immaturity and volatile behavior to be considered a member of the Avengers – but it seems that more than once the team has almost literally let people walk in off the street and join!

And then there’s that “young fool” comment, which I’ll revisit soon.

However, after turning down Avengers membership in issue #221, Spidey soon has a change of heart. The reason? As a sign of how some things don't change, the first (and only) time that Spider-Man actively seeks membership in the Avengers is for the same reason that he long ago sought membership in the Fantastic Four.

Money.

Not very long after his second rejection of Avengers membership, in Avengers #235 (September 1983), Spidey bumps into the rather voluptuous, but also rather mean and green She-Hulk out for her morning run (and about to throttle the character who drove his car into her). During the conversation about New York rents (the great green one had just relocated from L.A.), Shulkie states that she gets paid $1,000 a week (she doesn’t mention whether or not it’s taxable) as a member of the Avengers. (In 1983, $1,000 a week was a damn fine chunk of change – and is good in some parts of the country even now – but 20 years later, I’m not sure it would get you very far in New York City).

And all of a sudden, Spider-Man is kicking himself for turning down Avengers membership.

As you can see, the cover of the next issue, #236, certainly looks promising, but it’s one of those "we're gonna tease the hell out of you with something we have no intention of following through" covers. And with sucker written all over my face, I bought the issue more than 20 years ago from the spinner rack of Hook’s Drugs in Petersburg, Indiana (incidentally, issue #236 was also the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of the Avengers).

At this time in Spidey history, our hero in is one of those eras where he’s confronted with speed bump after speed bump in his personal life. Although always broke, he’s really hurting for money now – compounded due to events in Spectacular Spider-Man #76. Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, and the woman Spidey thinks he’s in love with, is in the hospital with serious injuries suffered during a brutal battle with Dr. Octopus (this was before the hospital told him there would be no charge), and Spidey is determined to pay her hospital bills. Also, Peter Parker recently quit grad school to spend more time hustling J. Jonah Jameson for photo assignments. However, dropping out of school put him on serious outs with Aunt May, who is refusing to talk to him, perhaps the angriest she has ever been at him. Even finding out that he was Spider-Man years later didn’t make her as mad as him quitting grad school, since she believes that this is a betrayal of his dreams of being a scientist, and a betrayal of her and Uncle Ben’s dreams for him. So, being a member of the Avengers, with the $1,000/week paycheck would not only help alleviate Spidey’s money problems, and give him the public acceptance he has always sought (although let’s make no mistake – this time - it really is the money), but also help soothe a lot of his other wounds. But, rather than simply being a gentlemen and knocking on the door and making a proper application, he breaks into the Avengers mansion, setting off all of the security systems, scares the hell out of everyone, and with great fanfare announces "I want to be an Avenger!"

They aren’t impressed. She-Hulk, forced out of her hot tub by the security alarms, yanks him from his comfy web hammock and is ready to knock him into next week. Before she squashes the spider, Captain America tells him that the Avengers roster is full (in Avengers #211 (December 1981) - Cap decided that the Avengers needed to be more of a lean mean fighting force - and thus limits the active duty roster to six members), although Spidey could come on as an "Avenger in training" along with Starfox. Training? Starfox? Who the hell is Starfox? Spidey is offended and rightly so, as he reminds them that he was sticking to walls while they were still looking for a clubhouse. Although not specifically mentioned in this issue, he was also the guy who busted the Avengers out of their stasis prison that Thanos (Starfox’s brother by the way – funny – they don’t look anything alike) had them all in Marvel-Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977). Before the argument picks up any heat, an emergency call distracts the Avengers and the She-Hulk gently persuades him to leave the mansion (by throwing a chair at him – but hey, at least it didn’t connect). Smarting over his ejection while outside the mansion, he sees the team’s quinjet bail out and decides to hitch a ride, taking him to Project Pegasus, another one of those hush hush government installation centers. When Spidey is discovered, sticking to the bottom of the quinjet and protected by a web cocoon, Cap is not amused and is about to verbally lambaste the web slinger when an earthquake hits. Turns out that drilling by the installation enraged a group of lava men who are now heading toward the “nuclear dome” which when mixed with lava men, well, you get the idea. Cap really has some starch in his shorts today because not only is he pissed at Spidey for stowing away, he gets shitty with him when the latter states that he doesn’t believe in lava men (of course, it is kind of a stupid statement when you think about it – along the lines of Spider-Man saying he doesn’t believe in vampires as he did in the first year after the reboot). To top it off, during a confrontation with the lava men, Cap tells Spidey to lay down a barrier of webbing to distract them – however, he doesn’t just lay down a barrier – he covers them – and they heat themselves (and the room) to an uncomfortable level and burn their way free. Cap addresses him in a moment of anxiety as (guess what) “you young fool!" because now the lava men know they have nothing to fear from the webbing. He tells Spidey that if he wants to be an Avenger, he’d better learn to follow orders. And not only that, but it isn’t long before the Wasp, who has never been one of the wall crawler’s biggest fans, jumps all over his ass for stowing away on the quinjet, asking him who he thinks he is interfering in Avengers business and stating that he might have sacrificed the entire mission!

Now if this were me, after I had heard a member of the Avengers call me a “young fool” for the second time in the span of a few weeks or months and got chewed out by an insect-sized woman, I would’ve swatted the Wasp and (respectfully) told Captain America to take his wings and his shield and shove them up a certain orifice (but then again, he needs a ride home on the quinjet – maybe that wouldn’t be a wise idea). Spidey may be young, (he’s probably around 23 at this time) but he’s been at this game every bit as long or more as the rest of them, with the exception of Cap’s WWII service. Besides, just how many copies of The Amazing Wasp do you think would sell, huh? However, unlike previous encounters, Spider-Man is able to control his notorious hot temper and swallow both his tongue and his pride and apologize, stating that he just wanted to prove he had the makings of a good Avenger (frankly, he should have nothing to prove, but that’s another matter). After all, $1,000 a week is hanging in the balance, unlike other times when he perceived that there was no economic benefit to joining a team. Also, considering that over the years he has put up with a lot worse from J. Jonah Jameson in his Peter Parker identity, and for a lot less money, he can take a little heat here.

Although Project Pegasus is later saved from the Lava Men (it was all just a misunderstanding – the Lava Men didn’t take too kindly to huge drills coming through the tops of the caverns where they lived – kinda understandable – wonder if the Trading Spaces folks will have any cheap remodeling ideas for the Lava Men?), before anyone can catch their breath, super villains Electro, Moonstone (now one of Norman Osborn's operatives in Thunderbolts - my what a small world this is), Blackout, and the Rhino, who are all being held at Pegasus so that scientists may study their energy production capabilities, bust out of their cells and wreck havoc, and Moonstone triggers a countdown to a nuclear catastrophe. Spidey’s scientific acumen (he deduced that Moonstone had pulled the dampening rods out of the reactor and described the required corrective action) combined with Captain Marvel’s ability to transform into energy save the day (maybe I was a little hard on Ms. Marvel, damn, I keep forgetting that’s someone else, Captain Marvel, for just being able to walk in off the street and get Avengers membership).

Helping to prevent nuclear catastrophe must go a long way toward healing some rifts and smoothing ruffled feathers, because after a latte and muffins at the Avengers mansion, Captain America asks his government contact (the U.S. government paid the Avengers’ freight at this time) for clearance approval for a new Avengers trainee – Spider-Man!

But before Spidey can count the cash, the government contact explodes (metaphorically), asking Captain America if he is out of his damn mind! Spider-Man is a major security risk due to the fact that they have a file on him a yard long that still tells them nothing about him. So, not only is the answer to Spidey’s appeal for membership “no,” it’s “hell no!” A bit embarrassed, Captain America offers to make a personal appeal on Spidey’s behalf to the President, but the wall crawler declines the offer with a final jab – “my own government will o.k. a guy from outer space (Starfox) but not me?” (he does have a point there) and exits the mansion post haste. It’s a good thing that Spidey didn’t read Avengers #211 or he would have seen that Tigra was literally able to walk in off the street, get security clearance, and become an Avenger, even though Captain America clearly stated "but we don't know anything about you!" when she first made the appeal. On first blush, that makes absolutely no sense, considering Spider-Man’s long years as a crime-fighter. However, the difference between the new Captain Marvel, Tigra and Spidey, I suppose is that the identities of the former two are not secret, at least from the government, and it’s probably relatively easy to do a security check on them. Still, with Captain America vouching for him, you would think…however, the other issues that could have been explored here are jettisoned in order to have a slam bam thank you ma’am last page finale. As far as Marvel was concerned at the time, Spidey was not going to be an Avenger simply because it made no business sense to them, and really didn’t bother to flesh out the dramatic details.

If they had, they probably would have come to the same conclusion as I, that although Spidey thought he wanted to be an Avenger, it would’ve been a bad fit at the time - again. Maybe not as bad as when the first offer was made back in 1966 (in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3), but this time, had he been allowed to join, it would have been for the wrong reasons. Even while Captain America is making his case to the Federal Government, Spidey is still agonizing about his decision, feeling that joining a team is really going to cramp his style, but ultimately decides that he can’t pass up getting paid $1,000 a week to play Spider-Man.

Now, he hadn’t been fighting crime all of these years because he was getting paid, he was doing it out of a tortured sense of guilt and responsibility, which allowed him to continue this path even though it caused him a relentless amount of grief. For him to put up with being a member of a team, which would have its own additional headaches, he would have to be of similar conviction. After awhile, if he were only in it for the money, it would begin to show further down the line, and he would probably have lost even more respect among the Avengers if they suspected or realized his mercenary priorities. Cap in particular probably would have felt like a fool for pleading Spidey’s case only to find out the wall crawler’s motivations were less than noble. I’m not suggesting that Spider-Man would have been a superhero slacker, or hanging out at Starbucks when he should have been traveling to the outer rims of the galaxy fighting the evil minions of the Great and Powerful Glorg, but the Avengers leadership takes itself and its mission pretty seriously – and being a member in order to cash a check, well… He likely wouldn’t have been very happy there anyway, particularly “in training.” There is clearly a perception among some of the older Avengers, i.e. Cap and Iron Man, that he is still an immature hot head, and there probably would have been a few more of those “you young fool” moments.

Still, it’s clear that he’s matured somewhat in the intervening years. He didn’t pick a fight with anyone, and backed down when it was appropriate to back down. And after dealing with the relentlessly punning Beast, who may be the one hero whose sense of humor is even more over the top and outrageous than Spider-Man’s, the Avengers should have a little more tolerance for the web slinger’s quips. However, the timing is really bad now because of the volume of personal upheavals he’s going through at this time – he had just quit grad school, he was hopelessly in love with a woman who would turn out to be no good for him (the Black Cat), Aunt May is mad at him for dropping out of school – he just has too much going on to make the necessary commitment. He simply doesn’t need yet one more set of responsibilities to deal with.

Spidey's last brush with full Avengers membership comes in issues #314-318 (February-June 1990) of that title, a titanic five-part tale brought to us by none other than John “Chapter One” Byrne. In many ways, this story brings full circle and closure to Spidey’s pursuit of Avenger membership status that not even his later appointment as a “Reserve Substitute Avenger,” did. It is in this storyline that we see Spider-Man receive the unquestioned acceptance from the Avengers that he always sought, but even that is sadly (or not, depending upon your point of view) not enough to secure him a permanent spot, as other differences, not fully fleshed out, prove to be too irreconcilable.

There is a mysterious disruption in the space-time continuum felt across the entire universe. Thor is transporting a massive load of garbage to New Jersey (even superheroes dump their garbage in New Jersey, it seems – this garbage, though, happens to be wreckage from the Avengers old HQ) when one of these disruptions occur, and it is powerful enough to cause even a god to vapor lock and drop his load, which is heading straight for the ground and innocent civilians. BUT – in even better fashion than Mighty Mouse (“here I come to save the day”) – a single strand of webbing comes from nowhere to divert the tons of trash, and all is good with the world, for the moment.

We notice immediately that things are a little different in Spider-man’s relationship with some of the old guard of Marvel U. Thor’s reaction to seeing Spidey this time is not one of boisterous arrogance, or condescension, just “it pleases me to see thee, slinger of webs.” I’ve never been the biggest fan of Thor, but it’s interesting to see how he, of all of the other Avengers, actually seems comfortable in the presence in, and even likes – Spider-Man – yet these two men couldn’t be more opposite of each other, particularly with Spidey’s smart mouth and tendency to tell bad jokes. He even invites Spider-Man back to the mansion with him to further investigate the disruptions. It’s interesting that Thor was also the only Avenger in the famous Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3 who deduced right away that there was a lot more to the story of Spidey “not being able” to find the Hulk. I’ll have to have a Thor fan enlighten me on how the Thunder God thinks, but my own speculation would be that Thor, perhaps more than most, is able to see what lies within a person’s heart, whether due to uncommon intuition, or truly godlike powers of perception. He knows that Spider-Man has a “warrior’s heart,” and unlike others, after having been around him awhile, he simply ignores Spider-Man’s obnoxiousness (unless it truly does come at an inappropriate moment) because he knows better than most what a façade it is. As he tells Spidey when they talk about the disruptions “your frivolity does not completely hide your concern.”

The story that follows is rather complicated and is really two different stories, so I’m not sure my re-telling (which I’m trying to keep as concise as possible) will do it justice, but nevertheless…

Nebula, the psychotic blue-skinned, but not too bad-looking if you’re into psychotic blue-skinned babes, granddaughter of Thanos (and niece of that who the hell is this Avenger, Starfox) is seeking the “ultimate power.” The ultimate power to do exactly what, I was never really sure, but take my word for it, she was a bad mamajama. Anyway, she has conspired with an earth scientist to create some do-hickey which when it reaches maximum efficiency, will destroy the universe. As it is now, it is simply causing the universe to wink out of existence every now and then, leaving a lot of migraine headaches and upset stomachs the world over.

During one of these universal spasms, the entire universe goes out of existence with the exception of one room in the Avengers mansion, where the Eternal Sersi (another forgettable Avenger) has protected everyone by her universal control of molecules. All that’s left is Cap, Thor, Spidey, Jarvis the faithful butler, Sersi, and the science building where the Universal Spasm Master 1000 is running. The Avengers are able to navigate their room to the science building and attack Nebula and her minions. Unfortunately, the machine is building to 100% efficiency, and the magnetic field surrounding it plays havoc with human tissue, and even Captain America can’t get close enough to pull the plug. However, Spidey is able to attach a web line to the Spasm Master (because his webbing is non-organic and non-conductive – guess that wouldn’t work now, eh?) and with great effort, pulls the plug on the machine and literally saves the universe – except no one except those in the room will ever know it because time resumes from the very second the universe winked out of existence before.

However, Nebula has escaped to her spaceship, which is in orbit around the earth, and to where the Vision and Iron Man are currently heading. The rest of the Avengers are determined to fly there and join that fight. Captain America tells Spidey that there is no need for him to come as he is not an Avenger, but Spidey responds that he’s seen it this far, he wants to see it the rest of the way through. Impressed - “spoken like a man” - Cap lets Spidey tag along.

What follows is a lot of traditional knuckle busting that I don’t need to go into detail on – but what makes it stand out is how Cap notices that not only does Spider-Man appear to be fighting better as a team player than he ever imagined, but that his humor and light-heartedness in the face of battle, rather than being a source of constant irritation, is having the opposite effect, actually helping to create a greater sense of camaraderie and teamwork. Even Thor starts cracking jokes.

After the latest round of thugs and cronies is rounded up, Captain America stuns Spider-Man by offering him full and unconditional membership in the Avengers, which he, as Chairman, can do (obviously things have changed with the Avengers the last several years that Cap can make this offer – such as the security clearance issue – but I am not knowledgeable enough about the Avengers to know exactly what). A speechless (something new for him) Spidey, prodded by the other members, gratefully accepts. This is actually a pretty nice scene, and shows just how far Spider-Man has come in the eyes of the superhero community. There is none of that derision or uncertainty as in the past. There is nothing but mutual admiration and acceptance. Considering that the offer comes straight out of the blue, it’s pretty surprising. Then again, considering just how many years have passed and how many times Spider-Man and the Avengers have teamed-up either singularly or collectively, and how many other members there have been with a heck of a lot less experience and more dubious backgrounds, this is long, long overdue.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man makes a critical mistake before long. Cap disperses the team to look for Nebula’s backup plan – another super weapon, this time an artifact stolen from one of those giant space-traveling dudes, the Stranger (if Starfox and Thanos can be brothers, don’t you figure these giant guys like the Stranger, Galactus, and the Watcher all have to be related somewhere down the line?). Cap’s orders are NOT to touch the thing, but to report back its location. Well, guess what? Spidey doesn’t follow orders, but tries to snag it with a web line, fearing Nebula may come to claim it in the meantime. After all, it worked for pulling the plug on the Universal Spasm Master 1000, right? Wrong! This time, his chosen action is a disaster, triggering a failsafe that transfers its powers to Nebula, which REALLY makes her a psychotic blue-skinned badass. I guess Cap and Iron Man must have been otherwise pre-occupied since neither called Spidey a “young fool” this time, or even an old fool. Still, it’s a pretty bad blunder, and once again calls into doubt Spidey’s ability to do what he’s told.

It’s no surprise to say that Nebula is ultimately defeated, but what is significant (for the purposes of this article) is now that Spidey has finally become an Avenger, you’d think it would make him happy. Unfortunately, he becomes increasingly troubled throughout the rest of the storyline (which is noticed by both Captain America and Thor), as he supposedly realizes just how far out of his element he is. He admits to the Avengers that he's a bit shell-shocked, that this has all been more than he's used to. Supposedly - he isn’t used to routinely playing high stakes games for the salvation of the planet or the universe, which the Avengers seem to do on a regular basis. I say supposedly, because after all of those Marvel Team-Ups in which Spidey has traveled into outer space (even going to the moon and tackling with the Stranger himself years ago – an event which is actually referenced), gone back in time to Puritan Salem, tripped to the future to hang out with Killraven and Deathlok, journeyed to the center of the earth (hey, I think there’s a novel there), the Savage Land, and heaven knows where else, he’s done more than his regular share of planet saving and weird adventures. So, regardless of what Marvel may say or a particular writer may try to push through in a story about Spidey not being able to handle these kinds of things, that dog just don’t hunt. That’s a lazy rationalization. The real reason Spider-Man has never been a member of the Avengers before is because Marvel didn’t want him to be – for reasons I explained earlier. If they did – then all of those legitimate doubts, including the ones I discuss, would simply have been glossed over.

Anyway, immediately after the Avengers are transported home by a grateful Stranger, Spidey is unusually frank about his personal life, stating that he wants to tell his wife that he just helped save the universe. Captain America follows him to the roof where he drops his bombshell – he thinks Spider-Man is best suited to “the war on crime” and not the menaces the Avengers routinely face. Spidey asks “you mean I’m fired?” which Cap doesn’t exactly deny. The wall crawler seems to take this action extremely well, and swings off into the horizon, giving us yet another one of those last page slam bam thank you ma’am finales that is highly unsatisfying. The story fails to truly address why Captain America determines that Spider-Man just doesn’t fit in with the Avengers and why none of the other Avengers seems to care after this issue!

Now, I’m not saying I wanted Spider-Man to become a member of the Avengers, at least not the Avengers the way their stories were unfolding at the time, because I really don’t think that’s the element in which Spider-Man works best as a character, and Marvel, for all the griping we do about it sometimes, clearly knew that as well. Spidey is always more interesting fighting Potato Salad Man and the like than exchanging quips with deities. It’s fun to see him occasionally take on those extreme challenges as a change of pace, but that’s not his character’s dramatic strength. However, when you’re finishing off a five part story in which one of the major elements was your most popular singular character becoming a member of a famous team, and then he leaves that team in the same story, it should be handled with a bit more dramatic oomph that just a rooftop goodbye. This actually was a historic moment that was squandered. For more than 25 years, Spidey has toyed with Avengers membership, and one thing or another has tripped him up, his own immaturity, the US Government, the perceptions of those around him. Now, finally, after all of this time, he gets what he thinks he wants, but then realizes what so many of us do, that what we think we want really isn’t in our best interests. Or as Mr. Spock once said “having is not nearly as pleasurable a thing as wanting – it is not logical – but it is often true.”

I think the real reason Spider-Man accepted being “fired” was because when it came down to it, what he wanted was the appearance of being an Avenger, the respect and acceptance that came with that role, but didn’t want to do the heavy lifting and make all of the additional compromises and choices that would come with it. Almost like “buyer’s remorse” on a house. He has simply been a loner for far too long now, close to 10 years Marvel time and is too used to calling his own shots. And, let’s not forget, he was only recently married to Mary Jane Watson (the marriage occurred in 1987 – but three years our time translates to very little time in the Marvel Universe) and endured two frightening separations as detailed in the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and “Mad Dog Ward” storylines. The prospect of joining a galaxy spanning team and putting his wife through more grief at such an early stage in their marriage was not very appealing. He was already asking a tremendous amount from Mary Jane in his solo crime fighting career – and it wouldn’t seem fair to do this to her as well. Although not versed on the specifics, it became apparent to Cap and probably to Thor as well (although there didn’t seem to be a long enough break in the story for the two of them to have compared notes), that he was beginning to have serious regrets.

For many of the Avengers, being an Avenger is their life, and several of them, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Ant-Man-Giant-Man-Goliath-Yellowjacket have significant others who are also Avengers, or like Hawkeye, were romantically involved with other members of the superhero community. For them and others, their superhero identity may be their “real” identity. This is not true, and has never been true, for Spider-Man.

Which is what makes him what he is.

But nothing says it always has to be that way…but that’s a little further down the line…

But, if you can't join an established team, why not just start your own?

The Outlaws
In Web of Spider-Man #50 (May 1989), written by tenured spider-scribe Gerry Conway, slimebag papparazzi Nick Katzenberg gives Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson what he has been looking for for years - evidence that Spider-Man is a criminal. Katzenberg has pictures of the wall crawlern robbing the penthouse of mogul Winston Walker. Katzenberg uses these photos as a negotiating ploy to prompt Jameson to make him a staff photographer (and thus a rival and general pain in the ass to Peter Parker for the next several years). Naturally, the photos are plastered on Page 1 of the Bugle. The "revelation" that Spider-Man is little more than a common thief invites the attention of a few old sparring partners of his, namely Puma, Rocket Racer, Will of the Wisp, and the Prowler. All come looking for him, mostly to seek answers as to why he appears to have turned rotten. Naturally, there's more to the story, and after a few obligatory fist fights, in which Silver Sable and the Sandman join in the fun, we discover that Spidey was actually working with Sable, "robbing" Walker so that he would panic, fearing that Spider-Man might have also stolen other, more important things. Walker thus travels to the location of a secret vault which contains proof that he has been a money-launderer for the crime cartel the Maggia - which is exactly what Sable and Spider-Man were hoping he would do. By rushing to make sure that Spider-Man had not stolen the documents he would lead the good guys right to where the information was hidden. As the party breaks up and everyone goes home, Sable gives the participants her business card, offering them free lance work, and Spidey reinforces some important connections that come in rather handy at a later date...

Flash forward to Spectacular Spider-Man #168 (September 1990), written by Gerry Conway again (boy, this guy got around didn't he?). Spider-Man is minding his own business just swinging around the city when the She-Hulk flags him down. She takes him to an abandoned building now owned by Wilson Fisk, stating that there is something there that Fisk should not be allowed to get his hands on. This "something" is at the bottom of a pit covered with a heavy lid. As the She-Hulk holds the lid, Spidey jumps into the pit, opens a chest at the bottom, and a mysterious black cloud comes out (think of it as a third cousin on his mother's side to Venom). But once the "cloud" escapes, She-Hulk drops the lid and traps Spidey in the pit! We get another one of those increasingly tired "Master Planner" story moments (reference Amazing Spider-Man #33 (February 1966)) when Spidey thinks of everyone who depends on him while he's pushing up tons of rubble, before his muscle power and strength of will helps him push the lid off the pit and escape.

Needless to say, Spidey doesn't cotton to being left to die, and invades the Avengers mansion with a mad-on for old Shulkie and fists a flyin', but the Avengers have proof that she never left the mansion at the time Spidey supposedly encountered her! Unconvinced, but needing help, Spidey calls in a few "old friends," including the Rocket Racer, Puma, Prowler, and Sandman to help him investigate the nature of the black cloud that he released. And oh yeah, there's a chance they may have to get into a smack-down with the Avengers.

He sure doesn't ask a lot of folks, does he?

What's interesting is that the Racer and Prowler don't hesitate to help, seeing it as a chance for payback for Spider-Man setting them straight years ago. With Puma, there's the "debt of honor" he owes Spider-Man (which is too long to get into right here, and I'm not entirely sure I completely understood it anyway), and Sandman also agrees, although a bit less certain than the others. Spidey later observes that "all of my life, I thought I was a loner, but when push comes to shove, I've got people I can count on after all."

It isn't long before his spider-sense locates the black cloud, which is literally eating the flesh off the bones of zoo animals (ewww). The Avengers, who have been tailing Spider-Man and his band of merry men (noting that each of them has a criminal record, and they fear the web slinger may be into something very bad), come to the rescue. Spidey is still not in a forgiving mood, but before long, when the Outlaws get together again, the Racer and Sandman are at each other's throats, with the Racer complaining that the sandy one attacked him. Spidey is beginning to get a very bad feeling about this (we have already learned that the shape-shifting Space Phantom - a rather old Marvel villain - recently seen impersonating Spider-Man in the Beyond miniseries - has been the one stirring up trouble by posing as the She-Hulk and Sandman, doing the bidding of a mysterious entity). Issue #170 opens with the Outlaws about to crash Avengers headquarters, but the Space Phantom is impersonating Spider-Man at this time, and he ignites a battle between the two teams. However, Puma sniffs out the Phantom and brings the masquarade to a halt, ending the turmoil and mistrust. The Avengers and Outlaws discover that the black cloud was an entity brought from the Amazon by a millionaire mystic for his rituals, but unable to control it, he sealed it up in the crypt until Spider-Man was tricked into releasing it. Ultimately, Spidey deduces that the cloud is not a singular entity, but a swarm of microscopic cannibalistic insects, and the teams are able to force them back into the chest, which is then hurled into outer space by Thor. The mysterious entity turns out to be Calculus of the "Young Gods," which was the group whose appearance had earlier ruined Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8. This featured the return of the Gwen Stacy clone and (temporarily) brought closure to that storyline, but that story took second place to what essentially was a long advertisement for the Young Gods, who of course, have gone into obscurity. Anyway, in the story at hand, Calculus did not want the black cloud to fall into the hands of the Kingpin, and so he masterminded this entire ordeal. Bleh.

This story had an interesting observation by Spider-Man that seems to fall by the wayside whenever writers want to beat up on poor old Spidey and make him the down and out hero. And that observation is that for all of his faults and for all of the people who don't like him - he has built up a considerable amount of goodwill and political capital among many individuals, people he could go to in times of trouble or despair who could offer him a helping hand now and then. Although at times he feels that he is little more than cursed being Spider-Man, he has made a significant difference in many, many people's lives. This is why, among other reasons, I simply didn't buy any of that steaming pile of crap we were fed after Mary Jane's alleged death in volume 2 Amazing Spider-Man #13 (January 2000), in which Peter Parker eventually wound up sleeping on the street, working as a dishwasher, and starving. Not that he would go around to the superhero community or people on the street with a sign that says "Will Web Sling for Food," or that he spent his career being the Vito Corleone of the spandex set ("maybe someday I will come to you for a favor...") collecting favors for personal gain, but I think you understand where I'm going with this.

The story of the Outlaws (who, incidentally, never really referred to themselves in this way) didn't end there, as various members, sans Spidey and Puma, appeared with Silver Sable in back-up stories in Spider-Man Annuals during the 1990's. They also tangled with those mutants from the other side of the pond in Excalibur #36.

But will we ever see the Outlaws again? Not very likely (although I suppose the New New Avengers could call themselves that as they are in violation of the Superhero Registration Act). It's clear that for the expansion happy Marvel of the 1990's, the Outlaws were another gimmick that was being tested to see if it would fly in its own title, but reaction was apparently not sufficient to warrant it. They now seem to be one of those concepts that was jettisoned in the post-reboot era. For one, the Sandman appears to have rejoined the other side of the law again, tangling with Spidey as a member of the reconstituted Sinister Six, and also during a pair of very weird, but admittedly rather funny, Zeb Welles' stories during the last days of Peter Parker: Spider-Man in 2003 and 2004. Puma, aka Thomas Firehart, mostly recently seen under the sheets with the Black Cat in Sensational Spider-Man has never really been a team player, only participating in the Outlaws out of a debt of honor to Spider-Man.

A lot of spider-fans have a soft spot in their heart for "The Outlaws" and there are some attractive things about the concept - for one, the idea of rehabbed villains trying to make good, which actually was the premises of the Thunderbolts title pre-Civil War, before it underwent a membership chance including Norman Osborn, Venom, and Bullseye, villains who will NEVER reform (hopefully - because that would suck). Also, with Spidey's regular scrapes with the law himself, he has a lot in common with various members of "The Outlaws," and as mentioned above, has earned the respect and loyalty of many. Seeing him as a mature team leader, in contrast to the smart mouthed iconoclast, is a nice change of pace sometimes. The particular stories in which the Outlaws appeared didn't really register very strongly with me - but I can appreciate people's affection for the idea.

The "new" Fantastic Four
This is one of those fun little concepts that recurred throughout the 90's although it was one of the most improbable team-ups in the Marvel Universe - the “new” Fantastic Four, which consisted of Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider.

The team first appeared in Fantastic Four #347-349 (December 1990-February 1991), when a renegade Skrull, De'Lila (hmm - apparently either Skrull theology runs somewhat parallel with Judeo-Christian theology, or someone had gotten a bit lazy naming the villainess) crashed on Earth, with a Skrull ship in hot pursuit. De'Lila, another graduate of the Skrull Shape-Shifting Academy, slips into the Baxter Building, and one by one incapacitates each member of the Fantastic Four by posing as either a loved one or one to whom the member is sexually attracted (it should be of interest that the woman that Johnny Storm is seen as having the hots for is none other than Nebula the Notorious - I added that tag - the bad girl in Spidey's infamous hired and fired mission with the Avengers).

The pursuing Skrulls, on the other hand, land on the Mole Man's infamous "Monster Island." Noting that the bio-readings given off the by gigantic monsters that live there (hence the name - duh) are similar enough to the Skrulls (I don't see how, but bear with me) they can be easily controlled by Skrull technology. Thus the Skrulls use the monsters to search the world for De'Lila, and they begin showing up in every major city of the world like a bunch of bad Japanese movie monsters in one of those Godzilla team-ups.

Realizing that she is being pursued (nothing gets past her, evidently), and now posing as Susan Richards, De'Lila sends out a mental call to Spider-Man, the Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider, gathering them at the Baxter Building. She relays the shocking story of how the rest of the FF have been murdered (even showing them the FF's "bodies") and gives them the means to trace and follow the FF's "assassins," hoping that under false pretenses, the heroes will destroy the Skrulls in their desire to avenge the FF and thus leave her to her own devices. The "new" Fantastic Four, as Wolverine dubs them, then sets out to nab the "killers," tracking the Skrulls to Monster Island, relentlessly bickering at each other during the entire trip.

Meanwhile, back at the Baxter Building, with the rest of the FF in captivity, De'Lila tells Reed Richards what she is after, an egg that will soon hatch and bear a "inorganic technodroid" (fancy shmancy way of saying a big killer robot) that she plans to use to murder the Skrull emperor. The two are able to trace the egg to guess where - Monster Island - and they set forth there as well. Eventually, the rest of the FF is able to escape the trap that De'Lila has them in, and they journey to the island, setting the stage for the big brouhaha in the final part of this three-part story. Eventually, the "new" FF realizes they've been had and joins the "old" FF. De'Lila is defeated, and when the Mole Man (or the Under-Miner for you Incredibles fans) decides to play mad supervillain and hold them all in captivity, Spidey convinces him that his partners in the New FF, particularly the Hulk, are strong and ill-tempered enough to literally bring his subterranean empire down around his head.

One of the shortcomings of this still enjoyable story is that we never really pin down exactly why De'Lila picked these four particular heroes for this mission, other than perhaps she was interested in jacking up sales figures herself. It's likely she was looking for strong personalities that could still be mentally manipulated without a great deal of effort, and all four of these gentlemen are rather emotionally volatile, in addition to having a stake in bringing in the FF's "killers." Spider-Man, with his long-standing relationship with the Four and friendship with Johnny Storm, would be especially desirous of such a result, Ghost Rider would be consumed by seeking vengeance for the Four, the Hulk saw Reed Richards as a kindred intellect and deeply respected him - and Wolverine - well Wolvie is always looking for a good fight.

As unlikely as it was, the team actually regrouped one more time, with the help of Dr. Strange in Fantastic Four #374 (March 1993). The Human Torch, in a battle for his life against three super-villains (including the Skrull Lyja, to whom he is wed in the Spider-Girl universe - which should be no surprise, since that title and this particular issue of the FF was written by the one and only Tom DeFalco. First Nebula and then Lyja - Johnny definately has a thing for alien women of a different pigment), survives only by going to nova heat, but in the process incinerates a good chunk of Empire State University. Rather than get his head together and explain the situation to the cops, he flees and goes into hiding, prompting a manhunt for him. Spidey, concerned about his old friend, wants to find him and help him, but doesn’t think he can do it alone, so he first sees Strange, who then helps him round up the others in the “new” FF. Ultimately what happens is the “new” Four wants to bring the Torch in, and the “old” Four is going to defend him to the death. A somewhat contrived battle follows, ending with a no decision as the real Fantastic Four is whisked away by an unknown power (for the following issue's plot - in which the "new" Four did not appear).

I like Tom DeFalco's writing and mastery of the Spider-Man character and others in his supporting cast, but there's a lot that just feels wrong about this story, for one, Spidey believing that he has to be accompanied by a lot of high-powered help in order to try to talk Johnny into surrendering. I can see where he would need help in finding Johnny, but that's a hell of a way to confront the man who is probably your best friend in the superhero community - bringing the Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider along with the implication that if he doesn't go quietly, he's gonna get stomped into about a hundred and severnty five pounds of Polish sausage. Peter should have known that as hot headed as Mr. Storm can be, and also how he himself would feel if outnumbered and outgunned to such a degree, for the sole purpose of intimidation, that Johnny would have freaked out and decided to go down fighting. Spidey would have done the same if the roles were reversed. And nothing in the story suggests that the urgency to bring the Torch in was so great that Spider-Man couldn't have found him, tried to talk some sense into him alone and after assessing the situation, if it then appeared that Johnny truly was out of hand or beginning to lose control of his marbles, then bring in the back-up.

You know - do you suppose that the result would have turned out a little better if Spidey had brought in "The Outlaws"? It's interesting that when Strange asks Spider-Man whom he thinks can help, rather than the group that willingly followed him into battle against the Avengers, he thinks of the cantankerous group that had to be talked into coming, and whom he couldn't control once they arrived. Guess it wouldn't have been as much fun to write.

But the fact that the old and new Fantastic Four have to get into a gratuitous superhero battle wears pretty thin. Admittedly, you have a lot of volatile personalities in this group - all of the "new" Four are loose cannons to some degree, and the Thing and Torch are capable of blowing their own stacks for the slightest of reasons. Still, considering how long most of the players have known each other, and fought alongside each other in the past, they couldn't have talked this out? After all, the "old" Four showed up for the same reason, to convince Johnny to turn himself in.

The story reeked of a contrived, hastily put together story for the purpose of jacking up sales - but it was more than that. It was a contrived, hastily put together story for the purpose of promoting the upcoming launch of Secret Defenders which operated under the premise of Doc Strange combing the globe for heroes to deal with one threat or another.

Obviously, the “new” Fantastic Four was simply a gimmick, and in its first go-round, was a pretty fun gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. It was really a writer simply playing with the various toys in Marvel's sandbox, coming up with a "wouldn't it be cool if?" idea. But as far as the long term viability of such a team - it's nonexistent. For any team to successfully function, there has to be a true leader, and there is none among this team, at least none that the others would recognize! The most logical choice would be Spider-Man, obviously, but each time he gave the appearance of asserting any authority, the Hulk and/or Wolverine would have none of it. As Spidey himself observed, it was like having two older, meaner brothers. Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could meld these extreme individuals into any kind of cohesive, enduring fighting force.

And to echo that sentiment, the New Four hasn’t appeared or even been referred to in “real” continuity in more than a decade. However, there were a couple of interesting alternative universe stories that dealt with this team staying together under the requisite extraordinary circumstances - and these are discussed in Alternate Spidey Part 3 .

Spidey Gets an Official Team Card
Sort of.

In Avengers #329 (February 1991), the Avengers are at another one of their numerous crossroads. Captain America has been chairing a rather long meeting (going on two days) trying to hammer out changes to the Avengers' operating policies and by-laws - and it looks like just about everyone who has ever drank a cup of coffee at the mansion is there, including our boy Spidey (who actually is rather bored by the whole thing). Now, there is no explanation as to why Spider-Man is there, considering that he was just fired by the Avengers less than a dozen issues prior!

The U.S. Government has revoked the Avengers' charter, but the United Nations steps in and offers the team a new charter as a special unit of the U.N.'s peace keeping force - with conditions. The Avengers can deal with all kinds of threats from outer space, other dimensions, undersea menaces, and crazed magicians, EXCEPT those instigated, abetted, or sanctioned by a member of the United Nations. In other words, the Avengers will be officially powerless to do anything about any act of evil perpetrated by one of those numerous little tinhorn dictatorships that comprise the U.N. And, led by Captain America, everyone mindlessly shouts "yeah" and approves this.

What an utter piece of garbage. I can't believe that Captain America, of all people, in good conscience could have sanctioned it. Maim, kill and torture as many people as you want, and the Avengers will sit on their collective super powered fat asses and not do a damn thing to stop you, as long as your U.N. dues are paid up.

Obviously the writer of this story (Larry Hama) didn't intend for it to sound the way I have interpreted it almost 15 years after it was written, but in a world where state sanctioned terrorism is par for the course, it just makes me ill.

But that's going off on another tangent.

Anyway, the Avengers select the new roster: Captain America, Thor, Vision, Black Widow, Sersi, Quasar, and She-Hulk. And then they select a group of seven Reserve Substitute Avengers, who will step in if one of the other Avengers is unable to serve, blah blah blah, you know the drill if you've ever watched the end of a Miss America or Miss Universe pageant. Anyway, five are "real" reserve substitute Avengers and the other two are probationary. The five real substitutes are Spider-Man, the Falcon (Cap's old partner), the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel, Hercules, and the Black Knight. The two probationary members are the Sandman and someone called "Rage," which if you can imagine such a character, it's Luke Cage in a yellow mask after taking massive amounts of steroids. The story that later unfolds does not involve the subs, but the primary team as it is whisked away to another dimension by a bunch of bad guys(you know, that sounds a little like the end of Fantastic Four #375, which we talked about earlier).

Making Spider-Man a Reserve Substitute Avenger (Whoop de do. Reserve Substitute Avenger. That won't even get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks - you'd have to go to Speedway or something) was just a cheap gimmick to get Spidey in the story so that more people than normal would care about this issue - as well, as provide a convenient excuse to plug him into a story in the future to juice things up. It makes no sense in the context of what had gone before. Captain America clearly stated at the end of Avengers #318 that membership was not for Spidey, to which the webslinger agreed. I can't see Cap actually going back and saying "remember when I told you that you weren't good enough to be a real Avenger - well, how would you like to be an Avenger-wannabe?" and I can't see Spidey accepting. Arguably the most popular hero in the Marvel Universe is placed on the same plateau as the Sandman, who has a long criminal record (yes, he's probationary - but still a member at that time)! Apparently, the Avengers never officially call Spidey up for active duty (although he did hang out with the West Coast Avengers for a story), which re-inforced the gimmickry of the whole "reserve Avenger" thing.

Spider-Man's status as a Reserve Avenger lasted until the reboot in 1999, when he again gave up being Spider-Man as the titles took a month off and then were relaunched with new #1's (a decision now reversed). During this period of time, he resigned his Avenger status, which is mentioned in Peter Parker volume 2 #11 as he is attacked trying to break into the mansion since he no longer has his security clearance.

And that's the way it stayed. Until now.

Conclusion
So - will Spidey make a good team player for the New New Avengers?

If the writers let him. And ultimately, that's what it all comes down to. I suppose like anything else when it comes to fictional characters, they can do whatever the writers make them do. If they write that Spidey joins the Avengers, then Spidey joins the Avengers. If they write that Spidey shaves his head, goes to Tibet, and becomes the next Dali Lama, then that's what he does as well.

But is it in character for Spider-Man to be a team player? Does it violate the core of his nature to shoehorn him into a team concept? Is the New Avengers simply a case of Marvel catering to the increasingly powerful Brian Michael Bendis' desire to play with his favorites among all of Marvel's toys?

I can't answer the last one because for some strange reason Marvel EIC Joe Quesada doesn't let me sit in on story conferences (yeah, the nerve of the man). But the answers to the first two are (1) Yes and (2) No.

Admittedly, it seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that Spider-Man could be a good team player because the very essence of the character over all of these long years is that he is an iconoclastic loner. Most of Spidey's hard core fans, which I obviously am one, prefer him to be a loner, because well, I think that's how most comic fans see themselves. After all, how many of us hard core comics fans were the star athlete in high school - and how many of us were the school nerds? How many of us belonged to the most popular clubs on campus, and how many of us were perpetually on the outside looking in? In the superhero community, Spider-Man embodies that sense of alienation that most of us, and well - most people period - feel from one time or another. Spidey's scrapes with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are also shots at the Establishment, the Man, the Authority, whatever we call those who also seem to be at the top of the food chain, above us. For him to join the Avengers, the "popular crowd," well, it almost seems like he's selling out!

But if we look at it realistically, many of the reasons that have been given by writers over the years for Spider-Man not being a member of the Avengers are rather specious. Some of the more popular reasons given in the context of the Marvel Universe - (1) we don't know much about him (2) he's too unpredictable or hot-headed (3) he's not used to cosmic adventures, and the favorite (4) he's a loner and not a team player - all have large holes in them as the Avengers have routinely broken all of these rules to let just about anyone in. A good reference source for all of the members of the Avengers past and present is the Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia compiled by the public. I know there are likely better sources out there, but this was one of the easiest for me to come across. If you look down the roster, you can spot any number of Avengers whom not much was known about (such as coming from outer space, other dimensions, or right off the damn street), or who were unpredictable, had hot tempers, or outright personality disorders, and had trouble fitting into a team concept. Are you going to try to say that there haven't been full-fledged members of the Avengers who haven't questioned orders, or disobeyed them? Who haven't picked fights with other members, lost their tempers, or got right up into Captain America's face? Or who haven't repeatedly told one excruciatingly bad joke after another to the point of driving the team crazy?

Of course not. All of those reasons were actually true during the early part of Spider-Man's history, but are no longer valid. He isn’t the same kid who first got his spider powers and botched his best chance at Avengers membership when he was only 18 or 19. He’s now a battle-hardened veteran of anywhere from 28-30 years old (I lean to the latter) who has proven to have amazing survival skills and is quick on his feet, both literally and metaphorically, and who has fought virtually every menace known to man.

Therefore, as time went on, all of these were simply excuses because Marvel didn't want him to be an Avenger. And actually, I don't have a problem with that for reasons I'll mention below. The problem comes when, as in the case of the Nebula story which we discussed earlier, the writers portray Spider-Man as a dim witted fool who shakes in his little pink booties and acting like he's never tangled with supersized aliens. And it's not just Spider-Man who comes off poorly, but the Avengers membership itself. After all, are they really that stubborn that they wouldn't prefer someone of Spider-Man's strength, character, willpower, and formidable intellect to some of the literal no-names that have populated the roster over the course of the last few decades?

Again, of course not. Each person comes with positives and negatives which have to be weighed against the other, and in Spidey's case, any team should be glad to have him, even though he can be a huge pain in the ass at times. Look at some of the overindulged adolescents that sports teams and sports fans put up with because they produce the numbers everyone wants. And, for all of Spidey's faults, he's been around the block long enough to know that there are times to piss in the tent, and there are times to put up and shut up.

At this stage of the game, the only valid in-character reason for Spider-Man not to be an Avenger is that he doesn't want to be an Avenger. And no one on the team wants him unless he wants to be there. Simple as that - no need for any of these other tortured explanations and excuses. And why wouldn't Spidey want to be an Avenger? The same reason many people prefer to go into business for themselves rather than work for an established corporation, even though the pay, benefits, and stability may be exponentially better: they want to call their own shots and want their time to be their own. Unlike many of the Avengers, Spider-Man actually has a family to support, a wife and an aging "parent," a real job (or two depending if he takes pictures for the Bugle), and in the past he was a student. Therefore, he simply wanted to have the flexibility to handle those matters as he saw fit. Perfectly valid reasons. And the reason Cap gave him the boot earlier was that he could tell that Spider-Man's heart was no longer in it. I have always believed that Spidey wanted the appearance of being an Avenger and the corresponding respect, but really didn't want to deal with the day to day b.s. that would come with it.

That said, there were valid creative reasons to keep Spider-Man out of the Avengers. First of all, outer space and extra-dimensional adventures, although interesting diversions at times, typically do not play to his strengths as a character.

And, in the larger picture view, to load the Avengers with all of the big names of the Marvel Universe, for example, is almost akin to writing with one hand tied behind one's back. If you're the writer of the Avengers, and the membership is comprised totally of Marvel's most popular characters who also have their own books - or in the case of Spider-Man, more than one - then what can you truly do with the characters? After all, it is more than likely that as the writer of the team book, you will not be able to make significant or life altering changes to that character. Typically, the writer of the character's book is going to have the primary control of that character, and key events in his/her life will happen there (Of course, that could change if there becomes one master architect of the Marvel Universe, like Bendis seems to becoming, which explains for example, why the Green Goblin exposure story took place in The Pulse). So then, you don't have a team book, you have a team-up book. On the other hand, including a handful of little-known characters to supplement the main ones, and who either primarily or solely exist as a result of being in the Avengers, probably presents much more interesting and creative challenges to a writer, as it gives him/her much more to work with. Rather than dealing solely with characters who have convoluted backgrounds dating back 45 years that limits their flexibility (particularly if they're heavily licensed characters), new characters represent blank slates that a writer can populate with virtually anything he/she desires. Also, newer characters can also provide the reader with a newcomer's perspective of the classic heroes, who may be able to look at Captain America, or Iron Man, in a different way than a character that has known them for several years. Although we can't compare this literally with DC, since DC has never been really concerned about continuity or overexposure issues - who was it who was murdered in the recent Identity Crisis? The wife of a secondary character who doesn't have his own book. The murderer? The girlfriend of another secondary character who doesn't have his own book. And look how much controversy THAT stirred up.

There are also legitimate issues regarding team composition. After all, a baseball team doesn't load up with 25 home run hitters, because you also have to have players who can pitch, play defense, steal bases, protect the plate and hit a friggin' curve ball - so you accept that not all of your team members are going to be "muscle." There may have been times in the Avengers' history that Spider-Man's particular skill set was not needed or not practical. For example, in the Nebula adventure, Cap noted how Spider-Man's wacky sense of humor was actually helping to instill a sense of camaraderie - but if you had both Spider-Man and the wisecracking Beast on the same team at the same time - one or both of them would eventually be killed by the other team members because there's only so many rapid fire bad jokes even the most advanced intelligence can suffer.

When this article originally debuted as a series, some readers thought I was a little too hard on lesser-known Avengers, Sersi and Starfox in particular, whom I singled out only because they happened to be in the same issues that Spider-Man guest starred. They're right. I was hard on them, largely because of my own personal biases. For a very brief time, I reviewed the Avengers for the Hero Realm - but it lasted only about three issues, because frankly, the title bored the piss out of me, and that's largely because I admittedly possess a certain "snob" factor about the minor characters of the Marvel Universe (and the DC Universe as well). I just couldn't care about characters such as Silverclaw or Triathlon or Jack of Hearts - partly because I'm intellectually intrigued by the mythological qualities and allusions of the 20th Century American Superhero - and there really is only a handful that you can truly say has transcended their origins to become part of the larger fabric of American popular culture. That's a rather limited and narrow perspective, and I've probably cheated myself out of some great reading, and been unfair to some truly terrific writers, but right or wrong, that's where I'm coming from. For example, I really can't imagine a team comprised of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the current Flash, Green Lantern, etc., because those personalities are just so dramatically different from each other and Batman in particular has proven himself to be untrustworthy and dangerous to his own team (such as when an old enemy tapped into the files he was keeping detailing the weaknesses of his fellow team members). However, I can't imagine any team that calls itself the Justice League of America that doesn't include those heroes. I kind of feel the same way about the Avengers.

However, when we get to the crux of the matter - even though I prefer Spidey as a loner - I believe that creatively for the character's future development - this is a long overdue move and one I'm actually excited about as long as he is written in character. For example, all of the questions about Spider-Man's reluctance to join a team in the past, and the reluctance of others to accept him, is going to have to be honestly addressed and overcome, and not blown off just so Marvel can have a "cool" line-up (actually, Bendis has a lot more baggage to overcome in making Wolverine a member - that I'm anxious to see him address). Keeping a character that is almost 50 years old fresh and exciting not only for older readers, but hopefully for newer generations of readers to come, is a difficult task, and sometimes very bad decisions are made (such as the whole Clone Saga thing). But, I'm actually intrigued by the story possibilities of Spidey being a full-fledged member of the Avengers, as well as Aunt May and Mary Jane moving into the mansion, as has been indicated. This opens up all kinds of situations that good writing can tap into that have never been even remotely explored before. Admittedly, bad writing could turn this into pure hell, and we'd all bitch and moan about how bad it was and how it should never have been done. But it's worth taking a chance.

And - Spider-Man does not have to be a member permanently. If he is still an Avenger after New Avengers #50 - I would be very, very surprised. If the concept proves itself to not be completely workable, hopefully Marvel will realize this and write him out of the team.

But, let's see how it works.


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Copyright © 1998-2007 J.R. Fettinger. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used in these articles for the purpose of analysis and commentary.