After blockbuster team-ups with Red Hulk, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and more, we finally get the Spider-Man team-up you all demanded: Peter Parker and Aunt May! Yes, that’s right: in Avenging Spider-Man #11, Aunt May once again becomes the Herald of Galactus, remembers that she used to live in Avengers Tower during the Civil War era, and together, she and Spider-Man fight... I don’t know, let’s say Ego The Living Planet.
Okay, I’m lying, but mainly because I very desperately want to give this 90% action-free issue of Avenging Spider-Man - ostensibly the action-filled alternative to the already pretty action filled Amazing Spider-Man - a chance. Mainly because this story, written by Zeb Wells, with art by Steve Dillon, at moments stands up with some of the best issues of Spider-Man ever written. And in particular, fondly recalls both Amazing Spider-Man #38, and Ultimate Spider-Man #111. If you know those issues, you can probably see where we’re going with this, though that’s not nearly the whole story.
We kick off the issue with a fantastic scene of Spidey kicking a bad guy’s butt all over town, with nary a quip, and Wells manages to jam two short pages with more action, humor and character exposition than most comics do in an entire arc. From there, it’s over to the cemetery. For, you see, it’s the anniversary of Uncle Ben’s death, and Aunt May and Peter are there to pay tribute.
What makes this issue work so well is not just the razor sharp focus on these two characters, it’s Wells’ excellent balancing between two time periods, and the emotional weights of each. In the past, May and Peter are dealing with the immediate aftermath of Ben’s death, a time period I don’t think we’ve ever seen in a comic. In the present... They’re dealing with it in different ways. I won’t get into more of the specifics to keep this spoiler free, but suffice to say that Wells fully explores how the loss of Uncle Ben has affected these two characters, changed them, and how the quality of that loss has also changed over the decades.
Not only that, he manages to reveal new sides of Uncle Ben without the character even showing up. Oh, spoiler: Uncle Ben does not come back to life and attack the duo with zombie powers. Sorry! Even with that epic event not occurring, though, Wells, illuminates Ben in ways that make sense for a man we - as comic book readers - barely even know. Heck, that’s probably why they make sense: other than that whole power/responsibility thing, and his one weakness (you know, getting shot with bullets?), Uncle Ben is almost a blank slate in the Marvel Universe. Through Wells dialogue for May and Peter, we find out more about them, but also more about him.
Also helping things along is the immense talent of Steve Dillon. He’s known better as the definitive Punisher artist, but here he downsizes the action, and plays up the character. For my money, I think he has a slightly better handle on past Aunt May and past Peter - those sequences are pretty much perfect - than the modern era figures... But all that can be forgiven for the outpouring of emotion in the past, and six evenly spaced panels towards the end of the story that are so perfectly timed, I gasped out loud at the last one.
Actually, scratch all that: what’s great about this book is that in two short panels on the recap page, you find out everything you need to know about the three major characters in the book. And then in two short pages towards the end - twenty-five and twenty-six to be precise - you find out everything you need to know about those characters as they are now. That comes from Wells’ words, of course, but it’s also the excellent acting on Steve Ditko, and Steve Dillon’s parts, respectively. These are all guys that get what superhero comics are about is as much when the characters are out of tights, as when they’re swinging around with bad guys.
So while Avenging Spider-Man #11 doesn’t have giant guest stars, or big battles, or even tons of huge twists and turns (though there are a few), it stands up as one of the very best team-ups of the year. Do yourself a favor, and pick it up. You don’t even need to know anything about Spider-Man to read it.
Could have used some more Ego The Living Planet, though. I mean, what was his reaction to Uncle Ben’s death, you know?
Avenging Spider-Man #11 hits comic book stands Wednesday, August 29th from Marvel Comics.