This is the latest in a recurring feature recommending classic comics that you should probably reread now you’ve got some time on your hands. The last one was Strangehaven. Next up: Spider-Man Versus Wolverine.
This one-shot from 1987, was perhaps an attempt by Marvel to bring Spider-Man into a darker world, looking for the success that DC was having with Batman after Dark Knight.
With Russian spies and flashbacks to Berlin, you know Spider-Man Versus Wolverine is a different kind of story right from the start.
Wolverine is violent and dangerous, in ways that were seldom seen in X-Men, and there are no real super-villains to speak of. Instead, this is a tale of espionage and betrayal as he recalls a previous encounter with Charlie, a spy he engaged with on previous adventures.
After a night out with MJ, and an encounter with a sniper, Peter is anxious and returns to his patrol as Spidey. Peter is angry that often in situations, he is unable to save the victims of terrible crimes, and makes a decision to quit his alter ego.
A phone call from J Jonah Jameson informs Peter that he is being sent to Europe on an assignment with Ned Leeds. This will lead to Spider-Man encountering Wolverine in Berlin. Wolverine is searching for Charlie, who seems to have resurfaced and is killing spies, in what seems like a message to Logan.
Events escalate, Charlie is revealed as a female spy being hunted by everyone, Ned Leeds is murdered, Peter re-evaluates his decision to quit his superhero life, Wolverine tries to explain to Peter that he is out of his depth in this more violent and real situation, and, with no escape, it seems Wolverine is ready to kill Charlie rather than let her be captured by the enemy.
Of course, Peter is horrified and a fight ensues, however, Wolverine’s berserker rage means Peter is in real trouble and takes extreme action to try and stop Wolverine’s attack.
With too much happening, Peter makes a terrible mistake, punching Charlie accidentally. The punch is so hard, that he kills her. She dies in Wolverine’s arms, Peter is traumatized and returns to MJ in New York.
Written by Jim Owlsley, with art by Mark Bright, this double-sized special seems like it could have been a What If story, but there is no mistake here. This book is firmly a part of Spider-Man’s continuity and is referenced in issues of Spidey’s own comic at the time.
The shocking final scenes, the violent tone and the ramifications of the death of Ned Leeds, who has his throat cut, feel very different for a Spidey book. The European setting and the espionage feels more like a Bond movie, and Peter Parker is written as a complete fish out of water here.
Of course, it is all a product of its time. The Berlin war and Cold War references may be lost on newer readers, but this one-shot was a shocking read at the time, and the graveyard fight scene is visceral and almost hard to read.
Spider-Man has never been so useless in a situation, and you cannot help but feel for Peter and the Hitchcock-style nightmare that he has fallen into.
Wolverine is at his best here though, reveling in the cat and mouse, and being allowed to let loose wherever he wants.
Spider-Man Versus Wolverine may not be for everyone due to the very dark tone, but it’s also hard to ignore. It has been reprinted so should be easy to pick up online and is definitely worth a look to see exactly where comics were going in the late ’80s.