Review by Win Wiacek
Christos Gage and Mario Alberti’s trawl through Spider-Man’s meetings with the X-Men over the years was successful enough to generate this reprise. As with Spider-Man and the X-Men, it jumps through the decades over four chapters, and includes a reprinted two-part meeting from 1980.
The first chapter of the main story is set just after stuffy Mr. Fantastic and Sue Storm announced their engagement, a time when Peter Parker had just started college at Empire State University. A ‘Crisis on Campus’ is triggered when the institution hosts a secret conference of world leaders and Victor Von Doom, absolute monarch of Balkan kingdom Latveria, demands his arch-foes the FF should be his bodyguards. With the State Department pushing all the patriotism buttons, the furious foursome have no choice but to reluctantly comply. Intended merely as a means to aggravate and humiliate his enemies, the ploy became deadly serious when enraged Atlantean Prince Namor and his sub-sea legions attack the meeting seeking vengeance on Doom.
Unknown to all participants, however, a clandestine time-travelling foe uses the chaos as cover to acquire elements necessary to bring about the downfall of his greatest foes and the very rewriting of history.
‘Symbiosis’ skips forward a few years to the time after the first Secret Wars, when Spider-Man discovered his new smart-tech black costume was in fact an alien parasite. The uniform attempted to bond permanently to Peter and had to be forcibly removed and contained by Reed Richards and the FF. In this untold aside, the cosmic creature breaks free almost immediately, seizing control of Richards, temporary replacement She-Hulk and eventually Reed’s son Franklin.
Once the heroes repel the parasite peril, the saga shifts forward to the time when Skrull outlaw De’Lila invaded Earth, with her own people hot on her viridian high heels. Evading heavy pursuit she attacks the Fantastic Four and seemingly kills them. Disguised as a grieving Sue Richards she then recruits four heroes – The Hulk, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Spider-Man – to hunt down the murderers. The shapeshifting psionic siren seeks a semi-sentient ultimate weapon called a Technotroid and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ occurs minutes after the close of the original story (for which see Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed) as the temporal raider frees De’Lila from her Skrull captors as a deadly diversion whilst he takes the essence of the Technotroid for himself.
The decade-long scheme of the mystery time-bandit is finally revealed in ‘Family Values’ as – in the present – Spider-Man is lured to the Fantastic Four’s HQ and attacked with the rest of the team by one they had long considered to be part of their exotic extended family. Armoured with ultimate power and sporting a colossal chip on his shoulder, the prodigal intends to destroy Dr. Doom and offers the astounded gathering a chance to prove their loyalty by joining him.
The 1980 crossover by Bill Mantlo begins when ESU student Peter Parker goes on a class jaunt on a party boat and is lured into a trap by the Frightful Four in ‘Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death’ drawn by Mike Zeck. The villains broadside the wall-crawler after new recruit Electro impersonates the Human Torch and, in the concluding ‘When a Spider-Man Comes Calling!’ illustrated by John Byrne, the Trapster repeats the tactic to ambush the crime-busting quartet.
Wry, witty, explosively action-packed, bombastic and genuinely moving, Gage and Alberti’s clever re-evaluation of the bonds between the First Family and the solitary Spider-Man is a delightful celebration of everything that made Marvel such a force for change in the industry.