At the time of publication in 2009 X-Men and Spider-Man combined Marvel’s biggest franchises and massive movie successes, skipping through time to present six stories of their meetings. Two are reprinted from the 1960s, Spider-Man’s first meeting with the mutants, and a subsequent shocker in which everybody’s favourite wall-crawler mistaken for a flunky of insidious secret organisation Factor Three.

The remaing four stories are continuity implants, beginning with ‘The Strangest Teens of All’, set early in the period after the X-Men’s title was cancelled (1970 on our Earth). Spider-Man’s arch foe Kraven the Hunter courts controversy by publicly declaring that the Web-Spinner is a mutant. Laying low to avoid the media-fuelled hysteria, the genuinely Homo Superior X-Men then encounter the Wall-Crawler when Kraven tracks his quarry to a coffee bar where Peter, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson are, unknown to all, hanging out with some mutants in mufti. When Kraven attacks, backed up by evil mutant the Blob, the battle is brief but brutal. The bad guys are easily defeated and driven off but there are wheels within wheels spinning here and a mystery mastermind has in fact hired the Hunter to secretly obtain cell samples from each X-Man.

The saga continues some time later in ‘Last Hunts’ set just after the Mutant Massacre, which saw the X-Men’s first battle against the malevolent Marauders, and Kraven’s Last Hunt (that’s 1986 on our Earth). When the Wall-Crawler finds clues to Kraven’s erstwhile employer during that long-ago coffee shop clash amongst the dead villain’s effects, he contacts the X-Men – now mostly a bunch of strangers – and inveigles himself into their recon mission into the subterranean tunnels where the massacre occurred. Seeking clues to the enigmatic Mr. Sinister, the wary heroes are attacked by a renewed team of Marauders and during a ferocious fight unearth a hidden lab containing warped and twisted clone cadavers.

Jumping forward again, ‘Clone Sagas’ sees the web-spinner sparring with B-list baddie Slyde, as another team of X-champions narrowly missed capturing their elusive target. Gene-bending Gepetto Mr. Sinister has been a major threat for many months, and this latest inconclusive foray has yielded some useful clues which necessitate contacting Spider-Man immediately. It’s a convoluted drama hinging on Peter Parker once being cloned by his old biology teacher Miles Warren (AKA the Jackal). The mutants discover files linking Sinister to Warren and also hint at experiments using cell samples from Symbiote Slaughterer Cletus Kasady.

‘The Mutant Hunter’ brings the extended epic to a cataclysmic conclusion as, following a brutal decimation of Earth’s Homo Superior population by the Scarlet Witch on “M-Day”, a new threat is ruthlessly stalking the mere handful of survivors left after the holocaust. When Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde call Spider-Man to help, the trail leads to a diabolical creature who combines all the abilities of the X-Men, Kasady and the long-dead Kraven.

Most superhero readers have a passing familiarity with Spider-Man and the ever-changing X-Men franchises so, newcomers and occasional consumers won’t have too much trouble following the backstory in this clever puff piece from scripter Christos Gage, rapturously rendered by the astounding Mario Alberti. Genned-up fans can revel in the crafty connect-the-dots secret history revealed.