THIS WEEK: Marvel’s latest annual-wide mini-event, Contest of Chaos, kicks off with this year’s Spider-Man Annual #1.

Note: the review below contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.

Spider-Man Annual #1

Writer: Stephanie Phillips
Artist: Alberto Foche
Color Artist: Raúl Angulo
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artist: R.B. Silva

One of the more interesting relationships in the Marvel Universe is the one between Spider-Man and Wolverine. On occasion the two have clashed, while on others they’ve been part of the same team, but regardless of whether they’re opposed or aligned, the combination of Spidey’s light-hearted approach to danger and Logan’s take-no-prisoners attitude is always entertaining. This week’s new Spider-Man Annual #1 once again finds Spider-Man and Wolverine crossing paths, this time with a magical twist.

Stephanie Phillips is well-suited to writing Spider-Man. Her excellent work on DC’s Harley Quinn series proved she has a knack for characters with a sense of humor, and there’s no better character showcase for that than Spidey. Phillips’s Spidey is doing the best he can with the material he’s given, and the jokes not always landing is a fun way to make Spidey even more relatable than he’s always been. The “Contest of Chaos” event title really comes into play once Wolverine shows up, and through a combination of dialogue and alternating narrative captions Phillips captures the characters’ bewilderment at their situation — and their annoyance with each other — really nicely.

As far as the issue’s visuals go, artists Alberto Foche and Raúl Angulo have their work cut out for them, tasked with bringing to life both the urban landscape of New York City and the fantasy backdrop of the mysterious land in which Spider-Man and Wolverine find themselves. The team acquits themselves well, with Angulo’s colors in particular doing a lot of solid work to visually signify the shift from a somewhat muted reality to a more vibrant fantasy world. The action throughout the issue is lively and compelling, and the mingling of the magical elements during those sequences is interesting to see, particularly during a sequence in which Agatha Harkness is attacked by some sort of Game of Thrones-y shadow monster.

Yes, Agatha Harkness is in this issue, the apparent orchestrator of bringing Spider-Man and Wolverine to fantasyland and making them fight each other. It’s not quite as compelling as the moral argument the two have in their iconic 1986 first battle, but then not every comic has to be War and Peace, and Spider-Man Annual #1 doesn’t make itself out to be anything other than a fun romp. This is part one of a storyline which actually began in June’s Scarlet Witch Annual #1, though it’s not necessary to have read that issue to follow what’s going on here. In fact, the disorientation of coming in amidst the chaos actually works to the reader’s advantage well, putting them in the same headspace as Spider-Man and Wolverine

I came into Spider-Man Annual #1 excited both for an accessible, context-free Spidey story and to see what Stephanie Phillips would do with the character, and on neither of those fronts did the issue disappoint. It’s a fairly light adventure with enjoyable interplay between its two leads, and some interesting visuals bringing it all together. Not a bad way to spend $5.

Final Verdict: BUY.

Rapid Rundown!

  • Avengers #4
    • I finally read the Hellfire Gala issue, where the mutants are massacred. To check in on what the Avengers are up to following Orchis’s attack, this week, I decided to check in on the main Avengers series by writer Jed MacKay, artist C.F. Villa, color artist Federico Blee, and VC’s Cory Petit to see how the team was holding up. Mind you, I am three issues behind what the current Avengers roster is up to and, thus, had no idea if the Hellfire Gala events would even be mentioned. Each book deals with similar themes that may be recognizable to fans of American Gods by Neil Gaiman: the old gods are angry with the new gods, and the new gods are angry with the newer gods, which, in the case of Avengers #4, leads to a pretty dope battle between Thor and Idol Alabaster, an adorable cat-faced god killer, as well as the Scarlet Witch and the Living Darkhold versus an army of the undead. This issue held its own throughout, reminding me of what I love about a well-crafted comic: anyone can pick up any random issue in a book’s run and enjoy it. —Rebecca Oliver Kaplan
  • Children of the Vault #1
    • After falling off X-Men comics for many months, I decided to give Children of the Vault #1 a shot. I enjoy writer Deniz Camp’s work, and his sensibilities seemed a good fit for the continuing Vault story. I’m happy to report I had fun here, even if some of the context in this comic went over my head as a lapsed X-Reader. I’m sure that stuff makes this issue richer, but I still found it easy to follow, driven as it is by the Bishop-Cable relationship and a shared crisis. On top of that, the pacing is well-done, dotted with mighty visual set pieces and tension. I’m looking forward to following it onward. Artwork here is by Luca Maresca, colors are by Carlos Lopez, and letters are by Cory Petit. Zack Quaintance
  • Ghost Rider/Wolverine – Weapons of Vengeance: Alpha #1
    • For an issue told mostly in flashback, this story solidly establishes connections between the past and present to set-up what looks to be a very interesting crossover. After discovering a set of murders in the present, Wolverine and Ghost Rider reflect on a similar string of deaths they investigated many years ago, and begin the hunt for a demon with an unwilling host. The team is firing on all cylinders here, with Benjamin Percy and Geoff Shaw effectively capturing the voices and looks of our lead characters as they were depicted in the early 1980s. Percy has nailed Wolverine’s voice for the past four years, but this issue also shows his ability to nail the character (and the rest of the X-Men) as they were in one of their most classic line-ups. Shaw, with colors by Rain Beredo, kills this, with these shadow-heavy pages that makes this feel like we’re watching a horror movie come to life. Travis Lanham’s lettering is subtle, and this is one of the issues where the use of mixed case really sells how ‘80s horror movie’ this is. Though the issue is largely set-up for what’s to come, this is one of those ‘never-before-told’ tales that feels like it’ll be impactful, with true consequences for our modern stories. – Cy Beltran

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