As a reader, I find it somewhat irritating that Marvel seems intent on branding every comic it releases. If it’s not got a crossover slapped on the front, it’s got the words "Ultimate" or "Dark," "New," or "Legacy" in the title. This was never more apparent then when “Ultimate Comics New Ultimates” arrived, the result of some heinous marketing equation.
So when "Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine" was announced, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes a little, as what was once the title of an X-Men book got stapled on the front of something else in the name of creating a new “line.” Still, if all the "Astonishing" books turn out as good as this one, I’d happily buy it whatever name they print on the cover.
Created by Jason Aaron (a definitive Wolverine writer) and Adam Kubert (the definitive Wolverine artist -- of one era, at least) this issue is fantastic. Spider-Man and Wolverine team-ups are ten a penny, and indeed, Aaron and Kubert did their own not so long ago in the pages of "Wolverine" #74, but having an entire six issue series to cut loose on has evidently agreed with the creative team, resulting in a fast-paced, wisecracking first issue that has all the right ingredients for a superhero odd couple: action, comedy, webs and claws.
Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s one that plays to its strengths. The stakes constantly escalate throughout the issue, and there’s just enough time to get the joke before the next problem gets thrown at our heroes. If any element of the book looks like it might falter, it’s that this kind of momentum seems like it’ll be difficult to keep up with.
The art throughout is fantastic, with Kubert cramming the detail into every panel. He works each image like its own individual masterpiece. There’s a minor blip where a double page spread doesn’t quite work, because it reads like two single pages, but that aside it really is faultless. Even better, the selection of Spider-Man and Wolverine pin-ups that rounds out the issue actually feels like it adds value to the book. All too often, such material is throwaway and uninteresting, but when such brilliant material is included almost as an afterthought, you know the quality of the book is high.
This review wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the book’s premise, too. Since the "Astonishing" line has been re-purposed for stand-alone stories, it’s supposed to be new-reader friendly. There’s little doubt that this broadly is. At this point, the comic relies solely on the relationship between Spider-Man and Wolverine, both of whom are well-established characters. Long-time fans will perhaps get more of a laugh out of the choice of villain, or the final page twist, but they also work in isolation.
It’s rare that such an obviously commercial book achieves such a high creative standard, and perhaps a book like "Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine" is the perfect antidote to all the Secret Invasions and Sieges Marvel readers have endured recently. Finally, a story that exists for its own sake, told by the best creators around. You can’t ask for more.