"Avenging Spider-Man" #5 by Zeb Wells and Leinil Francis Yu teams our favorite web-head with the Marvel Universe's prototypical Super Hero, Captain America -- and in doing so, it comes up with a story fans of either can scarcely do without. Without hyperbole, this is "best of" territory. Not bad going for a secondary "team-up" series.
The issue focuses on the relationship between Spider-Man and Captain America, representing different generations of hero. One, the square-jawed, clean-cut Golden Age strongman and the other, a Silver Age hero with feet of clay. One thing they have in common is that they're both underdogs who made good. This story asks whether that's who they were or who they are.
It's quite brave of Wells to base the dramatic tension on the idea that Captain America isn't terribly impressed by Spider-Man's refusal to act like a "grown-up," particularly when an interest the comics medium is often viewed by some as a childish activity pursued into adulthood. Largely unfairly so, of course, but that doesn't mean there isn't a sliver of truth in there somewhere.
It probably isn't hard to guess who the story tips in favor of (here's a hint: Spider-Man doesn't decide to grow up and stop cracking jokes at the end) but it's a fantastic character piece nonetheless, improved by Wells' expert grasp of Spidey's wisecracks and Yu's fantastic artwork.
Indeed, Yu's artwork looks better here than it has in a long time. On books such as "New Avengers" and "Secret Invasion," he was forced to draw huge numbers of characters in spaces too small to comfortably accommodate them and his art often looked -- if not necessarily rushed -- much looser. Here, it's tight and bold and demonstrates on every page why he's one of the industry's top artists.
It's a pleasant surprise to see what is essentially Marvel's B-list Spider-Man series turn out one of the best Spider-Man (and indeed, Captain America) stories in years but that's what we've got here. If any criticism can be leveled against it, it's that the story arguably veers towards being sentimental or trite, but it's convincing on its own terms and in an industry dominated by downbeat endings where no one really wins, there's more than enough room for this kind of light-hearted story once in a while.