With Wolverine soon to go to that great Weapon X chamber in the sky, Marvel have announced his replacement – and, seemingly from the left-field, it’s none other than Spider-Man! But is this as left-field as it seems at first glance?
Spider-Man’s history with the X-Men
Let’s first acknowledge that few super-heroes have teamed up with the X-Men more than Spider-Man. Now, in part that’s due to the fact Spider-Man has had various ‘Team-Up’ magazines designed to give him one-off adventures alongside other Marvel characters; but that’s not all of it by any means.
In fact, Spider-Man first encountered the X-Men in the 1960s, when he crossed paths with the team and was turned away as a member – based on his not being a mutant. Over the years since, he’s had X-Men appear in his own titles many, many times; celebrating the X-Men’s 25th anniversary, he even had a two-part team-up with the original X-Men against Professor Power. Spider-Man has routinely clashed with Sentinels, and had entire arcs in the 1990s dedicated to mutants and the Friends of Humanity! And even backup cast in the Spider-Man world have proved important to the X-Men. The best example is J. Jonah Jameson, who played a cool role in ‘Operation: Zero Tolerance’.
Spider-Man has been particularly close to Wolverine, and in ‘New Avengers’ Brian Bendis quickly hit upon the fun of teaming those two up. As a result, there was even a mini-series ‘Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine’ (and that’s not even mentioning the ‘Spider-Man and the X-Men’ mini-series that pitted the allies against Sinister and Kraven).
Cast your eyes to other media, and the connections are just as strong. Iceman was one of the key characters in ‘Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends’, and the mutant Firestar debuted in that series; she’s now an X-Man, and in an amusing nod a recent issue of ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’ (re)united these Amazing Friends. There was also a two-part X-Men arc in the 1990s’ ‘Spider-Man’ animated series, featuring the X-Men of the classic ‘90s ‘X-Men’ series. And they even had a team-up in a game…
Based on history alone, no other Marvel super-hero has this amount of mutant (and X-Man) experience.
Should a non-mutant be teaching mutants?
The central issue seems to be that Spider-Man isn’t a mutant, and fans feel he shouldn’t be teaching at the Jean Grey School as a result. The moment you word it like that, though, you see the problem: the X-Men are supposed to stand for inclusion, not for segregation. Why wouldn’t they allow (or even encourage) a non-mutant to teach?
Actually, Spider-Man solves a bit of a problem the X-Men have been attempting to sweep under the carpet since the Morrison era, when the School went public. The problem is this: they have no qualified teachers. The current teachers of the Jean Grey School have only two qualifications: they’re mutants, and they’ve been around a while. So what makes them good teachers? At least Spider-Man is a qualified teacher!
Cast your eye to ‘Wolverine and the X-Men #19’. Here, we see Kitty Pryde interview applicants for the role of teacher at the School. These are the people who got through the application process, who evidently met the School’s requirements, and (with the exception of Deadpool, who just turned up anyway) merited an interview.
It gets worse. There are only a handful of X-Men who’ve expressly had central character arcs about their being teachers. Wolverine – soon to die. Kitty Pryde – now at Cyclops’ Xavier School. Emma Frost – now at Cyclops’ Xavier School. Banshee – I believe he’s dead again. Rogue – not in a good place right now, and seems to have bowed out of the Jean Grey School. Yes, the Jean Grey School has lost all its’ most capable and experienced teachers. It’s about time they recruited another one.
Oh, and let me mix things up further: who mentored Hope? Who taught Cannonball how to turn while blasting? Who crossed paths with the New Mutants early in their X-Force stint, and had several encounters with Generation X? You got it in one: Spider-Man. He even has a history of mentoring X-Men and working alongside the younger mutants.
At least this time the School gets a teacher, whether Spider-Man is a mutant or not!
It makes Business Sense
I think part of the problem is that this is being seen as the successor to ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’. I think it’s only partly a successor to this series; it’s also partly a continuation of the strategy Marvel began in ‘Uncanny Avengers’. Think about it: this isn’t one brand, it’s two. Wolverine, as a brand, is strongly linked to the X-Men; Spider-Man, as a brand, currently stands apart. By bringing the two together, Marvel attempts to appeal to fans of both brands. Clever business strategy.
What’s more, according to solicits this series actually seems like an attempt to respond to a major criticism of the current X-Men comics. Spider-Man’s class consists of the following mutants: No-Girl, Rockslide, Glob Herman, Ernst, Hellion, Shark Girl, and Eye Boy. These are younger mutants who have been critically under-exposed, in some cases for nearly a decade, and Marvel are to be commended for giving these characters a chance. The reality is, ‘young X-Men’ comics just don’t seem to sell well, so it makes perfect sense for Marvel to mix things up a bit.
Thematically, as well, Spider-Man has been switched up a lot by Dan Slott. Under Slott’s lead, Spider-Man has become sci-fi to an extent we’ve never seen before; after all, the next major Spider-event, ‘Spider-Verse‘, is a reality-hopping epic! The X-Men, of course, are traditionally science-fiction – genetic mutation, alien races, etc – and that means the books are more aligned than they ever have been before.
At first, my reaction was like everybody else’s; eye-rolling, ironic comments, amused disbelief. But you know what? It actually makes sense.