So this book would more accurately be called Onslaught: The Crossovers like they did when they published the Acts of Vengeance Crossovers event, because really there’s only one book in this entire collection that legitimately continues the ongoing saga of the fight against Onslaught, and that’s X-Man #19.
The X-Man chapter largely consists with the culmination of the Mr. Sinister plotline that has been running through the X-Force/ X-Man chapters of Onslaught, wherein X-Force has been tasked to protect X-Man, for the heroes suspect, accurately, that Onslaught wants to capture him and absorb his powers much as he has done with Franklin Richards. In an interesting twist, Sinister actually has the same goal to protect X-Man. He sees X-Man as the culmination of his life’s work in genetics, and the best hope for usurping Apocalypse. It’s at this point though that the X-Man/ X-Force subplot merges with the rest of the ongoing Onslaught Epic, as the chapter ends with X-Man being tricked and captured by Onslaught, pulled through a rift in the astral plane, much to Sinister’s chagrin.
The rest of the collection is largely made up of Spider-Man titles: Punisher #11 (I know he’s not usually counted under Spider-Man’s wheelhouse, but for the purposes of this review we’re doing that, And he did start out as a Spider-Man character), Amazing Spider-Man #415, Green Goblin #12, and Spider-Man #72. These mainly take the form of dealing with the aftermath to the Sentinels attack on New York. The Punisher, as mentioned, helps evacuate a SHIELD helicarrier that has been shot down. While this is going on, both Spider-Men and The Green Goblin protect The Daily Bugle from a Sentinel attack.
Let’s back up a pace, because The Punisher issue is largely unnecessary. Castle shows up to help evacuate the Helicarrier, only to discover its already been evacuated except from GW Bridge, who is in the process of leaving. They both leave. There are no relevant complications, except that some salvagers are caught in the blast with the Helicarrier self-destructs. This is the worst case of having a hero being passive: Castle made no difference by being here. He didn’t make things better, his presence didn’t complicate things, and it seems like the only reason it existed was to set up him doing a mission of SHIELD starting with the next issue. This is one of the books that drags down the collection’s rating as a whole.
The two main Spider-Man titles are hampered by the fact that they take place during The Clone Saga, and feel the need to keep unpacking and rehashing that via internal dialog. I seem to remember a lot of this in these issues, where so much of each issues was explaining the new status quo to the readers who might not be up to speed, rather than just crafting an enjoyable story. In some regard this makes sense here, as the title would have theoretically been getting crossover buyers looking for the next part in the Onslaught Saga that might need catching up on what Spider-Man has been up to, but on the whole it’s very meh.
Surprisingly the chapter with the most consequence is The Green Goblin # 12. This is actually the penultimate issue of that title, which was being cancelled at the same time that all the main Marvel Heroes books were being relaunched, but presumably not for the same reason. As he didn’t get relaunched, and in fact wasn’t heard much from again in the main Marvel U until recent years, I’m assuming his title was being cancelled due to poor sales. Which is a shame, because if this issue is any indicator, it was very well written and drawn. If I had to guess, I’d say that — faced with the cancellation of his title around the same time as an big crossover — Tom DeFalco decided that rather than lose one of the last issues of his title to the crossover, it would if fact be an integral part of it. Thus in a way, Phil Urich becomes one of the only real victims of Onslaught that stayed that way long term, the Marvel Heroes returning after just a year away. In fact, knowing that Phil turns toward villainy in Loners and in more recent issues of the Spider-Man titles, the effects of Onslaught are actually having much farther-reaching effects than some might realize.
Also: Darkhawk reference! Even though he’s not seen, we hear via newscast that he is fighting the good fight against the Sentinels with The New Warriors over at the Brookline Bride. Good to hear Chris is still at it.
Much like the Punisher chapter, Wolverine #105 features a side-mission where Wolverine saves a young boy from a burning building, presumably caught ablaze in the wake of a Sentinel attack. It also involves the guiding spirit of the Daredevil sensi Stick, but that’s best left alone. It seems as though Larry Hama was having non of this big crossover, because Wolverine — the quintessential X-Man — plays no part in the larger story of the X-Men in one of the X-Men’s biggest events. What’s interesting from a character-development standpoint is that Wolverine doesn’t consider himself A-list enough to be a part of the big-time hero action, and his internal monologue states as much. This is interesting considering where his character will go in the future, actually moving to become a member of The Avengers and a prominent, permanent member at that. To think that now — during a crisis point in his life — he considers himself unworthy of even being near them during a major event is a very telling benchmark to his growth and the change in his opinion of himself. Being an Avenger certainly suits him.
That’s a great way the segue into the fact that this collection also has chapters featuring The Incredible Hulk #445, Iron Man #332, Avengers #402. What’s very odd about these three is that they — like The Green Goblin — are actually the last issues of their perspective titles. While that’s not quite the case (Hulk would continue in a vastly different direction) its odd that neither issues really feels like a “last” issue. I know it really wasn’t: Marvel was already hyping Heroes Reborn, everyone knew the titles were going to pick up again — but these issues still don’t seem to have the weight they should. This is the end of the “Smart Hulk” that Peter David has been crafting over his extended run on the title. This is the last issue of the first run of Iron Man, and yet even in those pages the character himself is given a backseat to guest-stars like The Black Panther and Giant-Man.
It’s also worth noting that — because they knew they were soon rebooting, I suspect — the Avengers and related titles had gone through some weird moments of late. Thor’s armor looks hideous, as well as Hawkeye’s costume. The Wasp seems to have mutated into a literal insect. And — most controversially — this version of Tony Stark is a teenager pulled from an earlier point in the timesteam. All this is about to be rebooted when they transition into the Heroes Reborn Universe, and maybe that’s all for the best. Maybe the reason Iron Man #332 and Avengers # 402 don’t satisfyingly clue up their respective story arcs is because there’s not much good to clue up.
They, along with the Punisher and even the latter half of the Wolverine chapters, bring this collection way down. If you’re only interested in the story, skip buying Onslaught: The Complete Epic Book 3 and just wedge a back-issue of X-Man #19 between Books 2 and 4 on your bookshelf.