Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) #173

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This story is part of an Arc: "Time Quest"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7

This review was first published on: 2009.

Background...

This long-running UK Magazine started out by running reprints, but these days it offers a brand new "out of continuity" Spider-Man story every three weekly issue.

The Spider-Man story occupies eleven or twelve pages of the 32 page magazine, and is aimed at a pre-teen/early-teen market. But what is it they say in Hollywood - "Nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of their audience." Clearly that's a maxim the publishers and writers of this particular offering have taken to heart.

The remaining pages of each issue are filled with puzzles, posters and factoids centered around the issues guest star(s), be they heroes or villains. This issue's story is entitled "Time Quest (Part 1): Present Danger", offering a tiresome vision of Spider-Man hopping through a myriad of time zones encountering an increasingly unlikely sequence of lucky escapes. My heart sinks already. Let us begin.

In Detail...

"Present Danger!"
Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) #173
Sep 2008 : SM Title
Summary: 10-Sep-2008
Arc: Part 1 of "Time Quest"
Editor:  Ed Hammond
Script:  Ferg Handley
Pencils:  Andie Tong
Inker:  Andie Tong
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Review

Peter's life isn't going well. Jonah rejects a photo, with the ensuing argument causing Peter to be late for class, then late also for a date with MJ. Then while passing the Baxter Building, he encounters H.E.R.B.I.E. (the Fantastic Four's helpful robot assistant) and learns that Annihilus and Blastaar have invaded from the Negative Zone and attacked the Queer Quartet. Yes, strictly speaking "Queer" is actually a synonym for "Fantastic" - in the sense that they are "out of the ordinary, existing in the realm of fantasy and the unusual".

In flashback courtesy of H.E.R.B.I.E.'s video projector, we see the Annihilus & Blastaar vs. FF battle causing the FF to become stranded in the Negative Zone, and likely to be there for a while.

That covers the first four pages of scene-setting, but we're not quite done yet with background information. To further complicate matters, it appears that the Baxter Building's security measures have been damaged, and H.E.R.B.I.E. is now being treated as an enemy by the building's defenses. Meanwhile, a new version of the Sinister Six (Ock, Electro, Sandman, Rhino, Vulture & Venom) have invaded the Baxter Building in order to steal Reed's technology on behalf of an anonymous client.

And NOW (after six pages) our story can truly begin. Spider-Man enters the building and zaps Spider-Man around the corridors for two pages until HERBIE can override the fire system and set off the sprinklers to short-circuit the High-Voltage Human Hazard.

Well, in hindsight, that didn't really advance our plot as much as I might have hoped. We're eight pages in, and still struggling to get anything happening. So let's try again. Maybe throw in another gimmick. How about Spider-Man standing in the Time Portal Chamber which houses the time machine formerly the property of Dr. Doom. H.E.R.B.I.E. is starting to get his major functions back online, so he's capable of showing the security camera footage of the recent events which occurred in that same room just earlier, while Spider-Man battled Electro elsewhere in the building.

It seems that the remaining "Sinister... Six Subtract a Single" have abandoned their original mission and have instead activated the time machine in an attempt to go back in time and defeat Spider-Man while he was still young and inexperienced. Now, if you've seen Back To The Future, you know that's a pretty risky tactic. Meddling with events in your own history can easily have nasty unexpected consequences.

As it turns out, there are other more immediate unexpected consequences, as a glitch in the time-machine's circuits (damaged in the recent battle) causes the five villains to be scattered geographically over New York and chronologically through time.

H.E.R.B.I.E. fires up the communicator to the negative zone, so that Spidey can talk to the FF. Reed & Friends are working on getting back, but Reed is so worried about the possible temporal disruption that the five super-villains might cause, that he tells Spider-Man that he must use the time platform and immediately go and recover them bad guys before they can... CREATE A MAJOR PARADOX WITH UNIMAGINABLE CONSEQUENCES!

So H.E.R.B.I.E. patches up the time platform, and Spider-Man hops on, to be transported to the "11th Century B.C." On arrival he encounters... a woolly mammoth! Actually, I think writer Ferg Handley has confused millennia and century, since the last of the true mammoths actually disappeared around 10,000 BC. But be that as it may, I think we can see where the next five parts of this story might be taking us...

In General...

I've already mentioned the painfully slow-paced start, and the pointless two-page battle with Electro. Then, when things do actually start happening, the very first event is the five bad guys deciding to shift plan and hop on the time portal.

I mean, seriously, have you ever tried to assemble half-a-dozen deranged super-villains and get them together on the same mission at the same purpose? Let me assure you that it takes an incredibly single-minded sense of direction!

But then, half-way through the task, it's... "Ooooh! Shiny! Look at that incredibly complex, undocumented time portal! The building is damaged from the recent fight, and all the computer control systems are malfunctioning! So let's abandon our multi-million-dollar technology-recovery job and go throw ourselves on the winds of time... WITH NO DAMN IDEA OF HOW WE MIGHT GET BACK!

Ah well. I guess Dr. Octopus's sense of over-confidence in his own skills caused him to bite off more than he could chew. And I guess the Six's powerful hatred of Spider-Man caused them to be distracted from the task at hand, and to ignore the tiny matter of how they might return to their own time. These guys aren't the most sensible people in the world.

Overall Rating...

The plot is painfully predictable. But even worse is the unforgivably poor pacing. I can't help but imagine what Stan Lee could have done with 11 pages? He'd have had Spider-Man in and out of six dimensions before the first ad break!

This is part one of the tale, so I should probably go easy. Let's forgive the century/millennium mix-up, let's accept the Sinister Six putting vengeance over business and throwing themselves feet-first into the vagaries of the time-stream. Even so, stale story plus poor pacing = 2 webs tops.

Footnote...

On a side-issue, Spider-Man asked Reed about "stepping on butterflies", which is of course the concern when considering Chaos Theory and the believe that small changes will magnify into huge changes over time. However, Reed assures him that "minor incidents tend to correct themselves", which is effectively supporting the Localized Stability Theory of time travel.

This concept (supporting Stability of Minor Events in time travel) is generally fundamental to most time-travel fiction, since it allows the characters to visit the past, sneak around carefully, and eventually return to their own time and be relatively confident of finding it essentially unchanged.