Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) #176
This review was first published on: 2009.
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 are aimed at a pre-teen/early-teen market. The plots for these stories feature classic Marvel characters and villains, and often echo plots from the mainstream comics, but in their own special style.
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 "Time Quest (Part 4): Timely Intervention" Five super-villains intended to travel back in time to defeat Spider-Man, but instead have become isolated and stranded in random periods of the past (and perhaps the future).
The Fantastic Four is still trapped in the Negative Zone, but Spider-Man has been busy attempting to recapture the various villains before they destroy history as they know it. One careless mis-step could see Ellen DeGeneres voted the first lesbian Prime Minister of the 42 United States of Ameresia.
Spider-Man has already recovered The Vulture from New York of the Late Pleistocene era, and Venom from New York of the Middle Ages. Now Spider-Man and H.E.R.B.I.E. (Reed Richards' all-purpose robot assistant) are on a mission to snatch Rhino from pre-WWII, gangster-era New York.
Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) #176
Nov 2008 : SM Title
Arc: Part 4 of "Time Quest"
The Fantastic Four's sensors have located Spider-Man's next target in 1938, and Reed Richards warns Spidey to hurry, as the time platform becomes increasingly unstable. So our web-slinger switches to suitable civvies, throws H.E.R.B.I.E. in a large backsack, makes the jump to pre-war Manhattan, and starts looking for clues.
Of course, this ain't our 1930's, this is Marvel's Golden Age! "Science Heroes" like "The Angel" and "The Vision" are kicking around, and the Daily Bugle of the time is supporting them, causing Spider-Man a pang of regret that he has to deal with the sociopath J. Jonah Jameson. But "that's not important" now, muses Peter. Instead, it's the Rhino who is the "probleme du jour".
However, the one thing you can always count on in this particular magazine is that in any huge city, Peter only needs to wander around aimlessly for half a page before whatever or whoever he is seeking drops right into his lap. And indeed there's no exception here. It doesn't take more than three panels before Peter's Spider-Sense fires up as he comes walking round a random corner, and the Rhino is ushered out of a van right in front of our hero's face.
The Rhino is escorted by "a couple of heavies". "What's he doing with those guys?" ponders Peter. Well, D'uh! Given that the Rhino mixed with gangster types back in the future, it's hardly surprising that he ends up in the same old scene.
Actually, it's not quite the same old scene. Spider-Man follows the Rhino to a hall and watches the big grey guy earning money as an "all-comers" wrestler. Survive two rounds with the pointy-horned psychopath and you'll win fifty bucks. Umm... count me out. Fifty bucks won't even cover the medical bills. I suspect that writer Ferg Handley is being slightly clever here, putting Rhino in the same scene that featured in Spider-Man's origin. If so, it's done quite gently, and the irony isn't overdone.
But the wrestling shtick is merely for warm-ups. Soon Rhino is summoned to the office of his boss - one Mr. Joey 'Snake-Eyes' Malone. And if you haven't figured out that Joey's a big man in Gangland, then there's really not much hope for you, is there? Joey offers Rhino a special job, putting the hard word on a scientist named Phineas Horton who owes Joey some money. The Rhino accepts the job, but he's going to be followed by Spider-Man, who is listening outside the window.
Spidey reckons the name "Phineas Horton" sounds familiar, and asks H.E.R.B.I.E. to check his memory banks. Sure enough, Dr. Horton is the guy who would soon create the Human Torch - the original android version, not the Fantastic Four equivalent. That's a nice coincidence, I wonder how that's gonna fit into the story?
Meanwhile, the heavies get Rhino back in the van and take him out to "a residential part of Queens" (where the Parker residence would one day be sited, and possibly even is already, though no mention is made either way). Spider-Man webs his way back, using most of his webbing in the process. Not sure why Spidey didn't just hitch a ride on the top of the truck, but hey, whatever works.
Everybody arrives, Rhino gets out of the back of the van to discover Spidey has already KO'd the driver and the shotgun man. Phineas pokes his head out of a window to find out what all the kerfuffle is about, and receives a face full of webbing for his efforts, effectively taking him out of the equation.
The Rhino and Spidey waltz around the leafy suburbs for a few minutes, neither really putting many points on the board, so Spidey sends H.E.R.B.I.E. off to set up a couple of tricks to give the good guys the edge. And sure enough a few minutes later, just as the police sirens are sounding in the distance, H.E.R.B.I.E. is all prepared for the big finale.
It works like this. Spidey lures the Rhino for a long running charge into the woods, where he suddenly runs smack-bang into... the time-platform. And just as the Rhino comes out the other side, still off-balance, he stumbles right into the waiting stasis capsule. Game, set, and match to Spider-Man!
Next stop... Peter's heading back. Back to the FUTURE!
I give poor old Ferg a ton of grief for most of his stories, so it's only fair that I give him credit where credit is due. This one ain't bad. The Rhino is right in his element in depression-era New York. Spidey and H.E.R.B.I.E. co-operate pretty usefully. The Golden Era hero flashbacks are a nice touch, too.
But there's a bit of a flat spot in the story when Spidey and the Rhino head out to Queens and have the fight. It feels like filler. I'm not sure why they head out to Queens at all, except maybe to just fill a couple of pages. Phineas doesn't really play any role in the story. Spidey particularly comments that he's running out of webbing, but that doesn't play any role in the story either. Even the fact that Peter heads back to his home suburb is completely ignored.
I understand that we don't want Phineas to take too much part in the story, since history could be affected. But given that in the preceding two issues, Spidey (a) relocated an American Indian tribe, and (b) thwarted a Viking invasion, I think the "don't tamper with history" excuse falls a bit flat.
Why not have Phineas use a prototype Human Torch Android to throw the battle in favor of Spider-Man... or at least have H.E.R.B.I.E. encounter the android and communicate with it. Sheesh, anything to justify having pulled Phineas into the mix at all. Otherwise, Horton's entire presence in the story is completely pointless. Might as well just have been "Dr. J. Smith".
Despite the flat bit in the middle, and the various wasted opportunities... a good beginning and a good end is two out of three better than most of the stories in this magazine.
Three and a half webs, much better than I had expected.
Other Stuff: 1 page contents, 1 page story recap, 11 page Spidey story, 2 page Rhino profile, 2 page Rhino puzzles, 1 page Spidey/Wolvie coloring, 2 page centerfold poster, and another 2 page centerfold poster on the reverse side, 2 page story comprehension and puzzles, 2 page "Spidey's top 5 strongest villains", 2 page fan letters, art and photos, 1 page spot the differences, 3 page ads.