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. This is Spidey's primary UK non-reprint magazine. He also appears in the pre-school Spider-Man & Friends (UK Magazine), along with occasional guest appearances in Marvel Heroes (UK Magazine).
The Spider-Man story occupies eleven or twelve pages of this 32 page publication, and is aimed at a pre-teen/early-teen market. The plots for these stories feature classic Marvel characters and villains. While they often echo plots from the mainstream comics, they do so in their own special style.
For the past few years, the stories have swung between long story arcs and bursts of one-off tales. This month is number three in a run of standalone episodes. All we know from the cover is that Captain America and Spider-Man are menaced by... well, some guy who looks a bit like Hobgoblin. But let's see...
A couple of likely lads (working for the gang boss Silvermane) are just finishing up their weekly protection racket round when they themselves get jumped by a second pair of thugs (working for Hammerhead_ who quickly take down Silvermane's boys by pulling out a series of kung-fu moves. These aren't Asian fellas, I should add. This is home-grown stuff here.
Cue Spidey's arrival and he lays into the Hammerhead dudes. The web-head is doing pretty well despite the kung-fu techniques until one of the guys surprises him with a pumpkin bomb, and by the time Spidey clears his head, they're all gone and in their place is a couple of NYPD blaming our hero for all the commotion. Spidey wings it without explaining.
Cut to Hammerhead's headquarters - a dive bar in South Brooklyn. Spidey goes in for a chat and learns that with the Kingpin in prison (happened a good few issues ago, IIRC) as usual it's Gang War free-for-all. Hey, all we're missing is the Punisher.
Spidey tries telling Hammerhead to back off. But that goes about as well as you would imagine, and before you know it, it's Spidey vs. the Hammerhead's stooges round 2. Again, Spider-Powers versus kung fu is not really a contest, and the four hoodlums are laid flat in no time. So that's it. Oh, hang on. Taskmaster has been watching.
Remember Taskmaster? Wears a hood, fast learner, good teacher, loves to watch heroes and steal their moves and their equipment. And now he's watched Spider-Man, he's got Spider-Moves too! I should mention, this seems to be the first time time Taskmaster has met Spider-Man in this continuity. It becomes clear that Taskmaster has been training the Hammerhead gang all along.
So Taskmaster launches his attack and Spider-Man, and pretty soon has the upper hand. Oh noes! Who can save our hero! Oh, yeah, that's right. Captain America was on the cover, so I think we can pretty much count on him turning up just about... now. Yep. Here he comes.
So Captain America takes down Taskmaster, while Spider-Man recovers his senses enough to deal with Hammerhead, who has recently had surgery to replace his steel skull with adamantium, along with his fists. It doesn't do him much good though. With Taskmaster unconscious, Hammerhead is quickly forced to surrender and... well, what then. He hasn't actually committed any crime.
In fact, it seems that Spider-Man has kind of messed up Captain America's plan to observe Hammerhead and gather evidence. There's no hard feelings from Cap, as Spidey had no way of knowing. But while Taskmaster is guilty of breaching parole, there's no escaping the fact that Hammerhead, Silvermane, The Owl and the other New York gang bosses are still at liberty to carry on their struggle, regardless of who gets caught in the crossfire.
Sometimes, Spidey can't help but wonder if it might have been simpler if Kingpin were still on the street.
The whole story falls kind of flat at the end. There's no real victory for the heroes. Just the harsh reality that you can't win them all.
I like it.
There's an honesty in the plot that has long been missing from this magazine. There's a relative lack of incredible coincidences and improbable successes. Instead, writer Ferg Handley lays out his storyline, then follows it through.
On top of that, the characterizations are good, the script is well-paced, and there's plenty of super-hero action. And the ending was so logical that it completely caught me by surprise. Good stuff. Four webs.