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.
The last couple of months have featured a pair of surprisingly entertaining standalone stories. I'm not sure what this month holds in store, except that according to the cover, it is "packed full of bad guys!"
I have a sneaking suspicion that much of this issue's story line was created just to give penciller Andie Tong the chance to let loose with half a dozen pages of battle scenes. To his credit, he uses those pages pretty well, enhanced by some strong coloring work.
But just a moment. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let's actually have a look at what the story is. It goes something like this:
Kingpin is in prison, and as usual his absence has trigged a gang war. Add a bunch of recently escaped super-villains, and you would think New York would be burning to the ground. But no, actually it's pretty quiet. Tooooo quiet!
Spidey is swinging around when he gets a trigger from a spider-tracer. Which his odd, because he hasn't planted once recently. Perhaps it's a trap? Yep, of course it is. It's a trap set by Alistaire Smythe (the Spider-Slayer guy so popular in alternate teen-focussed continuities like the 90's TV series and these UK magazines).
A giant Spider-Slayer gets the jump on Spider-Man. Seems they've used some gas to nullify his Spider-Sense. But while Dr. Smythe, Jr. would usually take the opportunity to try and kill/torture/humiliate our hero, this time around he is operating under the strict directions of "his employer". And instead the Smythe-controlled slayer dumps the web-head in a giant abandoned A.I.M. facility, where Spidey is forced to a gauntlet of attacks... without the benefit of his Spider-Sense to defend himself.
Specifically the first attack is lead by wanna-be gang leader "The Owl" aided by super-villains Gladiator, Kangaroo and Scorcher. Not exactly A-listers, and Spider-Man finishes them off pretty easily. Under pressure, the Owl reveals that the Kingpin is behind the attacks. Whichever gang boss can destroy Spider-Man will (temporarily) inherit the Kingpin's throne as gang boss of New York... until Kingpin returns, or decides to double cross them.
Daredevil appears and guides Spider-Man to safety. Well, nearly. Actually the Daredevil is Chameleon in disguise, and by "safety" I mean "an ambush by Hammerhead, Beetle and Jack O'Lantern". But again, Spider-Man is more than up to the task. Having defeated the second batch of baddies, Spider-Man uses the Beetle's helmet to call for help. But will his plea be answered? Time will tell.
But time had better hurry up if it's going to bring assistance, 'cos Spidey is faced with an all-too-familiar foe. Venom is back! And next issue is #200, so let's expect something massive!
Would it be too nit-picky to point out that if you were going to pick villains to tackle Spider-Man when he had lost his Spider-Sense, then Venom is a pretty redundant choice, since Venom doesn't trigger Spidey's danger-sense anyhow.
Yeah, so it's a "parade the villains issue". But hey, it's pretty well handled. The art is top notch, the script is comfortable, and there's no major slip-ups. There's nothing particularly clever about it, but when all is said and done, this is exactly the kind of story that works well in this format.
So I'm gonna reward that with four solid webs.
As ever, there's the usual mix of fact files, puzzles, posters, coloring pages, fan art and letters, and a couple of well-targeted comic-related advertisements to bring the page count to the standard 36 including front and back covers.
However, there's a bit of a sting in this issue as the cover price jumps from £2.25 to £2.75. That's a non-trivial upwards adjustment there, folks - with nothing extra to show for it.
In fact, given that as recently as April 2004, issue #97 of this title was priced at £1.50, that's nearly a price doubling in six and a half years. I'm not sure that inflation has run at quite that rate.