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.
Last issue saw Spider-Man captured (at the command of Kingpin) by one of Alastaire Smythe's Spider-Slayers, then forced to fight a series of super-villain gang bosses, each of which came fully equipped with super-powered henchmen. You could be forgiven for thinking you were playing a video game instead of reading a comic.
The previous story concluded with Spidey defeating The Owl (+ friends), then also wrapping up Hammerhead (also + friends). But the final panel placed our hero face to "face" with Venom. Ouch.
This issues bonus-length 13 page story (usually they're 11 pages) opens with Spider-Man ready for battle #3 against Venom. But... hang on sec. Venom ain't looking for trouble, he's here to help.
Ya see, Venom (aka Eddie Brock) was hired by Hammerhead, but quit ol' flat-top's bunch of bully boys when he found out that the target for the mission was Spider-Man. In fact, there was some mention of a traitor last issue, plus the fact that Hammerhead only had two bad-guy-super-pals while The Owl had three. Wow, it all makes sense.
Anyhow, Venom's explanation is that he says if anybody is going to kill Spider-Man, it'll be Venom himself. So he offers to help Spider-Man escape the trap in order that he (Venom) retain the privilege of destroying the web-head himself.
After being fooled by Daredevil/Chameleon last time, Spider-Man isn't in the mood to be too trusting. But lost deep in the building without his Spider-Sense, he's prepared to take another chance. So carefully the two of them pick their way through the rubble. Hmm... this ain't good. They just stumbled across gang boss #3. It's The Big Man, along with Shocker, Boomerang and Speed Demon. Yeah, it's time for tight-tights-times-two plus padded jump suit boy!
Now, Boomerang is just the poor man's Bullseye, and doesn't offer too much of a fight. Speed Demon is pretty quick. But there isn't a lot of space to maneuver, which allows Spidey to pin him down. Shocker's blast waves are just the thing to put Venom on the back foot, but Spider-Man grabs a couple of Boomer's "razorangs" (strangely a word which isn't recognized by my spell-checker) and takes out Shockie's blast-mitts.
Foes defeated, Venom and Spidey continue their slog for the exit when they spot another pack of bad guys. This time, however, they turn the tables and it's the villains who get ambushed. Specifically, the naughty boys getting a synchronized Spider-Spanking are Silvermane, Hobgoblin, Electro and Scorpion. Now, normally I would consider those lads a fair match for our hero and his many-toothed temporary ally. But with the advantage of surprise, it's slobbering time! Two pages later and that's all over.
Our protagonists are only a couple of hundred yards from the exit when the Spider-Slayer shows up again. This time it's Kingpin on the controls, and he manages to grab Spider-Man with a metal robo-tentacle. Venom rips Spidey free, but it may be too late as Kingpin's face on the projector screen declares "you'll be dead in three seconds". Oh dear. Jamie wants big boom.
And a big boom we get. But Spidey manages to jump clear just in time. When he comes round, Venom is gone, but coming through the front door is... more super-guys. But don't worry, this time it's the cavalry - the Avengers, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. Seems like they heard Spidey's call for help last issue and came a-running. As it turns out they were a little too late, but fortunately Venom had already made the assist.
Well, the other heroes are all pretty impressed when they hear the list of villains Spidey has just chewed through, so they give him a moment of glory, which artist Andie Tong features to good effect in a full page splash panel to close out the issue. Meanwhile, Spidey has figured out that Kingpin's plan all along was to have Spider-Man take out Silvermane, The Big Man, Hammerhead and The Owl in order to stop them taking over the Kingpin's territory while the fat man himself was stuck away in prison.
So maybe Spidey helped Kingpin a little. But that doesn't change the fact that a whole heap of baddies are off the streets, and the wall-crawler has realized just how many friends he really has.
This is, what... the fourth Ferg Handley story in a row I've given a positive rating to. That's probably as many Handley stories as I've liked in the previous five years! C'mon Ferg. You can admit it. These tales were ghost-written, right?
I just don't get it. After dozens of fatally flawed scripts with hardly two plot-lines to rub together, suddenly you're hitting the sweet spot time after time? *shakes head in confusion*
Look, I should clarify here. These are kids stories through and through we're talking about here. There's a pervasive level of simplification in both character and continuity.
But so many of the previous near-hundred stories since Ferg started his run in Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) #100 or thereabouts have been completely ruined by by sloppy scripting or inexcusable plot holes; by credulity-breaking sequences of inconceivably unlikely coincidences; and/or by dragged-out arcs or overly-rushed one-shots.
I've never asked for a Ph.D thesis out of this title. I'm perfectly happy to accept "fun and simple". But I do also demand "comprehensible, well-paced and (with a standard dose of belief suspended) feasible and (subject to the altered laws of the Marvel Universe) generally logical."
This two-parter delivered all of these, and wrapped the bi-centennial issue of this title with a fun, feel-good finish. Four webs.
Last issue's price hike from £2.25 to £2.75 appears to have been a complete aberration. This issue is back to the regular £2.25 price once more. Perhaps the higher price was a mistake, or perhaps the newsagents reported a lot of negative feedback. Or perhaps issue #199 featured a plastic toy that was more expensive than usual?
You are aware that all of these magazines come with a cheap plastic or cardboard toy taped to the cover, right? I don't collect the toys myself, the postage would get totally out of hand. But I guess when you factor in a freebie every issue, the £2.25 price (about US$3.50) is pretty jolly reasonable.
Final note: While the comic strip is two pages longer than usual, the magazine is still the regular 36 pages including both covers.