Marvel Heroes is the third UK Spider-Man/Marvel Magazine title from the Panini stable. The others are Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) for early teens, and Spider-Man & Friends (UK Magazine) for the pre-school market. Marvel Heroes is a recent replacement for the relatively short-lived Rampage (UK) which was also aimed at the mid-late teen market.
This magazine features 36 glossy pages. As the title indicates, the content is 100% Marvel related, and most of the major Marvel Heroes get a look-in from time to time. The audience is clearly early/mid-teens, with plenty of DVD, movie and video-game link-in. Over time, the excessive self-promotion which marred earlier issues was gently scaled back to more acceptable levels.
The established pattern in recent issues was to have a pair of interlinked half-length stories. Most recently this has effectively become one single story with a break in the middle. Sometimes the two halves have separate titles, sometimes not. In any case, the total "story content" of each issue adds up to about fourteen pages. The rest of the content is advertising, puzzles, promos, posters and other filler.
This month's story warns us in advance to expect "our craziest story yet." This claim appears to be no exaggeration at all in a tale entitled "Live and Dangerous".
The set-up is non-trivial. Stick with me here as I try and cut it down to the basics.
Johnny Storm (Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing) are in Symkaria (a fictional nation in eastern Europe, home to Silver Sable) to attend the finals of the Worldvision Song Contest. Photographer Peter Parker is also present, strangely without a reporter, which is odd since Peter is no writer. Maybe the Bugle figured they could just make stuff up to go with the pictures. Modern media is a funny old thing.
More background. Johnny and Grimm are travelling in luxury while poor old Peter is doing things on the cheap. Furthermore, Johnny has a date - the lovely super-model Anika, while Grimm has been hooked up on a blind date with Anika's sister Tatiana who is the Symkarian finalist in the contest. However, while Anika is absolutely gorgeous, Tatiana is revealed to be a fat opera singing lady who naturally falls deeply in love with the rocky-skinned Ben Grimm.
The finals kick off with appearances from the Wakandan Male Voice Choir, and the slimy-green mutant entry "Hannah Mutanta" from Genosha. Next up is Tatiana who is absolutely terrible! In fact, she's so terrible that Ben puts on his headphones and cranks up his MP3 player, which is a shame because he misses the Latvarian entry... "The Doomstadt Three" singing their hypnotic chant "Mask of Steel, Heart of Gold".
Actually, maybe it's not such a terrible shame, since the Latvarian chant turns out to be a hypnotic melody that puts everybody listening (including the global live television audience) into a trance-like state. Worse in fact, if the melody was to continue it would further degenerate them into "drooling zombies", thus throwing the world into disorder.
I'm not convinced of the merits of this plan. I'm not entirely sure of the demographics of exactly who has time to watch live finals of talent contests, but my guess would be that that the world could possibly survive the loss. Just as long as Simon Cowell got taken out as well, I think the overall impact might even be a positive one.
Anyhow, back at the show. Ben Grimm is not hypnotized because he was still listening to Frank Sinatra on his player. Spider-Man also is fine, because he arrived late having had trouble at his hotel and furthermore was unable to read the street signs on the way to the event. So the two heroes are both there perfectly in time for the major battle which kicks off when the Latvarian monks are revealed to be Doombots, and Doom himself also enters the scene.
Spider-Man manages to jolt the Human Torch out of his trance, and the three good guys don't take too long to finish off the robots (including Dr. Doom who turns out to be yet another robot). They also foil Doom's attempt to blow up the theater, and generally all-round save the day. This isn't lost on Anika and Tatiana, who abandon their dates in order to lavish their affections on Spider-Man their hero.
A very entertaining, very silly story. Having set the fun-o-meter to "Maximum", this story just decided to go for broke, and the result was pretty damn good.
Silly premise, but nicely executed. Bonus points for setting a story in Symarkia and not featuring Silver Sable! Four webs.