This is a 60-part weekly series being pumped into the market by Eaglemoss publications. They don't know much about Spidey, but they know that 60 * $8.99 = quite a lot. And I'm the kind of idiot who will spend that sort of money without doing the math.
There's an original 7-page story in every issue, and collectible trading cards too. Sure, the stories are terrible, the art is ghastly, and the price is far, far too high. But there's glossy paper, trading cards, and an original Spider-Man comic strip series that 99% of the U.S. collectors will never own!
After a couple of decent guest writer stories for the past two weeks, regular "Heroes & Villains" scripter Glenn Dakin is back. I am not filled with optimism, despite this week's cover promising "Vampire Action!" with "Vermin vs. Morbius!"
But can our splash page really be true... has Peter Parker become a vampire as Flash Thompson really exclaims? That pasty face, those jagged teeth... could be any teenage World of Warcraft player. But no, it's just Peter Parker, and he didn't get the message that Flash's party isn't a costume bash after all. In fact the whole thing seems to have been Flash's little joke to embarrass Peter by persuading him to turn up to a party with white makeup and vampire teeth.
That's a pretty cruddy thing to do, which makes it surprising that Mary-Jane decides to laugh at Peter's misfortune instead of supporting him. Then again, character consistency isn't really a strong point for this magazine.
Peter leaves the party early and heads out on patrol as Spider-Man, where he encounters a homeless man who claims that his friend was carried away by an army of rats. Spidey doesn't manage to find the guy, but the next day Peter Parker learns that Flash Thompson also disappeared that night after the party, along with a cop. There seems to be one cop assigned to finding the victims, and he tells Spidey that "The disappearances all seem to happen near the city dump - when it's shut for the night!"
Let's just summarize. Three missing victims including a policeman. A solid lead on the location, and yet there's just one cop assigned to investigate.
Well, Spider-Man leaves the cop alone and then sneaks into the city dump building where he finds... the cop he was just talking to! Yeah, somehow in the time it took Spidey to get into the facility, a bunch of rats managed to overpower the second cop and drag him inside, where somebody roped him up and strung him upside down.
Stringing food upside down in a larder? That's what spiders do, right? So the criminal responsible must be... hmm... Vermin and Morbius. A rat guy and a vampire. Naturally they would string people upside down. Spider-Man webs up Vermin. Then Morbius appears and gratuitously explains the whole plot. It goes like this:
Morbius has grown wings and become more like a vampire bat (a waste of space since that's kind of irrelevant to the rest of the matter). He came to New York seeking sustenance and found Vermin. Morbius wants to eat Vermin, but wasn't strong enough to kill him, so he tricked Vermin into being his friend and persuaded Vermin to bring him humans as food (which he did). But he didn't want the human food, he really just wanted the disappearances to attract Spider-Man so that Spider-Man could battle Vermin and defeat him (which he has just done).
With this elaborate ruse completed to perfection, Morbius now flies down and grab the webbed-up Vermin in order to eat him. But wait! Vermin isn't powerless, he was just pretending to be trapped in order to defeat Spider-Man. So now Vermin knows that his "friend" Morbius just wanted to eat him. The two wrestle in mid-air and then accidentally fall into the waste incinerator.
Flash cheers the death of the two villains, but Spider-Man points out that gloating over the dead isn't particularly nice.
Is there supposed to be a moral here? Perhaps... "Real friends don't eat each other?"
If I squint hard enough and look out the corner of my eye, I could imagine that the germ of a reasonable plot lies at the heart of this tale. But the story-telling (not to mention the artwork) is so inexecrably bad at every level that no plot could ever hope to break free of such a dreadful implementation.
First is the complete abandonment of any pretense of logic in the story. A multiple psychotic, super-strong "kidnapper" is on the loose, so a lone cop wanders into the assumed lair? Ravenous killers capture four bodies but just leave them hanging and don't touch them? Flash (and the others) spend 24 hours hanging upside down but recover just fine within seconds, when medical evidence reckons that even a few hours in such a position would rupture blood vessels in your brain and would very likely cause death? That's a lot to ask us to accept.
Moving one layer above the basics, there's the terrible character portrayals. Mary-Jane laughs at her boyfriend Peter when Flash humiliates him with a silly "trick" that is nothing more than lying to a supposed friend? How about Flash suffering no trauma whatsoever from being kidnapped, tortured (hanging people upside down is a popular torture method), and witnessing two deaths... then simply laughing about it? Finally, there's the sheer stupidity of Morbius and Vermin just accidentally flying over and falling into the incinerator to their "tragic" death.
Bad, Bad, Bad. One web.
But wait! This issue also contains the "rules" for playing the "game" with the trading cards that come with each issue. The game works something like this:
Each player chooses some cards. It is a requirement that one player uses "hero" cards while the other uses only "villain" cards. Unfortunately, the cards aren't marked as such. Is Black Cat a hero or a villain?
Each player turns over a card. The player with the highest power number wins. Repeat.
Yeah, that's it. No strategy. You might as well just toss a coin repeatedly.
But wait! There's a variant! Players can choose to use more than one card and add the numbers together. But when you run out of cards, you lose. So if you use two cards to increase your chances of winning this turn, you guarantee to lose a later turn when you run out of cards.
Personally, I'm a bit of a games connoisseur. I have an account on BoardGameGeek and I own a cupboard full of fascinating games. Trust me - I know what I'm talking about when I say that the "Heroes & Villains" card game is the kind of rubbish a three year old might come up with. It blows chunks.