This long-running three-weekly UK Magazine started out by running reprints for 51 issues. But starting with issue #52, it launched a string of original out-of-continuity Spider-Man stories created in the UK which was to last for more than a decade, until Disney pulled the plug in 2011.
The stories changed their tone throughout that time. The early original stories followed in the style of the preceding reprints, which is to say, similar to Spider-Man Adventures, or the Spider-Man TV (1994) television series. Much later, the stories shifted sideways to become more like a watered-down imitation of Ultimate Spider-Man.
In any case, the original Spider-Man stories occupied eleven or twelve pages of this 32 page publication, which was aimed at a pre-teen/early-teen market. The plots for these stories featured classic Marvel characters and villains. While they often echoed plots from the mainstream comics, they did so in their own special style. The remainder of the content was filled with puzzles, coloring, posters (reprinted art), fan letters, and promotions for DVDs and computer games.
I'm currently running catch-up reviews for all the back issues I've managed to find in the past twelve months, in our Lookback section... "British History".
While most stories in this title replicated an existing formula, be it Spider-Man Adventures or Ultimate Spider-Man, there are the occasion exceptions. Once in a while, a story dared to be truly different... ventured into unknown territory... or perhaps more accurately, went completely off the rails.
This is a review of one such story. "Life Begins at Eighty".
We begin as Spider-Man swings home to Forest Hills one night to find a strange sight, even for a young man used to some of the strangest sights in the world. This sight is... Aunt May kissing an elderly man. The man is Mr. Angel, and he is dating Aunt May. Despite May's protestations that he is "welcome to stay for the night (nudge, nudge, wink wink), Mr. Angel insists on returning to the "nursing home" at which he resides. However, they make an arrangement to meet on Friday night.
But when Mr. Angel fails to arrive, May sends Peter over to check that he is all right. Ah, an old man is late, this looks like a job for... Spider-Man! And indeed it is. For when Spidey arrives, the heavily fortified building is under the control of super-villains, all of them ancient! There's "The Butterfly"(flying, super-strength) and "The Fiddler of Death!" (plays a violin that renders people unconscious), both lead by the dastardly "Doctor Grimm" who runs the home.
But wait, there's more. "Mr. Angel" is actually "The Angel", i.e. the 1940's super-hero from way back in Marvel's early days. Even more disturbingly, The Angel is wearing his costume once more, which reveals far more of his 80-year-old frame than I'm comfortable seeing wrapped in Lycra.
So, what's up at the home then? Well, Doctor Grimm (assisted by his two aged villainous side-kicks) is attempting to extend his life by absorbing the "life forces" of all the nursing home residents, including the recently arrived "Angel". Spider-Man and The Angel attack Doctor Grimm, but are subdued by the "music" of "The Fiddler of Death". When our heroes regain consciousness, they are in chains. Doctor Grimm now has new plan. By absorbing Spider-Man's life force, he hope to live forever.
Doctor Grimm activates his life-sucking device and starts absorbing "raw power" from the two heroes. Oh noes! Who can save them now?!
Ah, Aunt May. Good timing, May. Our heroine arrives with her umbrella and deals to Doctor Grimm. But when The Butterfly threatens to attack Aunt May, both Spidey and The Angel tear loose of their chains and leap to her rescue. The Fiddler's violin is destroyed, leaving him harmless. The Butterfly manages to use his "deadly sting" on The Angel, before being KO'd by Spidey. So that's both of the super-powered villains out of the action.
But Doctor Grimm himself isn't quite done yet. Despite having being clobbered by May's umbrella, Grimm calls on the hypnotized residents of the home, and forces them to attack Spidey. Slowly they shuffle towards him on their Zimmer frames and walking sticks, clad in their terrifying striped pajamas. Spider-Man is outnumbered and overwhelmed! Can anybody save him?
Once again, it's up to Aunt May. "Enough!" she yells "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? Behaving like a pack of silly hooligans! Now stop bullying that poor Spider-Man and grow up!"
And yes, that is enough to break the residents out of their hypnosis. Spider-Man swings away, leaving Aunt May and The Angel to return back to Forest Hills and enjoy dinner with Peter Parker. Presumably after the police have finished cleaning up the various villains.
So, Spider-Man has an infinite life force, which will sustain a man for eternity? That's a bit of a stretch, perhaps. I didn't figure Spidey as the Immortal type. As for The Angel, he didn't have super-powers, he was just a detective in a costume - nothing special about his life force.
And if Spidey and The Angel could tear their chains, why didn't they do it when their very lives were at stake. Surely they both had sufficient reasons to want to live, even without Aunt May's physical presence?
And what about the Butterfly's "deadly sting" which which The Angel is hurt? How can it be deadly? The Butterfly catches The Angel fair and square, and leaves him with nothing but a sore shoulder?
I am truly torn. One one hand, this is a story which treads that fine line between ludicrous and infantile. What's worse, you just know that the relationship between Aunt May and The Angel will be forgotten by next issue and never mentioned again.
On the other hand, the site of Spider-Man cowering as two dozen geriatric patients totter towards him on walking frames is laughable, but yet truly memorable.
Half ridiculous, half sublime? Let's split the difference and call it three webs.
Actually, I've worked in a Nursing Home, and generally the residents are not permitted to leave the grounds, as "Nursing Homes" tend to take patients who have medical problems that require significant care and constant supervision. I think Mr. Angel is more likely a resident of a "Retirement Home". But we now argue semantics.