Spider-Man is trapped in Subatomica by Psycho Man, who has also enslaved the Silver Surfer. What none of them know is that they are about to be attacked by the mindless insectivorids, who are led by Annihilus, The Living Death That Walks!
(Don't you just love these classic Spidey stories?)
Spider-Man awakes (he's taking a serious beating this time around) to find himself in a containment tube along with all the people that have disappeared from the old run-down hotel where Spidey started this whole ride two issues ago. The confused people look to Spider-Man for help, unable to take the effects of Psycho Man's experiments any longer, but he can't even get his bearings together before said villain's reappearance. Only now he's twice as tall. Realizing that he lacks the power to excape after seeing the Surfer powerless in his own tube, he asks Psycho Man for the explanation that has eluded him. It seems that the insectivorids have invaded Psycho Man's realm of Sub-Atomica and threaten to conquer it, something Psycho finds unacceptable. Since his powers are based on emotion, Psycho Man was powerless to resist hordes of the mindless, unfeeling drones. That's where the Surfer came in, as Psycho Man heard of him and "set out to bind him to my will." As for Spider-Man? He's soon to become the experiment du jour in an attempt to discover the link between him and the insectivorids. Nice in-laws, Spidey.
As Annihilus ("THE LIVING DEATH THAT WALKS!") prepares his insectivorid army to invade Psycho Man's worldship, wherever it is, Spider-Man is trying desperately to find a way out. Inquiring about the Silver Surfer's mentally controlled board, Spider-Man tricks his enemy into revealing its location. Which, in turn, snaps the Surfer out of his malaise and uses the board to spring Spidey. With the old-fashioned webbing-in-the-face move, Spidey manages to trip Psycho Man and knock his head off. Well, the head of the giant suit he was wearing, anyway, and as the normal-sized Psycho Man beats a quick retreat Spider-Man takes the time to free the Surfer. After talking the Surfer out of a violent revenge, the two heroes run out of time. It seems the insectivorids have invaded.
The Silver Surfer quickly notices that the insectivorids are ignoring Spider-Man, and convinces him to use that link. ("And here I didn't think I was the Pied Piper type!") Spider-Man starts to lead the drones back out the way they came but is cut short by a crippling blast of doubt from Psycho Man's ray gun. Actually, it looks more like a clipboard, but why nitpick? Psycho Man is then given a dose of his own medicine by the ambushing Annihilus. The two begin to battle, and Spider-Man quickly realizes that discretion is definitely the better part of valor. The Silver Surfer converts the empty containment tubes into a vehicle of some sort, and Spidey manages to herd the remaining captives on-board before the insectivorids can reach them. The good guys escape, reappearing in the submolecular studies lab of Four Freedoms Plaza--much to the surprise of the Fantastic Four, leaving Annihilus and Psycho Man to... work out their differences.
The story ends on an upbeat note, with the Silver Surfer parting as friends and Peter Parker actually getting a bonus rate from Jonah from the pictures he took during this fracas. And just how did he explain being carted off to Sub-Atomica???
This is an example of a story that technically does things right. The art is crisp, effective, and conveys a bit of a sixties style to it, especially with the hand-lettering and old-fashioned splash pages. The story does what it sets out to do, solving a continuity problem that has existed for longer than I've been alive with no obvious holes remaining. So why aren't I more excited about it?
First of all, I never even knew the backstory on this one before picking up the first issue, and I'm guessing a lot of the people who did pick up this story would not either. That's not that big a deal in and of itself, but the story Eric Stephenson crafted to fix it just wasn't that fun. Psycho Man? Annihilus? Sigh, boring! The interplay between Spidey and the Surfer was good, and I like seeing the two together, but . . . I just did not find myself enjoying myself as the issues progressed. I can sum up my difficulty with the story arc in two sentences. This did not feel like a "I got a great idea for a storyline involving Spider-Man and the Silver Surfer!" Instead, more like "I figured out a way to explain a thirty-year-old continuity glitch and work Spider-Man into it." Come on, didn't it seem like any other Marvel super hero could have stepped into Spider-Man's place and the story wouldn't miss a beat? Stephenson fixed the continuity, alright, but Spider-Man was not driving this story. And it's supposed to be his book, after all.
Spidey himself put it perfectly: "I'm... caught in the middle of a conflict I have NOTHING to do with." Not good. Two webs.