Everyone knows about Marvel 1602, right? Written by Neil Gaiman and set in the Elizabethan Era – pretty much a match made in heaven! It was a big seller for Marvel, so, of course, several spin-offs (NOT written by Neil Gaiman) were launched to capitalize on its popularity. This particular book showcases Spider-Man's adventures after returning to Europe following the events related in 1602: The New World.
We left our hero as he finished the first leg of his journey in the Old World. He had just agreed to deliver dino eggs to a rich, but reclusive, nobleman in the French countryside. Peter and his young companion (a certain Mr. Thompson, natch) arrive and who guess who is there to meet them in the courtyard - Henri Pym! He hands them the deed to Captain Stacy's ship and two bags of gold so they forget the whole transaction. They quickly speed off as Henri inspects the cargo of dino eggs.
Shortly, Lord Octavius walks up with his pet lizard. Only this is the Lizard with a capital “L” because it is man-sized and wears a stylish purple cloak. Yes, we learn this man-beast used to be professor Kurt Conners, who was transformed into a monster after one of his experiments went awry. Otto again threatens Pym's lady love Janette in order to prod him into working faster on his cure. After the nobleman leaves, Henri looks into the carriage one more time and finds Norman Osborne staring him in the face. (I really have to call shenanigans on that, because Peter's Spider-Sense should have been ringing loud enough to give him a Exederin headache while he was surrounded by all these nefarious individuals!)
Meanwhile, Peter returns to the city (exactly which one I can't say, because we don't get any captions). With nothing better to do, he decides to take in a show. And this is where he first spies maid Marion Jane Watsonne. He is immediately smitten, and hangs around after the show to meet her. He finds out her family are troubadours from England and he uses his tumbling abilities to get a spot on the bill as comic relief. This aids him in giving MJ a full court press in the romance department. Time passes and they grow closer. It's hard to tell exactly how long they are courting, however, because (again) there are no captions. It could be just a matter of days or a few weeks for all I know.
Meanwhile, Henri is examining Osborne in his lab. Otto comes in and chastises him for the distraction, but Henri explains that he needed a test subject to try his potions on. Apparently (for reasons that are never really explained) he needs a steady supply of Witchbreed blood to concoct his cure. Osborne conveniently reveals that he knows of one particular individual that would fit the bill...
So, Peter and MJ are on stage one night when Bull's Eye (remember him from last issue?) makes his move. He doesn't get much further than throwing off his disguise, however, before the Lizard leaps out from behind the curtain to attack Peter as well! Peter leaps out of the way, however, and uses his webbing to clamp the Lizard's snout shut. He climbs the wall (right in front of the whole audience; no worry about keeping secret identities here!) to get away while yelling to his fellow actors to run. He makes it all the way to the rooftop somehow, but Bull's Eye and the Lizard are hot on his trail. The Lizard strikes first, smashing Peter with his tail. Then, Bull's Eye throws a dagger that misses Peter but hits the Lizard right in the face. They both go tumbling to the ground below and are knocked out by the impact.
Suddenly, Lord Octavious shows up. Bull's Eye conveniently disappears. And, hey, the local gendarmes finally make it to the scene to see what the whole ruckus is about! They let the nobleman take away Peter and the Lizard but it's clear they don't like his interference in these matters.
Next, we find Peter waking up on a table in a dungeon with Henri drawing blood from his arm. But before Henri can get our protagonist up to speed on things the King's men (which king we are never told) arrive to arrest Lord Octacvius. The captain explains, “You have brought horrors to our land,” and he is not welcome there anymore. During the confrontation, however, Peter frees himself as well as the Beast (remember him from issue #1?) and makes good his escape.
Speaking of escapes, despite all the king's men roaming the grounds, Lord Octavius, the Lizard, and Henri (and I'm sure even Osborne is hiding in the back of their carriage somewhere) are able to avoid getting round up in the raid. Henri advises his patron that he will need to get their test subject back, but Otto explains that he knows how to get Peter to come to them. Yep, it's the old “kidnap the girlfriend” routine. So, by the time Peter gets from the villa to the city he is too late to save MJ. All that greets him is a note from Otto telling him he has returned to Italy with Peter's lady love!
This issue was over-stuffed with villains and contrivances. The writer seems to be throwing in a whole bunch of characters and plot twists just to distract the reader from the many plot deficiencies. Where's Peter's Spider-Strength and Spider-Sense when he needs them? How did Osborne get free from the gendarmes? How in the world did Peter not notice he had a hitchhiker in the back of his carriage the entire trip out to Doc Ock's lair? Where is Doc Ock's lair anyways? France? London? Italy? Would it kill the writer to add some captions once in a while?
The rise of Elizabethan theater in England has an interesting history. Throughout the 16th Century performances gained in popularity with the masses, but were eventually banned from London proper. That didn't stop enterprising individuals from moving to just outside the city limits and building theaters for the crowds to flock to, though! The first successful English theater, called simply The Theatre, was establishing in 1576 and had a seating capacity of somewhere between 5000 and 10000. Troupes rarely acted in the same production twice during their engagements, performing in as many as five different plays during a weeks time. In 1642 performances were banned once again, this time by the ascendant Puritan sect.