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 pick up our story immediately following the dual cliffhangers from last issue. Peter, MJ, and family are trying to escape from the dungeon and the Green Goblin and Lizard are blocking his path. He quickly spins a web across the doorway to buy himself time. Meanwhile, Henri just handed over his restorative potion to Lord Octavius and the nobleman had a change of heart and smashed it to the ground. Henry desperately licks it up from the floor, saying he “can't lose the work... it can restore Janette...”
Now, this is hard to parse on the first read through, but apparently, Henri did not create a formula to heal Otto, but one that would restore his lady love Janette. Why? Because Henri thought Otto would naturally not trust him and test any formula he was given on her first. Now, since Janette was shrunken down it turns out to be a growth formula. Everyone see where this is heading? (Wait until the end of the issue.) Otto reveals that he already performed his own experiments on Janette, however, by combining her essence with a wasp. And now, not only is she diminutive, she has reticulated eyes, an extra set of arms and little wings.
From here on the action is split between one page vignettes but for coherency's sake I will combine them in my review.
In the dungeon, Osborn finds some bottles that look like pumpkin bombs, saying Otto taught him that these potions explode when thrown. He immediately tosses one at the web Peter spun and it blows a hole in the wall. Spidey jumps through it and goes on the offense for once. He attacks the Lizard head on while Osborn continues to throw bombs. Spidey snags one and tosses it back at him while he tries to get away. This creates yet another big boom, collapsing more walls and starting random fires everywhere.
Otto gets distracted by the sound and Pym tries to hack off his arms with a handy ax. Otto grabs him with one of his many tentacles and tosses him outside and into the canals while he goes to investigate the disturbance. There is a fire on the main floor now (I think, the art and layout of the villa is unclear). Peter is holding a piece of ceiling up to save MJ and her family from being crushed. (The Lizard and Green Goblin are nowhere to be seen.) Our hero tells everyone to leave but MJ says “I will not leave you, you must come out or we'll fall together.” Peter declares “I will not lose you too,” and tosses the entire thing away in an incredible feat of strength (referencing Amazing Spider-Man #33). They kiss and he asks her to leave once again and she replies, “I will, for now I know you can do anything to be with me.” (Spider-strength for the booty call, aww yeah!) Peter turns from her and says it's time to “bring this madness to an end”.
Meanwhile, Doc Ock and the Lizard are fighting each other. (See, I told you there were too many villains!) The Lizard bites off one of Doc Ock's tentacles but it grows back immediately. Spidey jumps in and spins webs everywhere, fastening Octavius to the wall. But, he has one more trick up his sleeve, or beak.. or whatever... he shoots ink! It covers Peter in a sly homage to his black costume. He cries out, “How am I to please crowds in a black jester's suit? Grotesque.” Just then the Green Goblin flies in, grabs Peter, and tosses him through an opening in the walls. Guess who's waiting outside... it's Bullseye!
Peter quickly spins a web to prevent himself from hitting the ground but ends up hanging off the end of it while Bullseye takes aim with his handy crossbow. Osborne flies out and tries to sneak up behind Spider-Man. (See where this is going? Think Amazing Spider-Man #122.). Peter's spider-sense finally kicks in and he twists around, heaves Osborn over his back and lets him take a bolt to the forehead. Scratch one villain. Peter falls to the ground and MJ rushes in front to protect him from Bullseye's next shot. She needn't bother, because just then the Lizard jumps up and bites Bullseye on shoulder. Then, Otto appears and knocks both of them into the water, again. Scratch two more villains. Now it's just Otto vs. Peter.
But not really, because we see a giant head emerge from the canal behind them. Remember Henri? Yeah, we're doing the whole Giant Man shtick. He's eager for revenge after all of Otto's torture. Otto begs “Henri, forgive me. It was the potions influencing my mind!” Heh, the old “the drugs made me do it” defense. Henri is not swayed and stomps Octavius flat with one foot. Pretty gory as you can even see the blood splatter.
Now it's time for a quick wrap-up. Janette flies in. Henri laments that they are farther apart than ever before. She swears never to leave his side and he swears he will not stop until he finds a cure for both their conditions. He walks off, telling Peter that he has a lab up in the hills (uh, how will he get there without anyone noticing?) where he can continue his experiments. Peter and MJ swing away with some philosophical musings... “I used to think life was all of a line... the past, now, what is to come. Now I think I understand what it really is... It connects back and forth at many points.”
To illustrate his point, the next page treats us to a flash forward in history. A professor explains that the colonists and Indians eventually fell out with each other and the dinosaurs were hunted to extinction. Then, we move on to WWII where Allied scientists find Otto's buried lab in Italy and use the serums they find there to create a certain red, white, and blue super soldier.
And the circle of history (or Marvel history, at least) is complete.
Overall, this was a disappointing follow up to the previous sequel to a groundbreaking series. As usual, the further you get from the original the faster the quality goes down.
There were countless missteps. Why was the final battle resolved by some other hero? Why introduce the Lizard without giving him a backstory or character development? Why cast Osborne as a flunky of Dr. Octopus instead of a full-fledged villain in his own right? Why was the Ant-Man / Giant Man and Wasp origin shoehorned into a Spider-Man story?
The only lasting good that came out of this whole mess is the introduction of MJ. And even that came at the expense of a the death of a great original character like Virginia Dare.
This version of Spider-Man next appears five years later in Spider-Verse #1. Where he is promptly killed. Not the most auspicious ending for a one-time headlining character. But, it's not like we have a shortage of alternative Spider-Men running around right now. I guess there's just not enough interest in an Elizabethan superheroes these days. What's wrong with people? Philistines!