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!
In a one-panel inset, Peter Parker bemoans the fact that "Robbie wants me to write a piece about the problem of bullying in today's world... Sheesh! As if I didn't have enough essays to do!"
Where to start with this terrible opening? Firstly, it clearly indicates that the writer has so little faith in his ability to communicate a message subtly via his story that he feels the compulsion to declare his goals up front. "Sub-text" is an unfamiliar concept here. If there's to be a moral in the tale, it's going to be in-your-face from the very beginning.
On a more prosaic level, it shows an absolute lack of understanding about what a photographer does, and what a science student studies. First of all, in major newspapers, photographers don't write stories. In small town papers, the opposite is often true - cost constraints mean that journalists will frequently carry a camera and take pictures to illustrate their own material. But the idea of a major New York newspaper editor like Robbie demanding that his top free-lance action photographer produce a human interest fluff piece is ludicrous.
Finally, I'll take a moment to boast that I am the proud holder of two university science degrees and a post-graduate diploma. In all of that time, I have been required to write one single essay - and that only because I signed up for an optional first-year paper in philosophy (out of personal interest). However, you can rest assured that science majors like Peter do not write essays unless they choose to.
So, our first panel has produce three major gaffes. At this rate, I'll be the one writing the essay. Let's see if we can pick up the pace a little as we leap forwards to the Kingpin's training room, where crime boss Wilson Fisk is dressed in a pink leotard with "K" monogrammed on the left breast. No, seriously. And he's laying down a beating on the Rhino. Yeah, he's bullying the Rhino. Get it? This is a story about bullying!
Now, you may be wondering if this is reasonable. Kingpin might be strong, but the Rhino's skin is bullet-proof. To give credit where it's due, the script does suggest that the Kingpin's victory over Rhino is perhaps partially because the Rhino feels unable to fight back at full power against his employer.
The Kingpin in turn is intimidated by his wife. She is especially concerned about her beloved car - a Jaguar XJ220. That's important. We'll be back to that later. Mind you, it's not important enough for artist Ant Williams to be able to draw it correctly in the first panel. For the record, Ant, the XJ220 has three window segments along the side, not two.
Ah well, time to start on our inevitable circular chain of unkindness. The Rhino heads down to Empire State University to do his own bullying of "Bernard Quinn", a professor who is "threatening to expose [Kingpin's] crime empire in a new book." The Kingpin sends the Rhino to lean on Quinn. Frankly, I think Fisk has gone soft. Back in his heyday he would have just had the guy whacked.
The Rhino does the required threat thing on Quinn, then leaves. Quinn then takes out his frustrations by bullying student Flash Thompson, telling him that he will "put him on report" if he sees him "chewing gum again in class". Oh for the love of all that's holy. THIS IS UNIVERSITY, NOT HIGH SCHOOL! You have Lectures, not Classes, and you sure as heck don't put people on report for chewing gum. In fact, if you even threaten to fail a student these days you'll probably find your funding withdrawn and yourself on the end of a class action lawsuit for mental cruelty.
Peter comes along moments later, and learns that Quinn's book "name[s] the location of the Kingpin's base." Hmm... just exactly how does that shatter things? It's not exactly a secret among the law officers of the Marvel Universe that Kingpin is Wilson Fisk. His name is well-known on the streets. Furthermore, his main "base" is Fisk Tower. That's spelt EFF EYE ESS KAY. Yeah, seriously. HE PUT HIS NAME ON IT! Nicely done, Quinn. Your Pulitzer is in the mail.
Anyhow, how does Peter known Quinn? Is he Peter's Lecturer also? If so, then what course is Peter doing in common with Flash Thompson? Speaking of Flash, he returns and takes out his frustrations on Peter by threatening him. Peter "can't let him suspect his real fighting abilities" and so acts like a total craven coward. By complete chance, MJ walks onto the scene at that exact second and sees Peter acting wimpy, then walks off panel again two seconds later. What were the odds of that? In fact, is MJ even a student at ESU? She certainly wasn't one in the original stories.
You know what? Frankly, I don't think I like Peter Parker. At least, the Peter Parker as he is portrayed in this "Spider-Man Heroes and Villains is (a) stupid and (b) pathetic." Seriously. Sure, maybe Peter Parker would be unwise to flip onto the ceiling and wrap Flash up in webbing. But how about a simple "Back off, Flash. I know you're upset. But don't take it out on me." Remember, these guys are supposed to be part of the same social crowd. They hang out together!
Yeah, yeah... I know. That would mess up the flow of the story. But I don't care what message you're trying to drive home, if you can't do it while still being true to your characters, then you ain't gonna succeed anyhow.
So, Kingpin bullied Rhino who bullied Quinn who bullied Flash who bullied Peter who now heads off to beat up the Rhino (at the address in Quinn's book). Spider-Man torments the Rhino in front of a TV camera. The Rhino charges at Spider-Man, who dodges, tossing Rhino through the garage door and smack into Fisk's wife's XJ220 (drawn correctly with three windows this time). Now Fisk is in trouble. The bullying he began has caused a chain of unhappiness for all concerned, including returning to cause suffering to the Kingpin himself.
There's your moral, kids. Karma is a bitch! Oh wait. That's not the Moral. Peter's story for Robbie is "I think maybe there's a little bully in all of us. He's the one we have to stand up to!" That's the moral. Or was it? Bother, now I'm confused.
After reading these stories, I'm left with a bitter, salty taste in my mouth. The message was so forcefully and carelessly shoved down my throat that I feel like a street kid who has been paid ten bucks to star in a "barely legal" XXX video. Sure, in theory I volunteered to accept this. But I still can't help but feeling somewhat molested.
This story is painful on every level, from its patronizing overall tone to the stupefying insults to my intelligence which permeate every panel. I truly believe that this could be the worst Spider-Man comic series ever. Its unrelenting lack of redeeming features must be unparalleled in the annals of Spidey chronicles.
What is so impressive is not only the seemingly unending series of terrible writing from Glenn Dakin, but the fact that it is compounded by the various artists which have been stepping in to each issue. John McCrea, John Ross, Ant Williams - each of them have been taking their turns and vying with each other to produce the most visually jarring and unattractive artwork.
It staggers the mind to imagine that any magazine featuring Marvel's flagship character could be produced with such terrible pencil work. Can all three of these artists truly be so talentless? Or is it perhaps that the incompetent and insensitive CG coloring by Alan Craddock is also partly responsible for dragging down the visual appearance of every issue?
Honestly. It wouldn't take more than ten minutes at the Deviant Art website to find a dozen incredibly talented young artists who would probably pay to be allowed to draw Spider-Man for a commercially produced publication. And yet... this is what we get.
Oh yeah. One web.
Yeah: This "super-secret address" is the residence of one of the most powerful men in New York. It's also where his wife parks one of the most recognizable sports cars in the world. Nice one, Quinn. Maybe your sequel could reveal the address of "Trump Towers"?