Welcome to our "British History" lecture series. Our goal is to shed some light onto the murky history of one of Spidey's lesser known current titles... the alternate universe UK-only series Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine).
Started in 1995 as "reprints plus filler", it transmogrified itself a few years later and swapped that reprint content for 11 pages of original story content written by UK creators.
It's still running currently (in 2010). But we only started regularly reviewing from issue 100 or so (and even then we had a break for a couple of years during the #120's and #130's. Now, thanks to the joint miracles of eBay UK and international shipping, we're planning to track down and review all those other stories that slipped through the cracks the first time around.
Now, for four straight issues now, Doc Ock and his allies (Electro and The Eraser) have handed out humiliation and hurt to both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. This issue promises to be... THE FINAL BATTLE! Despite his poor recent track record, the smart money is on Spidey for a last-minute comeback.
This month's story opens with a splash page shocker. Is Spider-Man really begging for mercy, humbled by Doctor Octopus, Electro, the Absorbing Man and ... ummm... that guy whose name I don't remember, but he uses a gas that makes people full of fear and causes them to beg for mercy? Oh dear, I think I've spoiled the surprise.
But first, we must backtrack.
Scene: Ravencroft Maximum Security Centre (for the criminally insane in regular continuity, but in UK Spectacular Spidey world simple home to a bunch of super-dangerous super-bad super-guys).
Cast: Ock, Electro, The Eraser, and ... Porcupine? Yeah, it's Laurence Gentry, wanna-be super-villain and contender with Peter Parker for the love and affections of Mary Jane Watson. Seems like after so rudely rebuffing him last issue, Doctor Octopus has graciously allowed him to come along as the bad boys break in to Ravencroft to pick up some additional recruits for their New York takeover strategy.
Speaking of Peter Parker, where is the star of the show? Well, he's hanging out with Flash, MJ, Liz and Harry... but suddenly he bails ("I have to take photos for the Daily Bugle") when he sees a police car blazing past. Naturally, this is going to cost him big time with MJ, with whom he already has run out of brownie points after the events of the last couple of issues.
Back to Ravencroft, where Ock & Co. have added a couple of carefully selected recently released residents to their team. Specifically (as per the front cover and splash page) Mr. Fear and Crusher Creel (a.k.a. the Absorbing Man). Spider-Man picks a poor moment to make an entrance, and is quickly overwhelmed by Mr. Fear's "fear gas" and Creel's raw power.
Now, all along through this story, Spider-Man has been the number one pain in Ock's plans, and Otto has spent a great deal of time, money and effort in his attempts to destroy our web-headed wonder-boy. Laurence aka The Porcupine has done the same. So, now that Spider-Man is at their mercy, naturally they simple execute him so that they can take over the city.
Hah, do they heck. No, not at all. Porcupine merely says "What a loser!" while Dr. Octopus goes with "Leave him! We have bigger fish to fry!" routine. And so with Spidey merely temporarily incapacitated, the villains head for the "Whitlow Military Weapons Centre" and help themselves to enough major lethal goodies to hold New York captive. The ransom price? Control of the United States!
Meanwhile Laurence/Porcupine meanwhile is thinking "Hey, I didn't sign up for this." What an idiot. Of course he did. I mean, seriously, did he think Doc Ock was spending billions of dollars and enlisting heavyweight helpers like the Absorbing Man just to corner the popcorn concession at Yankees Stadium? For starters, we already saw him watch Ock on the TV as he simultaneously (a) demanded control of New York and (b) carelessly ordered The Eraser wiped an innocent woman hostage out of existence. Seriously, Gentry - check your script. You're fluffing your lines.
Now I've never heard of the "Whitlow Military Weapons Centre", and Google has nothing to offer on this front. What's more, this story never actually tells us where the Centre is supposed to be, although it's pretty important for the plot for us to know that the second part of the tale takes part somewhere in the desert or other part of U.S.A. quite far removed from New York.
Anyhow, the bad guys have emptied a maximum security super-prison and taken over one of the most deadly weapons stockpiles in the world. This is going to attract the Avengers, right? Or maybe the X-Men? What about the Fantastic Four? Oh, they're in the negative zone. So we get... Johnny Storm! Well, I guess that's better than a slap in the face with a grilled kipper.
Spider-Man is also on the warpath. He's particularly peeved because the newspapers picked up the security camera footage of him cowering under the effects of Mr. Fear's terror-gas. "SPIDER-MAN YELLOW" said the headlines. Now Spider-Man is looking for Otto in all the wrong places. Specifically, in New York. The web-slinger hasn't heard about Ock's takeover of the weapons centre, and so he is somewhat surprised to be unceremoniously scooped up from a rooftop by the Human Torch and carried off to... wherever this big weapons stockpile actually happens to be.
On arrival (after a trip of unspecified duration) the Torch out-powers Electro, while Spider-Man's gas mask allows him to easily take care of Mr. Fear. Then Doc Ock, super-genius yells out "Blast! We should have killed him last night!" Oh, yeah, you sure are a man of exceptional intellect there, Otto. Your cerebral capacity and foresight are masterful to behold, six-arms.
Gawd, what a frigging maroon.
Crusher Creel comes out fighting, and manages to hold Spider-Man and the Human Torch (still suffering from a dose of Mr. Fear's gas) to a scoreless draw. Spider-Man's spider-sense allows him to surprise The Eraser who was hoping to launch a sneak attack. Taking advantage of a a little confusion, Spider-Man blinds The Eraser and then tricks him into erasing The Absorbing Man. A tap to the jaw then KO's the Eraser, and it's four down with two to go.
Spidey and Johnny launch a double pincer attack on Ock, but for dramatic effect rather than based on any rational explanation, Ock manages to effortlessly wrap tentacles around both of the heroes at once. Where the heck did that come from? No tricks or traps. He's just stronger, faster and smarter than both of them. Well, it makes no sense, but given that we only have to pages left in the entire story arc, I guess we needed to move on with the plot rapidly.
Suddenly the tables have turned. Ock has the two good guys wrapped up in his tentacles (why the heck Torch can't just nova-flame through them I don't know). He also has his thumb on the trigger of New York destruction. Meanwhile the President of the United States is on the phone and tells him that they won't agree to his demands. Seriously, is that the best negotiation strategy the white house advisors can come up with? Oh well, I guess Dr. Octopus is just going to have to press that big ol' red button and blow the Big Apple to Kingdom Come. Nobody can save the day now!
Nobody? Well, OK. Nearly nobody. For the last few pages, Porcupine has been in a bit of a panic. He really doesn't want New York blown up. He doesn't want to go to jail either, which seemed like his other reasonable alternative. But at this stage he really is out of choices. He makes a totally unexpected move...
Actually to be fair, it's not entirely unexpected. I saw it coming some time two issues back - but then again I possess an IQ that if expressed in degrees Fahrenheit would be considered "warm" in Alaska, so I'm not really part of the target audience here. But as I was saying, in an unexpected move, Porcupine hits Ock with a flurry of tranquilizing darts. Fortunately for all concerned, Ock collapses without managing to set off the doomsday devices.
Porcupine then claims he was only working with Ock to "bring him down from inside". Nice story, but I would be more convinced if he had made his move before Ock was a quarter-inch away from total annihilation. Still, it's enough of a cover for the real heroes to let him off the hook.
Meanwhile, Ock is "transported back to New York" by some incompetent police who don't bother to further restrain or sedate him. So half-way through the trip he regains consciousness and storms off into the desert swearing revenge on Spider-Man. Somehow, he seems to have forgotten that he saw Spider-Man change into Peter Parker. That's handy. As for Peter himself, he's stranded in whatever place he's in, as Johnny flies off without him.
Well, I can't complain about lack of action here. There's plenty going on.
My only real objections to this story were those I pointed out as we went through - Porcupine's surprise on "learning" Ock's plans for the second time. The vagueness about the location of the weapons centre was a bit of a muddle. The first time I read the tale, I thought it all took place in New York - until Ock needed to be transported back, and then I realized I must have missed something.
Then there's the silly ease with which Ock finally captured the two heroes, plus their total inability to do anything to save the day, despite both of them having ranged attacks. Then there's Porcupine's cowardly backstabbing being so easily believed for having been a good guy all along, and oh yeah - perhaps the most annoying incongruity of Ock's constant bleating about Spider-Man having to die and then just letting him go when they did defeat him.
Finally, given that the story is titled "The Final Battle!", how daft is it for the tale to conclude with Doctor Octopus striding off into the sunrise swearing that "I will return".
What? You're saying that's just irony? Are you sure it's just not bullshittery?
All in all, this story arc has been a rollicking bit of good fun. In itself, this wrap up would be worthy of a high "silly-but-fun" mark well above the average.
However, I just cannot bring myself to reward a story that is quite so full of inexplicable actions and, well, to be frank, dumb moments. Is it really that hard to read through a plot and proof-check it for common-sense logic? Clearly the answer is yes. Four webs minus one web for stupidity equals three webs.
This issue features a "NEW LOOK" with changes to the cover layout, and a price jump from from £1.50 to £1.75.
And yes the page count this issue is 44 pages instead of the usual 36. But looking ahead I see that it's a one-issue wonder, as next issue drops back down to 36 pages again. I also note that the extra 8 pages this issue feature 3 pages of advertising. All in all, a rather cynical move, Panini.