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 today (in 2010).
Since I don't live in the UK, I've been dependent on the kindness of others to get my hands on a regular feed of this title. In the past four years, I've been able to review every issue starting with #152. Now thanks to the miracle of eBay, I've acquired most of the issues from #132 up to #151... so let's get on with the job of filling in the gaps in our Looking Back section... "British History".
In current issues, Norman Osborn is dead... at least for now. Nobody (except Spider-Man) knows that he died as the Green Goblin, and his son Harry believes Spider-Man to be responsible for the murder of an innocent man, and is mounting an increasingly aggressive campaign against our favorite web-head.
Are you brave enough to read this issue's spooky Spider-Tale? If you dare, then proceed into the mind-numbing terror of an epic work entitled "Trick or Treat"!
Spider-Man is swinging through a terrible New York thunderstorm when for a split second he believes he saw... the Green Goblin. But, Norman Osborn is dead, surely? However, it's clear that something strange is going on, as Spider-Man himself is under surveillance from an unknown costumed female figure - one with sufficient powers to follow our hero as he travels across the city.
A trip back home to Queens for milk, cookies and a comforting word from Aunt May helps to soothe Spider-Man's nerves a little. But our hero still has much on his mind. The NYPD are still seeking his arrest, and the Green Goblin once more flashes across the edge of his vision. Also, he can't shake the feeling that he's being watched (indeed he is), though the momentary Green Goblin sightings seem perfectly timed to distract attention from tracking down whoever might be observing him.
Reverting once more to Peter Parker does little to help relieve his stress, as a trip to visit Harry leads to an encounter with Doctor Kaufmann, Osborn's psychiatrist. The Doctor is the unconventional therapist who has been encouraging Harry to work through his issues by acting out his hatred against Spider-Man, and there's something very unsettling about Kaufmann himself. None of this does anything to make Spider-Man feel any more comfortable as he returns yet again to his night patrol.
Well, that's more than enough preamble. Surely it's time for some action? And indeed, our tale obliges with a third Green Goblin sighting - but this time Spider-Man manages to track the Goblin all the way to the County Cemetery... to the exact spot where Norman was buried only a few short issues ago. There, the Green Goblin becomes three Goblins, who all turn into Demonic Goblins. Terrified beyond reason Spider-Man is just about to lose his mind, when Spider-Woman pops up out of nowhere to destroy Mysterio's hallucinogenic gas generator.
Yep, Mysterio. A couple of pages of tag-team Spider-Hero butt-kicking later and the three Green Goblins are revealed to be two Mysterio-manufactured Goblin robots plus Chameleon in a Green Goblin suit. Spider-Woman and Spider-Man manage to web up the Chameleon - he's a wanted criminal, so the cops will take care of him. But the other outstanding questions aren't destined to be wrapped up quite so tidily.
Specifically... who hired Spider-Woman to watch Spider-Man? She won't tell, but assures Spidey that it's not an enemy of his. So who hired Chameleon? That's easily answered... Mysterio did, to be part of his plan to drive Spider-Man insane. But then who hired Mysterio? There's no answer to that question yet. But whoever put Mysterio up to arranging this, clearly they knew that Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin.
Full marks to writer Ferg Handley for sticking to his ongoing sub-plots. He's using his characters well and constructing a story with a bit of depth and continuity. Unfortunately, the whole thing is rather spoiled by being not particularly well-told. I just can't feel convinced by any of the "is Spider-Man going mad?" angle.
Perhaps it's the brightly-colored child-friendly art-work, or the fact that I know from experience that this title never risks any permanent change in continuity that might conflict with "generic blended mainstream Spidey". I just can't develop any sympathy with this version of the Spider-Man protagonist, and that means I just can't build up an anxiety on his behalf.
It all looks good on paper, but I can't seem to generate any emotional buy-in. I think three webs is pretty generous here.