This long-running UK Magazine started out by running reprints, but these days it offers a brand new "out of continuity" Spider-Man story every three weekly issue.
The Spider-Man story occupies eleven or twelve pages of the 32 page magazine, and are aimed at a pre-teen/early-teen market. The plots for these stories feature classic Marvel characters and villains, and often echo plots from the mainstream comics, but in their own special style.
The remaining pages of each issue are filled with puzzles, posters and factoids centered around the issues guest star(s), be they heroes or villains. This month... "Friend or Foe", with Kingpin, Spidey and the Molten Man featuring on the cover.
Peter and the Gang (MJ, Liz & Flash) are down at "Java Blink's Coffee Shop" grabbin' a fine cuppa java. Liz is all happy, because her (older) step-brother is out of prison. In fact, he turns up to say hi. "Hi there, Mr. Mark Raxton, aka "Molten Man". Raxton claims to be unemployed.
Peter knew Mark "professionally", in that he battled Molten Man in some earlier issue (not one that I own, sadly). Mark's pretty tense and rude to everybody, until his mobile rings and he hops out - followed quietly by Peter who sees Mark get into a car driven by "one of Kingpin's Crew". Impressive. Kingpin runs most of the city, but Peter still recognizes a random flunky.
Peter does the tracer thing, and Spider-Man follows Raxton to a DVD counterfeit operation where he has been hired as defense against an attack against Hammerhead or Silvermane. Spider-Man busts in, unwittingly spoiling a police surveillance operation that has been waiting to get evidence linking Kingpin to the counterfeit setup.
Molten Man goes metallic and battles Spidey, saying that he's working for Kingpin because he wants the money. Kingpin hooks up via video link and offers Raxton a million dollars to defeat Spider-Man. The surveillance guys hear that and mistakenly think that Kingpin is actually in the building, so they go in with all units...
...only to discover that Kingpin isn't there after all. Worse, Raxton stops fighting and reveals that he's been an inside man for the FBI on the operation that Spider-Man has just ruined. Bummer! Now Raxton's cover is blown, and Kingpin gets off scott free. Well, apart from having his operation busted, which isn't a big deal in the big picture.
Spidey tries to make up for his booboo by breaking into Fisk Tower and threatening Kingpin to leave Raxton alone. Kingpin pretends to agree, but really he's peeved at being threatened and intends to really stick it to Raxton and Spidey both. But that's a story for another issue.
Well, I have to admit I was fooled here. I'm so used to these Spectacular UK mag stories (by Ferg Handley) being so completely rubbish that I wasn't that surprised to learn that Mark Raxton was working for Kingpin. I was disappointed but not surprised to see that any potential depth in his character had been squandered.
But I was wrong. The tale did have a plot twist in it. Sure, the "Raxton is really a good guy" is a pretty common plot twist, but it was there and that's what counts. Actually I almost got caught out twice, I thought for a moment that Spidey's threat to Fisk might also be effective, but fortunately Kingpin's true character came shining through as well.
Frankly, most of the recent stories in this title have been complete shite. So it's a pleasant surprise when a tale comes along that, while not particularly ground breaking, still manages to use the characters sensibly and work its way through a carefully-managed plot without putting any feet wrong.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn't really a great issue. But relative to all that has come before, it's head and shoulders above the rest, so I'm going to splash out and offer a rare four webs.
Hmm... maybe that should only be three and a half. I'm gonna move on to next issue right away, before I get a chance to change my mind.
Usual filler. Boilerplate "history of Spidey" inside front cover. Index page. Two page Molten Man fact file, two page Spidey coloring page, two pages of puzzles, competition (with a little puzzle involved). Double-sized centerfold pullout poster, 1 page self-advertising, three more puzzle pages, two page Kingpin fact file, two page "draw Spidey" lesson, two pages fan art. Done.