Part 1 of 5: INTRODUCTION:
You gotta feel sorry for Spider-Man And Zoids.
From 1986-1987 it was a British weekly comic that ran for 51 issues before folding. Yes - 51. Its first birthday was also its end.
Worst. Anniversary issue. Ever.
Yet I think it's fantastic that the title even existed in the first place, albeit for such underwhelming reasons:
1. It resurrected from the dead Spider-Man Weekly, which had died a tragic living-death almost a year earlier. For the first 13 issues it was even cover-labelled Vol.2 / II!
2. Zoids had already run for 8 weeks in the centre-sheet of Spider-Man Weekly's spin-off Secret Wars Featuring: Zoids. However with upcoming issues of that title about to be filled with full-length Secret Wars II reprints, the backup strips were going to get squeezed out. Marvel UK needed somewhere else to tell their brand new stories of the blue and red robots who were also available as model kits.
Call me cynical, but it looks as though this new comic only happened due to a 12-month arrangement with Zoids-manufacturer Tomy UK, but I'm just speculating. I've since heard great things about Grant Morrison's run writing one of the earliest Zoids universes, but I never read it at the time. I didn't like Zoids. You see, no matter how hard they tried, they just would never be Transformers.
3. Comic-mergers are always scary for readers of both titles. This comic merged in its very first issue. Right from the off, Marvel UK apparently didn't reckon that either brand was strong enough to sell a series on its own, hence their uneasy buddying-up. In all 51 issues, Spider-Man never once met any Zoid. The coupling of Spider-Man Weekly with a toy-franchise from another company, with a strip set in a different universe, never sat comfortably with me. It was hardly the shared interest of Spider-Man And Hulk Weekly.
4. It was half-based upon a sadly out-of-date business model. While the Zoids stories couldn't be bought anywhere else, the original US Spider-Man comics were easily available in the UK these days, often in the same shops, so British readers no longer had much need to buy a second-hand reprint series. Which is probably why...
5. Although their names came the other way around in the title, Spider-Man And Zoids always smacked of being a Zoids comic, which also carried cheap Spider-Man reprints as filler. Indeed, the brand-new Zoids stories are the lead strip in 47 of the 49 issues that I have been able to research for this review, and are the focus of about half the covers.
Anyway, as you may have already suspected, this short post is not about the Zoids strip. It is about those cheap reprint fillers concerning the web-slinging title-character.
Part 2 of 5: OVERVIEW:
For those of us who collected this series on its merits of being Spider-Man Weekly rising from the grave once more, the choice of Spidey reprints was excellent, even if the order they were presented in proved less so.
In its later days, the old UK Spider-Man comic had increasingly sought to concentrate on the superhero's self-contained stories. They would make sense in any order. The stakes were never very high in those, incapable as they were of affecting the long-term future, but Spider-Man And Zoids took the opposite view. In almost every single issue, it chose to reprint the complex web of Spidey's ongoing soap opera.
Yes! Now this was what got kids like me constantly wanting to read the next issue!
Or would have done, had I not already collected these now years-old stories in their original US publications. It's that out-of-date-business-model problem that I mentioned in the introduction above. Although I bought Spider-Man And Zoids almost every week throughout its almost-year-long-run, I never read it.
Occasionally though, like tonight, I do have a bit of a flick through my collection, reflecting as usual on Marvel UK's well-established paradox when it comes to reprints...
With such excellent source material, however did they manage to present it so, um, creatively?
But I'm not about to lay into them for these editorial changes 25 years after the event. Instead I'll just present a quick list of which US Spider-issue each UK weekly reprinted, along with the odd highlighted mutation. Just so as you get the general idea of how the overall storyline looked to anyone following this saga purely in the UK printings.
Part 3 of 5: ISSUES:
#1-#16 - reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man #256-#261
Backup strips: Sectaurs (#1-4), Fantastic 4 (#5-11), Star Wars - The Greatest Space Fantasy Of All! (#15-#16)
An outstanding opening run of 16 issues introducing the Puma, re-revealing the alien costume's agenda and advancing the Hobgoblin / Rose mystery.
Having left the Vanisher in prison for a year at the end of Spidey Comic #666, the web-spinner has foolishly started wearing his alien symbiote costume again, apparently forgetting its malevolent intention to permanently graft itself onto his skin. (recounted a year earlier in Spider-Man Weekly #633) It comes as a complete surprise to him when it tries to pull the same stunt again.
Meanwhile in other news, Liz Osborn is pregnant with her second child. She, Harry and their first child (born in the aforementioned #633) must be very happy.
Spot the difference: US original on the left, UK reprint on the right:
I can't believe Jameson's already left that nice girl who he married less than 18 months ago circa Spider-Man Weekly #614... and has got remarried again so soon!
From the other perspective, Issues #10-11 cut out most of Mary Jane's backstory, however since she and Pete never got as far as their wedding in the UK (as far as I know), this turned out to be a real timesaver. (Hang on, hasn't their marriage been retconned out of continuity in the US too now?) Alas, this gigantic edit did render the story's title - 'All My Pasts Remembered' nonsensical, so it was adjusted to the equally nonsensical 'The Day The War Began!'
And just while we're on this subject, issue #1 also had its title changed from 'Introducing... Puma!' to 'Back From The Secret Wars... And Back Into Action!'
Issues #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 all came with free Zoids and Transformers stickers. Though it's specified nowhere, #5 additionally featured a free pencil-top! Why they didn't hold this over for two weeks so that the freebie-less issue #7's cover could get damaged as well when removing it is anyone's guess.
Fig. 1: My free Spider-Man pencil top. David's copy contained a Darth Vader one!
#17-23 - reprinting The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110
Backup strips: Star Wars (#17-22)
A mind-blowing seven-issue epic as Spidey teams-up with Daredevil to solve "The Death Of Jean DeWolff". Its adult content - including Betty's infamously brutal shooting - got this story increasingly trimmed down.
Fig. 1: US original above, UK reprint below
The final issue - 22 pages long in the States - here was compressed to just 12½. However they didn't cut Pete's exchange with Matt Murdock regarding his apartment's recent fire.
The final panel of the new British ending was definitely spookier than the American one though - just who was that on the end of that mysteriously ringing telephone in the third and final panel? Brrrrr.
#24 - reprinting Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #99-100
61 pages in the US, compressed over here into ten.
Peter's girlfriend Felicia sews him a duplicate of his alien black costume, apparently forgetting that she's already done this for him a year earlier in-between Spider-Man Weekly #632 and 633. Apparently this delusion freaks-out poor Pete so much that he ditches her the very next day, although we don't see any of that conversation.
As in the US, Felicia never actually gives him the cloth costume, which is fine in the UK continuity because, as mentioned above, he already has one.
After the recent fire, Pete's apartment now looks fine. I guess he must have painted and redecorated it. Maybe Mary Jane helped him.
#25-26 - reprinting Web Of Spider-Man #1
Spider-Man's final battle with his alien costume, and the first third of his dealings with the Vulturions. In the US Spidey basically had the same battle with the Vulturions three times, so I think this trim was a wise move.
#27-32 - reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man #275-276
Backup strips: Star Brand (#30-32), Thundercats (#32)
Nathan Lubensky returns home from hospital after having been beaten-up because Pete wasn't around to protect him. Elsewhere, Flash Thompson is framed as the Hobgoblin and goes to prison. Also, Peter recounts to Mary Jane the whole of the very first Spider-Man strip from Amazing Fantasy #15. This flashback goes on for so long that it has an episode break in the middle!
These are great days though - issue #31 comes with a free Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars sticker album!
#33-36 - reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man #273
Backup strips: Star Brand (#33-36)
You may have noticed a New Universe backup strip sneaking-in and starting from issue #30. Why, being so far behind in reprinting the Marvel Universe, someone saw fit to begin work on chronicling another one is beyond me. By which I mean that I salute their optimism. This month, issue #35 even saw a guest-appearance by Spitfire And The Troubleshooters!
Fig. 1: It looks like Spider-Man meeting Captain Drew Heller from Zoids and Ken Connell from Star Brand. Is this cover the very first Marvel / New Universe crossover?
Now, surely they could have just written in there "See Spider-Man And Zoids# 17-23 for details"?
Unlucky Nathan Lubensky has been admitted to hospital again. No-one actually says why, but I think he's been beaten up a second time. If I'm right, then it's no wonder that no-one knows quite what to say to him.
Can't blame Peter for not being around to protect him this time - poor Pete's apartment has suffered another fire, this time due to having been torched by a street gang. Fortunately Mary Jane helps him to paint and redecorate it to look... exactly the same way as it did seven weeks ago in #29.
And then the Beyonder shows-up. To be continued in Secret Wars II #71!
From #36 the readers' "Letterline" page returns under the inspired new name "Red & Blue Views".
#37-40 - reprinting Web Of Spider-Man #13
Backup strips: Star Brand (#37), Strikeforce: Morituri 'We Who Are About To Die' (#38-40)
After all that painting and redecorating of Pete's apartment in the last story, by this one that gang have torched and wrecked it a third time. Sheesh, life in New York.
#41 - reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man #274
Backup strip: Strikeforce: Morituri 'We Who Are About To Die'
Continued from Secret Wars II #71! Really? So... when did the last four episodes take place? I think they meant to say that this latest issue runs-on from SWII#76. Another run-in with the Beyonder, anyway.
#42-49 - reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man #280-281
Backup strips: Strikeforce: Morituri 'We Who Are About To Die' (#42-45), Secret Wars II Epilogue... (#46-49)
The 'Secret Wars II Epilogue...', which runs until the penultimate issue, is actually a reprint of The Avengers #266.
Flash Thompson escapes from prison and goes on the run, concluding that storyline. Meanwhile, Spider-Man suffers a serious head injury and cliff-hangingly collapses on top of a building at the end. But surely he's okay, he must be, it's not as if they're about to cancel his comic or anything...
#50-51 - reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man #271
Backup strip: Secret Wars II Epilogue... (#50)
Spider-Man's collapse from his head-injury last week seems to have been really serious, as he's now completely forgotten that it ever happened.
And after all that I'm missing the final issue, so am indebted to David for helping me to fill in some of the blanks.
As #51 solidly reprinted the remaining 15 pages of ASM#271, I assume that Mary Jane convinces Pete to repaint and redecorate his now fairly respectable-looking apartment all over again, MJ's boss acts all mysterious, Lance Bannon oddly sets off Pete's spider-sense at the Bugle, Ned and Betty have a row... and Aunt May asks Peter to keep an eye on the reasonably healthy looking Nathan Lubensky when he goes out tonight. Well, you'll never guess what happens.
So, that's the way the whole series ends, with Aunt May blaming Peter and shutting the door in his face, and his standing there bleakly reflecting on the hopelessness of being Spider-Man. Sheesh, being a super hero is just no fun any more.
Part 4 of 5: IN SUMMARY:
The wealth of first-class Spider-Man stories from this era made this a series well worth publishing. If only the same issues could have been presented in the correct order. (which I reckon would have been #1-16, #24-26, #37-40, #17-23, #50-51, #33-36, #41, #27-32, #42-49) Perhaps if they had planned it a little better at the start.
The opening 16 issues stuck fairly rigidly to Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz's excellent work in Amazing Spider-Man, and aside from covering the end of Peter's relationships with the Black Cat and his alien costume, that's really the source they should have stuck with more. At the comic's closure there weren't that many US issues to go until the reveal of the Hobgoblin's identity, and even Peter and MJ's wedding. Perhaps with just a few more weeks, and a couple less detours, Spider-Man's weekly 14-year storyline in Marvel UK could have closed a little more satisfyingly.
That said, one reader wrote to the letters page to ask why the Hobgoblin was the villain so often, and couldn't we have a few different baddies in there from time to time?
I personally think that the British reprints had three big advantages over the US originals:
1. They were bigger.
2. The printing was better and more colourful.
3. Rather than running three series concurrently, they had the opportunity to sort the various chapters and panels into chronological order and print them as a single ongoing narrative. I'd love to get an ordered collection like that of such a sprawling world as Spider-Man's, and this was how, as a 15-year-old comics fan, I really wanted to rebuy the issues that I already had.
Still, wonderful episodes all, whatever order you read them in. There are just no stinkers anywhere.
Add to that a Zoids strip that everyone who remembers it today seems to say they loved, and Spider-Man And Zoids comes out as a 51-issue success right across the board. Even the second-backups have looked appealing as I've been going through writing this review. Truly, this seems to have been a series that could do no wrong, even when it was printing huge incomplete story-arcs in reverse order.
Part 5 of 5: EPILOGUE:
So, why was it cancelled?
Apparently because Zoids was too popular for it.
It's tragic that the planned Zoids Monthly doesn't seem to have ever gotten off the ground. I understand that the unpublished first issue is floating around somewhere on the net, and if issue #50's editorial is to be believed, it "chronicles the struggle to cure Griff's amnesia and the long-awaited arrival on Zoidstar of Sclater and his band of mercenary soldiers".
Marvel UK seem to have had two great properties here, but ultimately wound up with neither of them.
Maybe they should have left this great weekly comic the way that it was.