Without Paul Tobin writing the plots, both stories would be worth about three stars. In the first tale, the Mandarin holds an underground fight club — hence the title — kidnapping the wife and child of Takio to force the martial artist to fight outside of his weight class. Spidey takes his place. In the second story, Spidey takes on a job for the Blonde Phantom to pay his phone bill but finds a Black Cat crossing his path.
Tobin's wise-cracking dialogue for Spidey, his characterization for the wall-crawler and moments of screwball continuity make both stories worth reading — not to mention the presence of excellent artists. In the first scene of the first story, Tobin positions Spidey in a web hammock showing pictures of his victories to pigeons.
For anybody not familiar with the Marvel Adventures series, this scenario is merely a frolic and perfectly in character for Spidey's sense of wackiness. For the faithful fans, it's a reference to Spidey's girlfriend Chat, a mutant who communicates with animals. So, Spidey knows that there are more to pigeons than meets the eye; they don't however transform into cars and trucks.
Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting
As the story continues, Rob DiSalvo and Derec Donovan demonstrate their particularly hyperkinetic Spidey, as the Mandarin makes his presence known. When Spidey finds out what's going, he immediately initiates a plan.
The actual fights take place in a page or two of panels. Because this is Spider-Man, he quickly disposes of the no-powered and gimmicky villains Mandarin throws at him. One of these villains is a really, obscure Spidey foe and adds to the amusement.
It all comes down to a big battle between Spidey and the Mandarin himself, and while it's enjoyable to see how Spidey deals with the Iron Man foe, it's even more entertaining to see Spidey outwit the fiend with a smart ploy that sends the Mandarin into the pokey. Mind you, he doesn't get the final blow, but this is fitting.
In the second story, Tobin emphasizes Spidey's street cred. Unlike say Tony Stark, Spidey isn't part of the 1%. He's more at home among the 99%, and his taking a job for the Blonde Phantom to pay a phone bill is a callback to the old Amazing Spider-Man series, when he was persona non grata to some of the NYPD precincts and before he earned a stipend from the Avengers. Tobin also makes the phone bill a twist in the plot, and that was clever.
The Blonde Phantom is a 1940s Marvel character. She's been a staple figure in both of Tobin's Marvel Adventures series, and her flamboyancy better suits the series than say a hard boiled gumshoe like Dakota North, who arose in the eighties. If you thought I'd say Jessica Jones, you're nuts. Tobin might have included her if he needed a detective that made Clouseau look competent.
Tobin however clearly likes the Blonde Phantom, and there's very little in the character not to appreciate. Humorous, sharp, stylish and gregarious, the Blonde Phantom works well within the Marvel Adventures continuity.
The Blonde Phantom wants to sick Spidey onto the Frog-Man. The Frog-Man is another obscure Spidey villain. Although he's better known because of his outright silliness though less actually capable than say Batroc Ze Leaper. Spidey dispenses with him quite easily. Complications however arise when the Black Cat crosses Spidey's path.
The Black Cat started out as a psychologically damaged character. A product of pop psychology maybe to distinguish her from Catwoman, Felicia Hardy became fixated on Spidey as a replacement authority figure for her father, a renowned jewel thief serving time. The bad luck powers she possessed were actually rigged disasters that she staged as contingency plans. Over time, the Black Cat became saner, grew into a fun-loving character and an always affable guest-star. Of course Kevin Smith changed all of that with retroactive date rape, an unnecessary unsavory element.
The Marvel Adventures Black Cat is, as one might expect, a stripped down version of the character, with no psychological hang-ups or date rape in her history. Her bad luck is actually a power, which causes Spidey numerous funny embarrassments as the adventure ensues. Easily, Spidey's worst day despite being illustrated by Todd Nauck. Nauck's Black Cat is also a welcome sight, and Sotomayor lightens the hues to better suit Nauck's lean linework.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.