Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spider-Man Noir (comics)

Writer: David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Collects: Spider-Man Noir #1-4

The last time I read a Marvel Noir title, I was struck with the feeling that the line might have been losing its way a bit. To Marvels credit, they haven't tried anything as ridiculous as "Thor Noir" or "Captain America Noir", but I'm still left believing that they didn't think this thing through enough. Most of the miniseries utilize Marvels most popular characters, whether they fit or not.

This one only adds wood to the fire.

Peter Parker, socialist extraordinaire, is taken under the wing of newsman Ben Urich. Peter wants to take down the Goblin, a man he's certain ordered the death of his uncle Ben. Not an easy goal, but he's helped along the way by a spider bite that gives him superhuman agility and silk webs he can fire from his wrists.

Look, I'm no noir expert, as I've said in the past. I have a passing interest in it, but well versed in the tropes I'm not. But I know enough to realize Spider-Man is not the best fit for it. Peter Parker is, in almost every continuity, a guy who rolls with whatever punch is thrown is way, which is a clash with a genre known for messy, ugly, dirty tales of betrayal and loss where everyone is bought and no one can be trusted. How do you make a guy like that work in a setting like this?

Turns out you kind of don't. Peter and his relatives are re-imagined as socialist crusaders in Depression era New York. Socialism being kind of a dirty word to most; some things never change, it seems. As pointed out in-story, it's a hell of an optimistic dream; everyone works together and things will get better. Even when faced with the ugliness, it's something Parker doesn't give up on. It's true to the character of Peter Parker in almost any universe, but it's kind of a clash with this genre.

An element of the supernatural also finds its way in. As always, Peter's bit by a spider. In this universe, it connects him to some spider god or a spider totem. Something like that. Regardless of what it is, the end result is Peter gaining superhuman agility, a Spider-Sense and webbing. I don't know enough about noir to truly say one way or the other whether it fits, but something about an element like this in a story striving to be noir seems off to me.

It's to David Hines credit that it doesn't just fall apart. It's readable and even fairly enjoyable. I'm just not sure it feels like noir, even with the betrayals, darkness and shadows. David Hine proves himself more a capable, dependable writer every time I read one of his comics. One of these days I hope to read a project of his unencumbered by flawed concepts or necessitated structural gaffes.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

A fairly decent read, even if Spider-Man and noir isn't exactly a match made in heaven. I wouldn't recommend an outright purchase, but it might be worth a look. Depends on how much you like the idea of Spidey chillin' in the shadows and smacking around carnies. At least it's a better read than X-Men Noir.


  1. The first X-Men Noir is the only title I've attempted to read from this line, and I couldn't make it through the second issue. Pretty terrible stuff, in my opinion, although there's always the possibility that I didn't give it enough of a chance.

    Spider-Man Noir seems a bit more intriguing to me, although, like you say, the character doesn't seem like a very good fit for the genre. I think a lot of my interest comes from the fact that he appears in the Shattered Dimensions video game (which I haven't played, but looks fun -- I tend to enjoy Spider-Man video games more than most).

  2. I only made it through the first X-Men Noir because I'm a bot stubborn. I swear I nearly fell asleep in the midst of it. I couldn't bring myself to review it, though I did do the sequel. It was a surprisingly weak effort from Van Lente.

    So don't worry, it isn't that you didn't give it a chance. It just wasn't very good. But I'm not entirely convinced that's Van Lentes fault; trying to make the X-Men work in a noir setting just isn't possible, because you need to remove all of their hooks just to make the attempt.

    This doesn't fit much better, but it's at least a pretty enjoyable read. I've got some serious doubts now about the Noir line and I can kind of see why it was eventually ended. It's just not working the way I think they intended.

    Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is hella fun. This actually reminds me that I never reviewed it, even though I beat it months back. I may have to rectify that.

  3. I think part of the problem with X-Men Noir is that it was never meant to center on the X-Men originally. Based on the backmatter in the trade, it seemed pretty clear to me that it was originally supposed to be a reboot of the Golden Age version of the Angel (who actually does appear, as the detective investigating Jean's murder). I'm guessing the X-Men were shoe-horned into the story fairly late in the game when Marvel realized they could never sell a comic based on a character few had even heard of.

    I remember enjoying your review of Web of Shadows, and I look forward to seeing your full thoughts on Shattered Dimensions. I'm glad to hear it's a solid game; I'll pick it up if I can find it somewhere for less than $30.