Quick Review: Spider-Man: Noir
By David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky and Carmine Di Giandomenico
As part of the Marvel Noir series, the alternate take on Spider-Man took me quite by surprise. I have written about how these alternate takes can easily be seen as riffs on a familiar theme, causing the reader to be distracted by the differences with the standard Spider-Man series. At first, that was the case with Spider-Man: Noir. As I read the version of Peter Parker set in the depression-era New York City I was very distracted by trying to spot the notes that Hine and Sapolsky would hit as he established an alternate version of the web spinner. As the story developed, however, that became less important.
I am less familiar with Fabrice Sapolsky, but Hine’s writing has always struck me as very moody and dark. In particular, Silent War (featuring the Inhumans) and Brave and the Bold (with Green Lantern, Green Arrow and the Phantom Stranger) are both intensely emotional and moving pieces of superheroic fiction. Taking the continuity and contemporary setting out of the equation freed up David Hine to make his own decisions in making a truly distinctive world.
The central character of the comic at first is journalist Ben Urich who is fascinated with Peter’s aged demonstrator aunt, May Parker. Urich is writing working for the Daily Bugle under the crotchety-yet-determined J Jonah Jameson who seems determined to show the ‘true face’ of New York City and its citizens who are left behind in the Great Depression. The crimelord Norman Osborn (also known as the Goblin) is worried about May Parker’s influence on the people, fearful perhaps that his hold on them could be shaken. Urich tries to protect both Peter and his aunt by keeping both close which seems odd at first until it becomes clear that Urich is a heroin addict enslaved to Osborn for his steady supply.
Osborn’s Enforcers are actually ex carnival performers including the former ‘geek’ known as the Vulture who is known to eat anything with customized sharpened teeth. This is a brilliantly utilized narrative idea that allows the comic to use colorful characters yet stay within the confines of a noir style setting.
While witnessing a heist in a museum by Osborn’s men, Parker is bitten by a strange and ancient spider that grants him speed, agility and the ability to cling to walls or climb along a strand of webbing spun from his very hands. Using these abilities under a masked guise, Parker takes it upon himself to dismantle the Goblin’s criminal empire. In addition to the super criminal element of the Goblin and his Enforcers, the comic also introduces its own version of Felicia Hardy (alias the Black Cat) as the operator and owner of a speakeasy. Hardy acts as the smoky femme fatale and the woman with her finger in many pies, making her an invaluable resource to Parker in his war on the Goblin.
The series starts off slow but builds slowly yet in the end develops into a lush and full world all its own. So well received was the series that it spawned a follow-up Eyes Without a Face… but that’s another story.
The noir version of Spider-Man will appear in the upcoming videogame ‘Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions’ in his own noir-themed world. The noir version of webhead is not nearly as confident and powerful as the Marvel Universe superhero, demanding players to utilize stealth and strategy as they play throughout the game.
The Spider-Man: Noir series was collected in a hardcover edition and smaller softcover collection that is very nifty. For once, I’m recommending that version.