Of all the impressive things Spider-Man Noir has done – stealing the show in Oscar-winning Into the Spider-Verse, dying while protecting the comic’s spider-verse from a vampiric threat, being resurrected from that same death in a coming 2020 solo title – perhaps the most impressive is existing at all.
An implausible amalgamation and remix of the Marvel comic’s universe, Peter Parker, a sizable chunk of his rogue’s gallery, and all the well-trodden tropes of the noir genre, Spider-Man Noir written by David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico seems like something that shouldn’t work. Yet, it does.
What’s it about? Marvel’s official summary reads:
The hard-boiled adventures of the grittiest web-slinger in the Spider-Verse! In the dark days of the Great Depression, young reporter Peter Parker finds himself forever changed by a spider’s bite — and resolves to take on crime and corruption as the urban vigilante called Spider-Man! And there are no shortage of foes — from gangland bosses the Goblin and Crime Master, to pulp-era twists on familiar faces like Kraven, Chameleon, Doctor Octopus and more! But will the seductive Felicia Hardy prove friend or foe? Plus: Spider-Man Noir enters the Spider-Verse via an encounter with Mysterio — and shares a spectacular team-up with a six-armed Spidey! And a brand-new video-comic adventure, adapted for reading!
Now, that sounds like a lot of story and, admittedly, it is. However, Hine and Sapolsky’s narrative does a great job of rolling the various elements, twists, and turns out in an organic and appropriately campy way. The strength here is in the attention given to the world. There’s probably no better example of that than the idea that the story doesn’t start with Peter Parker at all. Instead, we’re introduced to gritty-noir New York through the viewpoint of the secondary character Ben Urich. Ben, a Daily Bugle reporter with an eye on towering crime lords Norman Osborn, Kraven, Chameleon and more with no apparent way to stop or impede their stranglehold grip on the city despite desperately wanting to (for more reason than one…noir strikes again!). Earnest, twisty, and grounded it’s the viewpoint and placement of characters like Urich and even Felicia Hardy that make Spider-Man Noir’s world seem real and I’m grateful for them. It’s also undeniably cool to have a black web laden Peter Parker having fever dreams of a spider god, of course.
Unfortunately, once the narrative across the original miniseries and its sequel lean into the more notable noir elements, it leans into them far, far too hard. Peter’s dialogue, as well as the villain’s, is needlessly monotone, harsh and faux-edgy in a way that lacks all the self-awareness or humor Cage’s movie adaptation. The unevenness is especially apparent in the additional stories here, too.
Thankfully, the art across the series is stunningly consistent and evocative. With the exception of the video comic, the unfinished, loose and shadow laden look of Noir Parker’s New York is suitable and effective. Di Giandomenico does a fantastic job of establishing a tone and sticking to and embellishing upon it across the series in a way that is constantly surprising and exciting from the shocking end of the first issue on. Gangsters, vigilantes, fedoras, and cigars — the gang’s all here in a lovingly rendered way that might work for fans of Travel Foreman’s similar dark caper style in the recent Black Cat series. If the narrative delivered variations on tone and scene as well as the art did, this would be a truly stunning elesworld style story.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man Noir comes up just slightly short instead. Enjoyable, campy, dark and sometimes thrilling, the story is hindered by its one-note nature and unevenness even as behind-the-scenes, great heavily stylized art and some genuinely intriguing ideas do the heavy lifting. This collection is a surefire bet for fans of the under printed series wanting a complete collection conveniently but may be lacking for those still hot off Into the Spider-Verse.