Spider-Man: Noir Review

(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)

Introduction: After a small hiatus, I have returned with a new comic review. To commemorate the occasion, I have decided to write the first review after the break on a comic requested to me by a follower of this blog’s Instagram page. As you have probably guessed from the title of this review, she chose Spider-Man: Noir, a four-issue miniseries from Marvel Comics released in 2008-2009 that tells the story of an alternate reality Peter Parker/Spider-Man set during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Co-written by David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky with Carmine Di Giandomenico penciling, coloring, and inking the book, the title spins a somewhat darker tale of the Spidey man of us know and love.

Plot Summary: With the United States in a depression, exceeding poverty has allowed corruption to consume New York City, as people are willing to forgo certain morals to get ahead. NYC is essentially run by the criminal mastermind Norman Osborne, the Goblin (an alternate version of Green Goblin), and his henchmen. Serving under the Goblin are alternate versions of Kraven the HunterVulture, Ox, and more. Goblin has politicians, policemen, investigators, and other powerful civilians under his thumb as well. A man named Ben Parker speaks out against Goblin, only to be brutally murdered as a result. When Peter Parker, in his late teens, discovers his uncle’s mutilated body, his passion for justice alights.

Photojournalist from the Daily Bugle, Ben Urich, goes to the slums and witnesses an emblazoned speech by Aunt May, who is attempting to encourage fellow impoverished people. There, some of Goblin’s goons try to silence May, but Ben steps in and they withdrew. Ben meets May and Peter and escorts them home. After talking with Peter and hearing how dissatisfied he was with the city operates, Ben convinces J. Jonah Jameson to give Peter a job at the Daily Bugle as his assistant and introduces Peter to Felicia Hardy, who runs a bar called the Black Cat. After seeing more injustices on the job, Peter decides to investigate into Goblin’s wrongdoings and ends up being bitten by an apparently cursed spider. As a result of the bite, Peter finds himself equipped with superhuman powers, and he decides to take a more proactive approach into putting Goblin on the hot seat. Fashioning a uniform primarily using his Uncle Ben’s aviator’s uniform from his time in the military, Peter becomes the Spider-Man.

Peter Noir origin powers
A new origin: Peter envisions a spider being bestowing him with power

Peter learns that Ben, himself, has succumb to working under Goblin to maintain his heroic habit. Peter, as Spider-Man, confronts Ben, and Ben (seeing through his disguise) is inspired enough to do the right thing and give up all of his amassed information on Goblin to the Daily Bugle to be published. However, Ben is executed before he gets the chance. As Spider-Man, Peter uses Ben’s information (protected and provided by Felicia) to put a stop to Goblin’s agenda, although it is apparent that this case is not the last time the Spider-Man decides to act.

Plot Analysis: Much can be said about this series, but I shall try to maintain brevity. Firstly, while the miniseries uses darker elements to coincide with the “Noir” title, these instances are not overdone or done simply for the sake of being dark. Every gritty moment had a reason. I have read stories that incorporated a darker tonal quality but overemphasized those elements in a way that served no purpose. Spider-Man Noir used these moments to further the plot or better define characters / justify characters’ actions. I appreciate how Hine, Fabrice, and Di Giandomenico created and upheld a consistent atmosphere that kept a balance to the level of darker elements implemented.

Tone aside, I found the story itself to be well-done. The pacing was done so that Peter did not become Spider-Man straight away. Hine and Fabrice spent time developing the world that housed the story and introduces readers to the characters, particularly who the characters are as people outside of any sort of costume. Starting in medias res (which I have stated before is a story mechanic I enjoy), the first issue shows Spider-Man holding the shot body of (seemingly) J. Jonah Jameson, but after Spider-Man flees, the scene shifts into weeks into the past that led up to that moment, as described in the plot summary above. So, readers were teased with this new Spider-Man and then pulled into an explanatory story. Excluding that initial scene, Peter does not become Spider-Man until halfway through the miniseries, allowing readers to become invested in the plot surrounding Peter and Ben and the others. I enjoyed how tactical Hine and Fabrice were while mapping out this story.

Characterization: Spider-Man Noir incorporates a number of characters from the Spider-Man mythos, most of which were listed in my plot summary above. I appreciated how Hine and Fabrice provided familiar faces in an unfamiliar setting. While the characters are the same in name, they do have differences from their main universe counterparts. As such, I felt the characters embodied a nice balance between paying tribute to the original versions and establishing original characteristics. As someone who is a fan of Spider-Man (he is perhaps my favorite Marvel character) and therefore is somewhat familiar with Spider-Man lore, these homages are appreciated. As someone who reads a lot of stories and enjoys fresh takes on existing tales, the unique traits are appreciated. The setting and circumstances of the comic affect the characters to a degree, such as making Peter Parker a little more aggressive in his pursuit of stopping injustice, but the characters do still feel like “themselves,” at their core, which I applaud.

spider-man-noir-reference.jpg
Reference art for Spider-Man Noir

Art: Di Giandomenico’s art employs a level of grit and edginess that befits the darker tone and setting of Spider-Man Noir. The pencils are not always smooth, and the colors and inks are purposely made darker in portions of the comic. Personally, the art style may not be to my taste, but I can understand how it may suit others’ tastes more. It is fine art—I just simply would not be as easily attracted to the comic for the visuals alone. However, when it comes to comics, I am less of a visual person and more of someone who pays attention to story elements. I feel that the art perfectly fit the tone of the book, though, so even if I am not a huge fan of the art style, I would wager my enjoyment of the story was indeed enhanced by the art—as it heightened the effects of the plot, tone, and characterization elements. I have to admit that I very deeply enjoyed the design for the various characters, especially Spider-Man Noir’s (shown here).

Final Remarks: Spider-Man Noir is a solid work from Marvel. If you have an interest in Spider-Man or in darker (noir) stories, then you may be interested in this title. If you have heard of this title/the character but have been on the fence regarding whether or not you wanted to take the leap and buy it, I would recommend you go ahead and read this comic. With the Spider-Verse movie and the Spider-Man video game both having had recently released, I hope comic fans have gained an interest in the Noir version of Spidey and may read his various comic appearances, including this miniseries that introduced him. As a last note, I find it amusing that Peter is science-oriented but received his powers in this universe from a supernatural source. Anyhow, I would like to thank the Instagram follower who requested I review this comic for a fun read. This miniseries served as quality kindling to reignite my passion for comic reading and reviewing. Thank you.

Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.

Embrace Nerdom,
-Nerdy N8

4 thoughts on “Spider-Man: Noir Review

Add yours

  1. Wow, Urich appears but wasn’t exactly on the side of the angels? I wouldn’t have seen that coming (I associate him more with Daredevil than Spider-Man). Seems like a pretty interesting book. I previously had only heard of Di Giandomenico from his work on Joshua Williamson’s Flash, but he isn’t quite to my preference, either (he tends towards sketchier, more chaotic line-work).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. haven’t touched Marvel for a while, (Love the movies though) but Spidey I always liked for his basic iconography. Powers. Pride. Uncle Ben dies because of that pride. The fall, when Peter realises his fault.

    This is the new story of the two Bens, and the changes seem to be significant – more than most ‘What if’s’..

    Ben Urich (as Mike points out) was always Daredevil’s journalist/ confident. He did have his moments of crossing the line during Miller’s “Born Again” DD story arc (as said, it’s been a while since I was big on Marvel!) but to hear that Urich is up to the same old tricks, just encourages me to read ‘Noir’ for a different take.

    It does get rid of one of the basic day-one tenants of Ditko/ Stan Lee’s Spider-Man. “With great power…” as Uncle Ben dies waaaaay before Peter gets the proportional strength of a spider but doesn’t delay his killer. I think that I would really miss that aspect of the story.

    Aunt May is kind of weird as a skid row rallier. She was generally quiet and was a constant excuse for Peter to fret over his secret identity. A strong Aunt May (apart from Tony Stark’s crush in the movies) is a questionable choice that I would need to check out.

    I can accept all the ’what ifs’ apart from the cursed spider? Even Gaimen in 1602 had some kind of irradiated (by the time vortex, but still irradiated) spider biting Peter. In the 1930’s there certainly were nuclear piles and refined materials like Uranium or Radium. Maybe there are other reasons why they went mystical rather than radioactive?

    I’ve got to check this out because one of the other reasons my ‘Spider Sense’ is tingling, is that in the reference art image he’s wearing boots, and whatever Peter’s source of power, he always needed close contact with his feet to stick to walls. I can remember Romita’s image where Peter runs up a wall holding his shoes, because the Van der Waals forces (or whatever the newest explanation is) didn’t work through shoes! But then if he’s magic…

    I always like the noir stories, because stylized and dark are one of my favorite visual styles. (Ok. And Geoff Darrow’s hyper-detail.) It’s good to hear you critique the artwork more. Really. There is no need to apologize about your ideas on the art.

    There are other dark Spider-Man stories. In some ways, Spider-man was always dark in an emo kind of way. He’s the tragic teenager without parents who’s going through changes. Some kids get zits. Spidey gets webs.

    Spider-Man vs Wolverine was pretty dark. So was ‘Hooky’. I’ll check out ‘Noir’, given a chance.

    Like

    1. Hey, Roscoe! Thanks for the insights.

      As for the Uncle Ben-related change to Peter’s origin, I actually found the change to be just fine. I would not say that it was “welcoming,” as I very much so appreciate and like the classic Ben origin element. However, in this universe, the origin for Peter’s motivation as Spider-Man is still fairly solid to me, and it still ties back to Uncle Ben. See, Uncle Ben had always taught Peter growing up that when those in power are corrupt and no longer care for the people, then it is the people’s responsibility to remove them from that position of power. Uncle Ben also taught him that life is filled with injustices. When Peter was a kid, Ben took him to see the Frankenstein movie, which gave Peter nightmares. When Uncle Ben came to comfort a panicked Peter, Ben did not tell him that there were no such things as monsters. He told them that he would protect him from the monsters. That moment carried with Peter. Uncle Ben was trying to bring the Goblin’s injustices to light, and he was killed as a result. Peter, himself, simply a teenager, was the one who found Uncle Ben’s mutilated corpse (he was torn apart and partially eaten by…an animal). Seeing his beloved father figure like this set off a rage of righteous fury in Peter, which Ben Ulrich recognized when he asked Peter to help him in the newspaper business. So, Uncle Ben’s teachings set the foundation of Peter’s beliefs, and then Uncle Ben’s murder served as motivation to go against Goblin. And then, once he had power, he remembered Uncle Ben’s words and decided to use his power to stop Goblin.

      As for Aunt May, I feel like I recall her being outspoken against Spider-Man in the comics. And that actually happens in this comic as well. Here, Spider-Man uses Uncle Ben’s old pistol from his time with the military to shoot the Vulture to death when he was about to kill Aunt May. Ooh, Aunt May let him have it! She told him that doing it so save her life was not enough reason to play judge, jury, and executioner when he is not a man of the law. She noted he had spider webs he could project from his wrist, and she asked why he could not have used those (I imagine it was because Peter could not risk losing May and went for the faster, more assured means of stopping Vulture). She scolds him and tells him to leave, and he walks away in a way that was reminiscent of a young boy walking to his room after being scolded (when he actually absorbs and accepts the scolding, that is). This moment from May actually changes Peter. When he has the chance to kill Goblin and stop him forever, he remembers what May said and decides against it. He decides to not kill at all anymore (intentionally at least, I’d wager). So both Ben and May shaped Peter’s ideals as a hero, which is nice.

      As for the cursed spider thing, Peter himself spent a few lines saying there has to be a scientific explanation. Perhaps there is one, but it was not revealed within this miniseries. Luckily, Noir appears elsewhere, so we may just yet find out!

      Thanks again for the reply.

      Liked by 1 person

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