(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 Hunter, Vulture, 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 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.
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.