Set in the American 1930s during the Great Depression, Spider-Man Noir takes the classic character and places him in a dark and gritty world where people are fighting just to get by in a corrupt system. Ben Ulrich, a reporter for the Daily Bugle, finds his life is about to change when he encounters a young and jaded Peter Parker.
Spider-Man Noir takes us into a world where the characters weâ€™ve known in other renditions of the title are put in unique positions thanks to their personalities and the general state of decay that was the Great Depression era United States. The story itself isnâ€™t anything too incredible, but thereâ€™s something charming about its basic revenge story that captivated me enough to read through the entire volume in a fairly quick amount of time. There are a lot of characters here and when you get down to it, no one is inherently evil in this thing . . . well, maybe the Vulture, but for the most part, no one is truly evil.
Set in a time of great strife, we see the characters doing what they can just to survive and itâ€™s not always a pretty thing. Osborn leads a mob filled with Spider-Manâ€™s rogue gallery in new and interesting interpretations of their original characters. The key that binds them is that theyâ€™re all former freak show members. This is where I think itâ€™s easy to see that theyâ€™re not so much evil as they are incredibly fearful of the world around them. The final battle between Osborn and Peter reveals Osborn to be a disfigured, scaly green faced guy under a fake human mask and rather than wanting to stand trial, he simply wants Peter to kill him so as to not be paraded around as a freak once again. This is where we learn that he did what he did and became a mob boss because he wanted power and respect after a childhood of being gawked at and ridiculed for the way he looked. The problem with Osborn is that he never realized that fear does not equal respect.
The rest of Spider-Manâ€™s adversaries donâ€™t seem to get a lot of time front and center here, so you only get a bit of their personalities. The big hitters in the mob are composed of Chameleon, Kraven, and the Vulture. The Vulture seems to have the greatest impact on Peterâ€™s life in this series, despite a relatively scant amount of focus that he gets. This being a Spider-Man story, Uncle Ben does need to die and in this version, heâ€™s taken out by the mob in a very gruesome manner. I did mention Vulture was a cannibal, didnâ€™t I? This murder leads Peter to become a pretty bitter guy and thatâ€™s clearly painted all over his face when we first met the guy, and his powers donâ€™t seem to change that in the least bit.
So whatâ€™s the catalyst for Peter wanting to become a real hero? The death of the Vulture. Towards the end we have Osborn sending his thugs to gather up people who might have dirt on him and figures that Peterâ€™s Aunt May is an easy way to get to Peter, who was friends with Ben Ulrich, a reporter and the greatest threat out there to Osborn. Peter walks in on the Vulture about to take May and aims a gun at him. Despite Mayâ€™s protests, Peter shoots and kills the Vulture. In this version of Spider-Man, the message isnâ€™t â€œWith great power comes great responsibility,â€ itâ€™s â€œWe are nothing without rules of behavior,â€ and itâ€™s given to Peter by May after he kills the Vulture.
May is a bit of an activist for the little guy in this version of the title, running a shelter for the poor, so she naturally wants everyone to have a voice and a fair shot. Seeing Spider-Man kill the Vulture, who in her eyes was defenseless, triggers a great dislike for the masked vigilante. This message seeps into Peter pretty quickly as we find during the final battle, when he has the chance to kill Osborn, he would rather the man be sent to trial.
Beyond the usual suspects, we also have a very interesting character in Ben Ulrich. Ben is actually the main character for the first half of the series and itâ€™s fun to see the world through his eyes. Because we do eventually find out that heâ€™s a drug addict and paid off by Osborn to keep his mouth shut, Iâ€™m left to wonder if his view on things as the main character and our set of eyes was skewed in any way. (rereading potential, ahoy!)
Ulrich is an ultimately tragic character. The guy was once an honest and hard working reporter, but now, just like everyone, is just trying to survive and wash away the pain of living in this world. Peter eventually comes to hate this guy, but upon finding that heâ€™s been killed, he realizes that Ben wasnâ€™t evil or bad, he was just another little guy trying to survive. And thatâ€™s what a lot of this book is, people who arenâ€™t good or bad, people who are insignificant in the grand scheme of things on their own, but when pooling their talents together, theyâ€™re a force for justice.
Felicia is also in this book as the owner of the Black Cat night lounge, a hot spot for the cityâ€™s mob bosses, members, police, and mayor. For the most part, no one feels anything can change because Osborn has the mayor and the police in his pocket, but Felicia acts as eyes to everything that goes down and because of this, becomes Ulrichâ€™s confidant. (and lover) Felicia has dozens of files on Osborn and the corrupt officials within the city, eventually handing these over to Peter. At some point we find out that Felicia left Ulrich for Osborn, another pretty terrible acted necessitated out of need. Thereâ€™s potential for a romance there between her and Peter, but Peter learns itâ€™s probably best to leave people to their own devices in handling their demons.
All in all, Spider-Man Noir is a pretty great product. Like I said before, the story itself isnâ€™t too great, but the characters are adapted so seamlessly for the noir world. I really felt like I was reading something from Hammett or Chandler in this setting. The art is dark and gritty to show off the nature of the world, though sometimes a little too dark as I found it difficult to figure out what the heck was going on in certain pages and panels. The action could be a little disorienting, despite a few great panel layouts, I had to sit there and visually take in what was going on rather than just glance at it. Itâ€™s a great first outing for the Marvel Noir titles and while I donâ€™t think every Marvel title needs a noir adaptation, Iâ€™m very willing to try more of these out.
– Aoi Kurenai, www.risingsuntokusatsu.com