Spider-Man Noir: A Gritty Classic

I’ve been on quite the Spider-Man/comics kick lately! I used to buy a new volume every few months or so as a treat, since used paperbacks cost me $15-$20 a pop, at the very least, and they add up after a while. Now? I’ve been buying BIG volumes of comics digitally for much cheaper, and reading them on my phone with the Kindle App. I’ve given in to my inner nerd, haha.

I wasn’t too sure what to think of the Spider-Man Noir run before I read it. After all, this version of Spider-Man definitely isn’t the Friendly Neighborhood version most mainstream fans have come to know and love. He’s still Peter Parker. But his reality is that of 1930’s-1940’s New York ravaged by crime and the Great Depression. It’s dark, bleak and grim. But thanks to author David Hine, it’s also suspenseful, thrilling and exciting!

Peter is more of a vigilante here than a superhero. And all of this stems from the death of his Uncle Ben. However, unlike his mainstream counterpart, this version of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben wasn’t shot by a burglar. Instead, he was cannibalized by his world’s version of the Vulture, because he succeeded in leading a protest or strike that ended up shutting down one of the businesses serving as a front for the city’s crime boss, Norman Osborn. The Goblin.

This comic is definitely not family friendly, nor is it for kids. It’s not quite as dark as the Punisher comics I have in my stash. But it’s still in that same vein. However I still loved this comic for its pacing, constantly moving and exciting story, and for some of the deeper themes. It also reminded me of a couple of my favorite movies in various ways. It’s definitely well worth the read if you’re into dark dramas and crime stories. And if you’re one of those people who likes those black and white classic detective films, you’ll practically be able to hear dark jazz in the background as you read this thing!

David Hine did several things, and he did them incredibly well. He combined the mystery and suspense of black and white detective films, with the action of classic Spider-Man comics featuring darker versions of several Marvel characters such as Ben Urich, Daredevil, the Black Cat (known here as the White Widow), Doctor Octopus, Robbie Robertson, the Chameleon and others. Not to mention he created an entirely original story while also staying true to the personality of these characters and their origin stories. There’s also just the right mix of downtime where Spider-Man searches for the next person of interest in his quest to take down Norman Osborn, Otto Octavius, or any of the other villains. Then after Spidey has found his lead, the action is a nonstop race to the conclusion of the story!

Comparisons to Sin City and Roadhouse

I didn’t expect to see similarities between the comic book and two of my favorite action movies. But two powerful similarities popped up in my mind as I was reading: Genuinely good characters standing up to evil like in Sin City, and the sheer terror used by Norman Osborn that’s similar to the terror and intimidation used by Brad Wesley, the main villain in the Patrick Swayze movie Roadhouse.

Like a few characters in Sin City, the movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s dark graphic novel, the Spider-Man Noir version of Peter Parker is one of the very few genuinely good-hearted people in an otherwise dark, nasty, crime-infested reality. Although at times he is a violent vigilante, he is an idealist. He wants the world to be better for everyone, and he believes there still are heroic and good people in the city. He’s just frustrated that nobody speaks up or actively fights against the Goblin and his goons, even though the people know they’re living under a ruthless crime boss who terrorizes anyone who opposes him. That’s Spider-Man’s driving motivation for doing what he does. He’s willing to take action when no one else will.

The gloomy, dark, crime-ridden world of Spider-Man Noir reminds me of the Sin City movies because there are only three truly heroic men in the films who actively try to fight against corruption, and do the right thing: Detective John Hartigan (played by Bruce Willis), Dwight McCarthy (played by Josh Brolin), and Marv (played by Mickey Rourke).

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Second from left: Dwight. Third from left: Marv. Far right: John Hartigan)

In the world of Sin City, and its sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the three men live in a crime-infested place known as Basin City. The city is ruled by the corrupt and ruthless Roark Family, headed by Senator Roark, his brother the corrupt Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark, and Senator Roark’s son, a child molester and child killer known simply as Roark Junior.

Hartigan, Dwight and Marv each fight against the corruption in Sin City in their own way. Hartigan hunts down Roark Junior. He wants to kill him to “cut the bloodline” of the Roark family, so the family will end, and perhaps the evil in Sin City one day will as well. Dwight wants to protect the woman he loves, an Old Town prostitute named Gail, at any cost. He aims to keep the peace between the “girls of Old Town” (Sin City’s red light district), and the corrupt cops in Senator Roark’s back pocket. Lastly, Marv sets out on a vigilante mission to find out who killed “Goldie.” a blonde-haired prostitute he fell in love with, who was the only person who ever showed him any kindness in his life.

Two of the three characters, Hartigan and Marv, end up dead while Dwight survives both films. But in my eyes, all three characters share Spider-Man Noir’s belief that evil triumphs when good people do absolutely nothing. So they fight it with everything they have, even when it may very well cost them their lives.

Spider-Man Noir is similar to Roadhouse, in that Norman Osborn rules New York with an iron fist in the same way Brad Wesley rules the Missouri town he’s in charge of. Nothing happens without Osborn’s say so. And nobody dares to challenge him. Anyone who does ends up dead. In Roadhouse, once Brad Wesley realizes how big of a threat Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is becoming, he has his friend Wade Garrett (played by Sam Elliott) killed to try to intimidate him. Similarly, when Peter’s friend Ben Urich is about to send incriminating information on Norman Osborn to the Daily Bugle, Norman sends the Chameleon (disguised as J. Jonah Jameson) to kill Urich so he can make an example of him, and to intimidate Peter and others.

Ben Gazzara as crime boss Brad Wesley in Roadhouse (1989)

As I read through Spider-Man Noir, I could actually “feel” the constant presence of Norman Osborn, even though he didn’t show up in every page. Obviously he’s a fictional character, but David Hine was a master at getting readers to put themselves in the shoes of the decent characters in an otherwise dark society. Peter Parker, his Aunt May, Felicia Hardy, Mary Jane Watson and others, all lived under threat from Norman Osborn and his henchman. I was constantly wondering when Norman Osborn would go after them, or what he’d go after them for. That suspense kept me hooked. I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it, because I had to see how Peter and the others eventually took down the Goblin. I had to see how they got rid of him, so they no longer had to deal with that fear in their lives.

Segregation and Racism

The last two powerful themes kind of went hand in hand in Spider-Man Noir. Since the comic book is set in the 1930’s and 1940’s, I was wondering when segregation and racism were going to come up. David Hine made sure they came up. In spades.

Robbie Robertson, one of Peter Parker’s friends, superiors and coworkers in the original timeline, plays a similar role in Spider-Man Noir. Although when he follows a lead that there are possibly Nazis hiding out in America, and that Otto Octavius (Doctor Octopus) is a scientist working for them, no one takes him seriously. Partly because they don’t believe him. But mostly because they don’t respect him due to the fact that he is a black man. People make plenty of overtly racist jokes ridiculing him. Finally, he gets so fed up, that he decides to quit waiting for the lead to develop, and go see for himself if his hunch is correct.

Unfortunately, Robbie’s gut feeling is proven correct: He sees shackled black people being shipped in by the boatload at a dock one night. But these people aren’t slaves. They’re going to be used by Doctor Octavius for experiments. Experiments funded by Nazi leaders living in New York. No one here yet fully knows how evil the Nazi ideology is, since this story takes place in the summer of 1940, over a year before America enters World War II.

This part of the comic book was interesting, yet shocking and sad. Otto Octavius is a brilliant scientist. But he’s confined to a wheelchair thanks to some unspecified disease (I think it’s polio, even though it’s never explicitly said). His solution? Round up all of New York City’s homeless or poor black people, and experiment on their DNA to see if they hold the key to curing his disease and other diseases. Doctor Octavius is a fervent believer in the Nazi ideology. This causes him to see black people as subhuman. Little more than cattle. So he shows absolutely no remorse whenever his experiments put any of the people in a permanent vegetative state. They’re just throwaways to him, after all.

Tragically, Robbie is captured by the Nazis when he confronts them, and he is permanently screwed up once Doctor Octavius experiments on him. He is still alive after the experiment, though he cannot think for himself, and obeys whatever anyone else tells him to do, like a slave.

Although Spider-Man Noir as a whole is gritty and dark, the Goblin and Doctor Octavius are eventually defeated. The Goblin is killed by a swarm of spiders after a fight with Spider-Man, and one of Dr. Octavius’ assistants turns on him, killing him. The book ends with the original Spider-Man somehow transporting Spider-Man Noir to an alternate version of 2014, because a godlike version of Mysterio poses a threat to every reality, and all of the Spider-Men within these different realities. Spider-Man Noir goes with the original Spider-Man, leaving Black Cat/White Widow to defeat the few remaining Nazis in their reality.

Spider-Man Noir ended on a weird note. Although maybe there are other Spider-Man Noir issues I need to read in the future to finish the story? Regardless, I loved this book! It’s one of my favorite comics I’ve ever read or bought, and I would recommend it to anyone who is a comic fan, loves action, or is someone who can understand deeper themes within stories. There was so much to chew on and process within this book, that it would not surprise me if I have to reread it to catch any details that went over my head. It’s a dark, gritty, powerful masterpiece!

Published by Luke Wickiser

Hi everybody! I'm passionate about many subjects, such as faith, history, politics, and sports. Stay tuned to Luke's Thoughts for updates on all these things!

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