Along with the X-Men, Marvel have created a kind of “Elseworlds” titled “Noir,” where their more famous characters are re-imagined in the gritty world of detective novels and black and white movies. While “X-Men: Noir” was enjoyable in spite of its “Spot That Character” nature, “Spider-Man: Noir” is in many ways a complete mess.
It takes place in the Manhattan of Great Depression. May Parker is an activist for the poor, Peter is her nephew, still scarred by the brutal gangland murder of his Uncle Ben. It seems to be a reinterpretation of the current Spidey universe, with references to the cops and focuses of that book (May works with the homeless, etc). The other focus of the book is Ben Urich, a photographer for the Daily Bugle, which has basically remained unchanged in the transition.
David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky make some interesting choices here and there. The Vulture is a much more imposing figure than he’s ever been in “our” Spider-verse, and the tendrils of corruption have reached some surprising places. But as a noir story, it is unfortunately deeply mired in cliche. There is very little inventiveness in the setting or the characters, and morality is fairly one note. There’s no sign of a struggle among the corrupted, even though the writing tries to force one to the surface. And May and Peter are both shining beacons of good in a sea of poverty and evil.
One thing this leaves almost no room for is humor, which is of course a staple of any good Spider-Man story. And, as any fan of the genre knows, noir literature is a welcome friend to comedy. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, for example, is a bitingly witty protagonist. But there’s no sign of anything like that here. Everything is artificially “dark” and “moody.”
Carmine DiGiandomenico’s artwork (and presumed color work, as there’s no colorist listed) has flashes of greatness, but all too often falls into the same kind of visual cliche as the writing suffers from. In some panels, it’s Tim Sale; in others, it’s Peter Chung. DiGiandomenico clearly has talent, but he has yet to find his own style.
All and all, “Spider-Man: Noir” is a fairly pedestrian addition to the “Noir” line. There’s a bit more to the genre than hoboes and seersuckers, and there’s a bit more to Spider-Man than moping and vengeance. In short, a failure at both ends.