I’ve sampled almost all of the Marvel Noir comics, and even if I haven’t read all the issues of a series, I’ve liked a whole lot more of them than I loathed. But the series I ended up enjoying the most, out of the entire Marvel Noir line, was the one featuring Spider-Man. As I said in my reviews of that first series, it was more “pulp” than “noir,” but the artistic skill of Carmine DiGiandomenico made each issue a visual treat. And the story by David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky was weird, violent, and disturbing. In a good way.
Unlike Luke Cage, or the Punisher, or even the X-Men (all of whom have a sense of mystery and danger around them, and might translate to a noir-ish setting), a wise-cracking, skyscraper-bounding character like Spider-Man seems like a poor fit for a tale set during the depression. He seems like a bad choice for a gritty tale about urban crime and corruption. Peter Parker, as down on his luck as he may be, always has an optimism and a hopefulness to pull him through. But that kind of character is antithetical to dark, noir stories.
Yet Hine and Sapolsky make it work, and this second mini-series starring the depression-era Spider-Man is just as weird and violent and disturbing as the first.
It works because they give Peter Parker the right mix of earnestness and hopefulness, but they also make him fit the pulpy noir setting by giving him more of an edge, more of a temper, and more of a sense that he’s not a boy scout, but a man trying to do what’s right, even in the most difficult circumstances. And it’s not just his costume that’s darker.
In this issue, we meet a new Sandman (who is much more terrifying than the guy with the green and black striped shirt and the stretching) and a new Doctor Otto Octavius, a wheel-chair bound polio survivor who has delicate, but dangerous, metal limbs protruding from his chair. One of his mechanical arms holds a bone saw, and when we meet him, he has just removed a simian’s skull. All-in-all, a more sinister-looking, but no less strange, character than the Marvel U version.
And we shouldn’t forget the Black Cat, who is more of a “cougar” in this version, seductively illustrated by DiGiandomenico.
“Eyes Without a Face” looks, overwhelmingly, like a bizarre European interpretation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creations. Or like Terry Gilliam heard about the characters, but never read a single comic book, and hired Sylvain Chomet to design them. It’s one of those ancillary comics that makes you wonder why they don’t release oversized, glossy Spider-Man hardcovers with art by DiGiandomenico. Last time they collected one of these series, they shrunk it down instead. His art deserves better. And if this second series is at least as good as the first — and it seems to be — then you might want to enjoy it while it lasts, instead of waiting for the Marvel micro-trade.