Silk #1 variant cover by Skottie YoungSilk #1-2

Robbie Thompson (writer), Stacey Lee (artist), Ian Herring (colors)
Variant covers by Skottie Young and Jake Forbes
Marvel Comics

For a character barely a year old, Cindy Moon comes into her first solo title with a lot of baggage. As a new lead in an ongoing superhero universe where new series launch every month, she’s in a precarious position: not enough history to rely on name recognition or an established niche, already too convoluted (and controversial) to be friendly to new readers—yet impossible to skip past without rewriting the character from scratch.

Some creators might have done just that, and having seen such attempts in the past I can guess that the result would be… serviceable. And dull. Silk’s creative team took a risk, and allow it to inhabit its in-between space—and that’s what gives it its particular charm.

I don’t mean to suggest that the book is ambiguous or bogged down in continuity minutiae. I’m one of those wary new readers who’d gotten excited about Dan Slott an Asian American woman with a major role in the Spider-Man titles—something I’ve been waiting for since I was fifteen, for the record—only to have my hopes dashed when I found out Cindy’s origin was that she’d been trapped in a bunker for more than a decade, her powers included a mutually coerced sexual attraction to Peter Parker, and her costume was nothing more than a few swathes of webbing.

Too dark, too creepy, too incongruously-Orientalist-fantasy; I bailed. That is, if by bailed you mean I peered through my fingers at excerpts on social media and waited for a trusted friend to tell me whether it was as bad as I feared—a judgment call I might feel guilty about making if I hadn’t stopped reading Slott’s The Superior Spider-Man in the first place because of a disturbingly comedic treatment of superpowered consent issues.

Silk #2 variant cover by Jake ForbesTo my great relief, Cindy and Peter’s magnetic pull is the one major aspect of her history that Thompson and Lee have judiciously edited. Peter makes a brief, bittersweet appearance in Silk #1, but it’s not as Cindy’s lover, but as her friend, fellow member of the “spider-bite” club, and confidante. In a scene, which shows much of what I’d been missing about Peter in his main book, he tries to reach out to her only to be held at arms’ length.

In its first two issues, Silk hits a lot of the conventional new-book story beats—established hero cameo to boost sales, new job introducing potential new supporting cast, fights with minor-league villains that attract the attention of bigger fish—but what’s interesting is that it always does so as part of the B-plot. It’s all stuff that happens in the background as we look at what’s going on in our hero’s head.

Cindy’s as enthusiastic about being a hero as she was in Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Verse, but she’s finding it hard to escape her sense of dislocation now that the cross-universe crossover is done and she needs to get back to—that is, begin—her real life. It’s hard to blame her for having trouble adjusting; she’s re-emerged into a world where print media is on its deathbed, but Pokemon is still a thing. Where she’s not the first millennial to get her first adult job at age thirty, but is probably the first to have gotten packed away in a bunker before she ever heard of the term. And while she was cut off from the world, her family vanished.

When I referred above to Cindy’s origin as being too dark, what I meant wasn’t that the subject of her voluntary imprisonment was inherently untouchable, but that I didn’t expect a superhero comic to give it the space and weight it deserved without tipping over into cheap angst. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love for this genre, but it’s one in which introspection means either a page or two of inner monologue or a full-blown grim-n-gritty breakdown complete with darker, pointier costume.

But we’ve gotten a full two issues to explore Cindy’s emotional milieu, and Thompson handles the matter with great deftness and tact. She’s having a rough time of things, and feels isolated to the point that she retreats to her bunker because it’s the only place where she needs to fit. It’s heartwrenching to read. But there’s still room for moments of excitement and fun, whether it’s a showdown with Dragonclaw or workplace shenanigans.

Page from Silk #2 by Lee and HerringA lot of credit has to go to the art team for keeping the balance between light and dark. Ian Herring’s colors do a great deal to set the mood; I especially like the contrast between the moody blue tones of Cindy’s alone time and the bold orange of Silk’s fight scenes, especially the moment in issue #2 when the second switches to the first as Cindy teeters on the brink of losing control.

But for me it’s Stacey Lee’s art that’s a revelation. It meant a great deal to me as a mixed Asian American woman to find out that the new title starring an Asian American female character would also be penciled by another Asian American woman. Even without that context, I’m hitting myself for never knowing she existed before. Her art is vibrant and beautiful to look at, fluid without being messy and equally suited to high-rise punch-ups or meet-cute romantic flashbacks.

Even more important, she’s got a facility for clean storytelling and a knack for expression and body language that’s so on point it’s possible to follow the gist of the story even without the text. It’s a rare skill even the current renaissance of sophisticated superhero comic art, and reminds me a bit of the John Romitas, both senior and junior.

It’s clear that Silk can only stay on its quiet, contemplative path so long, and the ending of the second issue sets us up for a move into high gear as Silk gets ever closer to a showdown with the Black Cat. As much as I’ve enjoyed the journey so far, I’m even more excited to see where the rest of this arc will take us.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • A sidebar about slow-paced introspection in superhero comics: the closest analogue I can think of offhand to what Silk’s creative team is doing here is, appropriately, the work Paul Jenkins and J. Michael Straczynski did for Peter Parker in the early 2000’s. They were some of my first American comics, and I now suspect have imprinted me on melancholic spider-powered heroes who put their game faces on.
  • I don’t have anywhere in particular to go with this, but I noticed recently Cindy and Kamala Khan, Marvel’s other Asian American female lead, are at opposite ends of the millenial generation.
  • I can’t find a credit for who designed Silk’s slick new costume which debuted in Spider-Woman, which means that by default it might be… Greg Land? Color me shocked, but it’s a good look for her.