A good film noir has a look and a feel to it. The detective’s narrow office. The mysterious woman, entering to seek his help. Is she a victim or a villain? Can the hero trust her? Spider-Man Noir #2 opens with this question, our hero ruminating on the mysterious Huma as they cross the Atlantic. “All women are mysteries,” Peter Parker thinks to himself. “All men are detectives. Uncle Ben once told me that.”
Spider-Man Noir #2
Juan Ferreyra (artist), VC’s Travis Lanham (letterer), Margaret Stohl (writer)
July 29th, 2020
Marvel’s Noir line, which debuted in 2009, reimagined heroes such as Iron Man, Luke Cage, and Spider-Man as the stars of film noir-esque thrillers. Spider-Man Noir’s Peter Parker is the nephew of socialist rabble rousers in the 1930s. Noir Uncle Ben’s legacy is a little more complicated than spouting off genre-typical mildly misogynistic takes about women being mysteries; he’s cannibalized by the Vulture before the start of the series in what is one of my very favorite grizzly comic book murders. Embittered by his uncle’s murder and taken under the wing of reporter Ben Urich, Noir’s Peter is given his powers not via radioactive spider-bite but through an accident involving a mystic spider statue. It’s a favorite alternate Spider-Man universe of mine because of its style, panache, and tendency to have Spider-Man fight Nazis.
Though Noir’s Peter Parker was seemingly killed off during the Spider-Geddon event in 2018, he was later resurrected by supernatural forces. The new Spider-Man Noir finds him back in his own universe, a less than friendly neighborhood for a less than friendly Spider-Man. When one of the waitresses at the Black Cat club turns up dead, a mysterious gemstone clutched in her hand, Peter teams up with her sister and sets off for Europe to attempt to solve a mystery that’s bigger than just one woman.
Part of the reason Spider-Man Noir has always been the standout of all the Marvel Noir series for me isn’t just that Spider-Man is my favorite character, but because Spider-Man at his best already has the full makings of a good noir. The solitary detective. The enigmatic women. The dangerous New York City streets. The snappy comebacks. In Spider-Man Noir #2, when Huma says they’d better get cleaned up and holds out a little black dress, Peter effortlessly parries with, “That’s not my size.”
Margaret Stohl’s Peter Parker is terrific, hardboiled and sharp-edged enough to be recognizably himself compared to the more wishy-washy take on the character that dominates a lot of current Spider-Man canon. He’s sly and funny, superficially youthful with an old soul, and unafraid to put his nose to the grindstone, which is everything the character should be. A scene where he steals a jacket from a fellow partygoer to better fit in struck the exact right note of charming jerk for me, as did the one where he attempts to smash a Ming vase over the head of a crook much to everyone else’s horror.
Spider-Man Noir #2 successfully invokes the look of a classic film noir. Juan Ferreyra’s art makes the book look like a gloomy movie; every panel has the feeling like you’ve stepped onto a darkened street, the air thick with smoke and danger. It’s a beautiful book, but the flat, lineless speech bubbles distract from the depth of background and soft hazy lines of Ferreyra’s figures. I loved looking at each panel, but I found that my gaze didn’t naturally flow from one panel to the next. A couple of times I found myself skimming without meaning to and had to backtrack to recapture the plot.
Where the new series suffers compared to its predecessors Spider-Man Noir (2009) and Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face (2010) is in how it has separated its version of Peter from his supporting cast. Spider-Man is a series that is always richer when it leans into its larger cast, and the original Noir books did this very well by bringing in Aunt May, Felicia Hardy, and Ben Urich, among others. The first issue of Spider-Man Noir (2020) gave us brief glimpses of Aunt May and Mary Jane and name dropped Felicia, Peter’s tragic ex-lover and owner of the Black Cat nightclub, but the second issue takes him away from New York — and away from those familiar faces — in favor of a mostly brand new cast of characters. My biggest disappointment came from one name: Harry.
There are some names in Spider-Man I really believe you can’t invoke without follow-through. Ben’s the big one, Gwen’s the second, and Harry is the third. So when a mysterious ambassador shook Peter’s hand and told him to “say hello to Harry” I gasped in delight. Norman Osborn was the big bad of the first Spider-Man Noir, a lizard-skinned carnival freak turned mob boss, but his son Harry was nowhere to be found. Visions of Norman’s son secreted off to Europe danced in my head as soon as Harry’s name was mentioned. Imagine my disappointment when the Harry in question was a completely different character, a young woman pilot who flies Peter and Human from Sicily to Berlin. This new Harry is cool and I like her, but the disappointment whiplash made the rest of the issue feel a little listless to me. I wasn’t as excited over the last page’s surprise reveal — the Noir universe’s Electro, sporting some glorious mutton chops — as I might have if I hadn’t already started imagining Harry Osborn as a trembling homme fatale.
Overall, though, the deepening mystery made for an enjoyable read. Ferreyra’s gorgeous art alone would be enough to make me keep flipping pages through the next issue and, while I’m usually leery of Spider-Man stories that take Peter Parker out of New York, the rat race through Europe that Spider-Man Noir #2 introduced reminded me of films like Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. I’m looking forward to the next stop on Spider-Man Noir’s train.