Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

A Not-So Friendly Neighborhood Spider Man

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 13th, 2012

Variant coverThe Spider #2
Writer: David Liss
Artist: Colton Worley
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: John Cassaday (regular)/Francesco Francavilla and Ron Lesser (variants)
Editor: Joe Rybandt
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I learned of the release of the first issue of The Spider just before it hit the stands at comics shops, and I missed out on getting a copy until a second printing was made available a couple of weeks later. I wanted to read it for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was penned by David Liss, whose Mystery Men for Marvel was an overlooked gem. And the other draw was the overall look of the series. The title character’s design was striking, and the noir leanings reminded me of what Liss and artist Patrick Zircher accomplished in Mystery Men. I loved the first issue and had the manager at my local comic shop add it to my pull list. But after reading the second issue, I’ve rethought that decision. The Spider boasts a protagonist that exhibits strong influences. He’s part Batman, part Shadow, with a hint of Superman thrown in for good measure. While I found the property to be dynamic and entertaining in the first issue, I found the second to be rather generic in tone. It’s solid, capable super-hero genre material, but suddenly, it seemed rather… ordinary.

Variant coverRichard Wentworth gives the slip to his friend the police commissioner and the spiteful lieutenant driven to prove he’s a masked vigilante so he prevent another attack by the mysterious terrorist who’s dubbed herself Anput, after an Egyptian goddess of death. After using extreme measures to save innocent but arrogant financiers, the Spider confronts his new enemy, who’s determined to witness the chaos she’s wrought upon the city firsthand. A scuttled bombing isn’t the only trick she has in store for the hero and an unsuspecting city.

Artist Colton Worley is clearly emulating noted comics painted Alex Ross here. It’s most apparent when he focuses on the narrow, glowing eyeslits in the title character’s mask. He handles the hero’s sharp look quite well, and he brings an appropriate degree of darkness throughout the issue. He obviously boasts a rather photorealistic approach, which makes for some stiff figures. I wonder if the character and the story wouldn’t be better served with a more stylized look in the art, something that would enhance the noir elements while also bringing out the more extreme and exaggerated tone of the plot and central characters. Despite the realistic leanings in the visuals, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what’s happening; Liss’s script often provides clarification. I did appreciate some of the layouts he offered up, though, notably the J.H. (Batwoman) Williams-esque flowing layout on the opening page and the use of a sound effect to double as a splashy panel border.

The Spider design doesn’t seem to play to the strengths of regular cover artist John Cassaday. His style is almost unrecognizable here. The perspective and anatomy is off, and those aren’t elements with which Cassaday usually fumbles. Francavilla’s variant cover lacks his usually sharp, classic movie-poster look, and Lesser’s variant cover image is flat, generic and uninteresting. The cover logo is bold and eye-catching, and it boasts a traditional, old-school super-hero masthead look that works surprisingly well with the noir look that dominates the story.

In a lot of ways, this feels like what early Batman comics must’ve been like, as each week or month brought the introduction of a new, weird villain out to take on the cape-wearing sheriff in town. Liss’ villain concepts certainly feel a lot like Batman villains, though it doesn’t feel as though any particular ones are being specifically referenced, homaged or copied. I like Anput’s backstory, as it explains her extremism by demonstrating what drove her to this point. I also appreciated that unlike what we see in the Dark Knight’s world, the police commissioner in this story and many others basically know who the Spider is but don’t actually have any proof. The list of potential suspects who could be such a vigilante is limited, and it really ought to be easier to narrow it down. Of course, it really ought to be easier to catch a masked vigilante in the act when you know who he is.

While the script is accessible, the plot is hectic. It’s surprising how quickly the Spider comes face to face with his enemy in this issue, and it’s not as though her crusade against corruption was built up all that much in the first issue. The confrontation stems from convenience in the plotting, not any kind of organic encounter. I think it would’ve been fun to see more investigation and more of Anput’s plotting. Furthermore, the zombie shtick feels tacked on and inconsistent with the villain’s other methods. I really didn’t care for his over-the-top methods here either. It’s one thing to gun down potential killers and rapists, but to blow the fingers off a guy’s hand to get him to flee for his life seems… gratuitously dickish. 5/10

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2 Responses to “A Not-So Friendly Neighborhood Spider Man”

  1. D. Peace Says:

    Having really enjoyed the work of David Liss on Mystery Men and trusting Dynamite’s brand when it comes to neo-pulp revisionism, I was really looking forward to this book and I’m not disappointed. Between this and Garth Ennis’ The Shadow, pulp fans have some great material to look forward to. I wasn’t previously familiar with Colton Worley but I’m pleased so far.

    It’s a shame you were a bit cold on the second issue. The “hectic plot” and “gratuitously dickish” criticisms weren’t too far off, though. I think that’s the writer channeling classic pulp where stories felt a bit thrown-together and madcap and “heroes” were barely that at all. The reference to Golden Age Batman and his “villain of the week” bad guys with their dramatic origin stories is apt and that, again, is just something I dig about this particular breed of genre ficton.

    Good review and thanks for shining a spotlight on an under-read title, even if you were lukewarm on it.

  2. Thora Zine Says:

    Don MacPherson wrote:
    While I found the property to be dynamic and entertaining in the first issue, I found the second to be rather generic in tone. It’s solid, capable super-hero genre material, but suddenly, it seemed rather… ordinary.

    Agreed.