Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1
“99 Problems… One of Five”
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Marco Rudy
Colors: Val Staples
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Rudy (regular)/Carlo Barberi (variant)
Editor: Tom Brennan
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Marvel decision to revive its Marvel Knights brand is well timed, as it’s given the publisher an opportunity to publish a Spider-Man comic for Peter Parker purists who might prefer their Spideys amazing rather than superior. I’m also pleased to see the Marvel Knights label is being reserved for somewhat unconventional material and to emphasize the talent crafting the comics rather than the icons in the stories. Matt Kindt’s star is definitely on the rise, as is Marco Rudy’s — oddly enough, mainly for work they’ve done on DC titles. I found their take on Spider-Man to be unexpected, unusual and experimental, and I’m always pleased when I find something new in the world of a decades-old character and a genre that many could easily argue has seen it all. That being said, there are more than “99 Problems” in this story, as a couple in the plot and art kept me from connecting to the material as much as I wanted. Still, that Marvel and these creators took the chances they did with these characters is a welcome development that merits a look.
Peter Parker as we know his best — broke and desperate — heads out for a freelance photography job only to find himself drawn into the weird world of his sometime-ally and guide Madame Web. Or is he drugged by super-villains and plunged into a deathtrap? What the hell is going on? Spider-Man finds himself facing off a seemingly endless parade of colorful crooks, never knowing where he is, what’s happening or why, but that won’t stop the determined hero from doing his best to overcome the mind-bending menaces before him at every turn.
The real star of this comic book isn’t Spider-Man but rather Marco Rudy’s artwork. Rudy’s been making his mark as of late with layouts that are clearly inspired by the styles of J.H. (Batwoman, Promethea) Williams III and, to a lesser extent, Yanick Paquette, who preceded him on Swamp Thing. Rudy’s work is eye-catching in that it’s markedly different from the usual super-hero style to which we’re accustomed. I think what impressed me most here was the showcase of just how adaptable and diverse Rudy’s efforts are. His style morphs to suit the scene he’s illustrating. Now, given the nature of the story and the experimental approach to a conventional genre, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what’s happening on the page. That’s both a compliment and criticism, as we’re clearly meant to experience the same confusion and stream-of-consciousness existence as the title character here, but it also takes the reader out of the story at times.
As textured and weird and eye-popping as many of Rudy’s visuals are, I have to admit one of my favorite visual contributions to the trippy nature of the story was the occasional use of reverse lettering to demonstrate how the title character has been mentally turned around and inside out. I suspect a lot of these odder elements were called for in Kindt’s script, and it certainly helped to set this first issue of five apart from other Spidey or super-hero comics.
It’s fortunate this comic book seems to be all about the surreal mood the creators successfully establish, because there’s little in the way of real dramatic tension. There’s no sense of suspense here, as the reader knows there’s nothing actually on the line — at least nothing he or she can see so far. Other than the title character, we don’t know if anyone is in danger (and we know Spidey will fare fine in the end). We don’t know who’s pulling the strings — Madame Wed, Arcade, his unnamed employer? — and honestly, there’s little here to make us care who’s behind things or why.
But like I said, the plot itself isn’t the point here, which is another unconventional trait of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. The psychedelic, mindtrip of a story allows for the incorporation of a wide array of obscure Marvel characters, and I rather enjoyed seeing so many float in and out of the story. Mind you, to get the full effect, the reader really has to have some familiarity with these characters. The script in particular assumes the reader knows who Jack O’Lantern and Arcade are, providing little in the way of exposition. Fortunately, the oddities and innovative approaches here make up for the few failings. Ultimately, this was an enjoyable reading experience, but I must admit I’m not all that hungry to learn what happens next. 7/10
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