Despite the title, this is about as far from Spider-Man as you can get.
For those unfamiliar with the character, the Spider was a pulp-magazine vigilante hero, created in 1933. Wearing a hat and cape, Richard Wentworth would prowl the streets as the Spider, punishing the criminal underworld, often by executing his villains. Think Batman meets the Punisher.
The concept remains largely untouched here, although it appears to be set in the modern era. It is actually somewhat shocking to see the hero of the book slaughter faceless goons so mercilessly, especially when used to the colourful mainstream heroes deliberating over this violent brutality so often. This allows the book to stand out, considering the protagonist is so extreme with no overall satirical or humorous tone.
Reintroducing a character like this after such a long time is always a risk. There has to be a balance between introducing the character to new audiences effectively while not boring the existing fans with facts they may already know, and writer David Liss walks this line well. Without being shown all the details, the reader is given a decent overview of the Spider, what his mission is, and even some understanding of his somewhat twisted motives. Through narration boxes, we are given some insight into what makes this character tick, as well as some hints regarding his past (whether this is the same as the original run remains to be seen).
A lot of this issue is dedicated to setting us up, and (re)familiarizing us with this world. As a result, not much plot is unveiled – the Spider meets various people in his life, and shortly after discovers a murder scene as his alter ego, Richard Wentworth. In a bizarre twist, the victims are revealed to be zombies, and there is more than meets the eye…
The zombie reveal happens quite late on in the book, and marks a significant tonal change in the book. Where the first few scenes reminded me of old fashioned pulp action stories, the addition of supernatural/sci-fi elements added a different spin to this world, and I’m not sure it fit in with what was already established. Add this to the fact that the twist is about zombies, arguably a played out cliché in comics at this point, and there is a real conflict of tones here.
This did not affect my enjoyment of David Liss’s writing as a whole, which is appropriately dark, moody and angsty, ideal for this character. There is little room for flare or anything overly impressive, but the dialogue and narration is solid, and I was genuinely interested in seeing what happens next, a key goal for any first issue.
Colton Worley’s art is probably the biggest draw here (no pun intended.) The issue has four beautiful alternate covers (by Alex Ross, John Cassaday, Francesco Francavilla and Ron Lesser) but the interiors, at a glance, are the best reflections of what this character is about. When the Spider is out on the prowl, the darkness and shadows really help cloak him in mystery, and gives the city an overall grittiness. The colours are particularly effective in conveying this darkness, even if they are at times a little muddy.
Action shots are dynamic and interesting, and we are given the opportunity to see the Spider from the citizens’ perspective, as an imposing, dangerous figure, ready to dish out justice on his own terms. The non-costumed scenes pale a little in comparison, but Worley still manages to give them a pulpy dark feel, and makes it feel like the same setting as the crime-fighting scenes.
The layouts are unusual and interesting, with many panels making up webs on the page, and remind me of a poor man’s J H Williams III. They are not amazingly revolutionary, but Worley knows when to break from the traditional panel grid effectively to make for an eye-catching page.
Overall, this issue does a great job of setting up what we’re in for with the series, although it may have some problems figuring out exactly what it wants to be. It’s difficult to tell whether this will be an enjoyable read with such an un-relatable main character, but it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of dark, gritty heroes and pulpy action.