I remember back in ‘aught four picking up a new series called Marvel Knights: Spider-man. I’d read a couple issues of other characters under the banner, but mostly I picked it up because I enjoyed Spider-man, and I was still a good two months away from spending every penny I earned on a new computer, high-speed internet, and a little MMORPG called City of Heroes.
Anyway, the title ended up being pretty solid. Late last year, I was excited enough to see the return of the banner (and the actual Peter Parker) that I picked up the first issue of this new limited run.
The story can be summed up very easily. An exhausted and drugged Spider-man is forced to fight his way through a gauntlet of foes. That’s it. It doesn’t get any simpler, folks. And yet, simple ideas often allow for particularly exciting execution.
Marco Rudy’s art in this book is absolutely fantastic. Peter looks confused and exhausted throughout. Disjointed panels consisting of clenched fists, pain-filled faces, and jumbles of action do a great job at conveying Peter’s hazy, drugged and beaten state. It’s a mix of extremely detailed portraits, action scenes and psychedelic panels throughout the book. Val Staples also deserves a hearty nod for his colouring work. It highlights some fantastic stuff, while leaving some great portraits untouched.
As Peter tries to figure out what is happening, and why, while debating the utter futility of his struggle, Rudy’s artwork sprawls across the page. Sketchy designs frame incredibly detailed portraits. Several pages are solid full of little Easter Egg-like candy for knowledgeable Spidey-fans. Practically every member of Spidey’s Rogues Gallery appears somewhere in the book. At several points the dialogue boxes were almost unwelcome and in the way.
The art really adds weight to Matt Kindt’s basic, but effective non-plot. Most of the writing is Spidey’s internal monologue. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story, to me, is also what makes it seem incredibly stupid. This is essentially 5 issues of the classic Spider-man Digs Deep moment that gets him out of every scenario. That moment where he remembers Uncle Ben, Aunt May and Mary Jane, and maybe just a hint of Gwen Stacy, and he finds the strength to lift that rock wall, or punch that bad guy just right.
Of course, there is a story behind the mad house. We eventually find out the answer to the mystery of who’s behind this whole gauntlet, and why they’re doing it. It comes on the last couple pages of the last book, and everything gets explained in a couple word balloons. So it feels, surprisingly, a lot like a Scooby-Doo unmasking.
The idea of a story that consists almost entirely of Spidey’s cliched Dig Deep monologues is just too crazy. But wrapping this insane idea up in this fantastic schizo art & design is like a rug that just ties the room together.