Monday, July 17, 2006

Spider-Man/Black Cat

On the eve of the release of Clerks II, I finally got around to reading Kevin Smith's Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do in its entirety. Marvel infamously released the first three issues of the six-issue mini-series in 2002, and the next three didn't surface until earlier this year. Lord knows enough has been spewed online about the lateness (entirely Smith's fault) and whether it signifies a disrespect for the fans, whether it's worth buying the later issues after so long, whether Smith is bad for comics, etc. On that front: I don't care. I like the guy's movies, I thought the premise of the series looked interesting, I like the art team (Terry and Rachel Dodson). So I bought it, and I was annoyed at the lateness, but when it was all finally out, I read all six issues in a row and got the whole story. To me, the scheduling is a side issue. The real problem is that it's just not very good.

I don't know if Smith's story changed fundamentally in the years-long interim between issues three and four (it does incorporate some recent Marvel universe developments, but nothing so major as to necessitate rewriting, I would imagine), but there's a clear tonal shift around the end of the third issue that, in my mind, simply does not work. The first three issues are, for the most part, breezy and fun and full of clever banter, which is one of Smith's strengths and actually comes off as more natural on the page than it does when spoken verbatim by actors. The Dodsons are best at sexy and playful, and Smith gives them plenty to work with. Sure, Spider-Man and Black Cat team up because there's some nasty guy out there selling drugs and a couple of people have turned up dead, but the story itself is more of a caper than anything, and I found it a very entertaining read even if it felt fairly inconsequential.

But then things take a turn for the very dark, and maybe Smith felt that after such a long wait he needed to give people a story with more weight and consequence. He grafts a very heavy-handed date-rape story on to the Black Cat's origin, which apparently pissed a lot of people off - read this livid and mildly incoherent review from Silver Bullet Comics - although I didn't know about it since I avoided reviews when the issues came out because I hadn't read them yet. And while I'm not nearly as annoyed as that guy, perhaps because I've never been a big Black Cat fan, I thought the second half of the story was misguided, labored and poorly written, and, worst of all, completely blew the promise of the first half. It's not just all the platitudes about surviving sexual abuse and the near-total lack of humor that sink the story's second half, though - Smith also shifts gears and abandons some key plot elements of the early issues, and brings in guest stars Nightcrawler and Daredevil who add nothing to the story and are merely distracting. Plus he keeps Spider-Man and Black Cat apart the whole time, losing the opportunity to write the loose, fun dialogue he employed so well at the start.

And the poor Dodsons, who are geniuses at sexy fun and light action, don't get to play to their strengths at all and are completely wasted. I'm happy to overlook Smith's scheduling issues for the sake of a good story, and I think online fans get way too riled up about what they perceive as personal slights from a man they've never met. But this is just a bad story and, strangely enough, proves what Smith has been saying for years, that maybe superhero action isn't his forte and he should stick to talky indie movies about relationships. Although, when this book was a talky superhero book about the lead characters' relationship, it was great. Maybe there's a happy medium in there somewhere, but this certainly wasn't it.

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