By Kiel Phegley
Most Marvel readers never expected to see Spider-Man slinging a revolver, let alone a heroine-addicted Ben Urich or a night club-operating Felicia Hardy, and even less connect the atomic-inspired mainstays of the Marvel Universe in the pre-World War II era of prohibition and the Great Depression.
Still, in the pages of SPIDER-MAN: NOIR, the slightly sinister take on Peter Parker and gang whose fourth and final issue hits shelves March 18, those two unexpected themes strike Spidey like a cold hard bullet fired by a fiery dame.
In its brief existence, the series' standing orders seem to have been "shake up reader expectations on every page," and aside from the aforementioned character turns, the book holds a surprising amount of social commentary thanks to the crusading couple Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Behind this smoke-filled world of intrigue stands writer David Hine who, along with co-writer Fabrice Sapolsky and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico continues to push the envelope on Spider-Man into the final issue of NOIR. We got a hold of Hine for more on how he studied up on noir life, why some of his influences really aren't so hot and whether or not a sequel may be in the offing.
Marvel.com: You came to this project with a lot of love for pulp and noir tropes already in your pocket. In terms of specific influence, what films did you look at while writing to help set the story tone properly?
I'm always watching films that can loosely be described as "noir." "Kiss Me Deadly," "Dead on Arrival," "Touch of Evil," "Casablanca," "The Maltese Falcon." "Freaks" isn't strictly noir but was obviously an influence and was actually released in the year our story begins. The specific references we asked for in the script were the sewer chase scene from "The Third Man," and Max Schreck's "Nosferatu" as the model for the Vulture.
Marvel.com: On the flip side of so many great noir flicks, there are the pulp fiction novels of the '30s which are not so hot in terms of real quality writing. Is it freeing to have those old stories and totally wild covers there without the baggage of having to follow their ham-fisted writing style, or did you guys try and find the positive quality to pulp writing and match that flavor in your scripts?
I'm glad you said it first. Yes, most pulp writing was appalling, inept, clichéd drivel. I guess I'm in love with the idea of the pulps. They usually promised more than what they actually delivered. That was, of course, down to the page rates that demanded writers [churn] out volume over quality. The concepts were intriguing and captivating and, as you say, the covers often captured those better than the stories inside the pulps. There were a few great writers working in the genre [such as] Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Chester Himes. Those are the ones I actually read cover-to-cover. When I'm scripting dialogue I also dip into James M. Cain, Erle Stanley Gardner, Cornell Woolrich and others to get a feel of the lingo of the period. But the movies are where the stories really came alive.
Marvel.com: One of the most interesting aspects of the book so far has been how you and Fabrice have woven political underpinnings into the classic "Power and Responsibility" element of the Spider-Man story. I was curious as to
how the pair of you lighted upon that take and what you think it's done for the series as a whole. Not many of the original noir stories dealt so directly with themes like worker's rights even though they dealt with corruption heavily.
We set out to marry the noir and pulp themes with a very realistic setting. Although we kept the fantasy elements, I believe they become much more powerful when the background is authentic. We started off with the idea of basing Ben Urich on the amazing photojournalist Weegee [and] then extrapolated from his photographs to examine the social background behind the gangster stories of the 30's. It was all about the Great Depression. That was the only story of the period. The repercussions of the economic collapse affected everything. And it made absolute sense for Aunt May to be politically active. [J. Jonah Jameson] also became so much more interesting as a curmudgeonly, bad-tempered liberal
editor. Once you have that kind of solid grounding, the story elements grow out of that.
Marvel.com: So far in the series, you've found a way to twist as many elements of the original Spider-Man tale around as possible from Uncle Ben's role in the story to poor Ben Urich's place within this world. Where does that impulse come from? Have you guys been trying to upend what readers expect from a Spider-Man story, or are all the turns more of a byproduct of plotting out a noir murder mystery?
The way the characters developed came about naturally. We wanted to do more than simply take the names and reconstruct new characters. What we've done is take the characters from the original Spider-Man stories and imagine how they would have been developed if they had been written into that [30's] setting. The [Stan] Lee/[Steve] Ditko stories are the main inspiration. Characters like the Enforcers were obviously drawn from gangster movies. The Goblin, the Chameleon and Vulture just had to be
carnies. Nothing we've done has felt forced or artificial. All the characters grew from the needs of the story and the story developed from the impulses of the personalities. It's a very organic process.
Marvel.com: Speaking of those twists in the series, I was wondering who your favorite character to write has been as opposed to running into these guys in the regular Marvel U. Have you found the Noir Peter to be a different beast than how you view the classic Spider-Man?
They all started out as the same characters. The fact that they develop differently is down to the circumstances. We're all part nature, part nurture. So our Peter Parker appears more humorless than the traditional character, more bitter and cynical, and that's because of the violence and suffering he has experienced. The "Swinging 60's" gave birth to your Friendly Neighborhood Webslinger, the Depression gave birth to a shadowy avenging gunslinger. But you can see his natural humor come through when he relaxes, and beneath the cynicism he is still an idealist.
Marvel.com: Early on, I know that Dennis Calero did a lot of design work for the Noir line of books aside from his X-Men gig. What was the first piece of art you saw in relation to the Spider-Man Noir concept, and how has your crafting of the story been affected by both the original character work and by Carmine's exploration of the world?
Visualizing the other characters [besides Spider-Man] was never a problem. I think we had a pretty good idea of how they all looked but Spidey was tough to pin down. Dennis did some costume designs when we were still fairly early in the script, and it was a great help to have those visuals. I had some kind of image in my head of how he would look but it was like grabbing at shadows. I'd try to sketch my own vision and it always looked
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kind of dumb; a kid wearing goggles, fedora and long raincoat. It just wasn't working. Once we had Dennis' visuals, the character was real and it made the scripting a lot easier. Carmine took those designs and never looked back. He really put his stamp on the book. In particular, he took our idea of the Vulture to a level I never imagined.
Marvel.com: To wrap, I know there are a lot of questions yet to be answered in issue #4, but it feels very much like SPIDER-MAN: NOIR is an origin story that's just the tip of the iceberg for this concept. Any chances that you guys have been toying with sequel concepts...perhaps Doc Octopus, the Man of Arms?
We have indeed. Fabrice has been itching to write Doc Ock since day one. Watch out for a teaser in the last episode of SPIDER-MAN: NOIR.
Before SPIDER-MAN: NOIR #4 bows on March 18, check out more from David Hine on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
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