One of the selling points of the Marvel Knights comic book series is that it prides itself on its daring, to try new and refreshing ideas. In this new line, the first episode from the 2013 version of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man (MKSM1), it shows exactly that: A deviance from known comic book formats. However, it jumps in blind with both feet at once and so stumbles and falls, due to its overconfidence. It’s painful more than it is admirable, if noteworthy at all.
A starting problem with the book is how its slick and simply contrasted cover is immediately disconnected from the chaotic opening panel. Sadly, the latter will win in the battle to choose the composition style for the remaining pages. Scraps of scenes are thrown around left and right, often with clashing or muddled color schemes. As the comic goes on, it quickly devolves into more convoluted schemes, drowning certain panels in hazes, while superimposing others elsewhere. Backgrounds feature faded, unrecognizable sketches amidst other smoky swashes wanting to resemble haunted paintings. These troubling depictions seem to be the mind of color artist Val Staples’ ambition to escape coming to the foreground. It does, however, not fit the rest of the mold of abominable tryouts; but then again, nothing else does quite fit.
Even when artist Marco Rudy does, eventually, pass this artistic nerve of changing the art style on every page and returns to regular outlines, the overwhelming experimentation abides. It goes even as far as downright mirroring the scene, which is bound to require a ton of effort from a range of its readers. Perhaps that’s the essence of MKSM1’s failings: It favors its own design over the comfort of its audience. A common recurring theme here is a circular spiral of boxes, sometimes clockwise and sometimes counterclockwise, where story may progress before or after that of the background panel. There’s no real way of knowing and that’s aggravating, as it demands that every page is read and re-read a few times over.
This forced repetition does, however, hide one of this issue’s finest secrets. If there’s one thing to be said about this comic, it’s that it’s very involved. Each panel has tons of work put into it, with fine details that could pop up elsewhere. Sure, some of it is hidden because of the muddy schemes, but the clearer pictures do reveal what ambition lurks within. There is only one instance where experimentation and skill compromise to an understandable degree, but that’s enough to drive an urge to revisit other sections that may have been lost. Several puddles may now actually look like silhouettes; scraps may now connect to a whole. There is a potential for this artist duo to come up with a visually and stylistically pleasing layout; their creativity is omnipresent throughout the issue. Still, throwing it all out in a cavalcade of options on the first try might not be the way to go. Some scenes go as far as mixing in multiple styles at once, even with a flair of pixel art towards the end.
Ostensibly, the reason for all this confusing madness is the storyline where Peter Parker walks into the wrong neighborhood and spirals into a quick and violent dementia. Space as well as time structures are thrown out the window, as Peter goes from bad to worse, which should justify why everything looks so jarring. Still, in its valiant effort to be as confusing as possible, the overzealous touch makes it nearly impossible to stay connected to whatever is going on. Perhaps that too is in the plot’s intention; to keep readers guessing as to what nightmare is unfolding. Nevertheless, if that is the case, its stakes are set high if it expects the audience to both not follow a line until it wants to yield clarity and also not get a decent perception on the scenery. As an issue on its own, there is almost no saving it, but if its successor doesn’t cash in any further, it’s hard to think that anyone beyond the obsessed would want to continue this mess of a series.
Though ambitious and creatively unorthodox as it may be, the 2013 version of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man issue 1 is a hard sell. It’s endlessly confusing and pretentious to believe it can do as it pleases and keep its audience at bay in its chaos. Peering in with dedication does uncover an aptitude and longing for new art directions, but its eagerness kills any other progression that could be made. It demands much and offers little in return; that is a bold and probably foolish thing to do.