Spider-Man and the Black Cat – “The Evil That Men Do” (2002-06)
Collects Spider-Man and the Black Cat – “The Evil That Men Do” issues 1-6. Writer: Kevin Smith, Penciller: Terry Dodson, Inker: Rachel Dodson, Colourists: Lee Loughridge and Rachel Dodson, Letterist: Richard Starkings and Comicraft. Published by Marvel Comics from 2002-2005.
This much-hyped series by writer/director Kevin Smith became perhaps the best example of the dangers of reaching outside the comic industry to get writers for their comics (either this is the best example, or Smith’s other mini-series Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target is). After going on The Tonight Show to hype this series coinciding with the release of the first Spider-Man movie, Marvel released the first three issues of the series, then… nothing. Fans had to wait from October of 2002 to February 2006 to read the final three issues of this series (although, I’m guessing most of them just gave up on it, even though issue three left off on a pretty shocking cliffhanger).
For his part, Smith has publicly been equal parts apologetic and annoyed about the fan’s displeasure at the long delay. But in my mind, his apologies have been little more than his standard self-deprecating sense of humour that projects enough humility to keep his legions of fans on his side. I was at one of his live speaking engagements where he talked about the delay, and after some quick apologies and comments about his inability to make deadlines, he went on a riff about how crazy comic book fans are about waiting for their stories, and back when he was an avid comic book reader, he didn’t care when a title came out, since he always had others to read. Well Kev, that would be true if a series were a few months late. This one was 3.5 years late, so save the fucking high horse routine. This isn’t an obsessive comic book fan thing, this is ridiculous. Imagine if Lost took 3.5 years between episode 12 and episode 13. I think fans would be pretty pissed. Actually, there would be no more fans, as comic book fans are the only people that would be willing to still read those final three issues when they finally came out. Everyone else would’ve stopped caring.
Of course, none of that mattered to me (other than the arrogance of Smith’s explanation, that obviously bugged me), because I never read this series when it first came out. So I never dealt with the 3.5 year delay, and can judge the six issues as a collected story. Doing so, all I can say is, it really wasn’t worth the wait. Hell, I preferred the 5 year wait between the “last ever” movie appearance of Jay and Silent Bob and the next movie appearance of Jay and Silent Bob.
If this is the best he could come up with in that time (and no, I don’t think he was actually was working on it for all those years), he should’ve just taken an afternoon and whipped something out, or handed over his plot and let someone else script it out (of course, Kevin Smith is more about script than plot, so that probably wouldn’t have worked). To be fair, I don’t think the delay hurt the book too much, but that’s only because I didn’t think it was anything special in its first three issues either. But it certainly changes tracks from issue 3 to issue 4, to the point where they feel like two different series in tone and mood, if not in subject matter.
The first three issues feel more like a fun superhero romp, reuniting Spider-Man with his former flame, the Black Cat. The two flirt and banter while trying to unravel a mystery involving a student of Peter Parker’s mysterious overdose, and the disappearance of a friend of Felicia Hardy’s. The issues hint at darker themes, with drugs and gang warfare, but are mostly kept light with the two heroes chatting back and forth about their shared history. Then, after the cliffhanger in issue 3, the series abandons the chemistry between its two leads for extreme adult themes and Lifetime Network movie-of-the-week revelations. Worse, what was a Spider-Man/Black Cat story quickly devolves into a Marvel Team Up-type book, with Smith shoving in guest appearances from Daredevil and another surprise guest, with Spidey and Cat barely interacting for the remainder.
A major complaint I had with the first half of the book is Smith’s overly verbose writing style. It’s a frequent complaint for some of his earlier comic book work (as well as his movies), including Daredevil and Green Arrow, but I didn’t mind it in those books like I did in this one. I think the problem is that Spider-Man isn’t as brooding a character as Daredevil, and thus it felt out of place for him to be doing long running commentaries in the middle of action sequences. Worse, Smith is insistent on filling every page with as many in-jokes, continuity references, and “hip” sex talk as space will allow. The problem is that the continuity reference and in-jokes often just come off as Smith showing off how much of Spidey’s history he knows, and the “hip” sexy talk isn’t all that hip, or sexy. I think I had a similar problem while watching Clerks II, in that Smith just isn’t as cool as he used to be. Not his fault, it happens with age, but too often, it felt like your uncle trying to talk like the kids these days.
My biggest complaint about the series is the nature of the second half of the book. I can’t get into it without revealing major spoilers, but I will say that it didn’t work for me at all. I know Smith was trying to be edgy and dark, but it felt to me as exploitative and clichéd, and inappropriately dark for a Spider-Man tale. Worse, issues five and six are almost exclusively expository, filling in all the information with flashback sequences while two or more characters stand around and talk. It’s not like any of what they’re saying is particularly interesting or unique either, just some typical Women in Refrigerators stuff and mutant mumbo jumbo thrown in to fill in an origin story. Ultimately, I didn’t find the revelations shocking as much as I found them distasteful, especially since it felt like Smith was trying too hard to be shocking and “adult”.
As for the art, there are a lot of people out there that love Terry Dodson‘s art, with his voluptuous portrayals of heroines. I’m not one of those people. He’s certainly not a bad artist, but I think the proportions he gives his female characters are often too exaggerated, to the point of embarrassment at times. Which fits in well with this series, matching some of Smith’s horny fanboy dialogue and scenarios, but not my cup of tea. But, if you like his work, you should like it in this series.
When you take 4 years to publish a six-issue mini-series, it has to be pretty outstanding for it not to be a disappointment. However, even if this series was published over a six month schedule, I’d still find it disappointing. After the trouble he went through putting this one together, I’m sure Smith won’t be rushing back to write other people’s characters anytime soon (that is, unless he ever gets around to finishing the aforementioned Daredevil/Bullseye mini-series). After reading this one, I think that would be for the best.