Steve Englehart is one of the top writers in comics history. If you’re a Marvel fan, you have to read his 1970s Captain America, Dr. Strange, and Avengers runs. If you’re a comics fan, you have to read his 1970s Batman stories in Detective Comics. Steve’s creator-owned Coyote is one of the highlights of 1980s comics as are his Silver Surfer, West Coast Avengers, and Fantastic Four, all worth reading in spite of their eventual respective collapses under various editorial edicts. But that’s just scratching the surface. If you go on a mission to collect Englehart, you’re going to be picking up issues of Green Lantern, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, Night Man, Amazing Adventures starring the Beast, Super-Villain Team-Up, Skull the Slayer, Justice League of America, and on and on, with most of these worth reading. But one thing you won’t find is any Englehart-written Spider-Man. Not as the feature character anyway. The closest thing you’ll find is this. Spider Noir. A Spidey tale that exists only in outline form.
On his website (www.steveenglehart.com), Steve explains that he was once offered one of the several Spidey titles but turned it down because he “didn’t want to write ‘one’ of his lives.” Later, Byron Preiss asked him to write a Spidey novel which would have been Spider Noir. Before Steve got very far “Byron ran into money troubles and this was never completed.” What remains is a 12+ page outline written in November 1997, available only from Steve himself.
“Like most films noir, the City (New York, in this case) is a prominent presence. Like all films noir, the hero suffers at the hands of an evil woman, loving her and hating her at the same time (but because this is a Spidey story, it’s not her fault). And because it’s a Spidey story, he not only wins but survives. But I want it to be as noir as Spidey can be…”
That evil woman whom the hero loves and hates at the same time is Mary Jane, brainwashed by a familiar Spidey villain into a knife-wielding, silk gown-wearing femme fatale in the film noir tradition. Though Peter knows MJ is not at fault, circumstances place him in several intimate situations with Liz Allan. As Steve puts it, “The storm outside breaks in full force; the power goes out and they have to use candles; their clothes are wet; the shadows are deep; they’re under a lot of strain; his wife has left him; etc. Like any 40s film noir, we charge the atmosphere and then fade to black.” Later, the brainwashed MJ sets upon Liz, a framed Spidey ends up in jail for murder, and things get worse.
That’s as much of the story as I want to reveal. It’s not like I’m reviewing a previously published story here. It’s not like it’s lavishly illustrated. It’s not like it’s the complete novel that Steve intended to write. It’s a little over 12 pages of type with no frills. And Steve is selling copies so I don’t want to take food out of his mouth by telling the whole story. It’s one thing to reveal comic book spoilers when the story is fleshed out with all the dialogue, pacing, and characterization that a good writer provides (along with the “camera shots” of a good artist) or spoilers of a complete novel where the writer has a chance to stretch out and provide all the detail, style, and insight he intends. But this is an outline. And, as an outline, you only get a glimpse of Steve’s style and the depth of his story and the flavor and subtlety he planned to include. This can be somewhat frustrating. As Steve describes a particularly poignant scene or drops a hint of some psychological insights, it’s hard not to wish you could actually read the real thing rather than the thing that merely describes the real thing. Still, the occasional parenthetical note from Steve to his editor provides a bit of a look behind the curtain into the creation process and, if read right, even this outline bursts with film noir concepts and imagery: a love triangle, good girls and bad girls, brainwashings, rain, power outages, a trap door, a hall of mirrors, a dark alley, Spidey on the run, Spidey investigating like a good film noir gumshoe, and a face like “a thumb that’s been wrapped in a wet bandage for a day” all summed up in Steve’s line, “The woman he loves, the city he loves, the life he loves – it’s all been taken away.”
Never mind that Steve calls Liz Allan “Liz Allen,” Gwen Stacy “Gwen Stacey,” and Harry Osborn “Norman Osborne” (once). He also uses the correct plural “films noir” and how can you resist that? Find yourself a comfortable chair, read the outline slowly, soak in all the details, close your eyes on occasion and actually visualize those details, picture yourself reading a copy of the novel complete with Will Eisner illustrations. That’s what Spider Noir should have been. But this is as close as you’re going to get to reading it.
If your comic book tastes extend beyond the web-slinger, Steve has other unrealized projects available along with scripts of his published work. I bought both issues of Bucky (a mini-series now invalidated by current continuity) which comes with painted art, plots for his censored West Coast Avengers #38-43, The Prisoner #1 with Gil Kane pencils, his take on Captain Victory, the Elseworlds Batman, Prince of Denmark and more. Steve says, “I don't have any list; I just see if I've got either a hard copy or computer copy of the desired script and then make a copy for the buyer. My stash goes back as far as my 80s' work.” Check with Steve at www.steveenglehart.com to see if your desired script is available and what price he’s asking for it. And Steve will autograph it for you, too.