This is the sequel to the original Spider-Man: Noir mini-series that re-imagines the origin of Peter Parker and Spider-Man set in the 1930s. It presents a grittier take on the character and explores much darker themes than your run-of-the-mill superhero story.
There’s a new mob boss in town calling himself the Crime Master, he’s killing off all of his rivals, and Spider-Man is hot on his trail. Our hero tracks down an informant, and through some strong-arm tactics gets him to reveal the location of the Crime Master’s hideout. Next, Spider-Man turns up at an abandoned theatre, but the only thing he finds is about two dozen dead mobsters, most of them mutilated beyond recognition.
Since his search has led him to a dead end, he decides to visit Felicia Hardy, the owner of the Black Cat nightclub/speakeasy. He asks her if she could get any information on the Crime Master, since she has so many underworld patrons. She refuses to help him, but does seduce him into staying the night with her. The next morning she kicks him out, despite his protestations.
Feeling rejected and downhearted, Peter decides to visit his Aunt May’s soup kitchen down in the Bowery, where he meets up with Mary Jane and Robbie Robertson, an old friend of his. Robbie and Peter go walking alone, and Robbie tells him about a story he’s working on about Dr. Octavius, a government-funded scientist who’s doing secret experiments on Ellis Island. Robbie’s tried to get into the lab for an interview (he’s a reporter for the Negro World newspaper), but was refused. Peter says he’ll use his connections at the Daily Bugle to get him in.
Three days later they’re on a ferry crossing the harbor. Once they arrive on the island, they are met by Dr. Curt Connors (and, yes, he does have only one arm). Then they are shown to Octavius’s lab to meet the man himself. This version of Doc Ock doesn’t look quite as menacing as the one we all know and love, however. He’s a small blonde man with atrophied legs. He’s in a wheelchair with six scrawny mechanical arms that have a variety of surgical instruments attached to them.
Octavius gives them both a tour of his lab, showing them a monkey with electrodes attached to its brain. The doctor says he’s testing the effects of different stimuli on the brain in order to develop medicines to help prevent mental illness or hereditary disease. Robbie is disgusted, and tells Peter so on the ferry back to town. He also hints that there’s a bigger story behind everything, but says he wants to do a little more research before he tells Peter anything else.
On the final pages we see a boat riding up to the dock on Ellis Island, loaded with a special delivery for Octavius. Half a dozen black people are being led in chains off the boat by the Crime Master’s special enforcer, Sandman!
The art on this book is, as usual, very beautiful. While each page is saturated in black, actions and characters are still easily identified. Spidey’s new adversaries (The Crime Master, Doc Ock, and Sandman) seem much more ruthless than their well-known counterparts, which really ups the stakes for our hero. As for Peter, I like how he’s portrayed as being more proactive in his approach to his crime fighting.
This story starts with a bang and rolls along at a pretty good pace. No decompression in this baby!