A Tangled Web: A Grim Beginning In Marvel Knights ‘Spider-Man Vol. 1: Down Among The Dead Man’

by Tony Thornley

Our examinations of classic comics continues as the comics industry is still adjusting to its new circumstances. This go-round, we’re revisiting some classic Spider-Man, with a story by some of comics’ most popular creators.

In 2004, the Marvel Knights imprint was the crown jewel of the Marvel portfolio, a boutique imprint that had become the slightly more grown up arm of the universe. The imprint had successfully revamped Daredevil and Captain America, and they turned their eye to Marvel’s greatest hero, launching Marvel Knights Spider-Man. The series drew on the talents of Mark Millar, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Ian Hannin and Cory Petit.

The amazing Spider-Man has finally put the Green Goblin in jail, putting an end to his reign of terror. However, Norman Osborn is not one to go quietly. He has a plan to get his revenge if he’s ever arrested- a plan that starts with kidnapping May Parker…

Millar is know for being a bit of a shock jock, both in his mainstream and creator owned works. It’s something that can be a positive or a negative in his work, resulting in enjoyable yet flawed stories. However, despite a few bumps, this is not one of those cases. I would be willing to say this is Millar’s best mainstream story.

He instantly gets Peter’s voice. Though this story is darker and a little more realistic, he grasps Peter’s sense of humor and he plays with his sense of duty and morality to drive the plot. There’s also a great logic to the events of the story. It’s not perfect- there’s a missed opportunity with the Owl plotline, there are dated pop culture references throughout, and one particualr joke that’s both a rape joke and homophobic pulls you right out of the story at the worst time- but it’s fun.

The Dodsons were without a doubt the right choice for this story. This run came right at the height of their popularity. Terry’s line has enough realism that it doesn’t jolt the reader out of the dark story being told, but he has a fantastic grasp on the heightened reality of the world Spider-Man lives in. Rachel’s thick line on the inks gives the art the weight it deserves. It’s a great looking book.

If you were to ask me for a list of top ten Spider-Man stories, I don’t think this arc would be on it. However, if you asked for great starters, this would be near the top of the list. It’s a highly accessible story, an enjoyable read, and it’s fairly timeless. Even despite it’s flaws, it’s a story I would recommend to almost anyone interested in getting into Spider-Man, especially those whose only familiarity with him is from outside of comics.

You can find single issues of the series physically and digitally from any shop. The story is also collected in Marvel Knights Spider-Man Volume 1: Down Among The Dead Men.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man Volume 1: Down Among The Dead Men, Marvel Comics, 2004. Written by Mark Millar, line art by Terry & Rachel Dodson, color art by Ian Hannin, letters by Cory Petit.

We’d like to ask, on behalf of our friends and colleagues that own and are employed by comic shops, that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.

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