Comic Book Review
Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do
Writer: Kevin Smith
Artists: Terry Dodson (Penciller), Rachel Dodson (Inker, Colorist), Lee Loughridge (Colorist), Richard Starkings (Letterer)
This is the mini-series it took Kevin Smith three years to finish. I didn’t have to wait three years between issues; I just picked up the trade paperback at Borders and read the whole thing at once. But what if I had been forced to wait out the interminable delay between issues #3 and #4? Would it have been worth the wait? Well, fuck no it wouldn’t have been worth the wait. A three-year delay between issues of Watchman or Batman: The Long Halloween might have been forgivable given how awesome the finished products were. But this one? It’s not that great before the three-year break; the delay would have been my cue to sneak out early. Like I should have done during the intermission at Gods and Generals. Live and learn.
The Evil That Men Do isn’t all that bad, I guess. It’s just more of what I’ve come to expect from Kevin Smith’s comic book work. I’ve never been a huge fan of his films (though I enjoy and even admire a few of them — both Clerks of course, and especially Chasing Amy and Dogma), and I’m less impressed still by his forays into superhero comics. As a writer, he’s got talent in certain areas. He’s a good hand at dialogue and can write a funny conversation with the best of ‘em, but he’s never been too sharp on the story side of storytelling. The story of The Evil That Men Do meanders through a lot of thematic territory and changes directions a few times, but never winds up arriving anywhere. Part of that might have to do with the delay between issues #3 and #4, but I’d pin most of the blame on Smith just doing an all-around shitty job of writing.
Smith’s work always has this inescapable juvenility to it, even when he takes on big, serious themes. This book is running over with big, serious themes — drug use, childhood sexual abuse, rape. It’s also chock-full of jokey Spidey banter and more than one gratuitous panel of Felicia Hardy in states of near-total undress. Pretty serious dichotomy of tone there, wouldn’t you say? Not that it’s all Smith’s fault — Terry Dodson is a brilliant artist, especially when he’s drawing Spider-Man, but the dude just loves drawing tits. Even in the supposedly sober confessional carried on between Felicia and another character in the final issue, he makes sure we don’t miss those massive skin balloons on her chest. At certain points the book reads like it was written for grown-ups and drawn for 13 year-olds. It’s an after-school special you can jerk-off to!
It really does start sounding like an after-school special, in that last issue, especially. Maybe Kevin Smith really had something serious to express about rape and child sex abuse, a message he wanted to deliver to the largely teenage audience for superhero comics. Or maybe he just totally ran out of gas on this one and threw in the “heavy” stuff to take up space. About half of the last issue is taken up by flashbacks, as the villain of the piece and the Black Cat take turns unburdening their souls about their tragic, sordid pasts. What I said earlier about Smith having a good ear for dialogue doesn’t apply to the panel where Felicia starts quoting Department of Justice rape statistics, by the way.
There is certainly a place in superhero comics for serious issues like these to be dealt with. If Kevin Smith wants to write a Spider-Man story about rape and childhood incest, more power to him. But he needs to decide that’s what he wants to do and then do it, not drop really heavy scenes into the middle of a quippy comic adventure. I was reminded of Smith’s “Guardian Devil” run on Daredevil, when Karen Page melodramatically announced via a big, boldface dialogue balloon that she had AIDS. Or that episode of Lois & Clark where all of a sudden there were Nazis running around trying to take over the world with a new and improved master race. You can’t just spring these serious dramatic themes in the middle of a goofy superhero story and expect it to work. You’ve got to treat it seriously from the beginning, or fucking forget it.
Not such a great book, but it does have its charms. When he’s not pretending to be a serious writer tackling the important issues, Smith manages some funny moments. Black Cat defending her disproportionately enormous boobs as “ballast” is one; Spidey and Daredevil wondering why people are always arguing which heroes could beat up which other heroes is another. And with Dodson penciling the whole thing looks great even when the story is total dogshit. If they’d have picked a tone and stuck with it and whittled it down to four issues instead of stretching it to six, The Evil That Men Do might have been a pretty decent Spidey story. As it is, take it or leave it.