The ability of Marvel’s various creative forces to come up with interesting and potent new characters even this far down the line is something to be celebrated.
In a fictional universe overflowing with good guys, bad guys, medium guys, super-teams, secondary teams and every obscure face or personage inbetween, you’d think coming out with even more characters would be a tricky affair.
Much of the time it probably is; the list of newly-invented characters that have quickly faded into relative obscurity would be a long one. But there have been a handful of really good and long-term promising characters emerging in recent times; a prime example is the Spiderman spin-off ‘Silk’.
Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos created the character of Cindy Moon last year in Amazing Spiderman #1 – 6, a character that was to be absolutely central to the big ‘Spider-Verse‘ storyline of late 2014. Following the wrap-up of that mammoth event, the launching of the Silk solo title has been one of the most talked about items among fans in the last few months. Though I was actually reluctant to pick up on another new title, once I’d read bits of SpiderVerse and also some of Silk’s appearances in the first few Spiderwoman issues, I couldn’t resist.
She’s just such a cool character. Her look is terrific too; that’s a great get-up, and any time she mummifies herself with all that webbing (sorry, ‘silk’) looks incredibly cool. Even the Silk ‘logo’ is pretty damn cool, if a bit trippy. But none of that is the main thing; the main thing is that she’s just Got It as a character. Whatever ‘It’ is, Cindy Moon has it big-time.
In Cindy Moon we have a really rich new character with a substantial backstory, a well-developed emotional core and an irresistible, witty repertoire, all of which makes her both interesting enough and likable enough to carry her own series. The first couple of issues of this series, while not overly elaborate (I’m guessing after ‘Spider-Verse’, no one really wants ‘overly elaborate’ anyway), do a nice, neat job of establishing her on her own and getting us into her head-space. I had wondered, when reading the first few issues of the Spiderwoman solo series, whether Silk would be as entertaining on her own as she was playing off Jessica and other characters. The answer is probably ‘no’; her interacting with Jess and others in those comics was more enjoyable. However, having her go solo necessitates that she can stand on her own in a title and try to find her identity.
With SpiderVerse wrapped up, Cindy is now in New York trying to find her place in life again, after years of isolation. From the very opening page, jumping right into the action, it feels like vintage Marvel; like classic superheroing that could be read in virtually any era. That opening page of #1, filled with a single image of Silk superheroing against a faceless villain (Dragonclaw) against the backdrop of the New York skyline, with just the word/thought ‘Finally’; it leads us in beautifully, a suitably simple and scaled-down way to have us find our feet as readers while we watch Silk trying to find her feet as a hero and a character. The style and the art may feel like it has a touch of juvenality to it, but in a good way that entirely fits the character, the themes and the tone that the writers are going for.
#1 establishes this new life in New York, and her motivations and preoccupations, centering largely around her search to find her family. That family/personal-life side of things is thus far a little on the uninteresting side, but could build to something much more intriguing by the looks of it. The flashbacks to scenes of Cindy’s childhood and younger life, while again not especially interesting, are perhaps a necessary fleshing out of gaps in our knowledge of the character and her backstory.
Silk is essentially the female Spiderman, if we’re basic about it; not just in terms of powers, but in terms of personality and general disposition. Even Cindy taking a newspaper job echoes old-timey Peter Parker and The Daily Bugle (there’s also a nice JJ Jameson cameo). She is an amateur, awkward and Bambi- like in her approach. While that isn’t exactly a dynamic we haven’t seen before in other comics, Silk herself is such a likeable and sympathetic character that it works and doesn’t get boring. That juvenile edge is present in the dialogue too, but entirely in keeping with classic Spiderman. “Is Pokemon still a thing?” she asks, fumbling through an encounter with a low-level villain, who she thereafter refers to only as “Pokemon dude”.
These early issues are characterised by the fact that Silk doesn’t really know what she’s doing and isn’t a master at this costumed hero business. This is again reminiscent of classic Spiderman/Peter Parker, which is no doubt an intentional homage to some extent.
Her family has disappeared without any trace, and this is naturally one of her chief concerns now that she’s back in the real world. Cindy meanwhile in her civilian life has gotten an intern job working for J. Jonah Jameson at The Fact Channel, hoping that this might help her track down her family. This twist of Cindy working as a journalist of sorts and pitching stories on her own alter-ego as Silk is a bit of a cliche of course, evoking Peter Parker or Clark Kent among others; but when something’s done well enough, it doesn’t really matter. And what wouldn’t be cliched anymore anyway? Also, the sense is that this element of her story is actually, again, more a knowing homage to those traditions rather than a rip.
Cindy’s inner monologue is one of the key things that makes this book work, getting us into her head-space and allowing her personality to be conveyed vividly. ‘Falling: Bad. Inner monologuing: Hard’. In fact, thinking about it, without this inner monologue, this would be a very different comic and wouldn’t be
anywhere near as readable. In some comics you find that this inner-thought narrative can be distracting or overly wordy, but in others it proves vital; and this is one of the latter cases. My entire understanding of Silk as a character, and my fondness for her, is based almost entirely on this inner monologue and not on her actions or actual spoken exchanges.
There’s a poignancy and realness to her going back to her old bunker, overwhelmed by her new life and the unfamiliar world. That really feels like something that rings true for someone who’s only known one environment for so long; even if that environment wasn’t necessarily a nice one, there must be a psychological reflex in retreating back to it when the outside world becomes too overwhelming. And also someone isolated for that long would of course find re-integration into the larger world very difficult and would find interactions awkward. While not being overly psychological or adult about it, this series is tapping into those dimensions and making them a part of the narrative, which is great to see. It also makes Silk fit into that classic loner/alienation motif that characterises some of the best comic-book characters over the years. ‘The city is so loud; it was quieter in the bunker’, sounds like precisely the kind of disposition someone in her position would find themselves experiencing.
#2 gives us another great opening sequence, with Silk skulking about a sewer, assuring us that’s she’s ‘really starting to get the hang of this’ now (‘crazy stuff happens; I punch it. Good Times’), right before the David Brent/Oliver Hardy style running gag of breaking the 4th wall: ‘It’s right behind me, isn’t it?’ The emergence of Black Cat in the story escalates things a little too; ‘Cat Fight!’ the cover to Silk #3 cries out gleefully. A retaliatory attack by third-rate villain Dragon Claw opens Silk #3 fittingly enough (“Oh yeah, Pokemon dude; how ya been, pal?”).
Which is all fine, but the really winning point in this story comes when the Bad Guy has had enough of being pounded on and asks for mercy. It’s a really sweet moment when Silk takes pity on him and the two of them sit side by side on the rooftop, tired and bored of fighting. It shows the soft side of both fledgling hero and low-grade villain and the two of them seem to recognise the faintest hint of a kindred spirit. It’s also demonstrative of one of the most endearing qualities of Silk as a character; which is that, in spite of the hardship and isolation of her early life, she is still incredibly sweet natured and naive, even when she’s trying to administer a high-octane beating to the bad guys. Most characters, even heroes, we’d assume would be much more hardened by that experience, much more belligerent. But Silk holds on to her sympathetic nature. It plays into her underlying vulnerability too, and again that’s one of the key appeals of the character.
By #3‘s end, Spiderman has shown up again, but Cindy isn’t amenable to his friendly, neighbourhood Spider-counselling; Peter has brought friends though, in the form of the Fantastic Four.
Which takes us to Silk #4. The Cindy, Spiderman, Fantastic Four interactions are all fun for the most part. If there’s a quibble, it’s that Stacey Lee draws the Fantastic Four quite poorly (especially Sue Storm, for some reason); and actually, for that matter, the characters, even Silk, seem deficiently rendered for most of first half of the book, and then somehow by around halfway it gets a lot better. This is a fun issue though. Silk referring to the simulated Galactus as the “AT-AT” and then doing the harpoon-cable manuever from the Empire Strikes Back Hoth battle is a terrific little homage and in fact one of the best ever uses of a Star Wars reference I’ve read in a comic. I highly doubt we’ll ever actually see Cindy Moon bring down Galactus, so it was worth the visual.
In essence, I could take or leave the whole Johnny Storm having a crush on Cindy thing, though the later scenes of them together are actually beautifully handled. We see the two of them on dinner date in awkward silence; and then in no time we cut to them out in the streets, fighting crime and taking down bad guys, the restaurant having been duly ditched. The sequence on page 19 of the two of them playing tag-team and handling a sequence of criminals by night is a terrific little montage that looks great and is suitably enlivened by the back-and-forth banter. Her reaction to the worst catchphrase in Marvel history is right on the money (“Flame on!”/”Seriously?”). Actually, no, “flame on” is the second worst – the Thing’s “It’s clobbering time!” is the all-time worst. How did the Fantastic Four manage to come up with the two worst catchphrases in the company’s history? The whole thing ends with a sweet image of the two of them sat on a high-storey scaffold and looking across the skyline at sunrise.
On a more serious note, there’s something a little off about trying to manuever Silk into a romantic coupling too early, whether it’s with Peter Parker or with Johnny Storm or anyone else.
Part of it might be to do with the character’s great vulnerability, which can have the effect of making it seem like she’s being taken advantage of by older, wiser people (if it’s not handled right – the Cindy/Johnny stuff here is fine, but maybe that’s just because they’re two ships passing in the night at this point). My view at this stage would be that she should be kept free of any coupling/entanglement for the time being, as she’s sufficiently interesting and enjoyable without it, and it is, let’s be honest, too early to fall back on cliched storytelling.
The flashback scene of Silk first manifesting her very messy powers and her parents walking in on her in shock is also actually pretty emotive, as these things go. It’s a very old-school X-Men like moment, like that classic thing of when a young new mutant ‘comes out’ to their parents or family, and is therefore sweetly grounded in Marvel traditions. Jonah Jameson acting sympathetically (in Silk #5) and offering to do Cindy a little favour in trying to find her family is a nice little touch, which gives Jameson a rare chance to show his softer side.
Silk #5 gives us a brief showdown between Silk, Spiderman and Black Cat, all for the sake of Dragonclaw (Pokemon Dude), who Cindy has by now developed a soft-spot for. Silk’s noble, heroic “go – I’ll buy you time” to Spiderman as she prepares to face Black Cat, added with “then come back later; definitely come back!” is the perfect mix of the growing confidence and lingering self-doubt. Her referring to Spiderman casually as her “sidekick” is nicely off-set by her referring to herself as a “D-list superhero” when she confronts Black Cat.
There’s essentially not a great deal happening here in #5, it has to be said, but the narrative is being moved along a bit at a time and there’s the definite sense it’s going somewhere. What we get most of all in Silk #1 – 5 is a likable, suitably engaging introduction to her situation and a good, growing understanding of the character herself, establishing Silk is a great character and a big presence. Robbie Thompson seems to have a really good handle on her and seems to write her with a degree of affection, while Stacey Lee and Ian Herring’s art/colour combination serves things really nicely for the most part, though Lee’s renderings seem a little off in places.
Generally though, this is all really endearing stuff, and I’d dare you not to get hooked very quickly.