If Spider-Man: No Way Home has taught me anything, it’s that Spider-Man needs to suffer in order for us to truly understand his struggle as the greatest hero ever. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since seeing the new Spider-Man film and it’s something you’ll see Alex Paknadel clearly understands with the new one-shot Darkhold: Spider-Man. Out this week, this issue obviously ties into the Darkhold mini-event, but in more cases than one it stands alone as a great one-shot that gets at why Spider-Man is great while also being a good horror twist on the character.
As a spoiler-free review, don’t expect details beyond the preview, but luckily the preview gives you an idea of what the issue is about. The story opens with Spider-Man talking to Gwen Stacy about their anniversary dinner while he’s literally keeping New York together. He’s keeping the buildings standing and people’s jaws literally on their faces. It’s a twisted scene for sure and yet Spider-Man is unfazed as he has committed to keeping it all together.
Two things work well for this issue. The first is the horror element, which is always present, and the second is how Paknadel clearly understands how Peter’s self-sacrifice is incredible and his heroism is built on never giving up even in the face of intense despair.
Darkhold is a horror series, so the gore and horrific elements are ever-present in this issue. Seeing a husk of a person, or in the preview, a person’s jaw being attached is normalized in a way that makes it even more horrific. Neves does a great job capturing the malaise of Peter’s reaction to seeing a man without a bottom jaw–and the utter pain and fear in the man’s eyes as he cries–to create a weird but horrific vibe. Spider-Man is saving the day–the utter horror he sees is clearly numbing him, but he persists.
The webbed-up city also looks great, creating a giant spider web that is unreal and fantastical. A lot of the emotional element resides in the body language of Peter Parker. You’ll feel for this man run ragged, trying to keep the world together even when he can barely keep himself together.
That leads to Spider-Man’s self-sacrifice, which is obvious at the start when he’s already having a hard time keeping people and the city together with his webs. As the story goes on, you begin to understand his despair is tamped so far down he’s barely put together, and yet he persists. That persistence is what makes Spider-Man in this story, and in general, so great. Paknadel nails that.
Darkhold: Spider-Man #1 is a good examination of Spider-Man in an alternate universe where his mission to keep the world together is more important than ever. In that way, it captures the truth that Spider-Man is the greatest hero not because of his powers, but because of his will to help others in the face of impossible adversity.
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