Posted May 17, 2012 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Comics

KILLAR MILLAR STORIES: Marvel Knights Spider-Man

Welcome to the latest installment of KILLAR MILLAR STORIES, where your Flipgeeks bros read a ton of comics written by Scottish superstar scribe Mark Millar, analyze the aspects that truly make them tick, and, in words that would make Millar himself proud, generally have a hell of a @#$%ing good time.

As Millar’s arrival in the Philippines draws nearer, we continue to look at the best Millar-penned books for you to read (and maybe have him sign, nudge nudge wink wink). This part focuses on Millar’s stint on Marvel Knights Spider-Man (MKSM).

It’s really hard to discuss this without spoilers (well, if you consider 8-year old story details “spoilers”) so I won’t try to. I’ll definitely be keeping spoilers to a minimum here, though. Anyway, on to the review.

The first issue of MKSM was released about a year after Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s famous Batman collaboration, Hush. It was a 12-issue story that had a mystery villain pulling the strings to make life a living hell for the hero, adding his allies and enemies into the mix, resulting in a grand confrontation at the end wherein the fate of the mastermind was left intentionally ambiguous and, despite the deaths of a few minor characters, things went back to pretty much the way they were before shit hit the fan. In stark contrast, Mark Millar, Terry Dodson, and, for #5 and #8, Frank Cho’s Spider-Man collaboration (affectionately labeled Spider-Man: Shush by fans, and yes, I’ll be using this label for the rest of this review) was a 12-issue story that had a mystery villain pulling the strings to make life a living hell for the hero, adding his allies and enemies into the mix, resulting in a grand confrontation at the end wherein the fate of the mastermind was left intentionally ambiguous and, despite the deaths of a few minor characters, things went back to pretty much the way they were before shit hit the fan.

…Wait a minute.

Kidding aside, Millar’s run on MKSM really wouldn’t fit well in the Spiderverse, continuity-wise. There are way too many “wha-huh?” moments and things that just don’t add up, given what we already know about the Marvel Universe. I’m not just here to talk about why the story doesn’t work, though; I’m also here to tell you how and why it DOES work, and why it’s easily one of my favorite Spider-Man stories ever.

The basic premise of the story is simple: longtime Spider-Man villain the Scorpion finds out Spidey’s secret identity, kidnaps his aunt, and completely messes with him, eventually revealing that the whole thing was perpetrated by the wallcrawler’s archnemesis, the Green Goblin. As the Bugle puts up a generous reward for the revelation of Spider-Man’s real identity, Spidey gets manipulated into helping the Goblin break out of prison, and promptly gets double-crossed. The whole thing ends with a high-stakes battle atop a very familiar bridge, as Spider-Man desperately fights for his life as well as his loved ones’. Justice is served in a dramatic yet anticlimactic manner, as Spidey beats the clock and manages to save his aunt AND his secret identity, and lives to fight another day. It’s one long, action-packed romp through Spidey’s rogues’ gallery, with his many friends and allies tagging along for the ride.

A few significant developments carry over from this story and pour into the main Marvel universe. For starters, this is the story that gave us the Mac Gargan version of Venom. Yes, the same Venom who became a Thunderbolt and, eventually, a Dark Avenger.

I am the tongue that flaps in the night! I am the slobber stain you can’t get off your shirt! I…We…I…Nevermind.

This story also made Norman Osborn a major player in the Marvel Universe, perhaps unintentionally foreshadowing his eventual role as Supreme Enemy of All Superheroes and All-Around Glory-Hungry Asshole in Dark Reign.

However, some events and revelations in Shush just don’t work in the greater scheme of things in the Marvel Universe. The story reveals that, since the first appearance of  Namor and the original Human Torch,  the world’s richest and most influential have been creating supervillains specifically in order to keep the heroes busy. By giving them crime to deal with, the heroes are unable to focus on curing society’s greater ills (hunger, poverty, etc.), thus preserving the status quo and the elites’ stranglehold on the world. This retcon, while interesting and loaded with potential, is a bit too much to tackle in a relatively self-contained Spider-Man story. Additionally, Spider-Man’s encounter with the Avengers in issue #2 was a bit off. Granted, this was before Spider-Man became an active Avenger, but still – this team has worked with Spidey for YEARS already, and they STILL don’t take him seriously? I’m finding it very hard to believe that. Furthermore, two characters lose a vital organ in Shush, disfiguring them and giving them yet another reason to hate Spider-Man. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow about Shush, though, is how Peter solves the Bugle reward problem. I won’t spoil it here, but I’ll just say this: it’s simply not plausible, and could not (and should not) work in 616 under any circumstances. It’s no surprise, thus, that all of these developments were ignored in subsequent Spidey stories.

The above paragraph, though, illustrates what is perhaps, ironically, the biggest strength of Shush: it works outstandingly well as an out-of-continuity, standalone story, firmly planted in Spidey lore, with far-reaching consequences for the Marvel-Universe-that-exists-only-within-the-boundaries-of-this-story.  As long as you get out of the “shared universe” frame of mind, you’ll have no problems enjoying this story. There are also very few slow and boring moments in Shush. The action is fast-paced, and Spidey never really gets a moment’s rest until the very end. For a hero perpetually in motion (and in all kinds of funky-cool spidery poses), this is a must. Guest stars notwithstanding, this is the kind of comic book that just begs to get turned into a movie.

One of the things I love most about Shush is how it pays respect to Spidey’s history. Millar collaborated with one of the best Spider-Man fansites on the Internet, spiderfan.org, for fact-checking and Spidey research. From the objects in Peter Parker’s old room to the characters present at his high school reunion, Millar uses subtle and not-so-subtle nods to continuity to establish this story firmly in the Spider-Man mythos. Heck, I didn’t even know who Seymour O’Reilly was until after I read Shush. Shush actually made me question just how much I knew about Spider-Man at the time, and made me want to look up his history more extensively. If a story involving a character you love makes you want to dig further and learn even more about him than what you already know, then it definitely made an impact on you, and that’s one of the best things a story can do.

Everyone is MODOK now, and it’s ALL! MY! FAAAAAAAAAAUUUUULT!

It also helps that the art ranges from decent to gorgeous. Both artists’ renditions of Spidey are appropriately lithe and athletic, and his villains are legitimately fearsome. While I’m not a fan of the way Terry Dodson draws faces, I can’t deny that he and his wife Rachel definitely know how to illustrate action scenes. The Frank Cho-penciled issues, however, are an absolute treat, especially since he tends to draw women (and faces in general) better than Dodson.


This is the kind of story that any Spider-Man fan would want to sit down and read on a rainy day, indoors, with a mug of hot chocolate. So go and track this down at your nearest National Book Store branch.

This isn’t just a Spider-Man story; this is a Spider-Man epic.

(Mmm, hot chocolate.)

Check out other KILLAR MILLAR STORIES here.

Mikael Angelo Francisco