Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Stacey Lee, Ian Herring
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: April 29, 2015
When people ask me for comic book recommendations, two of the most common specifications are new reader friendly books, and books with female leads. Silk is both, with every new issue as easy to pick up as the last, starring a genuinely relatable and endearing protagonist. Cindy Moon, disgruntled intern and spider-themed hero, is looking for her long-vanished family after over a decade of separation – and writer Robbie Thompson, artist Stacey Lee, and colorist Ian Herring are telling her story.
There are not nearly enough artists like Lee in comics. Her style, while cartoonish at first glance, is a wonderful balance between simplicity and detail, calling to mind webcomics and animation, realms often more appealing to female audiences than the overwrought house styles that have dominated mainstream comics on and off for years. But rather than stick out as overly simple in comparison, Lee’s style wows with its ability to present as fun and engaging one moment and tense and gripping the next. Her mastery of expression and body language tell a story that requires no words, anger and fear and regret page-turningly vivid through both. She can take an initially comical beat like a van being thrown at the protagonist and in a panel steal away your laughter and lock you in close beneath its crushing weight, feeling Cindy Moon’s panic as the page goes black.
And the layouts in this book are great. Large, clear-cut panels dominate every page, their shapes differing enough to keep readers’ eyes busy but not distracted, most panels utilizing full backgrounds which emphasizes the very few occasions where they’re only a color gradient, giving them additional emotional punch they can often lack when overused. The background detail, while never distracting, is wonderful, from the impoverished decor of a cranky old woman’s apartment to a carefully organized workshop of dubious intent. Camera angles were also well-chosen, adjusting to highlight whatever best suited the storytelling: slumped back from the side, downcast eyes from above, a wide pan of neighboring buildings including a hospital, a full page splash of unexpected guests.
A particularly nice treat for me was seeing Black Cat drawn by an artist who, rather than focusing on her sex appeal, instead showcased the character’s – heh – cattiness. Haughty confidence was etched into every line of Black Cat’s poses, from mockingly closed eyes to uplifted chins, her smirks and hip-perched hand detailing a woman who likes to play with her targets. This worked as an excellent contrast to her body language in later pages, which showed Felicia thinking and plotting, no longer playing up her arrogance.
But that characterization skill was present in all of Lee’s work. Cindy’s terror, her rage, her exhaustion were all expertly displayed with a frequent emphasis on her eyes or how she was holding herself, fights wearing her down and an unexpected visitor only adding to her weighted shoulders. And the age lines she scribbles on an older antagonist’s miserable face, while sparring, tell his life story better than his dialogue could ever manage. And the same could be said for a certain masked visitor’s concerned head tilt.
The colors in this book are spectacular. Beautiful sunset colors wash out panels in orange and gold, fire glows eye-shieldingly bright on the page, memories fade beneath a blue-grey overlay…Every page is soaked in mood and environment. Herring’s application of textures and gradients furthers his work’s presence on the page, working not just for Lee’s art but with it. This collaboration is seen further in how Herring’s shading brings additional definition to Lee’s faces, shadows spilling thick to round out features and emphasize expressions. The use of glowing effects does feel somewhat overused or overbright in places, but taking into consideration the time of day, it’s justified even if it seems a little garish.
And while the art is arguably the best part of this book, the writing is far from unworthy. Thompson has fun with the Marvel Universe, bringing in familiar faces and taking a look at the motivations one might have to don a dragon suit and terrorize superheroes. He keeps Cindy’s narration and dialogue young and engaging, threading in quips, playfulness, and exasperation. He uses a fight scene to bring up Cindy’s past, piecing in a memory of old wrongs done to her to send her over the edge – and subsequently let her pick up her own pieces when she breaks. In the same vein, he lets the focus move from Cindy to her recently defeated foe, not just to strum up additional sympathetic context for the man but to show the way Silk’s presence is far-reaching and positive. It’s a tender moment, and gives the reader breathing room after a second fight scene.
As an added female reader friendly bonus, Thompson pits Silk against another woman but doesn’t fall into step with the industry-wide tendency to reduce them to pithy comments about each others’ romantic history or appeal, their trash talk instead revolving around business and skill. Even Cindy’s inner monologue remains fight-focused. And that’s rare enough to make it notable.
The issue ends in three beats one after the other, a moment of villainous suspense followed by an emotionally tired exchange followed by a splash page surprise. It’s a perfect slice of what the entire comic is built from, urging readers to come back for more. The entire issue is a well-crafted installment in what will likely be an excellent book (as it’s already proven to be), with no one ingredient – fight scenes, narration boxes, emotional moments – overpowering another. This is the kind of serial storytelling that comics embraces but doesn’t always get right, offering readers a meal without over- or under-feeding them in the process.
Silk is a great book. With superb art, a likeable and relatable lead, and a currently self-contained and consistently well-explained story, it’s everything you’d want in a comic to hand a new reader. But it’s just as enjoyable for routine Marvel readers, drawing in familiar faces and dabbling with both the fun and dramatic sides of being a spider-powered superhero in New York. And considering it centers on an Asian American woman, and has thus far avoided alienating tropes, it’s also exactly the kind of book we want from the comic industry.
The Verdict: 9.5/10