It is the kind of neo-noir that fans of writer Brian Azzarello have come to love. That ‘essential inner darkness’ that Frank Miller speaks of in his introduction to Criminal: Lawless. ‘Not many people really understand what makes a crime story tick. Like they did with the early Batman movies and with nearly every attempt at film noir since movies went color, they dress it up dark, even murky, but the essential inner darkness that a good crime yarn exposes, relishes in, releases never occurs to them’. But Azzarello has that inner darkness in spades, and with Scott Levy he doles it out by the bucketful in the seemingly throwaway tale, ‘The Last Shoot’.
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, the series in which the Azzarello/ Levy scripted ‘The Last Shoot’ appears, was meant to tell the stories of ordinary New Yorkers, and how their lives were touched by the emergence the superhero. Spider-Man saves lives, but what of those lives he actually saves, the book sought to explore. An ensemble book in the truest sense, Tangled Web saw writers submitting short stories or storyarcs that ran only a few short issues. Each issue of Tangled Web would have at least one backup story. And Spider-Man himself would only be glimpsed at.
Azzarello’s creative genius for neo-noir fiction sets him up for apparently committing Tangled Web’s only cardinal sin; by page 20 of the 22-page lead story, Spider-Man has still failed to appear. But the tale of small-time crime and petty, workaday woes that is wrestler (or ‘shooter’, a wrestler who wrestles for real) Joey Hogan’s life proves so arresting that readers almost forgive Azzarello and Levy for the let-down. Does it really matter that Spidey doesn’t show? Wasn’t this a good story anyhow?
But of course, Spider-Man does show. This is the moment of his birth. When a young, brash, reckless kid endowed with incredible powers uses it to entertain and earn a paycheck. This is the darkest moment in Spider-Man’s history. A moment when he was at his most vulnerable. When he was perhaps most easily seduced by cheap applause. The impoverishment of Crusher Hogan’s world threatens to swallow him whole. How many lives may have gone unsaved? It would eventually take the death of his foster-father to show Spider-Man the path of responsibility he would walk later in life.
But staring across that essential, inner darkness of a whole world poised like a knife-edge to the throat of a hero who can save it, Crusher Hogan’s words speak to the indomitable in each reader. ‘The man that beat me…? Would be a hero’.