By Andy Frisk
March 19, 2010 - 01:04
Writer(s): Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller(s): Alex Maleev
Inker(s): Alex Maleev
Colourist(s): Alex Maleev
Letterer(s): VC’s Cory Petit
Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman is an interesting character who, in the right hands, could potentially headline a solid superhero comic book series. She’s the female version of Wolverine in “the most screwed over person in the history of the universe” department, and she has a lot of work to do mentally and physically to get herself back on track as a superhero. Actually, she was the template for “most screwed over person.” Her convoluted and conflicted origin story has her playing the part of tortured and experimented upon super being before Wolverine even had an inkling of his adamantium bathed past (actually before it was even written). Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman was (and still can be) the hottie hero with a dark side who’s seeking redemption, and maybe a little revenge, on the way to reclaiming her role as an Avenger, superhero, and mentally sound individual. Everything was in place. Add Bendis and Maleev (who’s run on another constantly screwed over character, Daredevil, was an instant classic) and it looked like Marvel Comics had a new powerhouse hit on their hands. Seven months later, Spider-Woman is history. Why?
Spider-Woman seemed to suffer from the same syndrome that killed Marvel Comics’ also short lived Eternals series last year. Eternals had it all as well. There was a great premise which was ripe for long term use. There was some great art, and the characters were solid. It also had a little mix of international intrigue and galactic conflict to keep things interesting. Again, like with Spider-Woman, the sky was the limit. Eternals lasted nine issues…
In both series the storytelling got off to a slow start. Events that could have been sped along with a little more editorial finesse took too long to develop. When the titles started slipping, the action and intrigue were amped up a bit, but it was a case of too little, too late. In the case of Spider-Woman though, poor protagonist development hurt the series from a writing standpoint. Bendis, who’s usually a whiz at character development, really never established Jessica as the strong but tortured type she needed to be in order to plow the road to redemption. Jessica, trying to rebuild her life after a large portion of it was taken from her while she was held captive by Skrulls (see Secret Invasion), moped around, contemplated suicide, didn’t seek help from her friends, and took a mission that probably would have ended up destabilizing her mentally even more if her friends in The Avengers didn’t show up to save her…seven issues later. Jessica also was an agent of HYDRA and SHIELD in years past, as well as a private detective. The girl probably has some smarts, but Bendis made her completely helpless without her SWORD issued Skrull Finder watch. Not much room to allow her to strut her stuff detective wise with a decoder watch leading her around. He also made her seem a bit of an airhead or worse yet a mental case with a death wish (she does contemplate suicide, as mentioned). Jessica gets in over her head time and time again and even challenges a Skrull warrior to a duel to the death in a crowded strip club. It’s a duel she has little chance of winning. This doesn’t remotely seem characteristic of the tough, yet troubled, yet determined Jessica Drew of 1978’s Spider-Woman Vol. 1 who, desperate and starving, almost turns criminal in order to eat: “My past life’s a shambles—What I was, who I am, how I got these bizarre powers—I’ve too damn many questions…and too damn few answers. But, I’m hungry…haven’t eaten for days, so now I’m forced to become a—NO! Maybe my past’s been destroyed, but I won’t ruin my future as well. Whoever I may have been means nothing now. I won’t steal…not even to liv(e)—“ Now there’s a sexy super heroine (even if her dialogue is a bit cheesy).
While Bendis never really got Jessica going character wise, Maleev definitely captured her incredibly well artistically. The Jessica Drew of this short lived Spider-Woman series has definitely got to be the most attractive rendition of the character ever conceived and brought to life on the page. All of Maleev’s characters are beautifully rendered and recreated, but he particularly captured the look and feel of a slightly tortured, somewhat vulnerable, yet completely ready for action super heroine. His grim and gritty surroundings and cityscapes (which worked so well in Daredevil’s urban settings), worked incredibly well here as well. The mix of sci-fi and detective noir-grittiness that was to be the promise of this series was masterfully captured by Maleev. The fact that we won’t see more of it, and Maleev’s take on Jessica, is disheartening.
According to Bendis though (via the afterword of issue #7), the strain of producing the monthly art of a printed comic book and an innovative motion comic (Spider-Woman was also a successful iTunes motion comic) was just too much for Maleev and he “kinda burned out on Jessica Drew for now.” Bendis said he didn’t want to do the book without Maleev, and they’re about to put out their very own “creator owned comic through Marvel/Icon,” so Jessica will just have to go back to supporting role status.
It’s a shame that they didn’t stick it out longer on the title, and that it didn’t sell better (sales did weaken each successive month). Spider-Woman got off to a pretty slow start, but then again so did a certain cousin of a certain Kryptonian, and now her series is one of the best currently in publication at Marvel Comics’ “Distinguished Competition.” Maybe Jessica will get another shot, after all you can’t keep a good character down, and Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman is a good character no doubt, she just can’t seem to get a break.
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