Review: Spider Woman #5 – 8…

Posted: July 14, 2015 in COMICS
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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So to reiterate from my review of Spiderwoman #1 – 4: I adore Jessica Drew. And so I was always bound to be drawn to the new Spiderwoman  title, regardless of anything.
Uh, before continuing, someone told me off recently for not putting a spoiler warning before my reviews (even though I’m pretty sure most comic-book reviews don’t have spoiler warnings on them – this isn’t DS9, folks); so, um – SPOILERS ahead.

If you happened to read my review of the first four issues of this series, you’ll know that, firstly, I mostly enjoyed those issues (especially Spiderwoman #4, which was fantastic), and secondly, that I had misgivings about the change in both direction and style that was going to come from Spiderwoman #5 onward.

The gist of that misgiving was in the new look. I was looking at the new costume design as revealed on the cover for #5 and wasn’t loving it. I wrote in that post, ‘Jessica’s current/classic costume is frankly one of the best and most instantly recognisable looks in Marvel; it’s awesome, there’s absolutely no need to change or update it. Looking at the new costume, it seems to me they’re trying to make Spiderwoman less classic and more ‘street’. Aside from being unnecessary, it serves only to take away something that distinguishes Jessica and to her render more in-line with other, younger heroes, such as Spider-Gwen. Those new, younger heroes are cool and it’s fitting that they have hipper, more ‘street’ get-ups, but that doesn’t mean everyone should be given the same makeover. Jessica is a high-caliber, longstanding character with her long-established idiosyncrasies and in my opinion there shouldn’t be any pressing need for the makeover.’

Having read Spiderwoman #5 – 8, I still broadly stand by that pre-judgement, although perhaps not as staunchly. I still think her classic look is better; but I understand the desire to shake things up a little and that a new look, given a new direction in general, may seem appropriate. It’s not even that the new look is bad – it’s fine, but it just isn’t *as* cool. Speaking of Spiderwoman #5 generally, this is where the ‘new direction’ fully and officially kicks in. And it’s all a bit of a mixed bag. In Spiderwoman #5 we find Jess attempting to scale down and go solo as a more regular crime-fighter and do-gooder prowling the streets. She’s not doing very well at it at this stage, finding the adjustment difficult. Not surprising, as she’s used to bigger, crazier things.

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“This is what I wanted,” she tells us in the opening few pages. “Old school. Street level.” These opening pages are pretty cool actually, as we see the new-style Jess kicking minor-villain arse in the rain and essentially both looking and feeling out of her element, as if doing things ‘small’ just isn’t in her nature. The fact that she herself seems fully aware of that throughout these issues is part of what helps it to work.

Along with the change in tone and pace and the change in wardrobe, there is also fittingly a change in art direction. Javier Rodriguez on pencils and colors (with Alvaro Lopez on inks) brings a markedly different tone and feel things to what we had in the first few issues. Better or not, I’m finding it hard to tell. I really liked the visual feel of those first four issues; I like the look of #5 too – I’ll need a little more time to ascertain whether this is an improvement, however. It’s different, for sure; and different doesn’t mean ‘bad’. It is strange, however, to make that shift a mere five issues into a brand new series.

The change in direction, tonally, is also difficult to judge yet. While I’m all for the idea of Jessica scaling down and doing the more straightforward superhero thing like a Spiderman or Daredevil, it does also feel like it’s reducing the caliber of her character somewhat. We already have characters filling that quota in their solo titles, and in fact with both Silk and Spider-Gwen, for example, we’ve got brand new characters filling that quota. Was it really necessary to maneuver Jessica Drew into that sort of category too? And speaking of Silk and Gwen, it feels like the shift in both tone and look for Jessica in Spiderwoman #5 is also shoe-horning her into the same vibe as both those other characters and titles, making her seem younger both in style and literally in appearance too (she literally looks about ten years younger in #5 to what she looked like in #4). While I probably am reading too much into it, it does seem like an overly contrived editorial decision to reinvent the character and somehow make her more contemporary, more hip; which seems to me a little misguided.

There’s nothing wrong with a character having caliber and maturity; not every character needs to be revamped for a younger readership, and with titles/characters like Silk and Spider-Gwen (or even Ms Marvel/Kamala Khan) already catering to that niche, having a long-time fixture like Jessica drift into that area too seems unnecessary. I tend to think we’d have a better series if it was more in keeping with the more longstanding look and feel of the character.

This Jessica of Spiderwoman #5 is just too young and hipster, with the motorbike and the trendy shades and everything else, she just seems like she’s reverted to an adolescent.

Spiderwoman #5 isn’t a bad issue perse. It sets up a vaguely intriguing new scenario and gives us a different take on things. I’m just concerned that this isn’t necessarily a step in the right direction for her as a character. It is also, as I said, weird to go from classic, grown-up Jessica Drew to revamped, adolescent-style Jess within just the first few issues of the same new title. Having said that, the entire Marvel Universe is being shaken up like an Etch-a-Sketch with the Secret Wars business, so most of this might become redundant pretty quickly anyway. And I suspect we’ll be back to classic Jessica Drew soon enough, which maybe makes this interlude more palatable.

And these issues do have a lot to recommend them, even if they’re something of a departure. They’re colorful, visually engaging, and they have a bright vibe to them, a spring in the step. And I’m actually pretty hooked. By the way, Spiderwoman #7 has a super-cool, retro-max cover that looks like something out of the 70s (pictured below). That cover needs posterising immediately.

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#6 and #7 are enjoyable, entirely readable affairs too, though the interest level isn’t quite as high as in the opening issues. Again, I totally get the idea of scaling down Jessica’s lot in life for a while, taking things to a more Daredevil style, street-level business. As much as I’m still not digging the new look so much as the old one, it does have an obvious visual appeal and there are some fun moments scattered about these issues. What also works quite well in this scenario is that Jess is clearly ill-at-ease adjusting to this state of affairs and also that she has a palpable distaste for all of it, expressed through her typically dry, sarcastic attitude every step of the way.

The sense is that she isn’t enjoying any of this and probably even considers it somewhat beneath her. That actually continues to help quite a bit, as I too can’t help but feel she’s built for bigger things than chasing after third or fourth tier villains.

The plot is pretty simple. Ben Urich of The Daily Bugle has asked Jess to help him investigate the mystery of various low-level villains whose families have gone missing. Jess, reluctant at first, nevertheless takes on the job and proceeds to play the sleuth; albeit, a motorbike riding, villain-pounding and hardly inconspicuous one, but a sleuth nevertheless. In all honesty, this isn’t the most engaging plot I’ve come across lately (actually it’s not engaging at all); but what keeps you reading is both the cool, low-key vibe and the general love of the character (assuming you do love the character; even if it’s not in as unhealthily-obsessed a way as I do).

By #7, Jess has disguised herself in the costume of low-level villain the Porcupine, allowing herself to be kidnapped in his place so that she can get to the heart of the mystery. This Trojan Horse routine is pretty cool, particularly when we see her escaping from captivity with a slightly Ocean’s Eleven style track-back of how she did it. The slightly ‘Desperate Housewives’ vibe of the location she then comes upon deepens the mystery and has us wondering where exactly this is going. Not exactly on the edge of my seat here, but again a reasonable level of enjoyment and most of all a love of the character is what keeps one reading. And will continue to keep one reading. #8 concludes this brief arc. It’s something of an anti-climaxe, but then there wasn’t much to expect from this storyline anyway really. Jess being beaten black and blue by an angry woman in a construction truck is a bit much, but her patience is rather spectacular. This Desperate Housewives suburbia she’s happened upon is a hamlet set up by the ill-treated wives of minor D-list villains. Sympathising with the women, she decides to let them stay there and not reveal their location to anyone. It is, as I said, a bit of a non-climax to a bit of a non-story, even if bits of it here and there have been vaguely fun.

What it does do, however, is set up Jess as working from Ben Urich’s leads (not for him, however); this being the premise for continuing stories. I hope they’ll be more interesting than what we’ve had here from #5 to #8. While the fun factor is always here, we’ve nevertheless had three issues of fluff now and it’s time for something more substantial. Jessica Drew is far more entertaining and interesting than this.

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