Spider-Woman #11

Background

Mark Gruenwald sets to cleaning up the mess Marv Wolfman made of the title.

Too bad cleaning up isn't fun to watch...

Story 'And Dolly Makes Three'

  Spider-Woman #11
Summary: Brother Grimm
Editor: Roger Stern
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Al Gordon

Jessica is passing the time by checking out her landlady's collection of dolls. At least that's what her interior monologue tells us. From the art, you'd think that Jessica herself was a doll: her face is frozen and inexpressive, and barely resembles our heroine as she's been previously depicted.

Sadly, this is not a plot point... Carmine Infantino has simply lost all interest in his art duties and is phoning it in.

Jessica is surprised and disquieted to find, hidden among the doll collection, a pair of figurines that resemble her nemesis, Brother Grimm! (Again, I infer from the text she's surprised and disquieted. Her face is wooden for this entire scene, and will remain so until she changes into costume around page ten.) Before she can work out what this means, Jessica hears Mrs. Dolly entering, and pretends she hasn't seen the mysterious figurines. An embarrassed Jessica is relieved when Jerry arrives to pick her up for their date.

It isn't clear why Jessica doesn't have it out with Mrs. Dolly immediately. Brother Grimm is a notorious L.A. criminal: how and why would anyone keep a doll of him, let alone two such dolls? It's not as though Jessica has any reason to be afraid of Mrs. Dolly. But Jessica says nothing, and as she leaves with Jerry, both women ponder what the discovery means. At the swanky restaurant where Jerry has taken Jess, she tells him of her unease, but he can't be bothered to feign interest in the problem. Meanwhile, Mrs. Dolly reaches the decision that Jessica must have seen her hidden dolls, and therefore Jessica will have to be "punished."

Back at the restaurant, Brother Grimm appears in a terribly-drawn-and-inked explosion of mustard-coloured smoke. Brother Grimm is in his stand-up-comic mode, and begins wreaking havoc with his lame puns and Mexican-jumping-bean grenades. (Seriously.) Jessica darts to the bathroom to change into mufti, which prompts Jerry to... pull a gun? Order Grimm to stand down? Call SHIELD for backup? No, he simply mutters in exasperation, presumably because Jessica is getting involved.

So Jerry is more concerned about Jessica breaking their date than he is about the restaurant getting blown up? Working for SHIELD really makes you jaded.

Grimm engages in more tiresome antics: telling jokes that aren't funny, throwing sticky bread dough on a man's face, and dancing the tango with a frightened woman he grabs from a nearby table. (Suspenseful!) Jerry finally decides to be a hero, and tries to shoot Grimm in the back. (Heroic!) But Grimm tosses his dance partner into Jerry's arms, wrecking the shot. (Spine-tingling!) Bored, Grimm dusts the whole room with sneezing partner and makes his escape.

Outside, Grimm tries to escape on a trapeze suspended from a (very lazily-drawn) star. Jessica takes to the air in hot pursuit, but while she can keep Grimm in her sights, she can't close with him: Grimm's strength keeps her from coming to grips, and his wacky weaponry—a "goopy" egg thrown into Jessica's face—keeps her at a distance. Below, Jerry is attempting to follow the pair in his car, but he forgets to look in the back seat. At a critical moment, Brother Grimm, in stern-and-cold mode, pops out and knocks Jerry unconscious with a whiff of gas.

So Brother Grimm is in two places at once, eh? What a mystery man! Long-time readers guessed ages ago what's going on here, of course, but new readers will have to be confused for the time being.

After a quick interlude with Magnus, who's coming to the conclusion it's time for him to part ways with Jessica—purely for her own good, of course; so that she might "bloom into her own person"; certainly not because he's lost interest in her—we return to Jessica's pursuit of Brother Grimm. Grimm is chortling to himself because he's able to fool Spider-Woman with "the ol' inflated spare uniform trick". While Jessica pursues the uniform she's mistaken for Brother Grimm, he's able to sneak up behind her and knock her out with a blow to the head. Wow, that's a really good trick, inflating a spare uniform and having it take your own place, all while flying through the air on a trapeze, while being pursued by a superhero who's watching you the whole time. I might even go so far as to say it's impossible, but what the hey.

So now everyone is in peril. Magnus, asleep at the Dolly guesthouse, is menaced by an army of dolls, who have come to life, marched upstairs, and are stealthily surrounding the sleeping magician's bed. Jerry and Jessica, for their part, awake from unconsciousness in an undisclosed location, manacled and chained to the floor. "Oh, no," Jessica thinks. "I'm in chains! Can't I go a week without getting tied up by somebody?"

Sadly, Jess, the answer seems to be "no."

Gruenwald is so busy hanging a lampshade on Jessica's tendency toward bondage that the final splash page arrives without any dramatic flourish. Almost as an afterthought, we readers learn that our heroes have been imprisoned by Mrs. Dolly, who introduces herself in monologue as "Madame Doll". Flanking her, on either side, are two Brothers Grimm.

Two Brothers Grimm? Colour me unsurprised.

No lettercol this month, just a fill-in page explaining all of Spider-Woman's powers, for the benefit of the uninitiated: wall-crawling, spider-strength, immunities to poisons and radiation, venom blasts, and gliding on air-currents, though at this stage in her career she can only do the latter while in costume (technically it's the costume's power, not hers). By this point—issue #11—her ability to hypnotize people has been unused for so long (last seen in issue #7) that it's been forgotten, and isn't mentioned here. Also unmentioned here is the power modern readers will be familiar with: Spider-Woman's ability to exude pheromones. That power isn't here because Mark Gruenwald hasn't invented it yet, though it will be appearing in this title in short order. In a nice twist, Brian Bendis will eventually restore Spider-Woman's hypnotic ability by conceiving of it as a special application of her pheromone power, though that development will not occur for decades after this issue sees print (in New Avengers #8).

General Comments

Gruenwald is trying to do right by the fans by putting all of the tiresome Wolfman tropes to bed, and Brother Grimm is first to be tucked in. Unfortunately for Gruenwald, tidying up messy backstory is tedious, and Grimm will always come off as obnoxious rather than intimidating, no matter who's writing him. As a result, reading this story provokes either boredom or irritation, depending on whether Grimm is on the page or not. Neither emotion is one you want your readers to feel.

Overall Rating

The writing is competent, but fatally hobbled by annoying characters and dangling plot threads. Neither of these are Gruenwald's fault—he's just playing the hand he was dealt—but he gets the blame nonetheless.

Actually, he only gets two webs' worth of blame. An additional half-a-web penalty goes to Carmine Infantino, who turns in yet another sub-par performance on pencils. Too busy cashing his check, I guess.

Footnote

The cover loudly proclaims "Still only 35 cents"! Those were the days...

The cover also loudly proclaims that the issue features a "Death Duel with Brother Grimm!" False advertising; no one dies.