Spider-Woman and Jerry Hunt, Agent of SHIELD, have been captured by the nefarious Brothers Grimm and the embarrassing Madame Doll, a.k.a. Jessica's erstwhile landlady Mrs. Dolly. Meanwhile, in the Dolly guesthouse, a sleeping Magnus is menaced by an army of living dolls!
Dun dun DUN!
The doll army finally makes its move... but rather than strike at Magnus, it wakes him. One of the dolls squeaks a message that Jessica, currently imprisoned at a playhouse on MacAlester Street, is in danger. Magnus, nonplussed, realizes that his subconscious mind must have intuited Jessica's plight, and magically animated the dolls to deliver the warning. Sure, why not? Abandoning the now-inanimate dolls, Magnus hurries to the playhouse, where he finds Jessica and Jerry on stage, manacled, and attached to long chains suspended from the roof. The Brothers Grimm and Madame Doll stand nearby, gloating over their triumph.
Magnus plays it cool, and asks his landlady to explain what is going on. Madame Doll is no fool—she knows that Magnus knows it's Jessica beneath the Spider-Woman costume—but offers up an expository monologue anyway.
It seems her husband, Nathan "Mr. Doll" Dolly, was a small-time supervillain back in the day. His quest for a magical doll to use against his foes led him to obtain two hideous effigies: the two Brother Grimm dolls Jessica came across last issue. Mr. Doll's attempt to animate one of the dolls to serve his bidding came a cropper when the ritual he used animated both dolls, leaving him without enough "life force" to sustain his own body. So now, his original body is dead, and his spirit lies trapped in the two effigies. It is Madame Doll's quest—and that of her sons, the Brothers Grimm, who wear the same garb as the dolls that hold their father's spirit—to free Nathan Dolly from this curse.
Magnus finds this story unconvincing; his preternatural senses tell him that there is more to the story. No time for that now, though, because the exposition continues. Madame Doll intends for Magnus to use his magical powers to move the trapped spirit of Nathan Dolly into the body of Jerry Hunt. Nathan will live again, but Jerry, a spirit without a home, will die. Jessica is the Dolly family's leverage to compel Magnus to cooperate; they'll kill her if he refuses.
Jessica yells at Magnus not to help, but Magnus hasn't shown respect for Jessica's choices before... why should he start now? He agrees to undertake the ritual. Jessica, furious, yells at him, prompting one of the Brothers Grimm to dose her and Jerry with knock-out gas.
Jerry, juiced on wowie-sauce, endures a freaky drug-trip. Writer Mark Gruenwald, in a bravura effort, attempts to deliver on the promise inherent in the names of the supervillains he's writing: he has Jerry experience a phantasmagoria in the form of a fairy tale. Jerry imagines the story of Little Red Riding Hood, with Jessica playing the title role. He casts himself as the woodcutter and Mrs. Dolly as the wolf-in-grandmother's-clothing. With a blow of his axe he kills the wolf, and Jessica falls into his arms. But this happy ending is dashed as the face of the wolf transforms from that of Mrs. Dolly to that of a Brother Grimm, and the sight shocks Jerry awake from his delusion... because Jessica has always saved Jerry from Brother Grimm, not the other way around.
They'll be time to plumb Jerry's psychological depths (ew!) next issue. For now, let's return to the main story, in which Magnus' ritual is well underway. Magnus, Jerry, the Brothers, and Madame Dolly each stand in a separate ring of mystical fire, and the transfer of life energy has begun. Magnus is stalling for time because he's counting on Jessica, thanks to her spider-metabolism, to be immune to the Brothers' knock-out gas; his hunch pays off, as Jessica, now awake, tackles Mrs. Dolly. It's a desperate fight: Jessica is shackled to the ceiling, groggy from the manhandling she received last issue, and Mrs. Dolly has a gun. At least Magnus is able to keep the Brothers at bay in their own ring of fire.
With a few venom blasts and careful acrobatics, Jessica dispatches Mrs. Dolly into unconsciousness, and swoops over the fire holding her prisoner. Deftly she extracts Jerry from his prison, and just in time. The imprisoned spirit of Nathan Dolly, now free, darts to the ring where Jerry had been held, but finding no body to hold it, it evaporates into the ether.
So much for Nathan Dolly, now truly dead. And so much for the Brothers Grimm: it seems the spirit of Nathan Dolly was not trapped in tiny effigies, but rather in life-size mannequins. The Dolly boys, who adopted the garb of Brother Grimm, were not actual people, but only dolls themselves, dolls whom a delusional Mrs. Dolly pretended were her sons. Having now lost both her husband and her 'sons', Mrs. Dolly is paralyzed with grief, unable to resist our heroes taking her into custody. Her heartbreaking monologue ends the issue:
"Boys, wake up—your father will be home soon.
"Boys, wake up!
This is pretty solid issue, and when you`re working with material like the Brothers Grimm, that`s saying something. The action takes some time to arrive, but Gruenwald makes Jessica`s fight against Madame Doll a breathless one. Rather than allowing Jess to burst her chains, he has her fight the crazed supervillain while manacled and chained to the ceiling, which makes for a much more suspenseful encounter than if Gruenwald had pursued the traditional route. There are a few misfires—the army of dolls at the opening is a pathetic resolution to last month`s cliffhanger, and the multi-page fairy-tale sequence is wince-inducing—but it`s all paid off with the final page. Watching Mrs. Dolly descend into hysterical delusions (literally, in this case: hysteria was originally madness induced by the desire for children) is truly affecting.
The lame stuff is balanced out by the good stuff, leaving us with a nice, middle-of-the-road three webs. Add half a web because it dispatches the Brothers Grimm from this title forever. Gruenwald knows a sinking ship when he sees one, and sends it off with a modicum of dignity.