Spider-Woman #19

Background

Jessica has had a tough time of it lately. Jerry and Magnus, her only friends, have left town to pursue their own activities. Jessica’s boss turned out to be Nekra, the hate-fuelled mutant, and Jess had to beat her senseless. And last night (i.e., issue), she fought Eric of the Melting Face, whom writer Mark Gruenwald refers to as “the Waxman.” Eric killed some people, for which Jessica feels partially responsible, and he assaulted Jessica, which was, of course, traumatic. Moreover, Eric is dead now, and Jessica had something to do with that.

So if Jessica is looking for a friend, we can’t blame her if she looks in some unlikely places…

Story 'The Beast Within'

  Spider-Woman #19
Summary: Werewolf By Night, The Enforcer
Editor: Roger Stern
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Mike Esposito

Jessica, in her Spider-Woman garb, mulls over recent events as she flies through the early-morning L.A. sky. She’s thinking over last night in particular, when Eric “committed suicide in her presence… for reasons she fears to guess.” That’s certainly a strange interpretation of the end of Spider-Woman #18. I never thought Eric was trying to kill himself. He was trying to kill Jessica, for sure, and when Jessica defended himself with a venom blast, he seemed to die. That’s not suicide, that’s justifiable homicide, or at least death by misadventure if we’re feeling particularly charitable.

This would be an interesting plot point, that Jessica is pretending that things happened differently that they did: is it guilt? Post-traumatic stress? Self-delusion? But it’s not a plot point. The matter of Eric’s death never comes up again. It seems that Gruenwald is just trying to protect readers from any suspicion or concern that Jessica might be a murderer.

Because murder isn’t heroic, you know.

Anyway. It turns out Jessica is flying to Sunnyview Mental Hospital, to visit Mrs. Dolly, where she (Mrs. Dolly) has been committed since Spider-Woman #12. Yes, it has come to this, that Jessica is reaching out to a homicidally-insane supervillain that used to be her landlady. But as insane supervillains go, Mrs. Dolly is nice, and she and Jess chat for a few hours before Jess remembers she’s late for work.

Jessica gets chewed out for showing up hours late for her job at the Hatros Clinic. She reflects that she should have just called in sick, but she needed to come in today so she wouldn’t miss her group-therapy session, which she feels particularly in need of. Or maybe not: Jess can’t fully open up to her group without endangering her secret identity, the group senses she’s holding back, and it turns on her for being “unmutual.” Thankfully, Jessica’s casual acquaintance Lindsay McCabe is also part of the group, and rises to Jessica’s defense. As Lindsay leads a weeping Jess aside, Jessica knows “she’ll never be able to face [the group] again.”

So much for the encounter group – we won’t be seeing it again. (Or almost anything else from the Wolfman/Gruenwald era on this title, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

Jessica and Lindsay drive back to Lindsay’s singles pad for a night of herbal tea and girl talk. The evening stretches on so long that Jess, at Lindsay’s invitation, bunks for the night in Lindsay’s spare room, to spare her having to be alone. As she drifts off to sleep, Jessica reflects that she has finally found a friend.

With all of this relationship and emotional material, we might be in danger of forgetting that this is a superhero-action comic. And so, Jessica is shocked awake by a wolf’s howl. In a flash, Jessica remembers that she’s been in this apartment complex before, back in Spider-Woman #6, when she met Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night! She makes a quick change into her costume, reasoning that if the Werewolf is on the prowl, she should meet him in the same guise she met him before, or he might not recognize her. Venturing outside, she finds the Werewolf in battle with a dude in white body armour and a purple trench coat: the Enforcer!

A quick battle ensures. Spider-Woman has got her venom blasts, and the Werewolf his strength and speed, but the Enforcer’s body armour proves an effective defense against both, and his tranquilizer-dart pistol paralyzes both of them. Standing over the two helpless heroes, the Enforcer gloats that while he could kill them both, his bosses wouldn’t like that. Instead, he’s injecting both with a “tingler” that will lodge in their spines. Should they ever cross him, the Enforcer will active the Tingler and—

We’ll have to live without knowing what would happen next, because by this point Jessica’s spider-metabolism has thrown off the tranqulizer, and Jess sucker-punches him. He staggers, and she blasts him in the face with a venom blast. Now the Enforcer is the one that is down for the count. As the police approach, lights flashing, Spider-Woman grabs the Werewolf and wall-crawls the two of them back to his apartment, via the open window. There the Werewolf transform back to his human form. It seems he can become a wolfman at will, and without going feral; it’s only on the three nights of the full moon that he becomes a savage, mindless beast.

Jessica naturally wants to know what’s going on, so Jack tells her. What follows is a lot of tedious exposition I can’t be bothered to rehearse here. All of it seems to be drawn from the Werewolf by Night ongoing series, which I gather was cancelled without wrapping up all of its loose ends… so they’re being tied up here, mostly. When Jessica leaves, with a promise to return the next night, she reflects that she likes this Jack Russell, and that now she’s found a friend in both of her identities. Things seem to be looking up!

General Comments

This is a housekeeping issue. Gruenwald is getting rid of status-quo elements he doesn’t think work very well, like the encounter group; freshening up elements that have potential, like Lindsay McCabe; keeping the continuity links tight, through elements like Mrs. Dolly and the Werewolf; and tying off the loose ends from the WbN series. All of this is necessary in an ongoing series, especially one written in this era of Marvel history, but it’s hard to make them interesting.

Overall Rating

The villain is dull; the supporting cast is dull; the fight is dull; ultimately the issue is dull, and only for diehard completists. Still, dull is better than offensive or asinine. One web.

Footnote

There's a suggestion that Jack might become a new supporting character, and that all of this business with the Enforcer and the dangling Werewolf by Night threads might be picked up in this title. Or at least that's what Jessica's promise to return the following evening suggests. Don’t get your hopes up, though: she doesn’t return the next night, and none of this business is ever cleared up. The impending change of direction on this title will see to that.