Back in Spider-Woman #23, Jessica ‘Spider-Woman’ Drew fell in love with the mysterious Tim Braverman and captured the notorious underworld figure ‘the Gamesman’, only to discover the two men were one and the same! Last issue, Spider-Woman #24, Braverman’s gang discovered he’d embezzled $10 million from them. They kidnapped Spider-Woman so they could force her to tell them where the money was, but she couldn’t tell them what she didn’t know. Having no further use for her, they chained her to a post in the Doomsday Room. If she can’t escape her chains and flee the locked, electrified room in sixty seconds, she’ll be blown up by a ticking time bomb!
She’s only got sixty seconds, so Spider-Woman makes the most of them. After only two panels of thinking, she figures a way out of her predicament. While she’s still too weak to break the special chains securing her to the post, she does have her other spider-abilities, notably wall-crawling. Thanks to that, she’s able to shimmy up the pole to about half of its height. From that position, she can use her spider-strength to snap, not the chains, but the column to which she’s secured. And she does this the hard way, raising her legs and bringing her chained arms forward under them to break off the bottom half of the post. Quite a feat!
But it gets better. As there aren’t any air currents in the room she can’t glide over to the door. And she can’t walk or wall-crawl over, because of the electrified panels. So she grabs the snapped-off portion of the pole and pole-vaults over to the door, and times the downward arc just so that she can smash, feet-first, through the window set into the upper half of the door.
Wow! That was an escapade worthy of a pulp action hero. I’m not sure it fits easily in the supposedly neo-noir world of Spider-Woman, but it’s an exciting escape, so I’m not going to raise any plausibility questions here.
Spider-Woman finds herself in a small deserted antechamber. Back in the first panel we saw the new Gamesman watching our hero from here, but I guess he’s taken off, not wanting to get caught in the explosion. Accordingly Spider-Woman takes off too, exiting into an alley and gliding away (first taking the time to snap her restraints, now that she’s got her second wind). Behind her, the chamber explodes, as represented by a panel-sized BOOOOOM caption.
Back in the Gamesman’s Situation Room, a flunky reports that she’s received the “explosion signal from the Doomsday Room.” The Gamesman exults that his “curvaceous arachnid adversary” is dead. Wait: how did he get here so fast? Less than a minute ago he was in the Doomsday Room, and now he’s far enough away that he can’t even hear the explosion? Far enough away that he needs confirmation by radio signal that the room has blown up? That’s lazy, lazy writing, Mr. Fleisher. Anyway, the Gamesman is now ready to implement the second part of his plan, which will involve the sketches of Spider-Woman’s costume he had another flunky draw last issue.
Meanwhile, Spider-Woman is gliding back to the prison where Tim Braverman is incarcerated. Meeting him in the visiting room, she asks him about the missing $10 million, but Braverman insists he doesn’t know of any embezzled money. She professes her faith in him and leaves, and Braverman returns to his cell. There, he finds an envelope on his bunk that contains a pistol! It also contains a plan for a prison breakout, signed “Spider-Woman.” In interior monologue, Braverman exults that “I knew I got her to care for me too much to let me just rot away in here!”
Later, at Jessica’s apartment, she wakes up from a nap on the couch. “Escaping from death traps takes it out of a girl,” she muses. I should mention she’s taken this nap in skimpy lingerie. I’d have to check, but so far in writer Michael Fleisher’s tenure, I think we’ve only seen Jessica relax at home when she’s underdressed: either in a towel, or lingerie, or simply nude. This passes beyond fan-service and into pandering. At least she puts on a bathrobe before opening the door to admit her friend Lindsey McCabe. Lindsey is excited about her new, mysterious acting gig and had to tell Jessica about it, even if she can’t spill any of the details: it’s a big secret, involving the FBI!
That night, at the prison, Braverman puts the escape plan into action. Using a hacksaw blade that was also contained in the package, he cuts through his cell bars. Using the gun, he pistol-whips a guard into unconsciousness and steals the man’s keys. With the keys, he makes his way into “rarely used maintenance tunnels” and reaches the prison wall. There he finds a rope ladder thrown over the wall, just as he was led to expect. Climbing over the wall, he meets Spider-Woman, who greets him with a kiss and conducts him to the helicopter she’s procured. With a smile, she takes the controls and flies the two of them away. At Braverman’s direction, they’re flying back to L.A. to pick up the stolen money. “I’m sorry I lied to you back at the prison... those prison visiting rooms are bugged!”
And they aren’t the only ones. The helicopter is bugged too, and is conveying this conversation to the Gamesman and his cronies, back at the Situation Room. He exults that his scheme to hire “that McCabe broad” to impersonate Spider-Woman is working perfectly.
So, Lindsey McCabe knows how to pilot a helicopter? I’m impressed.
The following morning, Braverman and ‘Spider-Woman’ visit an L.A. bank, where people stare at the sight of a woman wearing a Spider-Woman costume and a trench coat in public. Braverman doesn’t care, because he’s planning to take Spider-Woman with him to Mexico just as soon as he retrieves the stolen money – actually ten million dollars’ worth of diamonds – from a safe-deposit box.
Braverman’s supposed to be a criminal mastermind, but there’s no evidence of that on display as he blithely marches out of the bank and is immediately captured by a band of the Gamesman’s goons. Braverman and Spider-Woman are hustled into a waiting car and driven to the Situation Room. “Here’s the swag. Ten million balloons’ worth!” Braverman is nonplussed, as he’s confident that ‘Spider-Woman’ could take these guys. The Gamesman laughs as he pulls off ‘Spider-Woman’s’ cowl to reveal... Lindsey McCabe!
...who shoots him in the face with a venom blast? (“Zdak!” I love that sound effect.)
It turns out that Spider-Woman can indeed take these guys, and can do so even while reviewing, in internal monologue, how she got here. It seems that she pieced together the clues – Lindsey’s mysterious job, the similarity between Lindsey’s contact and one of the Gamesman’s goons, the sketches of Spider-Woman’s costume that the Gamesman had made – and resolved to follow Lindsey, who returned home to get into character. At this point, the real Spider-Woman swooped in and persuaded Lindsey not to go through with the plan. An unnerved Lindsey bowed out, and Jessica took her place, even going so far as to disguise her own features to resemble Lindsey’s before putting on the cowl!
By the time she finishes thinking through all of this exposition, Jessica has beaten down all of the thugs. At this point, Captain Walsh and the LAPD arrive to take everyone into custody, including Braverman. He’s nonplussed – again – but Walsh sets him straight: Spider-Woman had a tail on them all the time. So much for the diamonds, so much for the Gamesman, and so much for Tim Braverman’s abortive romance with the Spider-Woman, as he’s going back to jail.
“Don’t worry, Captain," Jessica says. "I’m fine – just more gullible than I’d care to admit.”
As she glides away in the final panel, the look on her face conveys subdued grief. It lends the end of this arc more weight than it deserves.
As of this issue, Steve Leialoha takes over the art duties, improving the quality of the pencils immeasurably. Whatever else goes on in this issue, this final part of the Gamesman arc is much more entertaining to read. The final panel is just the icing on the cake – throughout, the people we meet are drawn with careful, detailed strokes. Some panels are crowded and busy, but in this case it’s too much of a good thing. As far as the art goes, Leialoha’s work is as good as this title has ever been, especially when compared to Carmine Infantino’s phone-it-in efforts or the piecework of fill-in artists.
Sadly, the writing doesn’t rise to the level of the pencils. Fleisher devises an exciting escape from the Doomsday Room for our heroine, but never stops to explain why the escape is necessary at all. Why go to the trouble of putting Jessica in the Doomsday Room in the first place? Let’s let Dr. and Scott Evil explain:
Dr. Evil: "Scott! I want you to meet Daddy's nemesis, Austin Powers."
Scott: "What, are you feeding him? Why don't you just kill him?"
Dr. Evil:"No, Scott, I have an even better idea. I'm going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death."
Scott: "Why don't you just shoot 'em now? I mean, I'll go get a gun, we'll shoot them together, it'll be fun. Bang. Dead. Done.”
Dr. Evil:"One more peep out of you and you are grounded, Mister, and I am not joking...! All right, guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism... Close the tank!"
Scott: "Wait, aren't you even going to watch them? They could get away!"
Dr. Evil:"No, no, no, I'm going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I'm just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?"
Scott: "I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I'll get it, I'll come back down here, BOOM, I'll blow their brains out!"
Dr. Evil:"Scott, you just don't get it, do ya? You don't."
Scott: "It's no hassle - "
The fact that the Gamesman seems to teleport from the Doomsday Room to the Situation Room gives us part of the answer: Fleisher wanted a cliffhanger to end the second part of the arc, so he inserted one, without thinking it through at all. The fact that the new Gamesman’s plan depends on his flunky actress being able to pilot a helicopter is more of the same with plot taking a backseat to a striking scene, or even just a key visual, like removing Spider-Woman’s cowl to reveal Lindsey McCabe’s face (a plot twist that won’t survive even a few seconds’ contemplation).
There’s some good art, and the escape from the Doomsday Room is fun, but I still can’t in good conscience recommend this issue or call it ‘good’. One web.