Spider-Woman #27

Background

It’s 1980, and Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew and her computer-whiz sidekick Scotty McDowell run a bounty-hunting concern in Los Angeles. This concern is in trouble, because Rupert M. Dockery (get it?), publisher of the Los Angeles Courier, has decided that Spider-Woman is newsworthy. It’s bad enough that his incessant press coverage has raised Spider-Woman’s profile, making her job more difficult. What’s worse is that, unbeknownst to Jessica or Scotty, Dockery’s begun to sponsor supervillain attacks, so that he can get rich by covering Spider-Woman’s battles.

Story 'Blacked Out.. By the Enforcer!'

We open with a bang: a splash page of some leering hoods tossing Spider-Woman off a skyscraper. She’s tied up, which apparently keeps her from gliding to safety. We see her falling, with the street sub-imposed behind her, far, far below. Is this the end for our heroine?

Nope. This isn’t even our heroine! As the bound woman falls, the real Spider-Woman floats in from the left. “Good grief!” she thinks. No time for stronger language: Spider-Woman has to act fast. She can’t catch this girl and fly her to safety, because she needs her arms free to glide. So she does the next best thing, which is to “glide under her - cushion the impact of her fall as best I can - and hope I can somehow manage to maintain sufficient altitude despite the added weight - to guide us both to something remotely resembling a safe landing!”

Said “safe landing” involves smashing head first through a plate-glass window into a pile of rolled-up carpets. Kids, don’t try this at home!

(Seriously, don’t. As I’ve observed in previous reviews, it’s a pernicious myth spread by movies, TV, and comic books that breaking plate glass is no big deal. In reality, shards of plate glass function much as guillotine blades do. Unless you want to lose an extremity, never try to smash plate glass, much less dive through it.)

Because this is pulp adventure, Jessica and the bound woman aren’t scratched or bruised. They don’t break any bones or go into shock. Instead, they have a little Q&A on who this girl is and why she’s dressed as Spider-Woman. Turns out that she’s “the president of the new Spider-Woman sorority over at U.C.L.A.! My girl friends [sic] and I formed it after reading all those exciting stories about you in the Los Angeles Courier!” Accordingly, when she saw a burglary in progress, she had to dress up in costume and intervene, with disastrous results.

Spider-Woman makes the girl promise never to behave so foolishly again, although the scene doesn’t work because she interrupts her admonishment with the obviously-added-after-the-fact declaration that “I’ll nail the cruds who pushed you!” [Emphasis in original.] It takes only four panels to do so, and Spider-Woman doesn’t even have to think about it. Instead, she’s thinking about her recent difficulties thanks to Dockery and the Courier, providing all the exposition a new reader would need.

Let me interrupt the synopsis here to point out that this approach to exposition is what comic books took before writing for the trades became the comics-industry standard. These days, to avoid cluttering up the narrative flow with these info-bombs, editors tuck them away into a recap page at the beginning of the issue. Much as I dislike what writing for the trades has done to the industry as a whole, I have to say that the recap page is far preferable to the approach displayed here. Spider-Woman’s internal monologue is necessary to bring new readers up to speed, but it is awkwardly shoe-horned into the story, and regular readers like me find it tedious to plow through. A recap page can be freely ignored if you don’t want to read it; not so the exposition here.

The next morning finds Dockery visiting “California State Prison”, where he will have a private visit with Carson “the Enforcer” Collier, whom Spider-Woman busted back in Spider-Woman #19. Collier certainly nurses a grudge against Spider-Woman, but he’s got no love for the press either, and snarls at Dockery to “get outta here”. Dockery, seemingly cowed, leaves the room, in such haste that he forgets his walking stick. Collier has a moment before the guard arrives, so he shoves it down his pant leg. Does he want a weapon? No, he just admires it. “I like classy stuff like this!” he thinks.

Next we see him in his cell. Too bad - I would have liked to have seen him try to walk while keeping one leg perfectly straight. What would he tell the guard escorting him? Sciatica? Broken ankle? Constipation? Not having much else to do in prison, Collier naturally begins to stroke the shaft of his stick, until he hits just the right spot, and from the tip explodes... a knife-blade. Yes, as we saw last issue, Dockery’s cane is better described as a sword-stick, an affectation of the nineteenth-century English upper crust. Now armed with a real weapon, Collier’s next move is clear.

Cut to Dockery’s office, later that day, where he’s just received word of Collier’s escape. Man, Collier works fast! Dockery is pleased, because he knows that Spider-Woman, as a bounty hunter and established rival of the Enforcer, will try to apprehend the criminal. He orders that the story of Collier’s escape be put on the Courier’s front page, and even offers a $10,000 reward for his capture.

Dockery’s plan is unfolding nicely. Of course Dockery left the stick behind deliberately, to facilitate Collier’s escape. He even hid a radio transmitter in it, so that he could not only track Collier’s movements, but eavesdrop on him! Pleased with himself, Dockery settles back to listen to Collier lay down the law to his gang of hoods.

We readers get to see it, too. Collier is leading a meeting with all his criminal buddies in an undisclosed location. He’s had time to change into his action uniform, as well as find a gun. “...From here on out,” Collier snarls, “you all take orders from me. You understand that?” His hoods, unimpressed with his lame navy-and-white jumpsuit, push back. “Not so fast, Enforcer!... So who elected--” This is the Enforcer’s chance to establish his villainous bona fides for the reader. Just how evil is the Enforcer? Evil enough to shoot his own man! Not fatally, though. “That was one’a my blackout darts-- one’a the new clips I got for my heater before I got sent up! But hey, man! Don’t sweat it! The effect’ll wear off in a coupla [sic] hours!” His gang, intimidated, falls into line. “Good! Then listen up, an’ I’ll tell you dopes how we can even up my score-card with the Spider-Woman and also pick up a few shekels on the side!”

First the Grinder, now the Enforcer. Michael Fleisher sure does love these stupid-looking, stupid-talking thugs. I wonder why?

News of Collier’s escape reaches Jessica Drew. For once, she isn’t stepping out of the shower or lounging in lingerie. Instead, she’s - sigh - clinging to the ceiling of her own apartment, painting the ceiling with a roller. No sign of a paint can, though; working out why is left as an exercise for the student. Determined to stop the Enforcer, she swings into action!

Or so we’re told. We readers cut to a day later at the “Los Angeles Museum of Anthropology and Folk Art”, where a valuable statue of Anansi the Spider has just been put on display. (Sigh again; I guess Fleisher is plagiarizing his plots from 1950s-era Batman comics.) Of course the Enforcer’s gang, Spider-Woman, and a Courier reporter are all on hand for the inevitable theft attempt. Spider-Woman plays it too cocky, on the assumption that - just as in Spider-Woman #19 - her spider-metabolism protects her from the Enforcer’s knock-out poison. What she doesn’t know about the blackout darts can, in fact, hurt her, as can the blow to the back of the head she receives while stumbling around blind.

Scotty, hearing the news, is determined to rescue his friend, and pulls on the only string he’s got. He’s suspicious of Dockery and the Courier’s role in the Spider-Woman-related crime spree, and he barges into Dockery’s office, demanding to know where the Enforcer is hiding out. Dockery orders “this crippled Neanderthal” be ejected from his office, little suspecting that Scotty has simply played the same trick on him that Dockery played on Collier: there is now an audio bug on Dockery’s desk. Back at his car, Scotty listens in as Dockery burbles to his subordinate that “If the Spider-Woman manages to escape from the Enforcer’s hideout on Mullin Street...”

Insert sound of readers everywhere slapping their foreheads in disgust. Really, Fleisher? Dockery just happens to let that information slip? Even though it’s not germane to anything? Even though it incriminates him to his subordinate? And does so just as Scotty tunes in? This is felony misuse of coincidence right here.

Back to Spider-Woman, who’s recovered her sight, to find herself imprisoned in a giant birdcage suspended over the floor of an abandoned meat-packing plant. Below her, the Enforcer and his gang sit at a table, discussing the Enforcer’s “fiendish new gun clips.” That topic is so fascinating, they don’t notice Spider-Woman bursting her chains or bending the bars of her cage. “Ever since my meeting with Spider-Man” (i.e., in Spider-Woman #20), “my strength and powers have been fluctuating for some odd reason. I seem to be at peak strength now!” Lampshades successfully hung, Jessica leaps down to the floor, just as Scotty bursts in to save her! Too bad he didn’t think this through, as the Enforcer simply picks up his sidearm and shoots him. “Gimps always did make the easiest targets!” he chortles.

Yes, the Enforcer is so evil, he shoots the handicapped and laughs about it. I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it when Spider-Woman beats him senseless next issue.

General Comments

With this issue, Michael Fleisher’s run on Spider-Woman continues its descent into triviality. Sure, in the past, Fleisher has written up scenes he thought were exciting or interesting, and paid little attention to the story linking the scenes together. But at least those other issues featured interesting scenes: battles! break-ins! deathtraps! This issue chooses for the most part to forego interesting scenes in favour of scenes where people shout stupid dialogue at each other. But the linking elements are still clumsy and irritating!

Worse, the few interesting elements are unoriginal. Sure, Spider-Woman survives a fall from a great height at the beginning of this issue... but she just did exactly that at the end of last issue. And Dockery using a listening device to bug Collier is mildly interesting; but then Scotty uses the same trick on Dockery seven pages later. No, that’s not poetic justice, it’s just authorial laziness.

Staple all this to Fleisher’s lack of interest in Jessica’s personal life. Seriously, what does Jessica do when not in costume, other than find excuses to hang out on the ceiling, or lounge in her apartment in skimpy outfits? Lindsey McCabe has only turned up once, back in Spider-Woman #22, and that was only to be the damsel-in-distress of the month. The answer is, Fleisher and the editorial team don’t know or care. All the depth of character that Mark Gruenwald cultivated in Jessica during his run are long gone.

And so is my interest. Unfortunately, readers will have to put up with Fleisher’s tedium for five more issues.

Overall Rating

The issue features a plot that insults our intelligence, and scenes that are dull. But the action sequences are okay, and Jessica doesn’t embarrass herself by doing or saying anything stupid or out of character, so it could be worse. Two webs.

Footnote

So you bought the issue because you wanted to know how Spider-Woman responded to the Enforcer’s grim demand, as depicted on the cover? And then you found that that scene doesn’t actually appear in the comic? I guess the thinking was, the issue will be so great on other fronts, casual readers will be sufficiently hooked to overlook this blatant deceit.

I guess 1980 Marvel is capable of deceiving itself, as well as its readers.