After an interlude with far-out space aliens, Jessica has arrived in San Francisco and is setting up a new life for herself. If this comic was published today, it would be described as ‘a great jumping-on point for new readers!’, but it was published in 1981, so it’s free of that sort of hype.
|Inker:||Alan Weiss, Al Milgrom, Bob Wiacek, Frank Springer, Terry Austin|
We open with Nick Fury entering his private office aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier, where he is surprised by Spider-Woman, who is sitting cross-legged on the ceiling, the way you do. Interestingly, her hair is falling to the right, not straight down. I guess the extensions have a bad case of static electricity.
Nick isn’t pleased at how easily Spider-Woman penetrated the Helicarrier’s security, which I can understand. He blusters a bit about this before settling down with a nice cigar. Yes, kids, in the 1980s Marvel characters smoked tobacco. Having relaxed a bit, Nick settles in at his desk, the U.S. Capitol building appearing prominently in the picture window behind him. “Like my new toy?” he asks. The toy is a hologram field that, as per Nick, can display an image of “any locale on Earth”. This bit of monologue is clearly a late addition by editor Denny O’Neil, who noticed that in a few pages Spider-Woman will exit the Helicarrier in San Francisco, and thus the story needs to explain away why Nick’s office window looks out on Washington, D.C. Nice save, Mr. O’Neil.
Spider-Woman explains that a ‘friend of hers’ needs a reputable law-enforcement official’s recommendation to obtain a private investigator’s license, and she was hoping Nick would provide an endorsement.
“What’s your friend’s name?” asks Nick.
“I’d rather you didn’t ask.”
“I could find out.”
“I trust you not to try.”
Spider-Woman trusts Nick Fury, spy extraordinaire, not to look into this secret? Moments like this remind us readers just how naive Spider-Woman is, though I doubt that this reading is the one that writer Chris Claremont intended.
Staring at the blank area for the name that Nick has left on the form, Spider-Woman plunges into reminiscence regarding her origin and childhood: how she was raised by the High Evolutionary on Mount Wundagore from the age of 10, having been told by him that her parents were dead. Raised at Wundagore among the High Evolutionary’s New Men, she longed for human companionship and ran away to a nearby human village, where - thanks to a fluke accident - she killed her boyfriend with a venom blast. Hunted as a witch, she was rescued by Count Otto Vermis and initiated into HYDRA. Sent by HYDRA to assassinate Nick Fury, she had a change of heart, and became a free agent.
“You know what’s happened from then until now,” she says. “Everyone who’s told me my history had grade-A motives for lying. Nothing about my past is certain, least of all my memories.” This is a careful way of leaving the door open to retcon Spider-Woman’s origin, but for the moment, it isn’t necessary, because Claremont is sticking carefully to the narrative Archie Goodwin supplied when he created Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32. Perhaps he means to jettison the clunky Jonathan Drew subplot that Marv Wolfman used in the early days of the book and never resolved.
Reminiscence is interrupted by the arrival of Contessa Valentina Allegro de Fontaine, “Fury’s top agent - and the woman he loves”, as per the omniscient caption box. The Contessa is dressed less like a spy and more like a stripper role-playing a spy - male gaze, everybody! She sports a low-cut shirt that ends above her waist, thus showing off her cleavage and her hourglass figure, as well as spandex pants with a holster and pistol clipped to them. The weight of this rig is sufficient to slide her pants way down her right side, well below her hip; so much so that we can actually see a fringe of pubic hair! I’m sure this is just some unfortunate cross-hatching by one of the three credited inkers, but still. If anyone had looked more closely, this might not have gotten Comics Code approval.
The Contessa, being a stereotypical hot-blooded Latin, storms off in a huff upon discovering that her boyfriend is alone with another woman, even though both are clearly all business. While Nick is trying in vain to placate her, Jessica takes her own leave, gliding down from the Helicarrier deck to San Francisco below. She’s promptly caught up in a mysterious fogbank that shapes itself into the guise of Morgan le Fay! She hasn’t been seen in this title since Jessica melted her physical form back in Spider-Woman #6… or maybe that’s not true. Jessica remembers how an image of Morgan appeared as part of that hallucinations that Angar the Screamer induced in her two issues ago in Spider-Woman #35; Jessica is now of the opinion that was no hallucination, but another manifestation of Morgan’s spirit form, like the one in the fog bank now. Disoriented by the fog, Spider-Woman blunders into a dead air pocket, and begins to plummet to earth. At the last second, she finds an updraft and pulls up. This spares her a fatal collision with the ground, but earns her a painful impact with a tree. Bruised, she glides home, the apparition of Morgan apparently gone.
Elsewhere, three mutant thieves are casing the San Francisco Mint, which is temporarily home to the United States’ entire supply of vibranium. Nick Fury is supposed to pick it up tomorrow, which neatly explains what he’s doing in San Francisco, but the villainous trio plans to steal the vibranium that night. Who are the thieves? They’re Black Tom Cassidy, Cain ‘Juggernaut’ Marko, and, making her first appearance, Black Tom’s purported niece, Theresa ‘Siryn’ Cassidy.
Although Siryn’s conversation with Black Tom seems innocuous, it must be doing something to her physiology, because at that very moment Cerebro, the X-Men’s mutant-detecting computer, alerts Professor Charles ‘Professor X’ Xavier that a new, powerful mutant has emerged in San Francisco. Over a two-page spread, Professor X uses his mutant powers to summon the X-Men, who are sparring in the Danger Room, for what he calls a “‘contact’ mission”.
I’m frankly not sure if the X-Men’s appearance here is an attempt to leverage their popularity to attract attention to Spider-Woman, or is simply Chris Claremont, who was also writing Uncanny X-Men at this time, bringing the two together because he saw elements of the X-Men he wanted to bring into a Spider-Woman story. It could be either: this issue came out only a couple months after the original ‘Days of Future Past’ storyline which began in Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 1) #141, which was the arc that catapulted Claremont’s X-Men to the first rank of popularity among comics readers, a position they would retain for the rest of the 1980s, thanks to Claremont’s deft work on the title. But whether the X-Men were big enough yet to be a reliable sales draw, I can’t say. You’d have to ask Claremont, or O’Neil, or editor-in-chief Jim Shooter about that. If I ever meet one of them, I intend to.
While all of this is going on, Spider-Woman is alighting at her new digs, which Claremont describes, in his signature over-writing style, as “a classic 1878 Queen Anne tower house… a superb building in a nice neighborhood”, which Jessica and Lindsay McCabe were able to rent cheaply because it’s supposed to be haunted. Entering her portion of the apartment via skylight, Jessica changes out of costume - a scene that, for once, isn’t played for titillation - as she prepares for a bath. This plan is derailed when Lindsay suddenly arrives home with a retinue in tow; Jessica’s roommate has decided to throw an impromptu housewarming party. Oops!
The party is in full swing, with at least 16 guests all crowded into one room, when Lindsay introduces Jessica to David Ishima, their landlord. David is a good-looking Asian-American in a tight powder-blue T-shirt, who offers Jessica a housewarming present: a bonsai tree. Intrigued, Jessica accepts David’s invitation to see his garden, and the two head off to the rear of the building, where they can be alone. After some quick small talk, David and Jessica begin to make out.
We don’t know David very well yet, but he doesn’t appear to be a creepy stalker or abuser of women, which immediately puts him well ahead of Jessica’s previous boyfriends. Huzzah!
Unfortunately for Jessica - and David, too, for that matter - the mood is shattered when Jessica suddenly doubles over in pain from a sonic attack. David, concerned, wants to “call the paramedics”, but Jessica assures him that she’s fine, even as she thinks that “this sonic attack is sheer agony. I've never felt anything like it!” I would have thought Angar the Screamer’s attack would have felt something like this, but I guess Jessica is a better judge than I am.
After getting David out of the way with a request for a glass of water, Jessica wall-crawls up to her bedroom and changes into mufti, reasoning that her only defense against this sonic attack “is to find its source and eliminate it”. Using her spider-hearing, she triangulates that source to the San Francisco Mint. The scream is coming from inside, by way of a hole that’s been smashed into the wall of the Mint from inside a metro tunnel. Jessica arrives in time to find Black Tom Cassidy, in supervillain garb, monologuing to himself in the passageway. “Siryn’s doin’ a magnificent job. I couldn’t be prouder of her than if she were me own. ‘Tis a pity by righteous cousin Sean knows nothin’ of her. It’d probably break his heart.”
This dialogue is a clue to the readers that ‘Siryn’, i.e., the Theresa we met earlier, is connected to Sean ‘Banshee’ Cassidy of the X-Men family; that, combined with the ongoing sonic attack, serves to let readers know that Siryn has the same powers as Banshee, i.e., flight, focused sonic attacks, and so forth. Jessica doesn’t catch on to any of this, nor is she interested; she simply sneaks up behind Tom and incapacitates him with a nerve pinch, Mr.-Spock-style.
Where did she learn to do that, I wonder? Ah well, that’s comics for you. This being a Chris Claremont comic, there’s a reason provided as to why she doesn’t use her venom blast: she’s afraid the light and sound would give away her position.
Making her way past stunned Mint employees, knocked out by Siryn’s sonic power, Spider-Woman arrives in the vault, where she makes the connection that the readers already have: that Siryn’s powerset and costume resemble Banshee’s. Siryn hears someone approach, and says “Is that ye, Uncle?” I have no idea how she can do that while also screaming a hole in the vault. Idiotically, Spider-Woman doesn’t zap Siryn with a venom blast. Instead, she says that no, she isn’t Siryn’s uncle.
Dammit, Jessica. If you’re going to be stupid and give up the advantage of surprise like that, at least make an amusing quip when you do it, like Spider-Man would do.
Siryn immediately fires a ‘sonic lance’ at Spider-Woman, and the fight is on. Spider-Woman can dodge Siryn’s lances, but Siryn can create sonic shields that dissipate Spider-Woman’s venom blasts. Accordingly, Siryn changes tactics, and tries to crush Spider-Woman with the giant rolls of copper and silver that fill the vault antechamber. It’s a good tactic, and our heroine is very nearly crushed. She retaliates with spider-strength, hurling a roll back at Siryn, and when the teenage villain uses her sonic powers to block the attack, she’s unable to defend herself against a point-blank venom blast.
So much for Siryn. Enter the Juggernaut! He enters the vault to check on Siryn and finds Spider-Woman. SW fires a venom blast at him, but it bounces off of his body armour. Annoyed, he gives her an open-hand slap that bounces her across the room. She tries to retreat up the wall, but an irritated Marko simply rips the wall into pieces, knocking Jessica to the floor. Grabbing her by the skull, he grinds it into the concrete, and Jessica is taken out of the fight.
The three villains - Black Tom seems to have recovered - confer briefly on whether to kill Spider-Woman, but decide against it, as she’s no longer a threat to them, and besides, “a federal larceny rap is one thing, murder’s another”. I’m not sure that’s sound reasoning - a theft of this magnitude accompanied by this much destruction and assault to Mint personnel would put any regular criminal away for life, I think - but what am I, a specialist in 1980s American jurisprudence? Having got what they came for, the trio departs. “I wonder who she was?” Siryn muses. “Who knows, who cares”, says Tom.
Spider-Woman, meanwhile, is out cold. And naturally, when she rouses herself, it’s to find herself surrounded by armed guards, all of whom have guns drawn and pointed at her.
“Spider-Woman,” one bellows, “you’re under arrest!”
Chris Claremont continues to deliver issues of Spider-Woman that are absolutely stuffed. This one has a recap of Spider-Woman’s origin; teasers of Morgan le Fay’s return; a new status quo for the character, including the beginnings of a new supporting cast; cameos by Nick Fury, Allegra Fontaine, and a bunch of X-Men; the introduction of a wholly-new villain in Siryn; and a brief battle between Spider-Woman and the Juggernaut! The story flows well, and the art is decent. Kudos all around.
There aren't fireworks here, but readers deserve a Spider-Woman title that consistently delivers issues like this. A solid three webs.