Spider-Woman (Vol. 5) #1

Background

The Inheritors, a multiverse-hopping family of super-strong, super-tough people, is killing and eating spider-folk. They have a particular fascination with Silk, from recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man. See Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 3) #4 for her first appearance. To keep the Inheritors from attacking other spiders, Silk is drawing them out by fleeing across the multiverse. At the 616 Spider-Man’s request, Jessica ‘Spider-Woman’ Drew is travelling with her as a bodyguard.

Story Details

  Spider-Woman (Vol. 5) #1
Summary: Spider-Woman, Silk, Spider-Man Noir
Arc: Part 1 of 'Spider-Woman Spider-Verse' (1-2-3-4)
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Pencils: Greg Land
Inker: Jay Leisten
Lettering: Travis Lanham
Colorist: Frank D'Armata

In our opening panel, Silk chortles that “We’re riding giant lizard donkeys through purple sand, heading for a Manhattan carved out of gold”, which is indeed what they’re doing. Spider-Woman sourly reflects that her experience “hunting super-Skrulls and fighting space wars” has taught her that situations like this aren’t cool, they’re dangerous, and she verbally slaps down Silk for suggesting otherwise.

The trio - yes, Silk and Spider-Woman are accompanied by Spider-Man Noir - know that they’re being chased by a pair of Inheritor twins. Reasoning that they’ll need to leave this dimension quickly when the twins arrive, they make a plan. Jessica says that she’ll go find some “blending-in clothes”, while Silk and Noir stay put and keep a low profile.

Huh? If they’re not going to be staying long, why bother blending in? And why split up? Doesn’t that increase their danger?

Never mind that, because as soon as Spider-Woman departs, some local toughs begin bullying some other locals. Noir and Silk won’t stand for that, and being punch-first-ask-questions-later people, they start a brawl. Jessica, who seems to have abandoned her plan of buying clothes in favour of getting a snack, carjacks a local’s speeder-bike and zips back. She arrives to late to smack down the local bully-boys, but that’s just as well, because the Inheritor Twins have arrived!

Noir shoots the boy in the forehead, but the slug just bounces off. Meanwhile, the girl sneaks behind Noir and drop-kicks him in the spine with a mighty KRAK. Silk webs Noir out of her clutches, but is paralyzed with indecision. In the nick of time, Jessica arrives and kamikazes her speeder-bike into the Inheritor Twins, diving off at the last second. Before the Inheritor Twins can recover their presence of mind - no, they weren’t hurt; even their clothes are unmussed - Jessica uses her multiversal portal device to warp the Spider trio to a different world.

That world happens to be Earth 90214, i.e., Spider-Man Noir’s homeworld. The three hide out in a back room of Felicia Hardy’s speakeasy, where Spider-Woman berates herself in internal monologue. “What did you think was going to happen, Jess? Leaving her alone with Greatest Generation Spider-Man. Those two would try to root out evil on puppy day at the dog park.” I’m not sure what that metaphor is supposed to mean, but yes, Jess, you’re right. Splitting up was a dumb idea. Speaking of dumb ideas, why did they come to this world, of all the worlds they could have visited? “Why did we bring him here,” Silk asks, “where it’s like nineteen-thirty-whatever and there aren’t any super science doctors to fix him…? This seems dumb.”

“Agreed,” says Spider-Woman.

Argh. Bad enough Jessica is carrying the idiot ball (look it up on TV Tropes!), but having Jessica and Silk agree that they’re carrying it is worse.

Yes, rather than zip back to Spiderverse HQ where Captain Universe Spidey could fix Noir’s back with a glance, Jess and Silk intend to ditch him here in his homeworld, where antibiotics have just been discovered, anesthesia consists of chloroform or booze, and Noir can expect a quick death from internal injuries or a slow, excruciating recovery. Ah, but there’s a reason for their heartlessness: “He has friends here,” says Spider-Woman. “They’ll take care of him… as far as our mission’s concerned, the man’s beyond fixing. We have to keep moving… I’m supposed to keep you [Silk] alive at all cost. Today, he’s the cost.”

So this plot stupidity is in service of a character moment: Jessica is the ruthless one, who ditches liabilities if they imperil the mission. Seems to me they’ve confused Spider-Woman with Black Widow, but wait! The story is already going to go back on that characterization. Noise out front heralds the arrival of the Inheritor Twins, and rather than flee with Silk to another world, Jessica storms out front to fight the baddies, to draw them away from the incapacitated Noir.

Except it’s not the Twins, it’s 616 Spider-Man, 616 Anya ‘Spider-Girl’ Corazon, and Spider-Gwen, who broke the chandelier when they teleported in. Spidey is here to pull Jess out, as he’s got a higher-priority assignment for her. Anya and Gwen are here to tag in as Silk’s bodyguards.

Jess is displeased, but gives the girls their briefing. “Never stop moving and don’t let Silk out of your sight for five seconds. If you do, we’re all screwed. That girl in there is sweet and enthusiastic and her heart is in the best place. On any other day we’d all love her to pieces. But make no mistake. Silk will absolutely get you both killed if you let her.”

Silk, who’s listening to this surreptitiously, is angry and hurt, and zips off alone to Earth-981. (Wait, since when does she have a universal teleporter of her own? Why didn’t she use it before when the Inheritor Twins had her and Noir cornered?) Her self-pitying soliloquy is interrupted by the arrival of some crazy monster indigenous to this world, and as Silk zips away from it, the Inheritor Twins watch and gloat from a nearby rooftop.

General Comments

This is the third time I’ve reviewed a Spider-Woman #1 for SpiderFan.org. This one isn't nearly as good as its predecessors.

Why not? Because this issue clearly doesn't see itself as the first issue of a new ongoing title, but rather as a chapter of ‘Spider-Verse’. Anyone coming to the story outside of that context would be baffled by this issue. We don’t learn who Spider-Woman is; what her skills and background are; we don’t even see her use her powers! There’s no wall-crawling, spider-strength, pheromone manipulation, or venom blasts on display in this issue. The closest we get is Jessica’s hands glowing (yellow, not green) for one panel. The only thing mysterious or unearthly about her is her costume. Clearly readers are expected to already be familiar with this character.

I see Marvel’s strategy here: get Spider-Verse readers in the habit of reading this title, and hope they stick around when the event is over. I gather issue #5 will introduce a new costume and new status quo for Jessica, and will function like a proper #1 issue should. I hope new readers choose to jump on at that point, but I have my doubts. Why not do a four-issue ‘Spider-Verse: Spider-Woman’ book, and segue into a new series? That seems like a better approach to me, but I’ll bow to Marvel Publishing’s superior wisdom on this subject.

I’ve already complained about the idiot-ball plotting above, so I won’t flog that dead horse, except to say I’m going to give writer Dennis Hopeless, who was so good on Avengers Arena, the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an editorial mandate that Noir was to be returned to his own world, and that the issue was supposed to end with Silk in peril, rather than on Jessica’s important new mission. Really, one gets the impression this is the first issue of a Silk ongoing: she gets the big character moments in this one, it’s her action that drives the story forward, and it’s her peril that features in the cliffhanger. Not a good sign for poor Jessica; she’s spent her career in Spider-Man’s shadow, and she spends the first issue of this new title in Silk’s.

I want to believe this title will have some longevity, but the signs aren't good.

Overall Rating

Greg Land’s pencils aren't my thing, but they’re fine here. Dennis Hopeless’ story is constrained by editorial mandate, which isn't his fault, but the annoyingly stupid decisions that Jessica makes are, which merits a half-web knock-off. As an episode of ‘Spider-Verse’, this merits 2.5 webs. If I took this issue seriously as the first issue of a new ongoing, though, it would be half a web for the terrible job it does introducing the title character as a protagonist.

Footnote

I should add, for posterity's sake, some historical data about the variant cover to this issue. No, you won't find a capture of that image here; capturing variant covers is a lot of work, and we only do that at SpiderFan.org for the core Spider-Man titles. We wouldn't want to capture this particular variant for the ages in any case, for reasons that will become clear. Google 'spider-woman #1 variant manara' if you really want to.

So what happened was that Marvel commissioned Milo Manara, an Italian artist known for his sexually-charged comic art, to do the variant cover for this issue. He turned in a cover of Spider-Woman perched on the edge of a building, her butt arched up and on display to the world. So far, so predictable: the industry has a history of sexually commodifying its superheroines, especially on covers, which aim to entice male hetero readers.

What happened next was surprising, but gratifying: the feminist comics blogosphere united its loud derision of this sexist trash. Lots of digital ink was spilled on how the cover constituted pandering; some bloggers pointed out similarities in the linework to Manara's explicitly pornographic sketches, while others enlisted gymnasts to illustrate that the pose was physically impossible.

And Marvel responded. They mildly censored the explicit part of the image with careful placement of the title logo, and they cancelled two already-planned variant covers they'd commissioned from Manara.

As my ongoing series of Spider-Woman (Vol. 1) reviews has demonstrated, the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman character has had to put up with a long history of sexist objectification by Marvel. This episode gives a little hope that there will be less of it in the future.