Jessica and Magnus have left London for Los Angeles, where Magnus has promised Jessica will be able to find her father. Jessica is about to learn what she should have already tumbled to, that Magnus isn't the most reliable guide a girl could have...
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Woman #1|
The story opens, as in our previous numbers, with Spider-Woman striking a sexy pose, but for once she's not hanging off of the ceiling. Instead she's vamping off-panel, so that even though she doesn't appear in the story until page 7, we readers won't forget whose book this is.
The star of Act One isn't Spider-Woman, but a mysterious skull-faced figure in black-and-red tights. The omniscient narrator intones that "Nobody asked how he got inside. Nobody dared ask. But silently he made his way to the high catwalk and waited for the play to begin." No one asked how he got inside, when he was dressed like that? 1970s L.A. had a high tolerance for the avant-garde, I guess. From his perch, he watches the stage below, where a performance of Hansel and Gretel is being given.
Just before the scene where the witch attempts to toss the children into her oven, the masked man interrupts the show with a blast of discordant music, which he follows up with an explosion of amber smoke, which hides his leap to the stage. To show he means business, he throws a gas bomb at the actors. The hapless actors fall down dead, their faces hideously withered. (Carmine Infantino's pencils in this issue aren't nearly as strong as in the first two issues, but he does a good job here: the close-up on the desiccated faces of the dead people is grotesque.) "Tra-la!" exclaims the masked figure. "Served to perfection by-- BROTHER GRIMM!" These last two words are in giant red block letters, since there's no soundtrack to swell ominously.
In one of those totally redundant captions that 1960s and '70s Marvel was famous for, the narrator sets up what happens next with "But then..." But then, you see, a policeman runs on stage, gun drawn. Like all of writer Marv Wolfman's cops, he's pretty chatty: "You there, don't move-not even an inch! If you've killed those actors, I'll--" Grimm replies "Tsk, tsk-- a gendarme-- a mountie-- someone of the coppish persuasion!" After a little more ludicrous banter, he kills the policeman with another gas bomb, or maybe it's a laser blast from his finger; the artwork isn't clear on this point.
The audience, of course, is horrified. One woman exclaims "Oh, my God!" To which Grimm replies "Oh, shush, butterball! Your god is probably Porky Pig!" It's a funny line, the only one he's delivered so far, but he manages to step all over it with his follow-up: "Now then, my God is money-- you know, shekels, cash-- the big green cheese!"
Said green cheese arrives quickly. The theatre manager approaches, bearing the cash requested, or the next best thing: a huge pile of jewelry and gems. Readers may be forgiven for thinking they'd picked up a copy of The Arabian Nights rather than Spider-Woman. Why the jewels? Apparently this play is part of what Brother Grimm describes as a "charity charade." I suppose in the Marvel Universe rich Californians always carry huge piles of bling with them wherever they go.
But with the loot he sought for literally within his reach, Brother Grimm has second thoughts. "Keep your paltry loot, mister manager-- Brother Grimm suddenly has a better, more profitable idea! Ah do, ah do, pardnuh-- so take back yer baubles, and I'll be off! Toodle-oo, toots-- I'll be seein' yoots!" And with that he vanishes in a puff of smoke, leaving the actors dead, the almost-robbed audience members puzzled, and the reader, if my reaction is typical, irritated by the awful dialogue.
Smash cut to the "bedroom of Congressman James T. Wyatt," where said congressman is disturbed by the sudden entry of Brother Grimm, who smashes his way in through the window. Wyatt pulls a gun concealed beneath his pillow, but Grimm casually kicks it out of his hand. "Wh-who are you? Why are you--?" manages Wyatt. (So Wyatt has no idea who Brother Grimm is. Remember that, it'll be important later.) "I'll do the talking, Congressman," interrupts Grimm. Grimm isn't just a murderer and a thief, it seems, he's also a blackmailer, because he produces a photo of Wyatt with two beautiful women in evening dress. It seems Wyatt's been abusing not only his marriage, but also his expense account, charging taxpayers for his adulterous junkets, and Grimm has proof. Wyatt, all business, doesn't protest or argue the point, but instead asks Grimm what he wants. "A businessman-- good. It makes this dirty game easier. I demand $50, 000 in cash-- now!" (Grimm seems to have dropped his asinine manner of speaking. That'll be important later also.)
Wyatt, of course, doesn't have fifty thousand in cash lying around his home, but he does have it at the bank. "Then I suggest we make a withdrawal right now, congressman," says Grimm, and in the very next panel the two of them are standing in a bank vault. How did they get to the bank? How did they get in? Why didn't Wyatt change out of his pajamas before leaving his house? No time to go into that, it seems, except for Grimm's inter alia observation that "Brother Grimm has his ways... now-- the money!"
Grimm opens the door to the safety deposit chamber and pushes Wyatt inside. Wyatt quickly finds his own safety deposit box (good trick, that-- most of us, never seeing the inside of such chambers, have to rely on bank staff to find them for us) and, opening it, gives Grimm his money. Grimm takes it and promptly seals Wyatt in, leaving him pounding the vault door in impotent fury.
So. Brother Grimm is a mysterious figure, with mysterious powers. Sometimes he's wacky, and sometimes he's cold, but he's always dangerous. That's enough about Grimm for now, though. Let's check in with the star of this book!
She's sitting on a park bench, Magnus at her side, bemoaning the high cost of living in Los Angeles: "Two bedrooms, living and dining room. Only $340 a month. Magnus, I don't think we'll find an apartment we can afford." Man, times have changed. I'd hate to tell Jessica what the rent was on the last place where I lived. Magnus is unfazed, though. He already has a place in mind, despite the fact that, as Jessica tartly observes, he claims never to have been to L.A. before, and hasn't once picked up a newspaper. "Jessica, my dear, you still don't know me very well," Magnus tells her, his face grave. As befits a powerful wizard, Magnus can, it seems, cast 'Find Reasonably-Priced Rental Apartment.' In the space of one panel the pair travel to a nice two-story house.
Jessica isn't sure that the owner is renting rooms, but Magnus tut-tuts her objections. "My dear, sweet innocent-- yours is to look lovely in the face of danger-- mine is to perform minor miracles, if you will." That Magnus, what a class act. Having admired himself, and patronized his companion, Magnus proceeds to flatter his landlady. Entering the house alone, Magnus explains he needs two rooms. One for himself, and one for "my niece-- Jessica. A lovely girl, though not nearly as sophisticated as yourself." Landlady Mrs. Dolly, unlike the readers, finds this line charming, and takes Magnus in. Once he's safely ensconced in his new chambers, Jessica climbs in through the window. That's not a difficult feat for someone with her powers, but it is a demeaning one. Jessica (and maybe Marv Wolfman) isn't conscious of what a jerk Magnus is, as the pressing issue at hand is not why Jessica has to sneak into her own quarters, but rather why she's not allowed to share Magnus' own room. Magnus explains that the world is suspicious of old men who live with young, attractive girls. It seems there's a social stigma attached to such relationships. Frankly, if I wanted evidence that that stigma was irrational, the Magnus-Jessica relationship wouldn't be my Exhibit A.
As if we didn't have enough proof, Magnus demonstrates again what a creep he is. Jessica is anxious to begin the search for her father, but Magnus breezily dismisses her concerns: he can take her to her father right away. Cut to... a graveyard, where Jessica kneels and weeps before her father's tombstone. "Oh, Magnus-- Magnus! You knew he was dead all along. Why didn't you tell me in London? Why did you have to bring me here? Why?" Magnus' defense? "You would not have believed me, Jessica-I am sorry if I deceived you, but I thought it was for the best."
Tallying up the scorecard, we see that Jessica has saved Magnus from injury and death at the hands of Excaliber and Morgan le Fey, and in return he's lied to her, patronized her, degraded her, and manipulated her into traveling halfway around the world in his company. Any self-respecting woman would turn her heel and abandon this jerk immediately. But Magnus has another card up his sleeve: "I would never play games with you. I simply thought you would want to learn who killed your father, that is all." That's a good trick, claiming that you're not playing games in the very same breath as you begin playing a whole new mind game. I've got to remember that one. As the story cuts away to Jessica, now in her Spider-Woman garb, beginning her search for her father's murderer, the matter of Magnus' shabby behaviour is left to drop. It's baffling, but Marv Wolfman seems unaware of just how poorly Magnus has acted toward Jessica. Wolfman is firmly on Magnus' side-- because the wizard is so colourful, I guess-- and thus Wolfman sees his creation as mysterious and otherworldly rather than simply sleazy.
So far we've had an irritating villain and an irritating supporting character. Now that the main character is the focus of the story again, let's hope things will improve.
Just like last issue, Jessica prefers to search for information covertly rather than overtly. So rather than going to the police and asking them about her father's murder, she decides to break into police HQ and steal the file. With her powers, getting in is a cinch: with a little gliding and ceiling-crawling, she easily penetrates to the records room. "Here it is, 'Jonathan Drew, murder unsolved...' Let's just see what the report shows, then I just may speak with" the lead detective. Whatever you say, Jess. We'll pretend this is a rational move on your part, rather than a clumsy excuse by the writer to
a) get you in costume, and
b) allow you to eavesdrop on Congressman Wyatt's interview with the police next door, getting you up to speed on the events of Act One.
Back at home, Jessica and Magnus go over the police files together, which reveal that Jonathan Drew had a 'run-in' with Wyatt shortly before he was killed. "Something tells me," says Jessica, "this should be looked into!" But not just yet: Jessica's resolve is interrupted by the sounds of a quarrel from downstairs, where Mrs. Dolly's two children-- or, as Jessica puts it, "offspring"-- are having a set-to. Hmm. There are two Dolly 'offspring', both adult men. I guess that would make them... brothers? Yet they aren't described as brothers in this scene. What unusual choice of language. Could any of this be significant? No time to worry about that now. Before the scene's really underway, before we readers can even figure out what the fight's about, the scene shifts to Congressman Wyatt's office at "the capitol building."
Huh. I thought the capital of California was Sacramento, about 350 miles or more distant from Los Angeles. Shows what I know, because it seems that Spider-Woman can just glide across town and pop in to the capitol building through an open window.
Wyatt is understandably skittish around costumed characters who enter his rooms uninvited, and pulls a gun to defend himself. Jessica venom-blasts it from his hand ("zzdaak") and picks him up by his lapels. "Jonathan Drew! What happened to him?"
In yet another example of script and art direction not meshing, the next three panels show Spider-Woman beating the tar out of Wyatt, while the dialogue has him calmly and helpfully answering Spider-Woman's question. It seems Jonathan Drew came to Wyatt two months previously to tell him about a discovery he, Jonathan, had made. Jessica's understandably curious as to why Wyatt would be her father's go-to guy on a scientific discovery, but before she can get answers on that score, she's interrupted. This time it's Brother Grimm who invades the office through the window, though he smashes his way in, through an open window, no less.
Man, security at the California capitol building really sucks.
Grimm isn't pleased: in a stunning bit of self-plagiarism, Wolfman has it that the money Wyatt paid Grimm off with was counterfeit. Nothing wrong with recycling plot twists, but it would be nice to wait more than two issues. Grimm wants real money this time, and at least a hundred grand, but Spider-Woman isn't having it. She smacks him in the jaw with the admonition "Wait your turn, man-- I was here to see Wyatt first!" Breaking and entering and extortion, that's one thing, but budding in line, that's quite another. Grimm responds by pulling a battle-axe off the wall (Wyatt keeps a battle-axe in his constituency office?) and tries to cut Spider-Woman to pieces with it. Spider-Woman is too quick and too strong for Grimm, though.
Grimm isn't about to admit defeat. "Strength alone is not Brother Grimm's way, woman-- I possess the uncanny ability to think and act simultaneously!" And we're all very impressed, Brother Grimm. Really. But wait, he's not done: "Witness how a common table lamp can become an instrument of death!" It can become an instrument of death if you pick it up and throw it at someone. He can think and act simultaneously, he can throw office supplies at people: he's a criminal mastermind! I can't believe he hasn't been given a solo book yet.
Maybe he hasn't got one because he's a schlub. Spider-Woman, bored of all this, takes him out with a single venom-blast to the head. Unfortunately, the security guards have finally arrived, depriving Spider-Woman of the chance to continue her interrogation of Wyatt. Diving out the window, she promises Wyatt that she'll be back. Wyatt is left with an unconscious Brother Grimm, whom he's delighted to turn over to the authorities. Wyatt's confident that any allegations that Grimm makes about counterfeit money will amount to nothing, as it'll be the word of a respected congressman versus that of a "costumed clown." But what about the word of "that strange woman"? Wyatt inexplicably thinks her allegations would carry more weight. But all will be well: "I've got the full power of the government backing me up-and that's enough to find the little tramp-and to silence her... before she can ruin me!"
But not yet. The next night, Spider-Woman finds she can't make good on her threat to brace Wyatt again, because he's got too many guards surrounding him. Unable to pursue that lead, she decides to investigate her father's last employer, a firm called "Pyro-technics, Inc." Her modus operandi hasn't changed: she intends to break in after hours and see what she can find. Thus resolved, she begins to glide to their offices, but her transit is interrupted. A cloud of poisonous gas wafts up and into her lungs; disoriented, she falls to earth. Rising groggily, she sees her attacker is none other than-- Brother Grimm! "I thought the police carted you away? How?" We'll forgive her sentence fragments, as she's just been drugged. Grimm's not offering any explanations, just a warning. "Get lost! Buzz off. In udder words, kiddo-- scrammayvoo!" And he proceeds to float away on a little black cloud.
So, Grimm's speech is no longer set on 'cold', but rather back on 'obnoxious.' He's also back to using gimmicky props rather than conveniently-placed battleaxes. Spider-Woman, baffled, tries to give chase, but a well-aimed gas grenade knocks her back to earth and allows him to escape.
Back at home, Spider-Woman recounts what happened to Magnus. "No clues, and he delayed me until Pyro-technics closed for the day." Wait, weren't she and Grimm fighting in the dead of night? And wasn't the whole point of her expedition to break in after hours? But there's no time for such questions, because here comes a breaking bulletin over the conveniently-turned-on hi-fi system! Brother Grimm, it seems, has escaped from his prison cell... after the six-thirty cell check. "What?" asks Jessica. "He escaped after six? But-- I fought him at five o'clock!"
A nice strong ending, but Jessica, just like Brother Grimm, has the uncanny ability to step all over good dialogue. "Magnus-- tell me what is going on? Tell me!" Like all feminist superheroes, Jessica needs her mentor-cum-father-figures to give her all of the answers. Ugh.
A superhero is measured against his or her foes. Captain America has his Red Skull, Thor has his Loki, and, most pertinently, Spider-Man has (or had, when this issue was written) his Green Goblin. The Green Goblin seems to have been a particular inspiration for the man initially intended to be Spider-Woman's arch-nemesis, Brother Grimm.
Grimm, like the Goblin, is greedy and utterly contemptuous of human life. Like the Goblin, he has both a playful side and a coldly implacable side. And like the Goblin, the matter of his true identity is played up as a mystery for the readers to solve. In a brief interlude before the final battle of the issue, the police try to unmask Brother Grimm, but find his mask is impossible to remove, underscoring the fact that Grimm's real identity is a matter of concern.
But unlike the Goblin, Grimm is incompetent as a villain: he pulls a successful heist at the theatre but leaves even as the money is about to enter his hand, to go execute an overly-complicated blackmail scheme that ends up netting him nothing but counterfeit cash. The first time he battles Spider-Woman, she takes him out with one casual venom-blast. Excaliber gave her more trouble. Hell, so did Jerry Hunt. And, when Grimm's in playful mode, his dialogue is so excruciatingly slangy and cutesy-poo that it's painful to read. So, thanks to his gawd-awful dialogue, Grimm begins this issue burning off any credibility he may have with the reader, and totally fails to buy it back at any point, given how pathetic his attempts at villainy are.
Worst of all, the big mystery of his identity is so transparent a five-year-old could solve it. Let's see what we've got in the way of clues. Sometimes he talks like a demented ham actor, but at other times he talks like a thug. Spider-Woman fought a jokey-talking Grimm at five o'clock, but we readers know a cold-talking Grimm was in police custody at that time. And Grimm has taken his nom du crime from a famous historical figure, or rather a pair of famous historical figures... a pair of brothers.
And it just so happens that among the only characters we've met who weren't around when Grimm was are a pair of brothers who live with Jessica's landlady, one of whom talks like a thug and one of whom doesn't.
It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to solve this mystery. It doesn't even take Dr. Watson. I'd bet my entire comics collection that there isn't one single person who ever read this issue that didn't see through its conceit immediately. And yet the book will keep up the charade that there's a deep riddle here for nine more issues.
Seems to me like Spider-Woman's true arch-nemesis is Marv Wolfman.
It doesn't get much worse than this. Magnus is a manipulative creep, but the book takes his side. Brother Grimm is irritating, ineffectual, and the mystery of his identity is insulting to the readers' intelligence, but the book sets him up to be Spider-Woman's principal recurring villain. The script and the art layout still often refuse to mesh. Wolfman, out of ideas, is re-using story concepts (distribution of counterfeit money) he deployed as recently as two issues ago. Even the art isn't showing the same attention to detail as previous issues have had: when Jessica's out of costume, her facial features seem hurried and devoid of detail. Still, in the action sequences at least, Carmine Infantino's pencils are still up to snuff, and the cover is pretty well-done, making Grimm seem far more menacing than anything in the pages within does. The pencils and the cover are the only thing saving this book from the bottom of the barrel, but it's still a pretty close thing. Half a web.