With this issue, writer/editor Marv Wolfman launches what he has been promising is a bold new direction for this title. What direction is that? Why, straight into the Twilight Zone. This issue gives two short, standalone stories rather than one long episode in an ongoing storyline. Is this new format a success? Let's find out...
Story one, "The Man Who Could Not Die!", begins with an image of Spider-Woman, costume torn, lying helplessly on the floor of a wooden cabin. She stares up at an unknown figure whose point-of-view provides the frame of the panel. This figure is holding a gun on her, pointed directly at her crotch. From off-panel, the figure's voice says "Now get up! Get up! Or, so help me, I'll end your life right now."
So the opening panel is constructed in such a way that it seems that we, the readers, have captured a disheveled superheroine wearing a torn costume; are holding her at gunpoint; are aiming the gun at her crotch; and are threatening to kill her unless she does as we command.
Some bold new direction. We've seen plenty of rape imagery in this title already, thanks.
It gets worse: the figure, now revealed to be a young man, continues "Look, what if I promise not to chain you? Will you come with me?" Ick.
The young man explains his own backstory. It seems he was born more than two hundred years previously, and in his youth enlisted on the American side of the Revolutionary War. He served as a scout, and in the course of his duties discovered British troops about to ambush his own regiment. To warn his comrades would reveal his presence to the British, who would certainly kill him, so he remained silent, and his friends died. Their bereaved families later blamed him, Samuel Davis, for the deaths, which they correctly attributed to his cowardice. One of the next of kin cursed him (!) with eternal life (!), a burden Davis would have to bear until he could find a woman willing to give up her own life to allow him to die(?).
So Davis plans to throw himself over a cliff, and Spider-Woman too, because he's now chained them together. (I guess he was lying when he promised not to put chains on her.) Davis is sorry Spider-Woman has to die, but he feels he has no other choice.
We're spared more wallowing in his self-pity as Spider-Woman's interior monologue begins occupying our attention. It seems that just a few hours earlier she was walking through a fairground with Jerry, talking with him about their relationship. Jerry was explaining how happy he was: "...we both respect each other... care for each other... we each have our own space..." Just last issue, Jerry indicated he planned to ask Jessica to marry him once the mystery of her father's death was solved. I guess he's had second thoughts.
A cry interrupts Jerry's paean to their lives together. There's a man on top of the cable car, preparing to jump: William Davis, natch. Davis jumps, but Jessica is already on the scene as Spider-Woman, gliding into the air to catch him. Frustrated as his failed suicide attempt, he takes off on a motorcycle, a curious Spider-Woman in hot pursuit. Before long Davis rides his bike off the road, which causes an explosion, but he isn't hurt. Luckily he had parked a van nearby (again, !) and was able to grab Spider-Woman, who was stunned by the explosion, and kidnap her, spiriting her miles away.
That interior monologue brings us back to the present, where a grizzly bear suddenly appears! Davis attempts to fend it off, with little success. Spider-Woman gives a better account of herself: she quickly bursts her chains and knocks the bear out with a venom blast. She explains to the shocked Davis that she could have escaped at any time, but wanted to hear more of his story. And now she's inclined to befriend Davis, because he's demonstrated that he's not a coward, but is fundamentally a good guy.
No, really, that's the conclusion she's drawn. The bear couldn't kill Davis, of course, so the fact that he was willing to fight it demonstrates that he wanted to save Jessica's life, because Jessica doesn't see any selfish reason he might have for wanting to keep her alive. What's more, the fact he was willing to fight a bear that couldn't kill him shows that he couldn't possibly be a coward.
I'll leave working out the illogicalities of this argument as an exercise for the reader. Let's proceed to the big finish: Jessica quickly chains herself to Davis (one last time, !) and the two of them jump over the cliff. In mid-air she snaps the chains for a second time and glides to safety. Davis, meanwhile, is impaled on a big wooden spike at the foot of the cliff, and promptly expires. Spider-Woman's care for him has saved his life by allowing it to come to an end.
No, no, no. This story gives us everything that Spider-Woman doesn't need: more sexualized violence, intimations of the threat of rape, bondage imagery, and misogynistic depictions of Jessica's character. William Davis kidnaps her, chains her up, and plans to kill her for his own selfish ends, and Jessica's response is to sympathize with him and help him? Come on. The only way this could work is if the story makes it clear Jessica's got a bad case of Stockholm syndrome, and is seriously confused the whole time about what sort of consideration she owes to the man who has kidnapped her and threatened her with death. But no, the story expects us to sympathize with Davis. Thanks but no thanks. Oh, and Carmine Infantino's art is particularly slapdash and ugly this time out, too.
Half a web. At least it was short.
That was only Part One of this issue. Can Part Two redeem the whole?
(Don't count on it.)