Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew, with the help of Scotty McDowell, her computer-whiz sidekick, is a costumed superhero in Los Angeles. The twist is that she’s a bounty hunter, and only goes after criminals for whom a reward has been offered for capture.
Got that? She’s a bounty hunter. She only captures criminals in order to get paid. That’s this book’s new central premise, introduced only last issue. Remember that, so you can make sense of what follows.
Scotty is fuming about a new serial killer terrorizing L.A. named ‘the Clown’, who has murdered three girls in the last three weeks. “There’s no reward posted on him! Still, as a public service, I think we ought to bag him!”
“I’m with you all the way, Scotty!” chirps Spider-Woman.
So it took all of one issue for the creative team to abandon Spider-Woman’s new direction. Thank you and good night.
Well, not good night yet, we’re only on page one of this story. Let’s move through it quickly, because it isn’t very good.
Spider-Woman flies off into the night, intending to start work on the Clown case tomorrow. Tonight she’s meeting her friend Lindsay McCabe for dinner. Her route from Scotty’s place to Lindsay’s takes her over a lonely stretch of highway, where a young hitchhiker is taking a ride from a stranger. This stranger – his head conveniently obscured in the shadows – berates his ride for being disrespectful to and unappreciative of the older generation. The girl isn’t interested in a lecture, and demands to be let out of the car. The driver agrees, but first offers her some peanuts. She’s surprisingly receptive:
“Peanuts? Sure, that’d be groovy!”
Oops – it’s not peanuts, it’s one of those pop-up-snakes-in-a-can!
“H-hey! Wh-what the heck are you, anyway? Some kinda joker?”
Fair question, given that the guy is dressed an awful lot like that noted criminal who gives Batman such a hard time. But no, it’s not a joker, it’s the Clown, and he only brought out the pop-up snake to strangle the girl with it.
For some reason, though he’s already got her in a chokehold, he chooses to drag her outside onto the highway shoulder to finish the job. Gliding overhead, Spider-Woman notices the assault and drives the Clown off with a stray venom-bolt. Surprised and afraid, he drives off, and Jessica chooses to assist the victim rather than pursue him. With the help of some passing truckers, Jess brings the girl to a hospital. Once the hitchhiker is safely under medical care, Jessica resumes her flight to Lindsay McCabe’s place... not suspecting that the Clown, still in his car, is shadowing her.
Jessica arrives at the building and sneaks inside via a third-storey window. Inside, she finds some clothes that she’d hid on the premises earlier and changes into them. She then sneaks out into the hall, and then turns around and rings the doorbell so that Lindsay, who was in the kitchen cooking, can let her in. Yes, she broke into Lindsay’s apartment in her Spider-Woman garb while Lindsay was home and sneaks through it to the front door, hoping that Lindsay would fail to notice her. Why such a needlessly complicated and risky manuever? Purely for the sake of the plot: thanks to this stunt, the Clown, who is loitering outside, thinks he knows where Spider-Woman lives. He scales up the drainpipe (!) and comes in through the window himself. Conveniently, he arrives just as Jessica pops out to pick up some oregano.
He sneaks up on Lindsay and knocks her out with a modified joy buzzer. He’s planning to strangle her with his scarf when Jessica returns (she must have bought that oregano at super-speed) and the Clown, frightened, retreats back down the drainpipe. Why is he afraid? As far as he knows, he’s just knocked out a big-time superhero – why should he be afraid of her roommate? Wouldn’t he simply try to stun her with the joy buzzer too? Eh, lazy writing strikes yet again. The point is, Jessica comes in to find her friend injured and dying, and knows that the Clown is responsible. So now her vendetta against him is personal.
In an interesting aside, we see the Clown go home, change into street clothes, and talk with his wife. It seems that his alter ego is Casper Whimpley (real subtle, Fleisher), a failed entertainer who has become an accountant. We readers are supposed to immediately understand that being an accountant is dull and dry, the exact opposite of being a clown. Man, that’s pathos. Also, he has a shrew of a wife who is ugly and sharp-tongued.
So the Clown is angry that he took the wrong job and married the wrong woman, and he’s salving his wounds by dressing up and strangling young girls. Good to know.
Let’s cut to the chase: having accompanied Lindsay to the hospital, Jessica is determined to catch the Clown. So determined, in fact, that she tells the investigating police that Lindsay can make a positive identification of her attacker. This isn’t true, but Jess is certain that when the news gets out, the Clown will show up to kill Lindsay and remove the threat she poses.
Damn, Jessica, that’s cold. Putting the Clown onto her in the first place wasn’t bad enough, now you have to use her as bait?
The plan works, though. Casper Whimpley is washing the dishes – which I guess we’re supposed to read as further evidence of his emasculation – when a TV news report tells him that Lindsay McCabe can identify him. Terrified, he travels downtown and breaks into McCabe’s hospital room with the aid of a giant spring. What, he couldn’t just shimmy up the drainpipe? Spider-Woman is hiding in the room, though, and the two have a fight. Realizing he can’t fight Jessica on even terms, he retreats – out the side of the building and across several city blocks – to the “old circus grounds.”
Let’s not pause to think that through, let’s just get it over with. At the fairgrounds, the Clown ambushes Jess with a well-timed kick from a trapeze. He approaches her to strangle her while she’s stunned, but she’s tougher than he thinks. One venom blast, one sock to the jaw, two panels: the Clown is down and the story is over.
What a lousy story. The plot is lazy and ill-thought-out. The antagonist is a thinly-veiled rip-off… so thinly veiled that the story itself calls attention to the theft. The premise of the story is itself at odds with the premise of the book as a whole, which was announced only last issue. And it makes Jessica out to be remarkably callous of her friend’s well-being, something that neither Jessica nor the story seems to realize.
There’s only one redeeming feature to the book, which is the attention paid to the Clown’s personal life and backstory, which is in sharp contrast to the two-dimensional bad guys so common to this title and the comics genre of the period. Unfortunately, while it’s refreshing to see a villain built in the Peter-Parker style – competent and stylish in costume, miserable and ineffective as a civilian – Casper Whimpley’s characterization as a sex maniac frustrated by a boring job and an emasculating wife relies on some ugly stereotypes, namely that men who come home on time from their accounting jobs to wash the dishes should be immediately understood as oppressed and unmasculine. Speaking as one of those men, I have to tell you that it ain’t necessarily so. The demons driving Whimpley – particularly his obsession with young girls who are sexually confident – needs a better explanation than this.
The story is terrible. The extra half-web is for the two pages spent on the Clown’s home life, which are flawed, but interesting enough to merit a slight bump to the rating.