Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Jessica in the back room of a dance club, where she finds a drugged out Mattie Franklin, as well as about a half-dozen young men & women who invite her to join in on their good time. As Jessica debates whether she should simply grab Mattie & try and make a break for it, we see Madame Web's warnings about a fight to the death keep Jessica from acting. However, when Jessica learns that the good time involves a drug that is created using pieces of Mattie's body, we see Jessica decides she isn't going to stand by and let this young woman be carved up. However, her inebriated state has dulled her reaction time to such a degree that Jessica is far from being on the top of her game, while the lead drug user had just injected himself with the drug that is made from Mattie's body, and a side-effect of this drug is the temporary manifestation of superpowers. As Jessica takes a serious blow to the head, we see she is tossed out of the club, and concerned that this attack could've done serious internal damage, she makes her way to the hospital. After she gets a clean bill of health, and she manages to lie her way through the police questioning about how she received her injuries, we see Jessica returns to her apartment where she finds someone waiting for her.
This issue certainly picks up the pace of this story, as not only does Jessica locate the missing Mattie Franklin, and discover the horrors that are being done to the young woman, but the final pages of this issue offer up a nice unexpected twist that has me counting the days until the next issue's arrival. Now the idea that one can get high off the blood of a super-hero is an interesting idea that has been making the rounds through various Marvel titles, and it works extraordinarily well during the scene where we see the horrific manner in which this drug is extracted from Mattie. The momentary superpowers that this drug gives its users also remove the obvious path from the table as we see Jessica actively considers simply grabbing Mattie & running off, but she allows Madame Web's cryptic warnings to keep her from doing so until it's too late. Now the superpowers that these thugs gain are only temporary, but they did nicely curtail Jessica's efforts to rescue Mattie in this issue, and given Jessica isn't exactly the most courageous of souls, we see this encounter has made her extremely gun-shy about making a second attempt. However, the final pages of this issue add a new element to the mix that should make the final two issues of this arc very interesting.
I also like how this issue plays up the idea that Jessica is not the hero she once was, as the inner conflict that is raging through her mind in the opening pages of this issue does a great job of removing the simple solution from the table, as we see Jessica effectively lets her self-doubt & fear keep her from acting until it's far too late. There's also a great little scene in the back alley between her & Ben Urich, as we see Jessica is essentially beating herself up over the mistake she just made. Her visit to the hospital after her fight was also a rather refreshing touch, as not only did it offer up an opportunity for Brian Michael Bendis to show off his dialogue skills as Jessica discusses her condition with the desk clerk, but it's nice to see a hero actually concerned that they might've received more than a bloody nose from the fight they were just in. I also can't help but mention how much the last page of this issue raised the level of excitement, as Jessica has herself another late night visitor, and while this character's appearance in this story makes sense, I have to confess I never expected her to show up. It also doesn't hurt matters that one gets the impression that this character appears to share Jameson's view that Jessica had something to do with Mattie disappearance.
Michael Gaydos is an ideal match for this title, as has art manages to capture the idea that Jessica is operating in a world that is altogether pleasant. In fact it's the art that deserves most of the credit for the scene where Jessica discovers what is being done to Mattie, as the sequence is almost too effective in how it conveys the horror of this moment. There's also a great shot in this issue where we see Jessica has been struck by the powered up druggie and her tumble to the ground is very effective in how it manages to convey the idea that our lead character might've been seriously injured, though I will concede that the text also helps with the illusion. The art also does some nice work conveying Jessica's frustration, as her hysterics are nicely contrasted by Ben Urich's lack of emotion, and his continued look of skepticism. However, the real highlight of this issue would have to be the final two pages, as we see Jessica returns to her apartment to find someone waiting for her. Michael Gaydos deserves full marks for his delivery of this character's power, as the encounter has a nice horror movie feel to it, and the final page shot of the character is quite convincing in its delivery of the idea that this character means business.
A pretty enjoyable issue, and it certainly stands up as the strongest issue of this current arc, as it advances the story quite nicely, and it offers up a pretty solid cliffhanger to ensure my return for the next issue. This issue also does some nice work detailing the idea that Jessica is a collection of self-doubts, and her inability to control her drinking once again proves to be her achilles heel. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if Brian Michael Bendis might be overplaying this character flaw, as it seems like every arc features at least one moment where Jessica gets plastered, and her ability to function takes a serious nosedive. Sure, there is a certain degree of interest in seeing Jessica fight her way back from the depths that she has fallen, but if every arc has her taking two steps backwards for every step forward, the idea that she is ever going to make something of herself will start to fade completely, and the prospect of simply watching this character destroy herself simply isn't all that appealing. Still, this arc does take an interesting turn, and Maggie's plight is made out to be quite disturbing.
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