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Spider-Woman #3

Posted: Tuesday, November 17, 2009
By: Dave Wallace

Brian Michael Bendis
Alex Maleev
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Spider-Woman #3 arrives in stores tomorrow, November 18.

Despite being a huge fan of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's long run on Daredevil, I'm not finding their collaboration on the new Spider-Woman title to be particularly compelling.

Whilst the book shares certain similarities with Daredevil--most notably the dark, noir-ish tone, the elements of moral ambiguity, the idea of a character's life being completely turned upside-down by circumstances beyond his or her control, and the sense of tension and uncertainty as to exactly where the story is headed--it's quite a different beast. Jessica Drew's world is more thoroughly infused with Marvel's more outlandish characters and fantastical ideas than that of the Man Without Fear, such as this issue's guest-appearance from Madame Hydra, the constant lingering presence of alien shape-shifters, and the airborne chase sequence between a flying car and two police helicopters that forms the action centrepiece of the book.

Yet somehow, despite the presence of so many fantastical elements, the book doesn't feel all that exciting. Perhaps one problem is that Jessica doesn't feel particularly active in the book's plot, being pushed into relationships with S.W.O.R.D. and Hydra against her will but not making much of an effort to resist her manipulators' advances. She's almost reduced to the role of spectator in her own book--which wouldn't be so bad if she had an interesting point of view or sympathetic characterisation, but unfortunately she doesn't. The long passages of self-pitying whining about how the Skrull invasion ruined her life don't really do anything to endear Spider-Woman to the reader, the history between Jessica and Madame Hydra isn't made clear enough to uninitiated readers that it'll be easy for them to get a handle on their relationship, and the book's emphasis on dialogue-heavy scenes over action means that we don't get much chance to be dazzled by her superheroic abilities, either.

Talking of which, I do wonder whether the heavy emphasis on fairly static, talky interactions was a choice that was made with a view to producing an accompanying "motion comic" that required fewer scenes of complex animation than a more action-heavy story would require.

Alex Maleev's artwork is the book's saving grace, experimenting with some vivid neon colouring choices that evoke the likes of Blade Runner, whilst also obviously having some fun depicting the sci-fi tech of which Bendis's story makes regular use. However, beautiful visuals can only do so much without a strong script to back them up, and I'm simply not feeling gripped by the story being told here.

I said earlier that Spider-Woman shares the same sense of uncertainty as to exactly where the story is headed that we saw in Bendis's run on Daredevil. However, whereas that book created a strong sense of tension as to what twists and turns Matt Murdock's life would take next--and gave its hero a strong enough characterisation that his reactions to the outside forces that were affecting his life would be as important in driving the story as anything else--Spider-Woman feels adrift and directionless, with the titular heroine stumbling in and out of difficult situations without ever really feeling like she's engaging with them. I'm still not really sure how the story so far hangs together (although I get a sense that Bendis might be trying to recreate the compelling double-agent status quo that was ruined when the Spider-Woman of the early issues of New Avengers was revealed to have been a Skrull all along), and if it wasn't for the strong visuals of Alex Maleev, I probably wouldn't have followed it this far.






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