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Spider-Woman #4

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By: Shawn Hill

Brian Michael Bendis
Alex Maleev
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Spider-Woman #4 arrives in stores tomorrow, December 23.

Plot: Jessica is still tangled in Madame Hydra's arms, and her secret allegiance to S.W.O.R.D. just complicates things further. When she finds herself face to face with a Skrull captive, she impulsively tries to unify all her roles at once.

Comments: Maleev is the perfect artist for this series, as his grainy shadows and moody noir colors submerge Jessica Drew in just the sort of morally ambiguous quagmire Bendis feels is her natural habitat. Is she the character he was born to write? No, I think that's actually Ultimate Spider-Man, as the inherent optimism of that character forces some discipline on a writer that all too easily indulges in his worst instincts, mistaking them for basic truths about human nature as he sacrifices plots and logic.

But she is his favorite, and he certainly knows how to keep her in that morally ambiguous place of divided loyalties. You can't argue that she was conceived by terrorists (though this is harsher wording in the issue synopsis than what we saw a few years back in her origin series), but the accidents that led to her powers and her history with Hydra weren't all purely criminal in motivation. Jessica has a history of being offered lifelines to redemption, by Nick Fury in the past and by Captain America and Agent Brand more recently.

So what happens when her agenda from S.W.O.R.D., her instincts as an Avenger and her temptation from Madame Hydra all collide? It's a massive mental meltdown, or would be for someone who hasn't been there many times before. Jessica's interrogation of the Skrull prisoner has Guantanamo allusions, found somewhere between Jessica's mix of confusion, anger and revulsion, and the Skrull's fear, panic and hidden powers. It's not very fully articulated, but then nothing ever is in a Bendis story. Instead there's a murk of actions motivated not by conscious decision but by fear and desperation, ones that would fail any characters without super-powers to press instant reset buttons from time to time.

Maleev's version of Madame Hydra is an intriguing one; I think if I follow what's happening, the last encounter Madame Hydra had with Spider-Woman was with the Skrull imposter, so this time she's gleeful to actually offer something entrancing to the real Jessica. What is it with Jessica and green-haired temptresses?

Only, as she'll never actually understand the real Jessica, it's not as entrancing as she hoped. Jessica is in an even more dire situation by issue's end than she was at the beginning. She's also in too shell-shocked a state (following her Skrull captivity) to be open to seduction from any quarter. But she does somehow, just barely, seem to be on a path of staying true to herself. This book is alternately horrifying, creepy and (at weird moments) funny. Maleev's realistic style with lurid colors makes it easy to identify with a character who hardly knows herself. You have to decide if that weird mix works for you.







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