Sunday, July 31, 2011
Expectations Were Low... Spider-Woman #1
Spider-Woman #1 (April 1978)
"A Future Uncertain!"
Marv Wolfman-Carmine Infantino/Tony DeZuniga
Doug: Today we're going to take a gander at a book and character that I really have no interest in. I read a few Spider-Woman mags back in the '70's -- I recall her in a Marvel Two-In-One. But any semblance of care I might have had was dashed when Bendis shoved her down our throats in his New Avengers. So, this should be interesting -- I've not ever read this book before, I don't like Carmine Infantino's art in this era, and the character leaves me cold (although her costume is pretty cool, and the Joe Sinnott cover above is very good). But let's see if I can put on my "objective hat" and write a fair review. You game?
Doug: We open with our heroine clinging to the ceiling of a grocery store in London. Spider-Woman debates whether or not she'll steal food to survive. We learn that she has no job nor other means to support herself. As she takes a can from the shelf, she is repulsed and rifles said can into the shelving, scattering goods about the floor. This of course alerts the security guard, who comes in with flashlight in hand. But alas, guys like him never check out the overhead angle, so Spider-Woman goes undetected. As he leaves, she drops back to the floor, rearranges some more cans with a hefty kick, and then exits through a vent. But when spied emerging and questioned, she declares that she took nothing and did nothing wrong. OK, well if general hooliganism is "nothing wrong", then I guess she isn't lying.
Doug: The gentleman accosting our heroine reveals himself as an agent of Scotland Yard. His on-sight interrogation is quite sexually harassing, as he continually calls her "gorgeous" and "beautiful". After a brief struggle, Spider-Woman breaks free -- but not before being unmasked. As she runs away, our agent muses to himself that he's sure he's seen this woman before. The next day, our young lady -- Jessica Drew -- walks down a street following yet another failed job interview. As she passes, the locals talk behind her back noting her good looks but at the same time sensing a sort of "creepiness" about this new denizen of their neighborhood. As Jessica retires to her apartment (a tenement apartment, we're told), she begins to dream about who she is.
Doug: We get a bit of a recap of Marvel Two-In-One #33, which concluded the character's first major story arc. We learn that Jessica Drew's origin actually begins with the High Evolutionary, waaaaay back in Thor #135. Jessica's father became a scientific partner of the man who would become the High Evolutionary. Together they worked to find ways to evolve man past all of the ills of the day -- radiation, pollution, etc. They bought property in the Balkans and then discovered that they were sitting on a bed of uranium. They cashed in and were able to build Wundagore. But through time Jessica came down with radiation poisoning and fell gravely ill. Her father was able to inject her with a spider serum (hmmm -- what is it with down-on-their-luck heroes, radiation, and spiders?) in hopes of saving her young life.
Doug: But the Evolutionary reminded his partner that the spider serums needed a month to incubate -- a month they didn't have. So the Evolutionary offered to subject Jessica to a genetic enhancer ray; Jessica's mother protested to the point that she died (huh? It seemed pretty sudden to me). We learn that in order to save Jessica, the High Evolutionary had to give her yearly treatments. In effect, over time Jessica became half human and half spider. She remarks, after her dream sequence, that she was shunned at Wundagore by the Evolutionary's New Men because she was not an animal; in the human world she is perceived as creepy. And we are told, too, that she had been kidnapped by Hydra and brainwashed to work for them as an agent. And if that isn't complicated enough...
Doug: Jessica decides that she needs to become as normal as possible -- get a job, settle down, integrate herself to society. But with no background and no references, and with that apparently-repulsive personality, it's no go. Wandering the streets, she is seen by the agent who tried to question her at the market. Running from him, she emerges in an alley in costume. She attacks her pursuer by hurling a lamp post at him. But at the last minute she dives into him, pushing him into a wall and away from the deadly projectile. Feeling the need to further disguise herself, Jessica changes her mask and dyes her hair black.
Doug: The last several pages of this story are a long fight involving our agent friend, his partner, and some baddies who've planted bombs all around London. Spider-Woman intervenes and wallops the villains, but not without a casualty or two. During the entire fracas she continues to have her personal pity party about being not human and not a spider... by now, we get it, Marv! Anyway, our guy is shot with a laser and Jessica then fights off Scotland Yard because she can get the dude to a hospital quicker. Once there, she insists on giving him a transfusion of her blood, because it will fight off the radiation from the lasers. All's well that ends well. Oh, and those bad guys? They'd buried plates for English pounds under the walls of Parliament during WWII; they'd set the bombs around London to distract the police so they could dig the plates out. Trouble is, it was all for naught -- the UK had gone to a re-designed pound some years earlier.
Doug: So, verdict? What I thought I would hate, I actually liked -- the art. No doubt Carmine did the lay-outs. Some of his trademark skidding-to-a-stop running poses were there. But Tony DeZuniga really exerted some heavy influence and softened the angles on the 3/4 facial turns that Carmine could no longer do in this era -- DeZuniga's inks added some depth. The book really looks great. Now, Marv Wolfman's script? Not so much. First off, I mentioned above that Jessica Drew is just the classic Marvel feet-of-clay hero. Most recently, we'd seen the formula with Richard Rider over in The Man Called Nova. As to her origin, I liked the High Evolutionary aspect of it, but got very tired of Jessica lamenting her dual personality. So I'd probably give a "C" for the words. But overall, this book was OK -- I'm happy to report that I'm glad I read it!