Sunday, July 31, 2011

Expectations Were Low... Spider-Woman #1

#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!


Edo Bosnar said...

This is the only title featuring a derivative woman super-hero that I actually followed regularly (as opposed to Ms. Marvel and She-hulk). I haven't read any of this in ages, but I remember rather liking it; I even overcame my general distaste for Infantino's art.
Yeah, Jessica Drew's outsider, underdog-type character had already become something of a tired cliche at Marvel by that time, but I found it interesting that she was really, really down and out - to the point of occasinally thinking about shoplifting or even safecracking in a later issue. Also, I liked the really dark tone of most of the stories, at least in about the first 20 or so issues. I remember that I lost interest in the title once Jessica became a somewhat successful private detective, and also less repulsive to most people, which kind of blunted the initial hooks that the series had.

dbutler16 said...

I agree with Doug on most everything - about being indifferent to Spider-Woman (though I don't know why, but I just never got into her), about Infantino's art, and about Bendis. Stil, from the scans I see here, the art does look pretty good, so I guess I'm pleasently surprised, like Doug. This does sound like it was a pretty good series for a time, though.

William said...

Nice review Doug. I loved the bits about Jessica having even more trouble finding a job because she generally repulsed people. Didn't look like she repulsed that dude from Scotland Yard too much though. "Hey beautiful. What's up gorgeous?" Guy sounds like a reject from Mad Men.

I actually remember buying this comic when it came out. I probably got it because I liked her costume and the fact that it was "Spider" Woman.

I agree with pretty much everything you said. I don't usually like derivative female superheroes (though most of them are), I don't like Infantino's 70's Marvel work and I don't care for Bendis either (even though he nothing to do with this book I just thought I'd mention it). But despite all that, this comic seemed to work for me. Although I always thought her origin was unnecessarily complicated.

Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew was actually a pretty cool character with one of my favorite costumes. She must have been decently popular as well (for a while at least) because she got her own animated series in the 70's or early 80's. However I believe it only lasted for one season.

Fred W. Hill said...

When I started collecting Marvel Comics in the early '70s, one of the things I remember liking about Marvel over DC was that there was just one main Spider-Man title and there wasn't a Spider-Boy or Spider-Girl, etc. But of course, Marvel Team-Up, almost exclusively with Spidey & a guest of the month, popped up within short order and a few years later we had Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and Spider-Woman. Marvel junkie that I was, I collected all of them, although on principal I felt a distaste for all three. Even with Stan's writing & John Buscema's art on the first issue of She-Hulk, I wasn't too keen on the story, although they at least let Jennife keep her personality when she hulked out; the rest of the original series didn't do much for me, although I'd like to get Gerber's run from one of the subsequent volumes. With Ms. Marvel, I hated her original derivative costume and wasn't took keen on Conway's tying her too closely with part of Spider-Man's cast, however, I really loved the later costume Dave Cockrum came up with and generally liked Claremont's stories.
Finally, as to Spider-Woman, I was glad that at least they gave her an origin and costume that had nothing to do with Spider-Man -- and it didn't bother me that Wolfman didn't go with Archie Goodwin's original take on her being a spider super-evolved to human shape and I liked that long, black hair! I didn't particularly care for Infantino's art, but I also found it a lot more palatible on Spider-Woman than on any other Marvel title Infantino worked on. And that dark tone Edo mentions appealed to me too; not so dark as to be depressing but enough to keep my interest piqued. Overall the series wasn't quite like any other superhero comic of the time and my tastes were just beginning to expand enough that I was able to appreciate that.

johnlindwall said...

There was no way (at age 13) I was going to miss a #1 super-hero issue from Marvel, so I bought this one. The cover is great. I share the opinion that others have mentioned, that the interiors were less pleasing. I respect and love Infantino's silver-age work but some of his efforts were less great to me: this series and Nova to name two.

Back then I bought Spider-Woman for a while I'm know but I have no great recollection of the plots.

Dougie said...

Unlike Edo, I started to enjoy Spider-Woman's book when she was a private investigator, working for the firm of Claremont and Leialoha! I particularly liked the reveal that she was Madame Hydra/Viper's daughter (but that was retconned away later).
Again, I may be a dissenting voice in that I like most of Bendis's Avengers scripts (and New Avengers is virtually the only modern Marvel book I buy). But he's never made Jessica the focus of the storyline in the way he has with Luke Cage.
In the Bronze Age, Infantino's later issues had a suitably weird, twilit vibe of Californian decadence and excess.However, I find Wolfman's writing very hard to stomach. His dialogue is awkward, repetitive and stilted even in his best work (ToD). Attempts at humorous repartee, like Nova, are stale and unfunny. It will be interesting to see how the NTT/Games graphic novel "sounds" now. Englehart's dialogue could be unnatural and mannered but it was never as cliched as that of Wolfman.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Never picked this series up at the time. In fact, the only story that I have even featuring Spider-Woman is Avengers Annual #10, though she worked pretty well in that one.

Now, see, if Michael Golden had drawn a regular Spider-Woman series ...

Also ... Allow me to throw a kind word in for Infantino: I actually like his work on Nova for Marvel. He was apply the same "speed" effects that he first used in the Flash there to good effect.

William said...

My biggest problem with Infantino's work is that everything always seems to be tilted at an angel. Even people just standing often appeared to be leaning backwards or like their feet weren't touching the ground. It's hard to put my finger on it, but something about his drawing just didn't look right.

Dougie said...

I really enjoyed Infantino's early 80s work on Flash, particularly the storyline where the Top possessed Flash's father.
"1981: A Flash Odyssey" is one of the best anniversary issues in the pre-Crisis DCU, apart from JLA 200 (and much better than Wonder Woman 300 with that weird Sandman story).

Paul said...

I like to see that day when Peter Parker x Jessica Drew are in a serious relationship.

Darci said...

Re: "Feeling the need to further disguise herself, Jessica changes her mask and dyes her hair black."

That was some disguise, huh? I'd never have guessed who she was!

FWIW, it turned out the Spider-Woman BMB had been writing in New Avengers and Mighty Avengers was a Skrull imposter. (Neat solution to all those readers' complaints that he didn't write the character correctly.) The real Spider-Woman was a kidnap victim between Giant-Size Spider-Woman (2005) and Secret Invasion #8 (Jan 2009).

I think Steve Leialoha's Spider-Woman was his best work ever.

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