Spider-Woman #1

Posted by on March 18th, 2010 at 8:00 AM

Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, art and cover by Alex Maleev (variant by Alex Ross); $3.99

The lead, Spider-Woman, is having a crisis of faith. “Faith in myself, faith in the world, faith … in faith.” Next box: “And I just keep thinking of Wolverine.” (I don’t do that, but sometimes when I’m feeling good I think of Captain Kirk.) The lead’s reason for thinking of Wolverine is that he’s “the most screwed-over person in the history of the universe.” Typical Marvel victim-heroism. You can see Wolverine’s a top-liner, with a description like that.

But wait … three pages later, the lead is moving on his title. She has just done something violent and stupid, and: “Congratulations, Wolverine … You are no longer the most,” etc. The boxes are all of her talking to herself, and she’s a neurotic, torn, off-balance Bendis heroine, but unfortunately not the one from Alias. I loved that series. Of course it had an advantage in that the Marvel heroes were off in the distance; here they’re close up, as usual.

Spider-Man again. You can recognize a solidly written Spider-Man balloon (“We have a rendezvous point thingamajig and we’ll get out of here”), but what’s the point of hearing him say one more time the same kind of thing he’s always said? What’s the point of seeing him? (Or even a lookalike, because this Spider-Man is really a Skrull.)

The point is just that you get the Spider-Man experience. It’s like seeing a parade float; the thing is there for its own sake. But to tell a story in and around parade floats is kind of tricky. Everything in the Marvel universe is designed as spectacle, to create a one-off impression. Then all the gimmicks stick around, because that’s the business, and they have to be lived with day to day. If you want to write a drama, they’ve got be in it, since you’re writing for Marvel. Of course, spectacle looks silly on the day after, and it’s out of scale with people’s lives. Sometimes you manage to play off this difference, and sometimes (as a Bendis character might say) the difference plays you.

In her two-page exposition splash, the lead thinks about the awfulness of her life and recaps events in the Marvel universe as if the two (life’s awfulness, Marvel events) could stand in for each other. They can’t. A neurotic who could say the words “when my dad killed my mum right in front of me” would actually be a psychotic. Possibly Nick Fury, or someone, did a lot of good therapeutic work on her, and maybe she has a hero’s nature and that helped. But these are all gimmes. Our lead ends up sounding peevish about events that are actually catastrophic. And the catastrophes are occasioned by goofiness, standard Marvel goofiness: HYDRA and mutant powers and Skrulls, the usual.

Beatnik tough guy! So the lead, really, is just someone who for some reason is in the right frame of mind to talk to herself in a Bendis way. Because of her the words hop next to the pictures and tap out a bitter/wised-up, stop-and-start, zigzagging beatnik tune for damaged tough guys, albeit tough guys who exist in a world with the nuttiest working assumptions. “Then in the middle of the night a shape-shifting alien queen took my place in the world.” Two sentences down: “Now all my friends hate me.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re talented. Set up the wrong circumstances and you’ll get tripped. Bendis is the best U.S. writer in mainstream comics (from what I’ve seen). I mean for character and dialogue and as a comics technician, someone who puts together a page or a sequence of pages. He can do issue after issue because he’s a workhorse and he gets paid good money. Without him, how does one say, Marvel would be missing some crucial fingers off its hand.

But Spider-Woman #1 is really boring and routine, and there was no reason for the Spider-Man Skrull to enter by crashing thru a window. He did that just so they’d have a splash after 18 pages of the lead mulling, conferring, and then mulling. No reason for her to beat the Skrull either. He knocks her out of the window, but in the midair dive she cocks her fists, so somehow he’s the one who hits the car hood. Such is the way of it. Keep churning out this stuff, and there’s a price to pay. The same for dealing with superheroes. When you can play off their absurdity, fine. But write about a crisis of the soul, and boom, you’ve got someone thinking of Wolverine.

And yet I love “There’re 32 alien races living here on the planet earth,” stated urgently by the lead’s secret spy-group contact during their get-together. Also, the Bendis stutter-talk of “I know you spend time as an Avenger. If you do that, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But this is separate. Those Avengers of yours — this isn’t for them.” People compare Bendis’s stutter-talk to Aaron Sorkin’s, but I don’t think Sorkin could have managed that bit, and not just because it has “Avengers” in it.

Breakdown:

3 pages: lead flies, broods
3 pages: lead in apartment, broods, has flashback
1 page: lead finds letter for rendezvous
6 pages: the rendezvous, lead is recruited to spy group
4 pages: lead in Asian country, on assignment; bars, lights
4 pages: lead in hotel room, recapping; two-page splash of exposition tableaux
2 pages: Spider-Man! Big panel with dynamic shattering glass for his entrance; he talks with lead
5 pages: lead, Spider-Man fight. Last page: he’s a Skrull

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