Or – “Another Reason Not To Judge A Book By Its Cover…”
Let’s be honest here for a minute.Â More than likely, the existence of Jessica Drew owes more to Marvel protecting it’s trademarks than any true stroke of creative brilliance.Â Don’t get me wrong, I do like the character, but most people know her as the girl with the great hair or the huge…Â tracts of land, (especially as drawn by David Finch) than know her as a heroic symbol of whatever.Â She’s had five or six different origins, and some of the most powerful issues featuring her in recent years were actually an alien duplicate.Â Add to that the fact that MY copy has one of the most unattractive covers in history, and I went into this issue wondering what it was that Spider-Woman was going to bring to the table…
Previously, on Spider-Woman – Agent of S.W.O.R.D.:Â Jessica Drew’s original origin was that she was genetically mutated by the High Evolutionary from spider into human form.Â Her second was slightly more successful, leading to a run in her own comic book for 50 issues.Â Indeed, Spider-Woman is memorable from my youth for the Carmine Infantino art (which my philistine child-self found unattractive) and for being one of the few Marvel titles that didn’t take place in New York, the other being Star Wars.Â I love me some green rebel rabbit pilot.Â Aaaaanywho, at the end of her series, Spider-Woman was erased from the memory of the Marvel U, a situation that wasn’t resolved until the Avengers got involved.Â From that point, she was a mostly powerless detective who showed up in Wolverine a lot, and did a superstar turn in an issue of Alias.Â While all that was going on, Julia Carpenter took up the Spider-Woman name and didn’t do much more than look good with it.Â The Mattie Franklin version of the Spider-Woman character seems to have a small but loyal following from her run with the name, leading to the events that led off New Avengers, which turned out to have been the Queen of the Skrulls setting up the heroes for a big fall.Â Now that she’s returned to Earth, Jessica Drew finds herself reviled as the public face of the invasion, and has to find her place in the world, like a girl in a Richard Marx song, albeit one with an impossibly tight costume.
We open with Jessica Drew in the midst of an existential quandary, realizing something interesting about her new status in the Marvel Universe.Â “I’ve known [Wolverine] off and on a long time, and every time I run into him I think: Wow, there’s the most screwed-over person in the history of the universe.”Â I have to say that I kind of don’t like this as an introductory device, as it seems like a way to use the popularity of the X-Man to launch this book.Â Jessica realizes that she has, officially, taken over that title from the Canucklehead, and almost using her powers to blow her own brains out.Â Wow, I REALLY don’t like the first third of this book…Â Just when things seem darkest, a bright red envelope slips under her door, inviting her to a meeting.Â Alex Maleev’s art does a fine job of conveying the depths to which Spider-Woman has fallen, and the darkness of the coloring fits her mental state nicely, even if I’m not entirely thrilled with bits of the narrative.Â Jessica heads off to her mysterious meeting, and ends up finding the green-haired Agent Brand of SWORD (“Sentient World Observation and Response Department”) who has a proposition for her: Become an agent of her agency and help to flush out the dozens of alien infiltrators on Marvel earth.Â
Brand makes a very attractive deal, offering to pay Jess for as long as she wants to work with her agency and bring down the Skrulls, Kree, D’bari, Shi’ar, Badoon, Brood, Watchers, Sakaarans, Acanti, Phalanx, Plodex, Laxadazians, Strontians, Korbinites, Contraxians, Zen-Lavians, Celestials, Rigellians, Space Phantoms, Galadorians, Arcturans, Ovoids, Popuppians, Ruul, Stone Men From Saturn, Z’nox, Xandarians, Glx, Cotati, Slitheen, Judans, Mephitisoids et al who have been getting free health care from the government.Â The second half of the book picks up nicely, returning Jessica to Madripoor on a very “Mission: Impossible” sort of quest.Â “Hooker at the bar is ready to kill me,” thinks Agent Drew.Â “She thinks I’m competing.Â Sadly, that’s the nicest thing anyone has indicated to me all year.”Â Heh…Â Jessica heads back to her room, and neatly summarizes the last couple of years of her life with her insomniac wanderings (a nice way to get in the exposition.)Â Spider-Man suddenly breaks through the windo, screaming that she’s in danger and that the Avengers have arrived to save her bacon!Â She sees through the ruse, and quickly attacks, causing both of them to tumble out the window to the ground, where she beats “Spider-Man” until his Skrull nature is revealed.Â
This whole issue has a split personality to it, with the first half being oppressively dark and broody and the second half launching without prelude into a full-on spy story.Â Bendis’ love for the character comes through in every panel, but the early missteps (the long “hey, I’m kind of like Wolverine!” monologue combined with a suicide attempt) make me really uncomfortable with where Spider-Woman is going.Â If this is going to be the story of a kickass alien fighter and how she overcomes adversity and her past to carve a new future blah blah blah fishcakes, it’s one thing, but if we’re going to be constantly treated to heavy-handed moralizing about how sad it is that nobody loves her anymore, I don’t know how long my particular haul will be.Â The art of Alex Maleev is always interesting, once you get used to it, and the successful parts of this issue remind me of the brilliance that was Bendis and Maleev’s run on Daredevil.Â I was also somewhat disappointed to see that the cover image by Alex Ross actually did make it to print, with it’s grotesqueries of spinal deformation and misshapen scarlet mammary regions.Â It is truly a spectacularly ugly image.Â When you break it all down, this issue does what it needs to do, recapping the status quo, revealing Jessica’s history, and setting her off on a new adventure, and it succeeds in doing that.Â Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #1 balances out to a not-bad-at-all 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.Â