Comics : Astonishing Tales (Vol. 2) #3
This review was first published on: 2009.
This is supposedly "An Untold Tale of Spider-Woman," from her days as a private investigator in L.A., circa issues #21-32 of her original series. That was Michael Fleisher's run on the title, which was easily the nadir for quality on the title... which, for the original Spider-Woman series, is really saying something.
So, surely, with such a low bar to clear, this story must knock it out the park, right?
Let's find out...
Astonishing Tales (Vol. 2) #3 (Story 4)
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Summary: Spider-Woman Appears
Jessica Drew prowls around her drab private-investigator's office, pondering how she'll make the rent this month. As she crawls across the ceiling (for no reason), her hard-boiled voiceover captions inform us that being a PI in LA is neither glamourous nor exciting... just tedious, grimy divorce work.
Right on cue, a mysterious client arrives. It's Margot Atwater, proprietor of a middling film studio, who wants Jessica to investigate a mysterious film that turned up at Atwater's home the previous week. Atwater wants to know if the film was shot at her studio, and if any of the actors are still alive.
Jessica takes the film from its canister and puts it in her office reel-to-reel projector (yes, really) and discovers that the footage seems to be a vampire snuff film, featuring a slinky blonde driving a dagger, and her fangs, into a hapless beau. Curiosity piqued, Jess changes into her Spider-Woman garb and heads over to Atwater Studios, where, according to Margot Atwater, "the film processing company had a pickup scheduled, but there was nothing on the books."
Always nice when your client hands you the clues on a silver platter like that. But then again we've only got eight pages for this tale, and we've had no superhero action yet.
As Spider-Woman glides across town to Atwater Studios, she reflects on how weird L.A. is. "Last month a woman begged me to chase down her husband, who was sleeping with the ghost of his first wife... and the month before that, it was a gang of zombie-bums robbing liquor stores." Wait a minute - wasn't she just saying two pages earlier that L.A. actually is squalid and boring, and only provides her with sad little divorce cases?
Never mind. She's at the studio, where she beats up some random guards hanging around the front, and then decides to infiltrate the building through an open second-story window. "The front door is never a good idea... but no one ever looks up." So why beat up the guards, then?
Anyhow, once inside, she finds that yes, there's a vampire snuff film being shot inside. Her presence discovered, she begins to brawl with the actors. It turns out they're just normal people in makeup with prosthetic fangs, and no match for her spider-strength and venom blasts.
Ready for the surprise twist? It turns out Margot Atwater was in on the whole thing! She wanted to kill "some bimbo detective" because that would make her rich, or something, even richer than this vampire snuff-film stuff, which she purports to despise. But the death of Spider-Woman? Now that's big time.
Jessica's spider-agility allows her to literally dodge a bullet (I think - the panel isn't laid out very well). The ricochet breaks a spotlight, which ignites, and falls into a pile of celluloid, which conveniently explodes, destroying the whole studio and everyone in it. Even more conveniently, Spider-Woman comes through unscathed. Outside, she watches the burning studio, and wonders if L.A. has gotten too hot for her, and maybe she should give San Francisco a try.
Gah. This "untold tale" lives up to the standard of the era it's set in, which is to say, it sucks.
The story doesn't make a lick of sense. It's not clear just how Margot Atwater's scheme to lure Jessica to her death will make any money - if anything, it will call attention to Atwater's own criminal acts. If she's smart enough to run her own studio, she's smart enough to see that. Jessica's not thinking much more clearly - she's crawling around ceilings in her civilian clothes, in her civilian office; she's beating up guys in public without knowing what they're up to, or even if they're up to anything - and all for no good reason. And she's complaining in one breath that L.A. is boring and doesn't give her any strange cases, and in the next that L.A. is too exciting, and gives her too many strange cases.
It get worse. The story also fails to do justice to the continuity in which it's set. Jessica's "L.A. period" encompassed the runs of three different writers: Marv Wolfman's, Mark Gruenwald's, and Michael Fleisher's. In Wolfman's run, Jess was unemployed. In Gruenwald's, she was a receptionist. In Fleisher's, she was a bounty hunter. She only became a private eye after she moved to San Francisco, in Chris Claremont's run. And in the revised, rebooted continuity of Brian Bendis' Spider-Woman Origin, she came to San Francisco directly after escaping SHIELD and HYDRA, and never lived in L.A. at all. So there's a reason this story has been untold until now: there was never any era to tell it in.
I give it one web, entirely for Fiona Staples' gorgeous art. I wish classic Spider-Woman looked this good. Still... if you're buying it for the art, the tale is too short. If you're buying it for the story, it's much, much too long.