Comics : Spider-Woman (Vol. 5) #4
This review was first published on: Mar 2015.
Last time in this title that we saw Jessica ‘Spider-Woman’ Drew, she was on board a pirate ship on Loomworld, where she and her spider-girl warband - Cindy ‘Silk’ Moon, Anya ‘Spider-Girl’ Corazon, and Gwen ‘Spider-Gwen’ Stacy - were facing down a crew of murderous pirates. Of course, if you've read Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 3) #13, you know that the four heroines easily took out the pirates and returned to the Spider-Man Family to join in the final battle against the Inheritors. So what’s Jessica up to now?
Spider-Woman (Vol. 5) #4
Apr 2015 : SM Spin-Off
Summary: Silk, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Girl, Captain Marvel, Steve Rogers
Arc: Part 4 of "Spider-Woman Spider-Verse"
We’re back on that Loomworld pirate ship captained by the Loomworld espy of Jessica Drew, whom I’ll call ‘Espy’ for short. Espy wakes up, does her morning workout, and enjoys breakfast and foot massages provided by her crew. All the while she reflects on how she deserves a life of power and luxury. Admittedly, she had a life of power and luxury before, but she had to earn it by playing the role of devoted consort to Morlun.
I’m not sure what work the role of moral desert is supposed to be doing here, given how little power or luxury the downtrodden citizens of Loomworld seem to have. Surely they deserve this more? But this is an aside; I don’t think writer Dennis Hopeless wants us to be giving Espy’s account any critical distance. I think the conclusion we’re supposed to reach is that she does, indeed, deserve what she has.
Which is why it’s a big reveal when, on page 3, we discover that Jessica and her warband have returned! Having knocked the crew unconscious, and put a dagger at Espy’s throat, our Jessica monologues at length about the threat of the Inheritors, the long odds they faced, the unlikelihood of the Spider-Man Family’s victory, and the sweetness of that victory when they achieved it.
Along the way, she describes the threat of the Inheritors as a ‘real keister-clencher’. Ugh.
Espy is unimpressed, and wonders aloud why Jessica returned to tell her all this. Was she looking for a round of applause? No, says Jess, she wants Espy to take up the reins of power on Loomworld. Without the Inheritors to play the role of Hobbesian sovereign, the dimension is falling into civil disorder. Jessica wants Espy, as a popular member of the former regime, to take over.
Espy snarks a bit at first, when she thinks Jessica has come to recruit her to fight. The key line here is as follows: “What if you’re the outlier…? What if uptight do-gooder Jessica Drew who lives her whole miserable life by the Avengers code of martyrdom is the ridiculous version? And all the rest are me-first realists just like me,”, i.e., Espy.
Espy drops the snark when she realizes that Jessica wants to make her Queen of Loomworld. The pirate queen orders her crew ashore and, between their efforts and those of the warband, the city is subdued in a two-page splash panel. As she delivers an inspiring speech to the masses, Jessica and the warband retreat to the multiverse, Jessica having promised to return and set things right if Espy goes “full-on Caligula”.
Cut to three days later, when Jessica and her bestie Carol ‘Captain Marvel’ Danvers (who is drawn and coloured terribly off-model) are walking through Manhattan, talking over recent events. Carol doesn’t know what they’re doing there, and Jessica refuses to tell her. “The fact is I came here to do a thing. And you will be standing behind me in silent ignorance when I do. Because you’re my best friend and moral support is your job.”
I don’t think that’s how friendship works exactly, but let’s not quibble. Jessica seeks out Steve ‘not Captain America anymore because he’s suddenly got the physiology of a 90-year-old’ Rogers, but before she can tell him anything substantive, a giant purple monster busts through the wall!
I sense a theme here: Hopeless had a giant monster appear for no reason at the end of Spider-Woman (vol. 5) #2. When he wants dramatic action thrown into a story to provide an excitement beat, his go-to move is ‘giant monster appears for no reason’. Sigh.
Cap grabs a gun, and the three heroes begin fighting. While they do so, they have a long conversation about their thoughts and feelings, like you do. Hopeless hangs a lampshade on this by having Cap question whether the middle of a fight is an appropriate time for this talk, and Jessica replies “you’re expecting a period of calm silence later?”
Actually, what I expect now is the story to be punctuated by mindless, random violence every few pages, because Hopeless doesn't trust his audience enough for us to sit still for a few pages of dialogue. It’s disappointing that the author of this book has such contempt for his readers.
Anyway. The conversation gets off to a poor start, as we begin by learning, thanks to some expository dialogue from Carol, that there was a time once when the Avengers were fighting someone, and the fight went badly enough that Hawkeye’s arm got broken. Jessica saw her lover critically injured and in danger of losing his life, and her response was to excuse herself from the battle because the sight of Hawkeye’s arm going “all floppy” was “hilarious”. We know this last bit by Jessica’s own account.
As the kids say, oh wow I don’t even.
Let’s grit our teeth and get through this, shall we? In between punches, energy blasts, and gunfire, Jessica comes to the point. She’s quitting the Avengers, because she can’t handle the cosmic “nonsense” that comes with the gig. “I want to be a normal person part of the time at least. I want to help people again. Regular people.” She goes on in this vein for a bit before Steve tells her it’s okay if she wants to quit. So she does!
In a one-page epilogue, Carol gives her the business some more: “Where will you live…? Where does one go to find these regular people in need of help…?” To these questions Jessica has no answer. I guess we’ll find out next time, when, as the caption box helpfully informs us, we’ll be treated to “A Bold New Direction”.
Ugh. That’s the icing on the cake right there, a crassly meta ‘next issue’ caption. Hopeless really holds his readers in contempt, doesn’t he?
It’s a transition issue that ties a bow on ‘Spider-Verse’, as well as Jessica’s membership in the Avengers, which has defined her for the past decade or so, ever since New Avengers (vol. 1) #1, and a gesture towards a Bold New Direction. More about that next time, but I’ll say for now that taking Spider-Woman out of crazy cosmic stuff and planting her more in the world of mystery and espionage is a good move. If only it wasn’t being done in such a terrible manner!
Let’s look at the evidence. His Jessica is shallow, as the business with Hawkeye’s broken arm shows. She’s unpleasant, constantly snarking about her companions in her internal monologue, or being rude to them in dialogue. She’s not good at her job: she made a hash out of infiltrating the Inheritors’ palace or impersonating Morlun’s consort, and got out of that only thanks to her pheromone powers. And, finally, she’s selfish, or at least that’s how I think we’re supposed to read this issue. Yes, she settles the power vacuum on Loomworld, but in so doing she takes to heart Espy’s claims that living by the “Avengers code” is making her miserable, and that the baseline Jessica Drew is a “me-first” individual. Or at least that’s the only reason I can see why the story places so much emphasis on Espy’s speech - to the point where it’s shown that Espy and Jessica are two parts of the same person - followed by Jessica’s decision to quit the Avengers.
So Dennis Hopeless is writing the story of a superhero who’s shallow, unpleasant, rude, lousy at her job, and who has decided to lean in to selfishness. I can see why he doesn’t want to write about her. I wonder why he thinks anyone wants to read about her?
Even by the standards of a transition issue, this is terrible. The characters come off as nasty, and action sequences are shoehorned in on the grounds that readers will wander off otherwise. Dennis Hopeless clearly has no enthusiasm for this writing assignment, and his work shows it.