Comics : Spider-Woman (Vol. 6) #3

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This review was first published on: Feb 2016.

Background...

Jessica ‘Spider-Woman’ Drew is pregnant, with approximately two weeks to go before she’s expected to give birth. More from boredom than from medical need, she went to get a obstetrics check-up from an off-world clinic that specializes in unusual births. Moments after she teleported in, some armed Skrulls appeared to seize control of the facility!

Jessica used her spider-mojo and leadership skills to secure the ob-gyn ward. She had hoped to hold the position until the cavalry, in the form of her best friend Carol ‘Captain Marvel’ Danvers, arrived. But Carol called her on her mobile phone to tell her that no help is coming, because the medical facility is inaccessible… located-inside-a-black-hole inaccessible.

Jess is not pleased.

What else is important to know? Well, the Skrull force is a ‘rogue faction’ of the Skrull Empire, here seeking exiled Prince Klundirk, who’s elsewhere in the facility receiving treatment for his space cancer. No word yet on why Klundirk is in exile, or why the rogue Skrulls want him. Also: during the Secret Invasion, the late Skrull Queen Veranke held Jessica’s form and face for some time. Jessica bears a grudge over this. The Skrulls, for their part, refer to her as the Spider-Woman, the Slaughterer. This doesn’t appear to be a term of endearment.

In Detail...

Spider-Woman (Vol. 6) #3
Mar 2016 : SM Spin-Off
Summary: More Skrulls in the ob-gyn ward
Writer:  Dennis Hopeless
Pencils:  Javier Rodriguez
Inker:  Alvaro Lopez
Cover Art:  Javier Rodriguez
Lettering:  VC's Travis Lanham
Colorist:  Rachelle Rosenberg
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We open with some more spy games. Spider-Woman is leading the ‘women’ of the ob-gyn ward (again, I use the term advisedly, given that they’re all aliens) to an operating theatre, which is built in a fashion that makes it much more secure. To get there, they need a doctor’s assistance, which means retrieving one from Skrull captivity.

One of the women is from a shapeshifting species, who assumes Skrull guise. She carried Spider-Woman on a gurney right into the path of some Skrull warriors escorting an imprisoned doctor. Jessica feigns death, and while she’s doing that, she’s able to steal the Skrulls’ sidearms. By the time the ruse is revealed, the Skrulls are vulnerable and unable to retaliate when Jessica venom-blasts them into unconsciousness.

Having freed the doctor, the motley crew is able to use his security clearance to infiltrate an operating chamber, which happens to feature “meter-thick blast doors that only unlock from the inside”. Curious design feature, but then this whole place is built inside a black hole, so why not?

With the civilians secure, Spider-Woman is able to turn her attention to finding an escape route. Apparently restarting the portal network is a non-starter, because it would be too risky; it would trigger a core meltdown. This seems to be the Skrulls’ plan, to blow up the facility to cover their escape. So Spider-Woman will need to consult the architect of the facility, who happens to be on site, in the “south wing”. (What does ‘south’ mean in this context, I wonder?) Cue Spider-Woman and her leet spy skills, who will need to get to the scientist to figure out how he can help.

To avoid the Skrulls, she takes the “scenic route”, which features three beautifully drawn splash pages of alien-hospital weirdness. Artist Javier Rodriguez is clearly having fun with this assignment, and it shows.

Enter the south wing, which happens to be a cold-storage facility for dead Nagilliums. The architect is himself Nagillium, and though he is dead, his deceased head is stored in a floating jar, and can still speak and think via computer assistance.

Jessica is weirded out by this, but can’t be choosy. She asks Doctor Volgrotten, the Nagillium head, to turn the portal network back on, and he’s happy to comply, but he’ll need computer access to do so. Which means Jessica has an escort quest to fulfill.

One splash page later, she and Volgrotten are back in the operating theatre, where he confirms he can open the portal network in about five hours. Per Carol, that’s too long, as the Skrulls will have seized Prince Klundirk by then. In a genuinely heroic moment, as soon as Jessica learns about Klundirk and his peril, she feels compelled to go save him, despite the risk. Carol vainly tries to talk her out of it: “I didn’t want you trying to carry this whole thing. Not by yourself.”

“Who else was going to carry it, Carol?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh my God! Stop **** apologizing!”

Good stuff.

One panel later, Jessica is in Klundirk’s room. I’m not sure how, given that the Skrulls should be all over that area, since Klundirk is their target, but pass that by. She tries to talk Klundirk into coming with her to safety, and he agrees almost instantly.

“Gotta say, you swallowed that crazy pill like a champ”, says Jessica. “I thought I’d have to drag you out kicking and screaming.”

“Heh. You overestimate my energy levels.”

Good stuff, but then writer Dennis Hopeless overplays his hand. Klundirk continues “Also, we get Earth TV here. You’re that Avenger… the one with the butt.”

It’s a twofer - sexual objectification of our heroine, combined with a plausibility-stretching moment in which we are expected to believe that 1) Skrulls hit puberty at 13 ‘years’; 2) they fantasize about Earth women; 3) they find human butts sexually enticing; and 4) this particular Skrull fantasizes about the Earth woman his fellow Skrulls call ‘the Slaughterer’.

Let’s get back to the story. Even as Jessica and Klundirk prepare to leave, the main Skrull force is about to pierce the blast doors to his rooms. Jessica is momentarily overcome. “You know Momma would do anything to keep you…” she says to her stomach. Then her baby kicks her, twice.

“Okay,” she says, with gritted teeth. “You’re right. Time for Momma to shut her mouth and go save the damned day.”

As she pulls the two Skrull sidearms she acquired earlier, Klundirk vainly tries to persuade her that even were she not pregnant, she couldn’t take out the entire Skrull force on her own. Jessica won’t listen to him, but she has to listen to her own body. At the worst possible time, her water breaks!

The baby is coming. And so too are the Skrulls, who have breached the blast doors.

“So yeah”, says Jessica’s internal monologue. “Let me tell you about the day you were born.”

In General...

What a frustrating issue. It’s a mix of so much good stuff with so much bad.

The good stuff? Jessica behaves like a superhero. She’s taking charge, using her brains as well as her powers, putting the safety of others before her own. This issue not only showcases her smarts and her skills better than recent ones, it also makes a point of showing Jessica as active, solving her own problems and helping others, and doing all this while in an intensely vulnerable state. This is great.

Also great is Javier Rodriguez’ art, which is always good, but the splash pages of Jessica traversing an alien hospital are almost worth the price of admission on their own. I hate to say it, but his talents may be wasted on this title.

Finally, the story moves at a good pace, in a clear fashion. We start with Jessica needing to get her fellow ob-gyn patients to safety. That means they need access to the operating room. With that done, Jessica needs to find a way out, which means getting Doctor Volgrotten. With him found, she then finds she needs to take him back, which means a return trip. And with that done, she only then finds out about Klundirk, and the need to rescue him too. At each point in the story, we understand what the problem is, what’s at stake, and why Jessica is doing what she’s doing.

I wish I could stop there, but unfortunately there’s bad stuff here too. The pacing would be better if we understood where the Skrulls were in the facility and what they were trying to do. We know they’re there to capture Klundirk, and that they’ve seized the command centre and the hallways. Where else are they? Are they trying to get into the operating theatre? Are they trying to get into Klundirk’s rooms? Apparently they are, but if so, how did Jessica get into them so easily? And why can’t she just take Klundirk out the same way she came in?

And for all of Rodriguez’ artistry, Klundirk is ridiculous. He’s wearing overalls, a striped shirt, and a baseball cap. When we first meet him, he’s playing a game console that screams PS4. That, combined with his mannerisms, makes him come off as a 13-year-old kid, fine, but not a Skrull. There’s nothing alien about him except his face. In an issue that’s all about inviting us to imagine what an alien hospital might be like, Klundirk comes off as colossal failure of the imagination.

Overall Rating...

All of that averages out to 3 webs. The next issue looks climactic; I have high hopes for it.