Mark Gruenwald continues to ease Spider-Woman out of the rut Wolfman dug her into. Jessica is still hanging out with Magnus and Jerry, but the bloom is coming off the rose, and pretty fast, too.
Fan service ahoy! Jessica and Jerry are lying on a beach at sunset, Jessica in a itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, black, no-polka-dot bikini. Jerry is saying something about how twilight picnics "sure put a man in the mood!" Jessica is pouring cold water all over him, though. (Metaphorically.) As Jerry leans in for a kiss, she asks "Uh, Jerry? Are you sure your lips have healed enough for this?" Jerry, you'll recall from Spider-Woman #9, had his lips sewn shut by the Needle.
Or maybe you won't recall. I posted that review eight months ago! Sorry, folks—change of job. I'll try to be more punctual in the future.
Anyway... Jess doesn't seem to be as hot to trot as Jerry is, so maybe it's lucky that a woman in a gypsy-moth costume flies overhead at that moment. Jessica breaks from Jerry's embrace and darts up the beach to where she stowed her costume. Ignoring Jerry's pleas to ignore the flying woman, Jessica hurriedly changes into her Spider-Woman outfit: at this point in her career, she could only fly-technically, glide-when appropriately dressed.
(Gruenwald, who knew that God is in the details, makes a point of showing us that the Spider-Woman costume includes absurdly-long hair extensions, which explains why Jessica's locks come to her shoulders in civilian garb but stretch to Rapunzel-worthy length when she's in harness.)
Jessica took too long to get airborne, because the flying woman is long gone by the time Jessica reaches the sky. After one panel of searching the air, Jessica returns to the beach, having given the readers more fan-service with a close-up of her tight rear-end. But as the (male, hetero) readers are getting warmed up, Jerry is cooling off fast. Jessica, he fumes, has "spoiled another perfectly good evening by playing Spider-Woman! I never should have let you bring that costume along!" Jessica points out that her curiosity is naturally piqued when she sees other people who can fly, as she does, but Jerry retorts "So what! Are you going to go chasing after every flying freak you see? What about me?"
Classy, Jerry, real classy.
Date in ruins, Jerry drives Jessica home, where Jess runs into her landlady, Mrs. Dolly, but is too preoccupied to notice that the older woman is playing with a doll... one that looks like Brother Grimm. (Dun dun DUN!) Jess finds a present from Magnus in her room, a satin evening gown, and a card inviting her to check out his new stage act at the Hollywood Club. Off she goes, arriving too late for Magnus' magic show, but just in time for the after-party. Magnus, the old lecher, has two young ladies on each arm. Jessica isn't impressed, though I'm not sure why she should care. Magnus, oblivious, invites her to join him and his arm candy at the after-after-party over in Bel Air.
The party sequence is cute enough, but thirty years on reads like nothing so much as an episode of That `70s Show. Guests natter about Est, Jacuzzis, and such: "Do you play backgammon?" "No, I'm into decadence." (Heh.) Jessica has a lousy time, of course. She's a natural wallflower, plus her spider heritage makes her emit bad vibes. There is one guy—literally; he introduces himself as "Guy Balsam"—who seems immune to the effect, but unfortunately he's extremely boring, and Jessica escapes to poolside.
(Balsam is a set-up for a later issue, but Gruenwald plays it so lightly readers who haven't read ahead won't realize it.)
Jessica's moping is interrupted by the sudden arrival of the gypsy-moth-clad woman. Flying in from the sea, the Gypsy Moth points at the women reclining below, and the women's dresses come to life, wrapping up the wearers like cocoons! Jessica doesn't notice, as she's already run inside, seeking Magnus' help. One magical spell later and Jessica is in her Spider-Woman garb and gliding upwards.
A rather curious battle follows. All Jessica wants to do is talk, find out who the Gypsy Moth is, where she comes from, and whether she wants to be friends. Yes, really. "Friends?! I have no use for friends!" the Moth replies. What does the Moth have use for? Why, unravelling women's clothing at a distance, and bringing the threads to life, of course.
As Dr. Evil would say, "Right..."
The threads pluck Jessica right out of the sky, though not before baring Jessica's belly (more fan service). Thrown to the bottom of the pool, wrapped in cords made from women's evening gowns, Jessica struggles to free herself. Meanwhile, in a bit of lazy writing, Jerry Hunt appears, out of the blue, to rescue her. How did he know to come to this party, when neither he nor Jessica knows anyone here? Don't ask. As Jessica frees herself and begins wrestling with the Moth, Jerry blasts the Moth's wing with his pistol, and Jessica, mad with frustration at his interference, gives him a taste of her venom blast.
Trouble in paradise, indeed!
Jess spirits the Gypsy Moth away, higher into the hills, and tends her until she recovers from the pistol wound. The Moth doesn't explain herself, and departs in silence, and Jessica, who still feels kinship with her, allows her to go. Jess then finds Jerry, and they return home for a second time that night, again in silence. Neither apologizes for their behaviour.
Gruenwald ends with the caption: "Jerry Hunt and Jessica Drew... two people... in love?"
Good question, Mark.
Gruenwald swings and misses, this time out. Like the Needle, the Gypsy Moth is only lightly sketched as a character, but the Needle got away with it because of his creepy stylishness. The Gypsy Moth is just ludicrous, the epitome of lazy writing: choose an animal and then come up some powers that fit the template. And what a power the Gypsy Moth gets: unravelling women's clothes at a distance! The only word for it is "cringeworthy."
What's more, having Jerry show up out of the blue, when a little bit of defensive exposition earlier in the story could have made it work—"Jerry baby, Jessica calling, I'm at this party, but I'm bored, come pick me up"—is inexcusable.
Still, I have to give Gruenwald credit for recognizing what we readers have known for nine issues now, namely that Jerry is a self-absorbed twit and that Magnus is a dirty old man. Having Jessica recognize it, gradually, is the right way to go. It's nice to have a writer who, unlike Wolfman, doesn't carry a ham in each fist.
The main story is ludicrous, but the character work in the background is just right. A deft background doesn't excuse a clumsy foreground, however: two-and-a-half webs.