Monday, November 9, 2009

Spider-Woman #2

A long-promised labor of love from the former creative team of Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Spider-Woman has been in development for what seems like ages. And with the timely release of this second issue, it seems that fans of the character, the creators, or both can finally breathe a sigh of relief and sit back to enjoy the ride.

Speaking of wild rides, Jessica Drew herself has been taking one for just about her entire life. A genetic experiment at birth, she's traded allegiances and comrades like the men on Wall Street deal in stocks. She's lived as a superhero, a secret agent, an Avenger, a private eye and much more, capped off by an untimely kidnapping at the hands of the Skrulls. Replaced on Earth by a doppelganger alien queen, Jessica has struggled to reenter a casual super-powered existence back home on Earth since the failed alien invasion. Longtime friends are having trouble looking at her without flashing back to the treacherous actions of her Skrull imposter, and that isn't making it easy to find a lunch mate, let alone a running buddy. Isolated and lonely, she's taken the first job she can find – as a planetary defense agent for SWORD.

If you're wondering where this story fits on a scale of Daredevil to Halo:Uprising, it's fortunately much closer to the former. Jessica isn't nearly as brooding, quiet and angry as Matt Murdock was, but she's still a very personable, interesting lead character that both Bendis and Maleev have a firm grasp of. Unlike the pair's collaboration on the aforementioned Xbox tie-in, this story is direct, quick to action and almost completely enveloping. The focus is rarely shifted from Jessica's side, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Though they're still exploring the potential of this character, telling us who she is, what she does and how she does it, their elaborations don't come across as excessively pedantic. Bits and pieces of her psyche and abilities are revealed as dictated by the narrative itself, not thrust upon us out of the blue. I didn't feel like I was in a classroom taking notes, instead I was watching an old pro shoot from the hip and play it by ear.

Maleev's artwork is every bit as gorgeous as I remembered. His style has shifted subtly to suit the situation, but it remains gritty, vivid and perfectly stylized. He's among the best in the business at conveying emotion through body language and facial expression, best evidenced this month when a speeding vehicle opens fire on a crowd and Drew hits the deck, hands clasped to her ears, screaming at the top of her lungs. Maleev treats a powerful woman as effectively as he did a seedy noir hero; with respect, grace and sharp clarity. What's more, he's carrying an extra load in this series by painting over his own artwork. But unlike most painted books, Spider-Woman's visuals don't get in the way of its writing. They're used as an accent, not an emphasis, the sign of a true master. He didn't need a crutch, and doesn't use the paintbrush as such. What a relief.

This series is still working its way up from the ground floor, but it's already clear that Bendis and Maleev's creative link has never been stronger. The two work styles that compliment each other as well as anybody else in the business, and while this series gives us a different angle on that collaboration, in the end it's no less effective. These guys have still got it. Buy it and enjoy.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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