Monday, 29 June 2015

Spider-Woman Origin by Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed

Spider-Woman Origin written by Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed and illustrated by the Luna brothers attempts to summarise Spider-Woman's origin story. It doesn't do a stellar job, though I suspect this is at least partly due to being limited to five issues. I also read Spider-Woman Saga which is a short (10 page) one-shot summarising Spider-Woman Origin and bridging the gap between it and Spider-Woman Agent of SWORD. This review contains spoilers as I intend to discuss some problematic elements of the story. Read at own risk.

This all-new epic chronicles the intriguing secret history of Jessica Drew and her journey from child experiment to Hydra agent to S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to super hero to private eye to Avenger! Written by New Avengers scribe Brian Michael Bendis and searing-hot newcomer Brian Reed (Ms. Marvel), and featuring stunning full-color visuals by the Luna brothers (Ultra, Girls), this story is packed with intrigue leading directly into the upcoming Spider-Woman series from Bendis and Eisner Award-winning artist Alex Maleev (Daredevil).

This was a weird comic. I feel like they wanted to cram so much backstory into five issues that at times it felt like a montage sequence from a movie. According to Wiki, apparently this story rewrites/retcons a bit of Spider-Woman's history for more modern comic stories, but from the summaries I read it doesn't strike me as wildly different, more like shifting timelines around. My main problem with this story is how shallow it was. There was little depth of character and zero nuance to events that really should have been nuanced. You know, like a movie montage.

After a supposedly horrible childhood — we really don't see anything horrible happening to her, other than being isolated with her parents and some medical issues, and certainly nothing that screams evil brain-washing cult — Jessica drew finds herself in a coma between the ages of 7 and 17. So when she wakes up, in HYDRA's presence, she's basically still 7, in a mostly developed body, she seems to magically gain maturity somehow? It's really not explained and it really should be. Because if you assume her mind continues to develop at a standard, she's something like mentally 10 (or certainly low teens, I may have lost track of a time jump) when she decides to sleep with an old dude to get close enough to assassinate him. EW! Between waking up and that moment she does have the chance to learn lots of stuff, but as far as I could tell, HYDRA only taught her how to fight, not how to adult. So when she goes off and leads a semi-successful life in hiding... I just don't buy it. There was a lot of implausibility in this comic, more than usual. Oh, and it was super weird seeing a white Nick Fury.

Given the stolen childhood aspect, I couldn't help but compare it with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt who lost a similar chunk of her life (but started out older). Unlike Kimmy, Jessica isn't shown as having any trouble adjusting to the real world, which is ridiculous. Like, this whole thing was actually more ridiculous than the HYDRA brainwashing she undergoes. While I bought the HYDRA brainwashing by the end, the problem of how many life skills she could have possibly learnt in between all that martial arts training remains a problem. More than zero, sure, but I don't see how she had much time for it.

To summarise: Jessica's traumatic childhood didn't seem all that bad (like, OK, her father was experimenting on her, but he wasn't hurting her) until the very end just before HYDRA comes in. I felt like I got a better feel for the character's past from references in Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel appearances. Spider-Woman Origin just left me thinking, "Huh? Is that it?" The art was pretty and probably the best thing about it. Only a few gratuitous butt shots. I don't particularly recommend reading Spider-Woman Origin if you're looking for, y'know, good comics. If you want a quick summary of Jessica Drew's life, then go for it.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2007, Marvel
Series: Spider-Woman Origin, entire series (issues #1–5)
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited

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