Spider-Woman has a lot in common with her best friend, Captain Marvel. They’ve both carried names spun off from established, male characters, changing missions and costumes throughout the years, while struggling to find a niche and their own identity. Not to mention the overly-complicated origins.
But where Margaret Stohl did her best to clean up Carol Danvers’ story, the newly-released Spider-Woman: Bad Blood only serves to muddy Jessica Drew’s waters. Kelly Sue DeConnick crystallized Captain Marvel’s purpose, but Karla Pacheco here seems to once again divert Spider-Woman’s.
Of course, she’s not the first to break from Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum’s groundbreaking portrayal of the character as a detective relying more on her ingenuity than her serum-given talents. Spider-Woman floundered a little purposelessly after that, with Hopeless himself sort of shoving her into his Secret Empire tie-in issues of Doctor Strange, only for Drew’s new suit to be swapped back to the skintight red and yellow in the decidedly less-grounded Strikeforce.
Designed by Dave Johnson, Bad Blood introduces a costume that might be seen as a compromise between the pseudo-body paint and Kris Anka’s leathers, with a tenuous in-story reason for its existence, but it’s more anchovies and ice cream than peanut butter and chocolate. Pacheco follows suit by adding even more to Spider-Woman’s already-convoluted history.
Bad Blood revisits Drew’s past through a relationship struck up with a teenage girl she’s hired to provide security for. Without spoiling too much, the two share more in common than either realizes, the girl’s father has a large role to play in all this, and that’s only the beginning of the family drama. This would all be fine if it pushed the character of Spider-Woman forward, as she deals with accepting the revelations, but it’s more often played for laughs or shock value.
The overall tone of the book is more swashbuckling, zany adventure than introspective character appraisal (see: the dinosaur steed fight). Deaths are treated like no big deal and a particularly disturbing twist near the end isn’t given the proper time to sink in, as the story has more explosions it has to stuff in.
At least they look good! Rising star Pere Pérez has a greater grasp on the flow of action than many artists, although that can clash a little with his not-quite-photorealistic faces. Frank D’Armata’s colors are fitting, bright where they need to be, and more ominous in tenser situations.
Rather than being another step in the character’s journey, Spider-Woman: Bad Blood feels like a strange detour, the kind of which she’s suffered way too many of already. Little hints throughout do pay off (sort of) as time goes on, but they’re overshadowed to the point of almost missing them by the bombastic action. It’s a tangled web that makes it hard to find a coherent, driven narrative, much like Drew’s publication history itself.
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