Spider-Woman Vol. 3: Back to Basics makes a lot of moves, starting with issue #11, to be a great jumping-on point. It does this by massive course correction from the first ten issues, in which Jessica Drew stumbles through yet another tired ‘woman gets de-powered/loses control of powers and sabotages relationships’ story, the likes of which is becoming an irresistible bad idea among creators on solo woman superhero books—and which, frustratingly, have been a staple of Spider-Woman stories since her introduction in 1977.
The events of those first ten issues, as collected in the first two volumes of this series, come almost to a full stop by issue #11, retaining the bright new supporting cast of Jess’s newfound family—a brother and a niece, each with their own unique narrative promise.
I wasn’t exactly angry about the new costume—I think costume updates, a la the X-Men, are exciting ways to illustrate a new shift for a character—but for those purists among you, Jess is likewise returned to her classic crimson and gold (now with some upgrades). But that sudden, almost surgical shift in tone between the first ten issues to the present story is indicative of a sort of wonky instability in the series.
You see, within the span of the book, events continuously happen off-panel, characters’ relationships to one another inflate or shift without warning, and massive chunks of exposition often interrupt the action. Issue #15 of the series begins in media res with Jess and her recently introduced niece, Rebecca, in an out-of-control helicopter. It’s a smart dive into action, but it leaves the cliffhanger of the previous issue so unresolved that the issue is forced to give a hazy recap of those missing moments mere pages into the story, essentially invalidating the dramatic intent of an in media res introduction altogether.
Moments like this are compounded by a seeming lack of repercussion; Jessica Drew’s newfound brother, for instance, has done nothing but lie, poison, attempt to murder, and otherwise betray Jessica at every turn, yet Jess invariably refuses to let that stop her from blindly trusting him. Jess’s long-term boyfriend, Porcupine, leaves in a very short scene that occurs apropos of nothing, and is almost never referenced again—and the potential conflict of Jess superhero-ing without childcare is resolved instantaneously by the return of classic supporting character Lindsay McCabe.
All of these complaints, as serious and aggravating as they are, somehow don’t completely derail the joy of the joke-packed, over-the-top action sequences—the moments of the book in which Jess fully feels like a superhero we can root for. Her bombastic fight with several superpowered mercenaries from New York to New Jersey in issue #13 is a nearly pitch-perfect 30-ish pages. It’s the perfect illustration of how to effectively use fight sequences to move a story—both figuratively and literally—without dropping any important aspect of the ongoing narrative.
Jess’s sense of humor is also balanced, in this volume, bringing some warmth and levity to a book that has needed it. She feels like herself, here, in a way that some writers never quite manage–a character who is comfortable in her own skin, even if her life is rocky and teetering on catastrophe at all moments. It’s a feat, especially for a character as oft-neglected as Spider-Woman, and it’s the sort of tone that will carry forward into adventures years down the line.
At its heart, what Karla Pacheco and Pere Perez’s Spider-Woman is in the process of becoming the sort of Jessica Drew story the character deserves (and the readers are desperate for): one in which all the inconsequential falls away, and what’s left is a solid supporting cast surrounding a Jess being brilliant.
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