Written by Karla Pacheco
Art by Pere Perez, Paulo Siqueira, Oren Junior and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Jessica Drew is sporting some brand-new togs in Spider-Woman #1, but despite her stylistic overhaul, the storytelling in this new series feels surprisingly business as usual. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing — while writer Karla Pacheco’s plotting feels small-scale and decompressed, her action and characterization feels on point. Meanwhile Pere Perez delivers solid if workmanlike artwork, even if he’s hampered by a less-than-stellar redesign and one-upped by Pacheco and Paulo Siqueira’s beautifully human backup story. This team doesn’t necessarily knock this debut out of the park, but it is a clean base hit that will still charm fans of this longtime spy, superhero and Avenger.
For someone with S.H.I.E.L.D. training and Avengers clearance, Jessica has been a bit of a screw-up since her post-Secret Invasion days, and it’s that characterization that Pacheco taps into adeptly. Of course, it can be a little counterintuitive to try to get readers on board for a new status quo that is Jessica serving as a bodyguard for a rich child’s birthday party — but to Pacheco’s credit, she uses the party’s cruise ship setting to let Jessica go wild with tons of fun fight choreography, including hot-wiring a convertible with her bioelectric energy or literally using a foul-mouthed child as a projectile against a mercenary. (Jess may be a mom, but this feels like a particularly funny way to show that she… might not be the best mom in the Marvel Universe.)
But the problem with committing so heavily to a single action set piece is that Pacheco’s brand-new direction feels pretty shallow. She’s grappling with some sort of illness or condition, but given Dennis Hopeless’ star turn with the character when she was pregnant, it feels hard to top that thrilling status quo — so while Pacheco hits a surprisingly fun note by showing how erratic Jess can be (see: the aforementioned kid missile), it feels a bit like one note.
To be fair, though, Pacheco’s also let down a bit by art team Pere Perez and Frank D’Armata — it’s not that their art is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s often so middle-of-the-road that it doesn’t elevate Pacheco’s script or utilize any of the generous elbow room she’s provided to let them strut their stuff. There are a few strong moments here and there — Jessica pulling a helicopter out of the sky is a particularly intense beat, the whole page bending as she painfully arches back with all of her might, not to mention a suddenly gruesome last page — but for the most part, the action unfortunately feels generic. That said, this might also be because they’re struggling with Jessica’s new costume — mostly a black jumpsuit with vague Spider-Man accents, it’s a hard look for even someone like Perez to pull off.
What surprised me, however, is Pacheco’s backup story with Paulo Siqueira — which one could make a compelling argument should have been the core creative team for this series. While at first glance Siqueira might seem like the more cheesecake-y, photo-driven style of a Greg Land, his acting chops shouldn’t be overlooked — a single panel of Jess dejectedly putting her head down in the window of a shared cab tells us so much more about the character than the entire previous storyline, and a page of her walking into her apartment to see her baby literally crawling on the ceiling is a fantastic touch from both Pacheco and Siqueira. It’s a fun story that does a much better job of selling Jess’s new costume — if not her slightly narrow new status quo — and one that does a far more effective job in getting us engaged.
It’s that backup story that shows me there’s some untapped potential in Pacheco’s new run on Spider-Woman, if only she’s given the time by audiences to explore it — from her time in captivity of the Skrulls to her more recent stories as a superheroic mom, Jessica Drew is a character with a ton of depth for this creative team to explore. That said, it does feel like a bit of an unforced error to move forward with this new book with a costume design as lackluster as this new one, and if Pere Perez can’t figure out the key to making it work, this relaunch may be over before it begins. Hopefully as this team finds their voice and hits their stride, future installments of Spider-Woman will soar rather than sink.