Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

26 February 2016

Avengers: Quicksilver

Collects: Quicksilver #1-13, Heroes for Hire #15-6, and Heroes for Hire / Quicksilver Annual ‘98 (1997-8)

Released: March 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 440 pages / color / $34.99 / ISBN: 9780785192930

What is this?: With the Avengers gone, Quicksilver becomes leader of the Knights of Wundagore. Sure, why not?

The culprits: Writers Tom Peyer, Jon Ostrander, and Joe Edkin and pencilers Derec Aucoin, Paschal Ferry, Ivan Reis, Casey Jones, and others

I wouldn’t say Quicksilver is one of Marvel’s most fascinating characters, but he does have several facets that are worth examining. Pietro Maximoff is the biological son of Magneto, the mutant rights crusader / supremacist / messiah; how does he deal with the implications and obligations of that? How does who his father is affect his relationship with his daughter, Luna? He’s married to Crystal, a member of the Inhuman royal family; how does he get along with his in-laws? Why does he have occasional bouts of insanity, and does he want to do anything about it? How does he feel about the various groups he’s been with, like X-Factor, the Avengers, and the Brotherhood of Mutants? Is he truly a hero, given his heel turns? And what’s his relationship with his sister like?

Well, in 1997, with the Avengers (including his wife and sister) trapped in a different universe after Onslaught, Marvel decided to give Quicksilver his own series, which has been reprinted in Avengers: Quicksilver. As you no doubt have not guessed, the focus of the series was on Pietro and his leadership of the Knights of Wundagore.

Avengers: Quicksilver coverYes, the Knights of Wundagore, a bunch of animals who have been uplifted by the High Evolutionary to be human-like and taught to treasure the values of chivalry. Why wouldn’t you want a series about them?

Perhaps because you don’t like being bored. That’s the reason I would’ve voted against making them the primary supporting characters of the series. Quicksilver’s connection to the Knights is that another of the High Evolutionary’s creations, Bova, was midwife to his and his sister’s birth. Bova then gave them both to a gypsy couple because the Evolutionary told Bova he sure as hell wasn’t raising them.

With no team to join, Pietro has retreated with his daughter to Wundagore, which quickly falls to an assault by the Acolytes, a mutant band who worships Magneto. The High Evolutionary leaves and puts Pietro in charge of the Knights, which is a bad idea. Quicksilver’s personality is mercurial (ha!), and he rarely sticks with anything for long. Perhaps as someone who has been abandoned, Quicksilver might be expected to cleave to the Knights, but instead he wanders off, doing other things. It’s not so much that Pietro is a bad leader; it’s that he’s rarely around to lead. Most of the Knights are captured by the Brotherhood of Mutants for three issues before Pietro notices. When the main character of a series can’t be bothered to show any interest in the plot, the series is in definite trouble.

Initial writer Tom Peyer introduced a large cast: Pietro, the Knights, the Acolytes. The Knights’ personalities — except for White Tiger, who appears mainly in Heroes for Hire — are too human, too archetypal. They are loyal servants of the High Evolutionary, loyal brothers and sisters to each other, and little distinguishes them from one another. A couple are brainy, a couple are earthy, but only their animalian appearances make them stand out. Sometimes, not even that makes them seem any different: when the Knights visit New York, the crowds’ reactions are little different than when the X-Men, with their image inducers on, take in a Broadway show. As for the villains, none of the Acolytes develops a distinct personality except for Exodus (zealous madman) and Amelia Voght (underling whose heart might not be in the cause). The rest don’t even rate an archetype.

Peyer also includes a few issues with the Inhuman royal family after Crystal returns from Heroes Reborn. Thematically, he hits the right notes in this story: Pietro feels like an outsider among the Inhumans, and he feels they are suspicious of him because of his previous poor choices in their kingdom. It’s also the only place in the book we see Quicksilver’s impatience with the slow pace of human (or Inhuman) life. Maximus, the evil member of the royal family, takes advantage of Pietro’s reputation and impetuousness, but the Inhumans who jailed him for what he did under Maximus’s control get off too lightly — especially given how Maximus exploited them as well. (There’s also the matter of the Inhumans’ slave race, but that’s not really relevant.)

Peyer leaves after #6, after the dust-up with the Inhumans is over. The new writers, Jon Ostrander and Joe Edkin, write Crystal out immediately. The separation between Pietro and Crystal happens not because she doesn’t like the Knights (she doesn’t, but they barely enter into the story at this point) or because of her family’s distrust of Pietro; it’s because he acts like a controlling, jealous husband whenever the man Crystal had an affair with, the Black Knight, is around. It’s not hard to understand why Pietro would act that way, but it’s an additional complication that isn’t necessary.

Ostrander and Edkin turn the book into a Knights vs. Acolytes story, with Exodus using the Brotherhood of Mutants as patsies. This story meanders from upstate New York to the Savage Land and back before heading to Wundagore Mountain. None of the action leading up to the series-ending crossover, Siege of Wundagore, makes much of an impression. The High Evolutionary is having trouble with his form and mind, but the story would drift toward the same conclusion with or without him. The death of one of the Knights makes a brief ripple in the story’s aimlessness, but the Knights aren’t that bothered themselves about it.

It’s a shame, really. During these issues, it becomes obvious who Sir Anon, a Knight who hides his identity, is. The Knights’ blind loyalty to the High Evolutionary and their brotherhood keeps them from seeing it, however. Sir Anon should be important during these issues, but he’s playing the waiting game; rather than nudging the pieces into the right places, Sir Anon waits for them to drift together, then acts during the Siege of Wundagore crossover.

The Heroes for Hire seem tacked onto the Siege of Wundagore, a crossover that tried to revive interest in two titles lurching toward cancellation. Only White Tiger was needed, since she’s one of the Knights, created by the High Evolutionary to fight his wayward creation, the Man-Beast. Another Hero might be interesting; White Tiger loves Iron Fist, and Black Knight’s history with Pietro might complicate matters. But those three plus Luke Cage and Ant-Man bog down the story, and their fight for their humanity after the High Evolutionary “evolves” them never gets the space it needs to be interesting.

So: the bottom line is that the entire book is too overcrowded with characters that never get developed, with faces indistinguishable from the crowd. Quicksilver’s involvement in the Live Kree or Die crossover (#10, part 3 of 4) with various Avenger-related titles makes matters even worse, and that’s not even considering the After-School Special tone of the issue.

None of this helps the book’s many artists any. Derec Aucoin, who penciled #4-6, 8, 10, and parts of 11 and 12, tries his best, but it’s all forgettable. He and the other artists, who include Pascal Ferry (Heroes for Hire and the annual), Ivan Reis (#7 and 9), Casey Jones (parts of #1-3), blend into a flavorless mélange of ‘90s art. (Mark Bagley makes an incongruous but recognizable appearance in #3.) None of them are incompetent, although their rendering of the female form might be criticized. Their action sequences are largely understandable. Their body language makes sense, usually. It’s just … it was the ‘90s, man, and a second- or third-tier title at that. Expectations weren’t high, but they were met, and possibly slightly exceeded.

Avengers: Quicksilver was almost certainly published in anticipation of Quicksilver’s appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron. I can’t imagine this book did the character any favors, and like the original series, it’s publication is a lost opportunity to do something more interesting.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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19 February 2016

Silk, v. 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon

Collects: Silk #1-7 (2015)

Released: October 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 160 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785197041

What is this?: Cindy Moon, recently freed from ten years in a bunker, tries to find her missing family while maintaining the semblance of a personal life (mostly for appearance’s sake, it appears).

The culprits: Writer Robbie Thompson and penciller Stacey Lee

I like Silk, v. 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon, but I admit I have a hard time putting my finger on exactly why. It’s only when I compare Silk (alter ego: Cindy Moon) to Spider-Gwen that everything I like is illuminated, and I realize it’s a lot of little elements that add up to an enjoyable book.

Unlike Gwen Stacy in Spider-Gwen, readers get a good idea of who Cindy Moon is and what she does when she’s not a hero. Cindy is confused and angry after spending a decade in isolation. She was bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker, but she was convinced by Ezekiel Sims, the Amazing Spider-Retcon, to hide herself away to avoid attracting the attention of Morlun, one of the jerks the assembled Spiders-Heroes eventually defeated in Spider-Verse. Ezekiel is gone, killed by Morlun. Cindy resents the sacrifice Ezekiel convinced her to make, and as much as she wishes she could punish him, she needs the information that only he seemed to know: where he hid her family.

Silk, v. 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon coverSo despite her cultural knowledge being a decade out of date, Cindy interns at the Fact Channel so she can use its resources to search for her parents. When she isn’t fighting crime or looking for her parents and brother, she spends time with a couple of friends, Rafferty and Lola. She gets guidance from Spider-Man. She finds an archenemy, the Black Cat, and a frequent sparring partner, Dragonclaw, whom she manages to engage as a human being. She even goes on a date with Johnny Storm.

All this makes Silk a well-rounded book, and I suppose that’s what I like about it.

“Well-rounded” sounds like a low bar to hurdle, but it’s not. Likeable protagonists who fight opponents who are both engaging and powerful are difficult to find, but writer Robbie Thompson manages that. (Looking back, I’ve reviewed six straight books that weren’t able to meet that standard.) Given her past, the Black Cat isn’t a black-and-white villain, and she tries to dissuade Silk from opposing her before launching a vendetta against the hero. The Black Cat has become a crimelord, which gives her the resources to be a real challenge to Silk even when Silk has allies. But while the Black Cat schemes, Thompson works in another villain, one who has connections to the Black Cat and to the mystery of Silk’s family. It neatly combines the story threads, and the battle with him is a pleasing way to end the first storyline.

Going back to comparisons with Spider-Gwen: Silk’s costume is immeasurably better. The colors are subdued without being drab, spider-related without being a copy of Spider-Man’s. The subtle spider legs above and below the web pattern on her chest is a great touch. I don’t care for the “S” in the middle of the webs; it looks carelessly written, and it isn’t big enough to be featured in the middle of the costume, but fortunately the “S” rarely shows up in the art. I like the mask that covers the bottom part of her face, which allows artist Stacey Lee to communicate a great deal of emotion through Silk’s eyes.

The mask was already a part of Silk’s costume, so an artist who can draw expressive eyes is a must. Lee, who drew five of the seven issues in Life and Times, is that artist. I’m not usually impressed by manga-influenced artists in superhero books, but Lee is excellent with conversational scenes, and her action work is clear and dynamic. Her Cindy in flashbacks is the picture of wide-eyed innocence and adolescent angst; in the modern day, Cindy retains some of that, but she has gained an angry edge and occasional maturity both in and out of costume.

Besides giving Cindy a couple of friends her own age, Thompson uses J. Jonah Jameson as not only comic relief but as a solid character in his own right. The former mayor works as a talking head at the Fact Channel and still has a hatred for Spider-Man, which somehow doesn’t extend to Silk. (Since Jameson’s hatred has always been irrational, that’s OK.) But in addition to be an angry man who gives Cindy the nickname of “Analog,” he shows he’s a decent human being; when he learns Cindy’s predicament, he offers to help, showing himself to be the stand-up guy he is often said to be as but rarely gets a chance to be.

Silk isn’t a perfect book. No book is, of course, but Thompson never explains the book’s most important question: Why does Cindy dress as Silk and fight crime? Peter Parker has the lesson taught by Uncle Ben, Spider-Gwen has the respect for law and justice that her detective father taught her … but why is Cindy doing this? The flashbacks don’t give any idea that she has a thirst for justice, and being a superhero doesn’t help her find her family.

Thompson is vague about Silk’s previous appearances and powers. Thompson not reminding the reader what she’s done since Peter let her out of the bunker is fine, although I feel like I’m missing some piece of continuity that will make sense of my complaints. As for her powers, she can create her own webs, she has a spider-sense — Silk sense — and can spin clothes out her silk. She has the standard spider-strength and agility, so I guess we’re supposed to guess she has all Spider-Man’s powers with a few more added in. Additionally, she somehow knows Lola is attracted to Rafferty, although that could be because she’s observant instead of being able to detect pheromones.

Some of my complaints are niggling. Cindy’s lack of cultural knowledge is grating and sometimes nonsensical — how does she research at the Fact Channel if she doesn’t know what Google is? The Fantastic Four’s appearance seems gratuitous, and spending an entire issue on it is a waste of time. Her anger when Peter tries to get her help seems out of proportion to the sin. Thompson also doesn’t delineate what Peter and Cindy’s relationship is. He wisely deprecates the creepiest part of Cindy’s origin: that because she and Peter Parker were bitten by the same radioactive spider, each has an almost uncontrollable sexual attraction toward the other. It’s amusing for a few pages, maybe — maybe — but it’s problematic in a larger sense. Peter Parker and Spider-Man are present in Life and Times, but the implication is that their relationship is more mentor / newcomer than sexual or romantic. On the other hand, one or two scenes leave the idea that the two of them could be (or are) more than just similarly themed superheroes.

The book ends with the end of the world in #7, which isn’t a surprise for readers who know Silk and the rest of the Marvel line was interrupted by the Secret Wars crossover that ended the Marvel Universe (briefly). In #7, Silk runs through the city on its final day, trying to reach a destination, but she keeps getting delayed by people who need to be saved. The art from Tana Ford has trouble selling the urgency and action, but despite that, I couldn't guess whether Silk would reach her destination until the last couple of pages. Cindy gets a major win as the world ends; I’m going to be very upset if she’s not allowed to keep that victory when the regular Marvel Universe returns.

I enjoyed Life and Times. I’m looking forward to the next volume, Sinister, which comes out in May. The groundwork laid down in Life and Times will likely make clear which of my complaints are unimportant and what I’m supposed to be paying attention to. On the other hand, Sinister will take place in an all-new, slightly different Marvel Universe, so who knows what the ground rules are?

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Half Spider-Man symbol (3.5 of 5)

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12 February 2016

Skull the Slayer

Collects: Skull the Slayer #1-8 and Marvel Two-in-One #35-6 (1975-6, 1978)

Released: April 2015 (Marvel)

Format: pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785193975

What is this?: After surviving a plane crash in the Bermuda triangle, a Vietnam vet, a physicist, his assistant, and a wealthy white teenager encounter a weird world with dinosaurs and aliens.

The culprits: Writers Marv Wolfman, Steve Engelhart, and Bill Mantlo and artists Steve Gan, Sal Buscema, and Ernie Chan

In 1975, Marv Wolfman finally persuaded Marvel to publish a series that he’d had simmering in his mind for years, a series with a bold premise: readers would hate every character, but to distract them, the artist would include dinosaurs.

That wasn’t really the premise. Wolfman’s idea has a former soldier leading a group of plane-crash survivors around a mysterious island in the Bermuda Triangle, where they have to deal with dinosaurs, aliens, and all manner of strange mysteries. But the characters’ unlikeability will remain my lasting memory of Skull the Slayer, a mid-’70s Marvel series with more ambition than continuity or ability, long after I forget everything else but the dinosaurs.

Skull the Slayer coverThe unlikeable roll call starts with Vietnam vet Jim “Skull” Scully. He’s had a hard time of it: years spent in a POW camp, where his jailors tortured him for information he didn’t have, followed by a sour homecoming where he found his wife shacked up with another man, his parents dead from their worry about him, and his brother strung out. Almost immediately, his brother attacks Scull with a knife, and in the scuffle, his brother is killed. Scully goes on the run, and his arrest in Bermuda leads to him being on the plane that crashes in the Bermuda Triangle.

All that should build a lot of sympathy for Scully, but as soon as he meets the other survivors of the crash, his arrogance comes to the fore. He’s always scuffling with Dr. Raymond Corey, the physicist, over dominance in the group. He scorns the peacemaking of Ann Reynolds, Corey’s assistant, and Jeff Turner, the son of a wealthy Ohio senator. He won’t compromise; all his dialogue is bluster, convinced the entire world, down its smallest molecule, is against him. This is the Marvel template: a hero with ability (Scully kills a dinosaur in #1) but brashness that drives everyone away. In the Marvel style, the hero eventually comes to an understanding with (most of) his supporting cast, toning down his rough edges, but before that happens, he abandons Corey, Reynolds, and Turner to their deaths in #4.

Since Scully is the protagonist, the other characters are supposed to irritate Scully and the readers, by extension. The supporting cast mainly gets broad-stroke characterization, and the writers aren’t afraid to lean on stereotypes when they have to. Corey is highly educated and scorns Scully as a murderer; he’s also African-American, and he admits his frustration with racism that has held him back. Corey’s bitterness drips from every word of dialogue, but he lacks any empathy or vulnerability. Sexism has held back Ann Reynolds, but she often assumes female stereotypes — an obsession for clothes, an injury while running that prevents the others from escaping, etc. Turner is a load with a bad haircut.

Wolfman left the series after #3, so it’s possible he could have planned to soften the characters some. Steve Engelhart, however, took over for #4, and he torpedoed any chance Scully had for likeability by having him abandon his comrades during an escape attempt. This was part of a plan to dump Scully’s supporting cast for a more in-depth investigation of the world Scully found himself in, but #4 was Engelhart’s only issue. Bill Mantlo, who guided the series to its limping end, wrenched the series back in the direction Wolfman had aimed it in by resurrecting and reinstating the supporting cast the next issue. Oops!

Knowing someone abandoned you in the hour of your direst need, and that you actually died because of what they did, would put a crimp in any relationship. Reynolds, Corey, and Turner forgive Scully unimaginably quickly, although they do spend #5 trying to kill him.

Given the characters’ lack of charisma, Skull needed intriguing plots and / or great art to succeed. Skull had a very strong similarity to the TV series Lost: in each, the survivors of a mysterious plane crash find themselves on a weird island with little chance of rescue. (I would pay cash money for a sequel to Skull, with Scully tearfully crying, “We have to go back to the island!”) After the plane crash, the mysteries Skull and his crew uncover on the island include:
  • Dinosaurs (#1)?
  • Why are there prehistoric men (#2)? They didn’t exist at the same time as dinosaurs.
  • Where did that dead alien come from (#2)?
  • And why did he have a magic power belt (#2)?
  • Why were all those human and alien pilots (now skeletons) tied to stakes in one place (#3)?
  • What’s the deal with the tower that has different time periods on each level (#3), all populated with robots?

Those are Wolfman’s plots, with Marv piling weird stuff into the pages without seeming to have an idea of how to resolve them or what the survivors should be doing, other than not being eaten by dinosaurs. Perhaps three issues is too little time to be seeing movement in those areas, although the lack of a plan shows why Scully should not have been the group’s leader.

Engelhart wraps up the last plot in that list — aliens built the tower as part of a plot to conquer Earth at all time periods simultaneously — but then Mantlo ends that plot in #6 with the destruction of the tower. It’s unclear whether the aliens are responsible for the non-tower weirdness on the island — why do aliens care about dinosaurs? — but Mantlo moves on to a faux-Aztec society, another pilot from our world, and societal civil war. Wolfman returns to wrap up everything in two issues of Marvel Two-in-One, but it’s clear he’s sweeping up the pieces in case another writer sees something he likes. Most of those pieces ended up in the trash, though. Wolfman didn’t even bother to salvage (or mention) the pilot from our world that Mantlo introduced.

For readers who like drawings of dinosaurs, though, Skull might be something to investigate. (Evidently not enough of those existed in the mid-’70s.) Steve Gan gets the bulk of the dinosaur duty, drawing #1-3 and #6. His dinosaurs are massive, powerful creatures. Sal Buscema’s arc (#4-8) concentrates on different eras of human history; his work is harmed by the bright colors, but his design for the alien Slitherogue is satisfyingly sinister. (Sure, Slitherogue looks like he’s a Yellow Peril villain, but he’s purple, and from outer space, so it’s OK, right?) Buscema’s less-detailed style suffers compared to Gan’s work; Gan’s linework, especially with its emphasis on the hair and sinew of the figures he draws, is more in keeping with the dirty, more animalistic world the book inhabits. Gan’s Scully is a more vicious, feral man than Buscema’s version, giving the impression that Scully might be a man who fits the island better than he does modern society. Ernie Chan draws the MTiO issues like they are, well, MTiO issues, and the more superheroic look is jarring. The rushed plot does Chan no favors, though.

The series is a brief flash of muddled creativity that never clicks. Readers can probably find bits and pieces that entertain them or that they’d love to see repurposed in something more coherent, and the series’ failure shows how difficult it must have been to keep the mélange of character and mystery plotlines going for so long on Lost. Skull the Slayer is an artifact of the fecund ‘70s, but like a lot of the high-concept ideas that came out of that time, its execution means it isn’t worth reading.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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05 February 2016

Spider-Gwen, v. 0: Most Wanted?

Collects: Edge of Spider-Verse #2, Spider-Gwen #1-5 (2014, 2015)

Released: December 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785197737

What is this?: In a world in which the radioactive spider bit Gwen Stacy instead of Peter Parker, Peter is dead from his own stupidity and Gwen is Spider-Woman.

The culprits: Writer Jason Latour and artist Robbi Rodriguez

When Gwen Stacy first appeared as Spider-Woman in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, I admit I had trouble seeing the appeal. Like the rest of Spider-Verse, a series that traded more on novelty and combinatorix than ideas, Spider-Gwen seemed like a product of trying endless combinations of characters and shades of Peter Parker to see which fit roughly in the ol’ Spider-Shaped Hole.

After a little thought, I did understand why Spider-Gwen might have caught on. Gwen Stacy has been dead so long she feels like a new character; a Gwen designed for the 21st century is far different than the hip / mod woman who died more than 40 years before. She is also the most prominent girlfriend killed to create a plot point or give character development to her boyfriend; flipping the script, so that she is the hero in a world where Peter Parker has died because of Gwen’s heroic identity, is novel, if not the most complex idea. Also, the Gwen Stacy in Spider-Verse wasn’t sexualized in any way. She was a hero who happened to be female — refreshing and sadly unusual.

Spider-Gwen, v. 0: Most Wanted? coverSo despite my skepticism, I decided to give Spider-Gwen, v. 0: Most Wanted? a try. My specific reservations may have been misplaced, but I wasn’t wrong to be uncertain about the ongoing title.

Still, the book delivers on distinguishing itself from most mainstream comics. The cast is more gender diverse than most Marvel (or DC) comics; that should be a given in a female-led book, but I suppose nothing’s a given when it comes to women in comics. The book has more racial diversity than most, although Glory Grant, Hobie Brown, and Randy Robertson don’t have many lines. The book also returns other long-dead characters from the grave: Gwen’s father, George Stacy, plus Det. Jean DeWolff and Ben Parker.

The Spectacular Spider-Ham also shows up, as a hallucination offering Gwen advice after a concussion. It’s is a nice callback to the Spider-Verse crossover, but I didn’t particularly care for that storyline. More objectively, although Spider-Ham is amusing, his silliness is completely at odds with the rest of the story and with the seriousness a traumatic brain injury.

The art, though … I may be in the extreme minority on this, but the art makes this book hard to read. Much of this can be traced to the color palette, courtesy of colorist Rico Renzi Pinks and purples and greens and yellows don’t go together, and they give entire pages a nauseating / bruised look. Is the goal to make readers unsettled all the time? The narration doesn’t support this. Plus, green and purple are Marvel’s go-to villain colors. Are we supposed to interpret Spider-Gwen’s dimension as a villainous or anomalous timeline?

Spider-Woman carries some of that purple / pinkish in her costume, which artist Robbi Rodriguez seems to have designed by picking up design elements other heroes have been mocked for, then adding boat shoes. Her hoodie isn’t any better today than Ben Reilly’s was when he was mocked for it during the Clone Saga two decades ago. (Still, you can buy Gwen’s hoodie if you want. I’m not saying you should … and for those who object, saying Ben’s costume had a sleeveless hoodie, well, you can buy a sleeveless Gwen hoodie at the same site.) A character who swings through the night shouldn’t wear white, and Gwen’s choice of that color is just as ridiculous as Moon Knight’s is. Plus, those pink / purple highlights are worse, in their way. I refuse to believe any hero should wear slip-on shoes. The bustier outline on her chest adds a feminine touch to a costume without feminine signifiers, but why would Gwen want to do that? It seems a strange addition to an otherwise progressive title.

But maybe my evaluation of Gwen’s fashion decision-making process is wrong. If so, it’s from lack of evidence: Writer Jason Latour doesn’t give readers much information about Gwen when she’s not wearing her costume. Her father mentions in passing that she’s in college in Edge of Spider-Verse, but we never see that. Most of her free time seems to be taken up not playing drums for Mary Jane Watson’s band, agonizing about being able to be a hero and a drummer at the same time. What does she do with the rest of her time? She visits Ben and May Parker in #4, but it’s clear she hasn’t done that in a while. Does she spend all her time as Spider-Woman? If so, why isn’t she burnt out?

It’s a shame so much time is spent on having Spider-Woman fight all the time; the best part of the book is Gwen relating to the Parkers, who obviously have a great deal of affection for Gwen. May explaining her feelings about Spider-Woman and Ben acting jollily paternal while Gwen wrestles with her guilt is a nuanced moment the book could use a more of. But Gwen doesn’t interact with her supporting cast much — the occasional discussion with Glory and Mary Jane about whether she’s in the band, a conversation or two with her father about her superheroics.

I’m not sure Rodriguez’s art fits the new Spider-Woman. It’s a great fit for rock drummer Gwen Stacy: slightly loose and jangly, slightly disheveled. The rough edges work for the violent police scenes as well. But it doesn’t seem to fit a superheroic story the same way, especially one so brightly (gaudily) colored. Also, Rodriguez’s art sometimes doesn’t quite convey all the information it should. On the nitpicky end, when Spider-Woman fights the Vulture in a hallucinogenic fog during #4, Latour’s dialogue indicates she sees three Vultures, but only two show up on the page. More concerningly, Rodriguez makes all blondes look similar: Gwen, her mother (in pictures), a female graffiti artist. And I’m still not sure what happens to Felicia Hardy at the end of #5; Spider-Woman knocked her out, but did the ninjas who had been attacking her take advantage of that? If they didn’t, why not?

I will admit I thought making the Bodega Bandit, a common thief, look like Hamburgler was amusing without distracting from the story.

Latour leaves most of the background of Gwen’s dimension undetailed, which leaves readers with questions. However, not all the questions are mysteries readers should expect to be patient about; the questions that come to my mind are ones that assume Latour hasn’t thought of the implications of his choices. For instance, in a world without Daredevil and the Fantastic Four (or maybe just without a Thing — Ben Grimm’s a cop), why isn’t a flying guy spewing hallucinogenic gas a bigger deal? What is the connection between Felicia Hardy and the women in the Mary Janes? It doesn’t seem like a French thief / beggar should come into contact with a group of girls from Forest Hills. Why does Spider-Woman think the Vulture believed he is “owed” and “entitled”? His dialogue indicates he wanted respect, although after being ripped off and stepped on by Norman Osborn for years, he is probably entitled to recognition, money, and a fair amount of retribution on Osborn.

And why do Latour and Rodriguez insult Steve Ditko? When Gwen runs across a thinly veiled Ditko’s Mr. A comic in the Vulture’s apartment, she uses graffiti to tell the Vulture, “You read turrible comics.” Why insult another creator’s works — especially when that creator co-created the character you’re writing? It seems incredibly petty. I can see having criticisms of Mr. A’s ideology, but many of Ditko’s creations have lasted more than a half century and might last a half century more. Will Spider-Gwen last that long? Will any of Latour or Rodriguez’s creations? Maybe … but I wouldn’t put a great deal of money on it.

Since part of my criticisms of Spider-Gwen is based on not learning enough about Gwen’s world and character, I’ll give her another chance, partially because popular and critical opinion runs so strongly against me. Spider-Gwen, v. 1: Greater Power will be out in May, and I’ve pre-ordered it. I can’t guarantee an open mind, though; that color scheme has an unsettling effect on my brain.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Half Spider-Man symbol (1.5 of 5)

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