The original Spider-Woman has a somewhat odd history at Marvel Comics. Her origins are much maligned as a result of copyright laws, as her first appearance and early stories spun more out of a need to lock down the copyright control over the name than an actual creative desire to tell the story. This meant that a lot of the early material was thrown together unevenly and took longer to develop. This left Spider-Woman, alias Jessica Drew, without a truly definitive origin tale. Her periodic guest appearances in high profile titles like Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers as well as her relatively short-lived solo series in 1978 never really served to develop the character all that fully. Jessica Drew’s lackluster popularity is even more evident by the fact that she subsequently lost even the mantle of Spider-Woman to, not one, but two unique characters during the ’80s and ’90s (Julia Carpenter and Mattie Franklin). Drew wasn’t even popular enough to keep her own hero name.
The result is a dearth of good source material on Spider-Woman, and no definitive origin story to speak of. Therefore, when Marvel powerhouse, Brian Michael Bendis, decided to bring Jessica Drew into the fledgling New Avengers title, there was a renewed interest in her backstory. This five-issue miniseries attempts to fill the void on this character, whose role in Avengers titles and major crossover events has proven the potential for a great story. The tidbits of her origin that had been alluded to showed a complicated past of brainwashing, mixed allegiances, and at least some time as a double-agent between Hydra and SHIELD. The shifting allegiances and subtle espionage elements seemed to bode well for a more expansive origin tale, and the groundwork certainly existed for a great story.
When it came down to it, the story didn’t seem to take as much advantage of its potential as it could have. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, himself, the story seemed to focus more on the family connections to Hydra and Jessica’s inability to decipher the truth when caught between Hydra and SHIELD. The tone and event the art, penciled and inked by the Luna brothers, seems to highlight Jessica’s innocence and a stolen childhood, rather than drawing on her survivalist nature. The result is that Spider-Woman is predominantly a victim, and though she does rise above it as a hero later, she is less empowered or self-sufficient than I think would have done her credit. Rather than emphasizing her childhood in Wundagore, I would have rather seen the creators spend more time in the double-agent period, highlighting Jessica’s cunning and her resolve to stay alive and try to do good, even in a morally ambiguous situation.
Though I don’t think it achieved its full potential, the miniseries is certainly not bad. It does serve the purpose of providing the first consolidated origin story for Spider-Woman. The Luna brothers’ washed color palate and dream-like softer edges, though not my favorite style, was a good fit for the nostalgic childhood memories and the haze of brainwashing. All in all, it’s a solid read for those interested in learning more about Spider-Woman, though it’s hardly essential, as her best material is part of Bendis’ broader New Avengers run.
Rating: 6 of 10