And then, things got all knock-down-drag-out…
That sentence pretty much conveys my feelings about this most recent foray into Gwen’s life as Spider-Woman. After an understandably slower-paced previous issue, things really ramp up in the action department as the story focuses–intensely–on Gwen’s costumed conflicts. We go from seeing all the balls Gwen will eventually be juggling to zeroing in on the plot involving the Kingpin, and the police, resulting in a satisfying pair of slugfests that show our heroine to be tough as nails, no matter who she goes up against.
Again, I have to give props to Jason Latour for writing a tightly-paced, well-scripted issue that features lots of action, a few really nice character moments, and a strong connection to all of the elements that have been put into play so far. Robbi Rodriguez continues to illustrate it all with his wonderfully kinetic and expressive line work, while Rico Renzi’s colors reinforce the stylized, cartoony look of this story without detracting from its drama. This entire team has shown themselves to really know how to pack a wallop, and I find myself vainly hoping they never split up, or leave this book.
It’s fun to watch the stakes build relentlessly, even as Gwen finally realizes the need to have “the talk” with her father and tries to sort out at least that one part of her life. That setup leads perfectly into the knock-down, as the Vulture surprise attacks them, initially targeting Captain Stacy for information about Spider-Woman, but quickly turning into a rematch between the old villain and his newfangled Spider-nemesis. And, since we know how desperate things have now gotten for the Vulture, he’s perfectly willing to fight dirty.
One of the other developments I like about this conflict is how the obvious question of the Vulture piecing her identity together is just flat-out stated by her police captain father. When the fight escalates further due to the arrival of another police captain, Frank Castle, the question becomes even more pertinent. While I understand Gwen’s desire to be heroic and do the right thing when a conflict rears its head, there’s little question that her antics in these pages could have major ramifications down the road, particularly when someone as crafty as the Kingpin is involved in the plot.
It was also a welcome development to see Castle cut loose as he finally came toe to toe with Spider-Woman. Plenty of nods are given to the fact that this is the guy who is the Punisher in the 616 universe, from the go-it-alone attitude to the skull vest and the dirty electric tricks up his sleeve, but it’s the resolution of that fight that is the most satisfying part. I have no doubt that readers will enjoy seeing what happens, and it’s easy to see this is one fight that begs to be revisited.
Since before this title launched, we’ve seen inversions and subversions of some of the most well-recognized characters from Spider-Man’s cast, and in this issue we’re finally introduced to one that I was really wondering about. I won’t spoil this one, but I think readers will know who I’m talking about when that character appears. Let’s just say this is one set of neighbors I’m glad seems to be in the Stacys’ corner. It looks like they may need all the help they can get.
Artistically, this book continues to fly sky-high. It’s difficult for me to talk about Rodriguez’s lines separately from Renzi’s palette, since they work so very nicely together. From the moody, dark settings of the subways and the Stacy household to the chaotic, gas-clouded fights that ensue in this issue, there’s a strong sense of narrative and artistic reinforcement as bold, dynamic illustrations combine with evocative colors and foreboding shadows and mists to sell a story that becomes much more than the sum of its parts. It makes for a reading experience that really pulls the audience in and doesn’t let go.
One excellent example of this combination involves the fight between Gwen and the Vulture outside, in front of the police car. After seeing him continually surrounded by a yellowish-green cloud of noxious gas, I’m surprised he hasn’t yet received the code name Vulture-Pigpen, but the swirling vapors make for an intense arena when these two collide. Gwen’s acrobatics and poise even in the middle of this mist give her a strong, confident look, even as the overwhelming yellow swirl of gas, the frenetic blue and yellow lines of her Spider Sense (yes, I’m calling it that for now), and the multiple images of Toomes all combine to lend a sense of uncertainty to the conflict until the final panel. It strikes a balance of the dynamics in the scene that really helps contribute to the urgency of what’s going on, and makes the story all the more fun a read.
And I haven’t even discussed how it leads directly into the next fight.
With the deft narrative work Latour’s putting into the plot, and Rodriguez’s great artwork supporting it in concert with Renzi’s fantastic colors, it’s easy to feel this book getting even better as it goes on. This is exactly the kind of build I was hoping for, as opposed to the explosive beginning that some fans were disappointed not to get in the first book. Things are ramping up and doing so in a way that really resembles a gradual burn, with things getting more intense as it goes on. It’s definitely a series I have no reservations about recommending to either Spider-fans or more casual comics readers.