I’ll admit it; I am not obsessively following “Secret Wars.” Sure, it is a big event that’s supposed to have a huge impact on the future of Marvel comics, but outside of a handful of titles, I’m just not all that fascinated by it. However, for those of us out there that aren’t following along, there are still a few titles being released that deal with events pre-“Secret Wars.” Despite an almost two month gap between issues, Spider-Woman is one such comic. Spider-Woman #9 captures the magic of Jessica’s unconventional journey to do good away from the Avengers, but falls a bit short of the high standard set by previous issues.
Per usual, Javier Rodriguez produces art that is amongst the best in modern comics. Grittier than previous issues, the energy and color of his panels make me linger on each page. His two-page spread showcases Jess taking down the bad guys and it captures all the best elements of this series’ art. It’s vibrant, animated, and enthusiastic. Rodriguez stages the scene in the midst of several vehicles who’ve directed their highballs at Jessica and her enemies. This allows him to cast her in stark silhouette only to reveal her face in the final moments of the scene. It’s a standout moment of the issue and truly showcases the unique abilities that an artist that does his own inks and colors can bring to a book. Additionally, Rodriguez has an attention for detail, but refuses to clutter the page, creating fascinating panels that uniquely bring this story to life.
As far as the narrative itself, Hopeless has quickly transformed Jessica from a B-list character about whom few cared, to one with agency and an engaging personality. His strengths lie in utilizing Jess, Ben Urich, and Porcupine as a team of distinct individuals trying to work together in spite of their differences. Jess acts first and thinks later, Ben Urich is thoughtful and understanding, and Porcupine is a mess trying to turn his life around. They feel real, not perfect, and I’m left wanting to discover more about them.
Luckily, Hopeless delivers a satisfying peek into Porcupine’s life. As a D-list villain, I didn’t know what to expect from Porcupine, but after a few issues, he’s become one of the strongest elements of Hopeless’ storyline. He’s a bumbling klutz and the perfect foil for Jess. If not for Porcupine, Jess would probably solve most cases quickly and with ease. Fortunately for us, Porcupine is around to screw things up. In Spider-Woman #9, his innocent desire to recapture his youth leads to Jessica’s next dilemma. We get a peek into his past, and with that we also get some action in the present. It has purpose outside of showing us more about Porcupine, and that’s what all writers should strive to do.
By unwittingly bringing Jess to a town and a sheriff that seemingly have it out for Spider-Woman, Porcupine launches the next predicament in this series. This new mystery is interesting, yet it’s not quite as exciting as the arc that ran from Spider-Woman #5–#8. Even though I felt conflicted with the ending of that arc, the beginning had me begging for more. Issue #9 doesn’t have the same momentum or intrigue. Whereas the idea of someone coming after villains and stealing their families felt excitingly fresh, the enigmatic new villain who has some sort of grudge against Jessica feels like old ground. It’s old ground but I’m not willing to completely write this story off until I learn more about what’s really going on in Dodge City, Hopeless has surprised me before and I suspect there is more than meets the eye in Dodge.
Additionally, the issue is a bit unbalanced. While the first pages are humorous and illustrate how the driven Jess and the bumbling Porcupine clash, they are out of sync with the darker panels that follow. It reads as if someone cut up two different comics and glued them together. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not great either, and it certainly dampens a series that has been otherwise good since the end of “Spider-Verse.”
Although this issue doesn’t knock it out of the park, I’m confident enough in Hopeless’ and Rodriguez’s skills to believe that issue #10 will wrap Jess’ story up in an interesting way. I’m not giving up on this duo yet, they have demonstrated that they’re willing to push narrative boundaries and tell interesting character-based stories, which is what I expect out of the best of comics.