In many of the comics I picked up as a young adult, women were often the girlfriends or assistants of the superheroes. They were present, but only in relation to the men who starred in the books. Recently, as I’ve started reading Amazing Spider-Man from its beginning in the 1960’s, I frequently cringe as women are solely thrown into the script to fawn over either Peter Parker or Spider-Man. Every so often a woman pops up as a nurse, and less often than that she’ll have an actual line, but on the whole, women aren’t characters with any agency in early Stan Lee comics.
Fast-forward to 2016 and there are three Spider-books featuring women. Not only that, Marvel is beginning an event focused on some of the women in this universe. Having been hyped for months, “Spider-Women” is a crossover that promises to challenge the lives of all three Spider-Women. In the first part, Spider-Women: Alpha #1 sets the stage by trapping the women in one world together and highlighting each’s strengths and weaknesses without laying all the cards on the table just yet.
As with most big events, this first issue takes time to introduce us to the superheroes with whom all of us may not be familiar. New mom Jess is very much the voice of reason among her two moodier mates. When they come across the Super-Adaptoid, she’s the confidently knowledgeable one. Nevertheless, she is the one with the most to lose stranded in Earth-65 with her baby in 616. If nothing else, next issue I expect an ‘I told you so’ from Jess after all her insistences at the beginning of wanting to stay on her earth.
As far as the sulkier counterparts go Cindy, as she consistently acts first and thinks never, continues to irritate me. Conversely, I can appreciate the role she plays even if I have doubts that I’ll ever cheer her on. Despite being older than Gwen, Silk brings a young drive which contrasts Jess well. To round it out, there’s Gwen, considered a criminal and trying to figure out how to be a responsible hero with a private life. Out of the three, her personality is the most unclear, but as the issue unfolds she gains a bigger voice. One thing is certain though, these women all have different goals they’re preoccupied with, and without being able to jump between dimensions, they’re bound to clash.
While all are complex, the animosity between Silk and Gwen adds an extra layer of delight. In many ways, Cindy and Gwen are very similar. They’re both relatively new to being heroes, need to find balance, and are both impetuous. However, it’s clear that the girls also disagree on many levels. While Cindy tries to find similarities between their lives as bad guys, Gwen only sees an impulsive, unstable detriment to the superhero cause, and she makes no attempts to keep her opinions from Jess. Watching some of this unfold against the backdrop of a restaurant named Clowntown has me optimistic that writer Robbie Thompson knows how childish their behavior is. The way he creates a foil between the two young women sets the stage for an edgy, eye-opening crossover.
Of course, these heroes need a villain, and it looks like there will be a few they encounter over the next few issues. We see some familiar faces, and not wanting to reveal everything in part one, the men behind this story style one villain in a disguise to keep us guessing. Like most masked men in the Marvel Universe, I deduce that this one will be somebody integral to the lives of one or all of these women. Still, I could be entirely wrong and the revelation of the man could mirror that of the Crime Master all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #27. Unlike the mysterious man, the disclosure of the boss on the final page is a touch predictable due to some heavy-handed foreshadowing and the original “Spider-Women” press release. The questions we are left with about the team are engaging though. Who is the man under the mask? How did the boss get to where she is? How did she get to the point where all these men are working for her? What’s the end goal?
Unlike the cohesive work of Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez, Vanesa Del Rey’s art is not the perfect complement to Thompson’s story. If Spider-Woman and Silk didn’t wear different outfits, I’d have trouble telling them apart at times. Additionally, the proportions are perplexing; in one panel, Gwen has a long, broad body and the tiniest head I’ve ever seen in a comic and in another her slender legs and arms hardly appear attached to her torso. The way she draws hands and faces is often odd as well. Both Jessica’s and Gwen’s features looks as if they’re melting off due to the peculiar placement of their eyes. Though I do have significant issues with the art, I think Del Rey would do well on a book like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or another horror comic. There’s an energy to her art that seems better suited for a comic like that than an action-packed adventure.
Spider-Women: Alpha #1 isn’t quite the comic I was hoping for when I found out about the female-centric event, yet the potential is there. At the end of the day, do I think this is a book worthy of the $4.99 price tag? No, but I also think this is the first part of a greater whole, and who knows how this issue will read once framed alongside the rest of “Spider-Women.” With great focus on the characters, Dennis Hopeless, Jason Latour, and Robbie Thompson have begun a story that is bound to be game changing for all three women involved, and at the end of the day, if that’s done well, that will be enough to command attention and keep this crossover dynamic.