Spider-Man stories, by and large, tend to be at their best when they’re focused on characters first, and there is never any shortage of opportunities to find a particular character, or ensemble, and give them a memorable entry. Spider-Man #11 does this with Miles’s father, Jefferson Davis, giving him the spotlight in a story that is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor from last issue.
For the most part dispensing with its titular star, we get an in-depth look into Jefferson’s mind as he negotiates with S.H.I.E.L.D. to let him come back into the fold, something that has rarely ever happened after an agent leaves the organization. His reasons for doing so are both believable and understandable: he wants the agency to protect his family from any threats that might arise from Miles’s superheroic shenanigans. S.H.I.E.L.D., it seems, is willing to listen, and puts Jefferson through his paces immediately with an undercover mission.
It’s when things go wrong that Jefferson is really tested, and as his cover gets blown, he finds that the situation is in many ways not what he anticipated. In a scene that would put any parent’s back against a wall, he has to weigh his allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D. and decide just how far he’s willing to go to protect his family. Without giving too much away, I will say the scenario is played out nicely, and manages to avoid cheese and contrivance in a way that is, again, both believable and understandable.
One of the major strengths of this issue is Bendis’s use of characters. Clearly he understands them, from Jefferson to Dugan and Maria Hill, from Black Cat to Hammerhead. Everyone for the most part behaves as readers would normally expect them to, which makes the payoff at the end even more astonishing. As we get to know more about Jefferson, both his reasons for wanting to return to S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as his reticence in doing so guarantee our attention will be on his decisions as the story unfolds.
I’ve always been a big fan of Sara Pichelli’s artwork, particularly with regard to how distinctive and beautiful her individual characters are. She’s in top form with regard to the old classics everyone knows about–Black Cat looks beautiful, slightly flirty, and deadly, Hammerhead looks hulking and threatening, and Maria Hill looks commanding and sharp, for example–but it’s her work with Jefferson here that really sells the story. Jefferson, at least in this situation, is a man of few words, and most of his expressions are similarly guarded. Pichelli gives meaning to a warning glance, a sweating brow, and other signs of a tense reign on the emotions that tells you Jefferson is not playing around, but not entirely sure what he’s gotten himself into. It works exceptionally well, and paired with the shadows and dark palette of Marte Gracia’s colors, helps make the story pop with suspense.
Overall, I’m very pleased with this issue. Now that we’ve broken away from the narrative mandate that was Civil War II, Bendis, Pichelli and company are able to focus on delivering a more intimate and emotionally driven story that will doubtless resonate with many readers. As Miles’s adventures continue, after this issue it will be no surprise that readers will wonder how Jefferson’s arc will affect them.