Writer: Brain Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Publisher: Marvel Comics
So, how long did we have to wait for this exactly? It feels like I’ve been excited about this for years: one of my favourite comic-book characters, one of my top-ten artists, and one of the better writers in this medium working in what is probably his best genre. Surely, this was going to be one of the best comic book series ever. But, given the incredible run of aborted release dates for this product, can Bendis and Maleev (or anyone for that matter) succeed from under this weight of expectation this delay has created?
Before anyone asks, no – I haven’t seen any of the already-released motion comics based on this series, nor do I intend to. Admittedly in part because (as my long-suffering Editor can attest to) I’m pretty hopeless at technology for a man in his early 30s, I just don’t see any need for my comics to move. In the same way that I can’t ever see myself enjoying reading comics on the computer screen (I do it occasionally for reviews and the like, but that doesn’t mean I find it fun), I really don’t think I’ll ever be interested in watching characters jerk across the screen in 70s cartoon style when I can play all that of stuff out far better in my own head, while relaxing with something other than a monitor or screen in front of me.
Anyway, enough of that and on to this lovely paper format comic book. I’ll deal with the easy part first: the artwork in this first issue of Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D is absolutely stunning. Despite my concerns about still panels suffering from the need to meet the requirements of the motion-comic, Alex Maleev does not disappoint, and in fact this may be his best work yet. Yes, the pages are dark and murky, but this reflects both the tone and the setting of the book to perfection – yet in the moments where the book needs to come alive, it explodes with vitality. Not many artists around today can depict the full range of tone, scenery and character so elegantly, but Maleev brings this to every single panel, while still maintaining the full integrity of sequential storytelling.
The story itself, however, manages to just fall short of the standards set by both the stunning artwork and my (probably unreasonable) expectations, although to be fair to Bendis, I think this is mostly to do with ‘first-issue syndrome’ rather than a lack of skill or judgement on behalf of the writer. For a seasoned Spider-Woman fan like myself, the additional pages taken up explaining the origins and previous tribulations of Ms. Drew only detract from getting the story to where it needs to go before it can really kick-on to be the series that Bendis clearly wants it to be. It is only fair to add that these recaps are handled with flair by both writer and artist (including a very nice double-page spread combining new and older panels from Bendis and the Lunas’ Spider-Woman mini-series), and integrated nicely into the flow of the story as well as I’ve seen done anywhere before, but it still leaves the impression of a writer being held back from delivering on in his very best work.
Everything I had read about this series leading up to the publication of this book suggested that this was to be more a noir-detective tale as opposed to a more traditional pants-and-capes escapade. Yet, despite the opening sequences of introduction to Jessica Drew’s current situation following her abduction and eventual escape from the Skrull Secret Invasion, and her job offer from Agent Brand to hunt down the last of the alien invaders on behalf of the S.W.O.R.D organisation, there is little in this issue to suggest anything particularly new or innovative in the way Jessica’s trip to Madripoor is going to play out. Even the appearance of Spider-Man towards the end is telegraphed and a little more obvious than I’ve come to expect from one of the great contemporary exponents of misdirection and sleight-of-hand in this medium.
This is not to say that this issue is not excellent. In fact, Spider-Woman #1 is one of the best comic books I’ve read this year. There are enough positive signs here to suggest that this book is only going to go from strength to strength. The concept is excellent, and if Bendis can stay true to his vision and hits his stride, free from the conventions of launching a product to a potentially new market of readers, I have little doubt this series will be spinning closer to greatness over the coming months. With Maleev’s gorgeous art leading the charge, I’m more than happy to be caught up in this story for a good long while yet.