A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Some time ago I wrote about Spider-Woman. After a healthy reminder of how good female superheroes can be from Wonder Woman, I went and bought two more Spider-Woman collections, Civil War II and Scare Tactics. The nice man in Forbidden Planet worked out for me why the sequence of comics in the volumes I have is mysteriously missing a few, and additional research shows me that there are three volumes of Spider-Woman back story to catch up on. JOY.
I delight in Spider-Woman because of the artwork and the storytelling. The latter is authoritatively feminist, the former is arresting, clean and punchy. The superhero world is fantastically engaging. Captain Marvel floats about the ceiling hanging up fairy lights; super-villains have their own bar hangout; people on the streets don’t bat an eye at all the caped crusaders – hang on, wrong universe – masked avengers wandering around in floating cloaks and pointy masks. Jessica Drew is a multitasking mother and private investigator, but there’s no secrecy about her identity. Early on in Civil War II she emerges from just an average day’s epic fight with sharkmen in the city sewers, all ripped and torn and exhausted and without her mask on, and the waiting populace applaud her. No messing around trying to conceal her name: Spider-Woman is just Jessica Drew’s working title.
It’s the quiet, unshowy role reversals in the Spider-Woman world that I like the best. Jess is a single mother and has two male friends who babysit for her baby boy when she’s on call. When she gets home at breakfast time from the said sharkmen battle, babysitter no. 1 (Roger, aka reformed petty thief Porcupine) is cooking breakfast pancakes, and she eats her while giving baby Gerry his breakfast. Has there ever been a lactating superhero before? Kevin Feige: make a note.
Babysitter no. 2, journalist Ben, doesn’t seem to do much other than be there, face reflected in the glow of his screen while he gently taps out crime story research for Jess to follow up. He takes the shift when the impeccably behaved baby Gerry sleeps all night through. Yes, I found this implausible too, more implausible than a crime-fighting single parent who goes out at night to thrash super-villains to pay her bills.
Ends and tailpieces of other stories intrude, and (though I need to catch up on the earlier volumes) it seems there is a huge fat story for Jess to deal with under her nose that she hasn’t noticed. Roger has his own daughter sometimes at weekends, and his ex-wife won’t speak to Jess. Captain Marvel and Jess keep screaming at each other in some long-standing bickering best-friends-argument that I didn’t really understand, until it seems that Roger’s been killed, and Jess didn’t realise something very important about him.
There are some odd loose ends that don’t get tied up, because Spider-Woman is set in a weird alternative Marvel universe where she can flirt with Bruce Banner and then Hawkeye kills him, but she can also have all the Avengers round for a rooftop party. But the joy of comics is that all stories can carry on, even after years of dangling on a cliffhanger. All Marvel stories are iterations and spin-offs, there is no coherent whole complete story within one single epoch (much like the myths of the gods, whom they do rather resemble). We can be patient and trust the writers.
Jess isn’t very patient, and her rages are epic. She’s a furious superhero, but her rages come from grief, from love, from how people are treated. She is a volcanic spirit of love, running on sleep deprivation and incessant guilt for not being everything to everyone. Many people will find this a familiar thought. In Spider-Woman Dennis Hopeless (yes, that’s his name) has written modern social norms with fancy costumes and silly names, and it’s fabulous.
Hopeless, Rodriguez, Fish & Walker, Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears vol 2 Civil War II (2016, Marvel Comics) ISBN 978-0-7851-9623-5, $15.99; Hopeless, Fish & Rosenberg, Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears vol 3: Scare Tactics (2017, Marvel Comics), ISBN 978-1-302-90330-5, $15.99
Kate used to sell comics on Saturday afternoons in Aberdeen’s first comic store so the owner could go to the football when the Dons were playing at home.