Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Spider-Woman 16, originally released February 22, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
“…as for Ellen and me, we were finally joined into a new element — much, much bigger than anything we had ever known. We didn’t know what the future had in store for us, but what did it matter? We fulfilled our destiny.”
“Day of the Dot” The Adventures of Pete and Pete
Patrick: Action movies and will-they-won’t-they romanic stories have a lot in common. Both rely on the promise of something big and meaningful just on the other end of the narrative. It’s a sense of longing — either for a pair of soulmates to recognize each other or for explosions and motorcycle chases — that drives like 90% of the story. When the lovers get together, or the fists start flying, that means we’re just about at the end of the thing. The Adventures of Pete and Pete got its two teenage leads together in a special before the series even got started, which made for a weird transition to a regular serialized romance. It was kind of neat though, to actually see the glory of their romance (in all of its innocence) before having it awkwardly revoked a few episodes later. Spider-Woman 16 moves us to those goal posts on both the romanic and action fields, showering the reader in destinies fulfilled.
And the issue beautifully starts out with a statement of the storytellers’ commitment to delivering on both action and romance — the glowing, love-sick smile of Roger… suspended upside-down from Hobgoblin’s flier.
I love this issue because it gives exactly what writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Veronica Fish have been teasing for four issues. And Fish is absolutely on-fire in this issue — and I mean that in an NBA Jam kind of way and not in a tire-fire kind of way (even though a tire-fire features prominently in the climatic battle sequence).
I want to get a little nitty-gritty on why and how the composition of Fish’s layouts are so damn compelling, so bear with me while we zoom way in on one key example. First of all, Hopeless assists with a slam-drunk set-up: Spider-Woman riding a motorcycle through a flaming scrap yard, battling Bruin on the ground and Hobgoblin in the air, while also trying to protect Roger. High stakes, threats everywhere. Fish keeps Jessica in the center of every panel, spinning her camera in a 360 degree orbit to take in all of Jess’ heroic acrobatics.
Follow the lines from Hobgoblin’s lasers in that first panel, and it leads the eyes simultaneously to that little insert of the bike’s gas tank leaking and Jess poised to take action in third panel. Also check out the way the lenses Fish approximates in panels one and three allow a curved perspective on the scene, making the fire take up a ghastly amount of space on the page. There’s also a subtle hint of disorientation associated with the near fish-eye quality of that first panel. But by panel four, Jess totally has her bearings and the coolest-looking plan you can imagine, and the lens flattens out. At the same time, the camera drops lower, showing more sky than fire and subtly insisting on Jess’ control of the situation. Panels four, five and six are incredible — Spider-Woman stays facing left, even as she — and the reader’s natural eye movement while reading — moves her to the right. Jess is so cool and confident that she doesn’t need to look at what we’re looking at. There are also these opposite-twin vectors expressing low motion to the left and high motion to the right as the motorcycle takes out Bruin and Jess jumpkicks Firebug off his flier. Jess, however, is never content to rest and casts her eyes skyward, still trained on Roger and Hobgoblin.
It’s such artful badassery! And it is perfectly matched by a happy ending which delivers on all the reunions and reconciliations you could ever want. This isn’t quite as virtuosic on Fish’s part, but it is goddamn effective.
I can’t tell if my critical faculties are being blinded with sheer joy or what — but this issue reads as just about perfect to me. I know there may not be as many complex statements about human psychology or even the need for community or whatever, but hotdamn if it doesn’t just feel good to see Roger, Carol and Jessica all fulfill their destiny.
Spencer, did you love this one as much as I did? Seeing Roger as the Dude in Distress was a delightful flipping of the script, even if he does stand up for himself in the end. Also, is it a narrative cheat to have Carol come in and save the day or is that finally resolving their fight in a meaningful way?
Spencer: Well I mean, it’s not as if Carol came out of nowhere — she’s made multiple appearances throughout this arc, making her a part of its vocabulary, and therefore giving her sudden arrival here a lot more legitimacy. Besides, her rescue (and the subsequent restoration of her and Jess’ friendship) is just straight-up cathartic, and now that this storyline has reached its conclusion, it feels safe to say that catharsis is what it’s been all about.
Anyway, Patrick, you’re right that seeing Roger as the Dude in Distress (who eventually stands up for himself) is a lot of fun, and appropriate to the already-established relationship between he and Jess. It’s also a nice counterpoint to the more traditional choice to have Jess fall in love with the man who’s been quietly pining after her from afar, but even that often-dicey trope doesn’t bother me in this case, thanks to the work Hopeless and Fish have put into fleshing Roger out. The audience has seen Roger grow and evolve, become a man worth loving, so when Jess realizes her feelings for him, it’s not her falling in love because she somehow owes Roger or because it’s destiny — it’s because she’s finally seeing in Roger what the audience has seen for a while now. I think we can all root for that.
The opposite is true, as well. One of Hopeless’ greatest strengths as a writer is crafting distinct voices for his characters, and Roger’s especially shines in this issue. His internal monologue clues us into the exact reasons why he loves Jess so much — the sentiment rings true not just because his affection comes from a very personal place, but because the readers likely love Jess for the same reasons. I’m sure we don’t need to be reminded that we love Jessica Drew, but Roger’s listing every detail that makes her special — every detail that make him love her — makes the appeal of Spider-Woman clearer than ever. It helps, of course, that Jess lives up to Roger’s view of her, consistently backing up his praise with action and results.
Side-note: I like the little detail of the fists next to each of Jess’ injuries here. While it’s never specified, I’d guess they indicate how painful each wound is. Notice how even a three-fist injury — or the combined six fists! — can’t slow her down.
Again, it all comes down to character. Aside from being about as thrilling as humanly possible (I’ve got to echo Patrick’s praise for Veronica Fish — she’s doing career-defining work here), the action sequences work to emphasize how these characters think and act, both separately and as a team. Jess is rather indefatigable as a standard, but especially so when Roger’s life is on the line, and Roger’s got his “turn things around at the last minute after being helpless for far too long” shtick down to a science. Their team-up, likewise, helps to emphasize the chemistry they’ve built up over this run — from their casual acceptance of an impending glider crash to their not-so-badass taunts, they’re clearly made for each other, and have a mutual affection that leaps off the page.
And boy, how fantastic is Fish’s body language? I love Roger’s expression in that first panel — his jaw is such a fun touch, an expression that’s equal parts goofy and tough, which describes Roger in this moment perfectly. These two look haggard yet ready for anything, but that’s a facade that falls once Carol comes to their rescue, in yet another scene Fish just nails.
Jess’ pose especially is a bit exaggerated, but it’s immediately clear how relieved she feels, and perhaps even how, now that the threat of Hobgoblin has subsided, her fatigue is hitting her all at once. Fish makes it perfectly clear what her characters are feeling at all times, dialogue or not, and I can’t get enough of that.
I’ve gotta admit, as much faith as I have in this creative team, I still came into this issue somewhat nervous. After the gut-punch of Roger’s supposed death and the heart-shattering aftermath, there was always the chance that his survival could end up feeling cheap, or the whole thing exploitative. Ultimately, though, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Losing Roger, no matter how short-lived, helped Jessica understand the depth of her feelings for him, and likewise, showed readers how much they’d miss Roger if he was really gone. This issue is all wish-fulfillment happy ending, but I’ll be damned if these characters and this creative team haven’t earned this happy ending.
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