Spider-Woman 17

Today, Taylor and Michael are discussing Spider-Woman 17, originally released March 29th, 2017 . As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

Taylor: My ten-year college reunion is fast approaching this summer, and with it so approaches the acknowledgment that I’m basically who I’m going to be in life. At my five year reunion it was fun to see old friends and also consider how we still still had much of our life in front of us. Now, solidly in my thirties, it’s pretty apparent what trajectory my life is going to take. For better or for worse, people at the reunion will judge me by this metric and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it except choose not to care. Where did I learn such sage-like wisdom, you may ask? From the heartening and fun somewhat final issue of Spider-Woman, I answer.

Having put the her recent adventures behind her, Jessica Drew is ready for a new adventure altogether. This one, though, is different in that it trades costumes and capes for wining and dining. Jessica wants to introduce all of her Avenger friends to her new family, but damn it all if that isn’t as terrifying as facing down a super villain. Knowing that she’ll be judged by her coworkers stresses Jessica out, but it also leads her to a revelation.

Compared to recent issues of Spider-Woman, 17 is a delightful change of pace and tone. Jessica’s worry about the Avengers’ acceptance of her new family is charmingly familiar. Most people can relate to being the odd man out at a party, whether it be with friends, relatives, or coworkers, and the fear that we or our loved ones will be judged is real. Jessica’s fear that the Avengers will negatively judge Roger, and therefore her, is engaging because it’s something that is wonderfully easy to relate to.

That Jessica calls the Avengers “self-righteous” is a delight because of course superheroes are. And really, how many of us have friends who are also self-righteous and judge our every move? Similarly, even if people don’t have a friend like Natasha, they probably know someone like her. That we are allowed to see the Avengers for being the same type of people as our friends, coworkers, or family makes them all the more human and the unlikely scenario of them all gathering for a rooftop party more likely.

As Roger’s absence at the party grows more apparent, so too does Jessica’s agitation. At first she tries to subdue her feelings with wine, but that proves ineffective. After hearing Natasha once again insult Roger, she can’t muster any more deference and voices her feelings to all of the Avengers assembled.

Jessica admits to the party that she’s in love with her life for possibly the first time. This is a monumental moment for Jessica and shows that she has finally arrived in a place where she is happy. This is no small feat given that she has lived several different lives up to this point in time. Realizing that, Jessica sees that there’s no point in trying to pretend she’s a self-righteous Avenger when she’s not. Sure, Roger’s not perfect, but he makes Jessica happy and that’s all that matters. We tend to think of superheroes as being amazing humans, but so many of them actually are miserable. That Jessica is both a hero and happy lets me know that she’s doing something right with her life.

Generally it’s also funny to see how many of the heroes in attendance really have no idea how to be useful outside of the context of saving the world. Natasha may be a great spy, but she’s a horrible friend. Spider-Man may have saved New York countless times, but he’s mostly just good for eating hors d’oeuvres at a party. Even the mighty Thor is helpless when it comes to catching a runaway baby.

That few of the Avengers are that good of house guests or that useful in catching Gerry illustrates their shortcomings in areas of their life that don’t concern the fate of the universe. That’s understandable, given how hard it is to be a superhero, but it goes to show how much Jessica should be celebrated for being such a well-rounded human being. As I prepare to go to my ten-year reunion, I hope that I can carry myself with as much grace and self confidence as she. If so, maybe I’ll find myself actually having a good time instead of worrying about the judgment of former classmates.

Michael, I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, and found it to be a fitting end to this creative team’s time on Spider-Woman. Do you feel the same way, or do you wish things went out on a more theatrical note? I failed to mention any of  the art in this issue — did anything jump out to you? Perhaps a somewhat horrifying reference to the movie Trainspotting? And would you ever invite Spider-Man to your party? Seems kind of like a mooch to me.

Michael: Taylor, I must confess to never having seen Trainspotting, so any particular reference is lost on me. At Retcon Punch we write about finales — whether they be the end of an arc or the end of a creative team’s run — all of the time. I always find it curious how harshly the general public judges finales, as if it’s mandatory that it be a sweeping epic final statement on the story. I like those finales but I also appreciate the quiet, more intimate finales like the one that Dennis Hopeless and Veronica Fish craft in Spider-Woman 17.

And really, I think that the narrative focus of Spider-Woman 17 jibes well with the direction that Jessica Drew’s life has taken. For the majority of the party, she is stewing and worrying about what her superhero pals think of her relationship with Roger. Once the Black Widow drama unfolds and baby Gerry is safe, Jessica realizes that she doesn’t really care about what anyone thinks. She’s not interested in the life or death antics of superhero-ing, instead opting for the life of a Private Investigator. This life-changing decision is exemplified by the last pages of the issue, where Jessica makes it clear that she’d rather spend her time inside with her close friends and family then go back outside to the superhero party.

Another element of superhero comics that I find fascinating is the portrayal of superheroes when they are guest stars in other heroes’ stories. In the pages of Black Widow, Natasha Romanov is a self-sacrificing champion of future would-be assassins. In Spider-Woman 17 she is relegated to the role of villain, chiding Jessica for her romantic and career aspirations. I think the portrayal of Natasha as Mean Girl is a little over-the-top, but I suppose someone needs to embody the conflict that Jessica faces. Still, I would think that an ex-KGB superspy would know how to keep her cool and keep her mouth shut about her opinions, but maybe since she’s off the clock she’s not thinking like that.

Taylor brought up Spider-Man so I’ll touch on him next. First off, yes I would definitely invite Spider-Man to a party and fully expect him to mooch — he never knows when that Parker luck is going to strike! Secondly I liked the portrayal of Spider-Man here, which is rare because I am inexplicably picky when it comes to Spidey-portrayals. In addition to the humor and the mooching, Spider-Man is genuinely excited and inspired that Roger is having a successful go of walking away from a life of crime. I like my Spider-Man to be a little more open-minded and encouraging, so this pleased me indeed.

Spider-Woman 17 has the beginnings of a classic sitcom setup: woman is worried about what her friends will think of her boyfriend, boyfriend goes missing and friends start judging. What I’m delighted did not happen was Jessica getting mad at Roger for being gone only to realize that it was because he was protecting her baby. Maybe that wasn’t even a consideration for Hopeless, but the fact that the story didn’t go in that direction shows us that both Hopeless and Jessica are completely confident in her relationship with Roger.

Speaking of Roger’s part in the story, he gets to engage in a bit of Baby’s Day Out meets The Incredibles, as he chases after baby Gerry — whose spider powers just kicked in. The most imaginative and enjoyable exploration of Roger trying to get ahold of Gerry occurs on a double-page spread by Veronica Fish.

Retcon Punchers Patrick and Drew like to draw lines to track the choreography of an action scene or page layout, which is exactly what Fish does here. The red dotted line might seem out of place in any other circumstance but here it gives a Where’s Waldo? effect that heightens the comedy of the scene. The movement of that particular line isn’t completely straightforward, forcing you to connect the dots and fill in the blanks between the objects in the room, which gives it a three-dimensional vibe.

All in all I’d say that Spider-Woman 17 was a nice little send-off from Hopeless and Fish, promoting the idea of self-acceptance and ignoring the nay-sayers. Also I’m always in favor of superheroes hanging out at parties in full costume. Did everybody catch Howard the Duck eating a sandwich?

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?


3 comments on “Spider-Woman 17

  1. See it kind of ignores that fact that Porcupine’s ex-wife is absolutely correct: Spider-woman is what we used to call a “homewrecker” here. Due to Spider-Woman;s intervention, the Porcupine goes back on the path of righteousness, and it seems he is ready to be a father again, a husband again. Then Jessica is overwhelmed by her baby and Roger helps her one night, tells her it gets easier..

    But she doesn’t seem to care if it “gets” easier; it JUST GOT EASIER! Let Roger handle it! And then suddenly Jessica bullies Roger under the auspices of full time training to move into her apartment as a Nanny so she (Roger’s employer), could go out and be a full-time Spider-Woman.

    I love Spider-Woman, have since the 80’s… but i find this to be utterly repulsive. She exerted professional and later personal power over that poor sweet oaf and took him away from his ex (and soon to be re-married) wife and child to make him, essentially, her lackey. And let’s not kid ourselves, that’s really what he is.

    • I think that is a bit unfair. Ultimately, Roger’s choices are on his own. Jessica never bullies him, or uses her position to control him. Instead, you have three friends who are close to each other. Jessica, Ben and Roger are all close, after let’s say a year of being a team. And because they are close, they are all willing to help each other out. And Jessica, as a mother who has just had her first baby, is the one that needs the additional help. So Ben and Roger do everything they can to help, and Roger even happens to be good at it. And it isn’t like Jessica isn’t reciprocating during the times Roger has Kalie round.

      The fact that Roger’s motivations changed doesn’t mean that Jessica has done anything wrong. Roger started his redemption in an attempt to repair his family, but in his quest found a new family. And while he repaired things with Olivia, he decided the best way to fix things was to remain amicable exes while building his new life. One of those great bits of storytelling wisdom is that what a character wants at the start of a story should not be what they want at the end of the story. And that’s what happened here. He changed his priorities.

      I’m not a fan of their relationship, but I don’t think the problem is with Jessica abusing her authority. Roger just found himself in a new family unit, a family of Jessica, Ben and Roger, and made the choice to stick with that one instead

  2. I was not particularly happy with this issue. A disappointing finale to a great run.

    Part of it is that I wished this issue was the conclusion the previous arc was missing. The previous arc started amazingly, but when Roger returned, the story faltered. Instead of the turns and reversals that make storytelling work, everything felt easy. Yeah, Jessica got punched a lot, but the emotions and the characterwork felt static. It honestly felt like we were in the moment of grace that preludes a tragedy. So the fact that Jessica and Roger’s relationship is in exactly the same place as it was in the last issue is disappointing.

    And it doesn’t help that the Jessica/Roger romance has been really poorly done. Jessica suddenly kissing Roger would have worked, if it was building up to a tragic end.
    Not the best Moment of Grace ever, but workable. But as the start of an actual romance? It is pretty poor. Romances, like nearly every other sort of story, work best with a sense of arc, a sense of cause and effect. The problem here is that I don’t think enough work has been put into explaining why Jessica is interested in Roger romantically. Hopeless has done a great job in building their relationship, but not as a romantic relationship.

    Which is a problem, as this really hurts Roger’s arc. Jessica’s arc (leaving aside all the stuff that has to do with Roger), of someone retiring from the big leagues to build a new, better fitting life, is perfectly concluded here. But Roger’s main arc hasn’t been about proving he deserves Jessica. Making Roger’s final issue about how he proved to the Avengers he was a good enough boyfriend is wrong. Roger’s arc was about correcting his mistakes, both as a father and as a superpowered figure. A much better ending would be scrapping the romance stuff, throw in a supervillain who manages to grab Gerry while he’s running around. Avengers can’t do anything, because the villain has a baby and they either have not brought their stuff (imagine a joke about how Peter hasn’t brought his webshooters, as he’s going to a party, and they’re actually quite itchy) or not willing to do it with Gerry at risk (Should I throw Mjolnir at the baby?). Then have the big moment be that Roger successfully manages to save Gerry from a supervillain, showing off to the Avengers that he is both a good ‘uncle’ and a legitimate hero. And ending that focuses on Roger’s redemption is a much better ending for Roger than an ending showing his romantic suitability.

    It is a shame that Emma Frost was made a villain again, as she would have been perfect in Natasha’s role. Being a judgemental Mean Girl is who she is, and having her judging Jessica would have worked really well (forget the fact that Natasha is out of character for a moment, and think about the Emma Frost equivalent of ‘I was a particularly impressive super-spy’. It would be sensational). The only major change you would have to make is to Natasha’s final line, as Emma would never be that sincere.
    But Natasha? Why the hell would Natasha be the Mean Girl. I can see her wanting Jessica to return to the big leagues, but not that she would do so like that. Let’s ignore, for a moment, that as a master superspy, Natasha would have skills in manipulating assets etc, etc. If we look at Natasha from a superficial level, we know she belongs to multiple archetypes who have, among their primary features, a high level of social sophistication. Even at the most superficial level, such crassness is wrong for Natasha. Going deeper, into her talents or the specifics of her characterisation, just makes it feel much more inaccurate. At least her dress was amazing

    But the problems with Natasha just compound the core problems of this issue. Hopeless, for all his sensational work on this series, has never done the work to show why Jessica cares about Roger romantically, rendering the romance false even as Jessica’s ‘For the first time ever, I love my stupid life’ rings so true in the way that made this series one of the best books on the shelf. And the romance then ruins what should have been the climax of Roger’s arc, turning what should have been a story that definitively proved that he had learned from his mistakes and deserved to stand side by side with Jessica into a story about proving why he was a good enough love interest.

    There is a lot to praise in the art. THe obvious stuff, like that two page spread, is easy to talk about, as is the expressive faces and the kineticism of the panels (Jessica pouring the wine past the rim and Roger trying to reach Gerry in the chip bowl before Gerry accidentally flies off the edge are amazing). But there are some subtler stuff. Like, I feel a lot of work was put into the placing heroes like Hawkeye, the Vision etc in the background when characters talk disparagingly about Roger. Places heroes famous for being villains before they became heroes is a fantastic way to show the hypocrisy of judging Roger. The best page is the one where Jessica walks through the crowd at the start of the party, waiting for Roger to return while getting annoyed at all of the side glances. In those first two panels, to both Jessica left an right, the hero closest to the foreground/most obvious is an ex-villain. Songbird, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Vision. Hell, the person Hawkeye is talking to is silhouetted so that we see Hawkeye in the front, not his conversation partner. Great art.

    Also, the cover has got to be an all timer. So good.

    Still, unfortunately, a disappointing end to a great book

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