This is my first review of the actual “Spider-Woman” comic (Chad Nevett did those honors), but I did review the first episode of the motion comic this summer, and I found it to be an almost complete disaster. I watched the second episode, just to see if they fixed any of the problems, and while the voice acting seemed slightly improved, it still suffered from some of the same things that torpedoed the first installment: sub-“Days of Our Lives” performances, dialogue that was not effective when spoken aloud, and the kind of limited animation that makes motion comics seem like low-budget cartoons.
I haven’t seen the third installment, but I can say that “Spider-Woman” #3 works quite well as a comic. Without the distraction of bad voice talent and musical cues, Alex Maleev’s art gets the attention it deserves. Though his work on the “Spider-Woman” comic resembles screen captures from the motion comic, it’s more than that. It’s arguably his best work to date, with his subdued-neon color palette and his expressive character work. He’s working from live models for his “Spider-Woman” pages — the model for Jessica Drew is credited on the opening page — and he’s worked with models on other projects in the past. But what separates Maleev from other “realists” who use photo-reference or models is that he’s able to capture the nuances of emotional detail without sacrificing the emotion. His characters don’t feel stiff or overly posed. They feel like they inhabit the comic book space, and they ground this sci-fi fantasy comic in a way that makes it seem substantial.
Brian Michael Bendis does the same thing, with words. This is a comic about an alien-abducted superhero, a super-secret spy organization, and a society of serpentine evil scientists. Yet Bendis makes it about individual people within those contexts. It’s a traumatized young woman with mommy issues, and a couple of strong women who try to manipulate her. Some of the dialogue may chafe — Bendis has trouble shifting from casual diction to anything more formal, even when formal would be a better fit for the character — but he does a nice job making this about the characters in these situations rather than about the situations themselves.
This is certainly a character-centric book, though Bendis and Maleev aren’t afraid to make the literal sparks fly when they must. This story unfolds slowly, but it’s a strong, emotionally-charged unfolding, and the moments of tension receive release in physical action in a few panels.
Though Madame Hydra is ready for anything Jessica Drew can throw at her.
This issue concludes with an unforgettable image — the kind of situation that everything from “Secret Invasion” onward has built towards. And because Bendis makes the moment feel earned, and because Maleev makes it all look sad and powerful and charged with tension, it’s a strong cliffhanger. This is good comics, whether or not it works when delivered on iTunes.