Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens fifteen years ago, where we find Jessica is a rather gawky teenage girl who is attempting to gather the courage to talk to a boy named Peter Parker. However, when she finally manages put her fears of rejection aside, we see she picked a rather inopportune time, as Peter has just been bitten by a radioactive spider, and as such he's a bit occupied. As a dejected Jessica runs out into the street she narrowly avoids being run down by a speeding truck transporting dangerous radioactive canisters, we see her head home to wallow in her misery. At home we see Jessica has herself a brat of a little brother, and when the family heads off for a vacation in the country it is the back-seat fighting between Jessica & her brother that diverts the attention of Jessica's father, which in turn has the family car slamming into a passing military convoy. As the car spins wildly out of control we see a canister of a unknown chemical from one of the trucks lands in Jessica's lap moments before the vehicle flies off the road, and bursts into flames. We then see Jessica awakens from a coma six months later to discover she was the sole survivor of the accident, and as she finds a family willing to adopt her, we see Jessica begins to get the sense that something has changed, though she can't quite put her finger on it.
It's clear Brian Michael Bendis had some fun inserting Jessica's origin into the Marvel Universe, as this issue is littered with fun little moments that are sure to catch the eye of longtime readers. From Jessica's first attempt at striking up a friendship with a boy being cut short when the boy in question is bitten by a radioactive spider, to her almost getting run down by a speeding truck loaded with radioactive waste, it's a lot of fun watching this character bouncing around the edges of these famous encounters. There's also the big showcase as we see Jessica wakes up from her coma to witness one of the truly memorable moments from Marvel's early years. My only quibble with this story is that it does open with the text "fifteen years ago" which in turn puts Peter Parker at the very least in his early 30s, and the same goes for other heroes, such as Daredevil & the Human Torch. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the story situation itself established it was in the past, so there was really no need to set a fixed passage of time. I mean that first page alone is an ideal cue to the reader about where & when this story is set. It is interesting to note that this issue does effectively abandon the idea that the events of John Byrne's "Spider-Man: Chapter One" occurred, as there is no explosion at the lab, when Peter gains his power.
Another fun aspect of this issue is that it almost gleefully acknowledges that the early days of the Marvel Universe were littered with "accidents", as we have a sign the proudly states "Experiments in Radioactivity, Open to the Public", and naturally the city streets & highways are littered with vehicles transporting toxic & radioactive waste. Now yes Stan Lee went to this well a little too often in his bid to create an entire universe of super-heroes, but there's actually something rather endearing about the idea of these people running around with their dangerous experiments, and transporting hazardous chemicals through the city streets. Now Jessica's "accident" is rather nightmarish in that she is the only survivor of a crash with a military truck that was transporting dangerous chemicals, and in one fell swoop she loses both her parents, and her little brother. Plus since she was the one that diverted her father's attention from the road before the accident, one images she is not only suffering from the anguish of losing her entire family, but she must also feel that she was responsible for the tragedy. The issue also managed to do some nice work establishing Jessica as almost the female counterpart to Peter Parker, in the early stages of the story before the accident, in that she too was effectively shunned by her fellow students.
It's not often that I'm surprised when I go to fill in the credit box, but I must confess that I had just assumed the book had brought in a guest artist to convey the old school look that this issue offers up, so when I went to fill in the credits for this review, I was truly thrown when I saw Michael Gaydos listed as the artist. Now upon closer inspection I can see the basic elements of his style are still present, as the book still offers up the repeating panels where only a little detail is changed, and when the book shifts to the darken hospital, the heavy shadows make their return. However, I truly have to commend Michael Gaydos for adopting a new art style for this issue, and presumably for the next issue as well, as the material works so much better under this new look. I mean it's clear he's trying to emulate the more bolder, more simplistic style of artists like Steve Ditko & Jack Kirby, but where many artist attempting allow this style to overpower their own, Michael Gaydos manages to hold on to his modern day storytelling sensibilities. There's a very real sense of uncertainty when Jessica makes her failed bid to reach out to Peter, and the car accident almost too real looking, with the final panel of the burning wreck being particularly effective. Then there's the lovely double page shot of the Baxter Building, and its infamous alien visitor.
This issue does evoke a much simpler time for the back-story to take place, as while the accident where Jessica seemingly gains her power has an very powerful element of tragedy to it, the issue itself is very caught up in the idea that the early days of Marvel it was quite easy to stumble your way into an accident where one was granted superpowers. Now the issue does manage to evoke a very old school feel, there are some moments that are quite jarring when placed in the Silver Age environment (e.g. the scene in Jessica's bedroom, the horrific car accident), but I suspect these were purposely inserted into the story to effective shatter the illusion that the rest of the book managed to so lovingly create. Still even with these more serious minded moments the issue is very much a recreation of the more simple era in which it is suppose to be set, and Jessica's time as an alienated teen is very nicely realized. The issue also delivers a wonderful man on the street look at one of the great moments from Marvel's Silver Age.
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