When you talk about Marvel Comics, you often talk about franchises. You don’t just discuss the Avengers or X-Men book, but the Avengers or X-Men line as a whole. It’s how the publisher has organized their IP in order to better manage and sell it. This year, Comics Bulletin Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett has been diving down the rabbit hole of these franchises in review series. So far he has tackled classic teams like The Avengers and X-Men as well as Marvel’s push to make the Inhumans happen. Now he’s looking at a franchise based not on a team, but a single character: Spider-Man. Is the massive proliferation of Spider-books resulting in quality or just quantity? Let’s find out.
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez
Colors by Javier Rodriguez
Letters by Travis Lanham
Spider-Woman continues to not only set the bar for quality within Marvel Comics, but all of modern superhero comics. It is only rivaled by the likes of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, The Ultimates, Ms. Marvel, and The Vision. That quality comes from a creative team dedicated entirely to a cohesive narrative and thematic substance. Each page of Spider-Woman #8, a done-in-one story about the eponymous character facing off against Tiger Shark, tells the story of an exhausting daily battle and its rewards.
Javier Rodriguez’s utilization of space in Spider-Woman #8 is outstanding. Each panel and page are designed to add significant narrative information moving the story forward at such a pace that a complete story can be well told within 20 pages. This includes the description of a threat, an elongated battle, background on other conflicts and concerns, and a satisfying conclusion. Not only is Rodriguez effective, but he makes the experience a visual treat. One particularly notable trick he puts to great use is blending multiple actions into a single panel. The combination of a conversation and battle with a sea monster in one spread is outstanding. That he makes a sound effect part of the conversation, connecting the two narratives in the middle of the page only shows how assured his storytelling is.
There are moments like this throughout Spider-Woman #8 too, so much so that the outstanding becomes the expected. A splash page showing Tiger Shark and Spider-Woman swimming through the sewers is a visual delight with its many twists and turns, and a technical one as well not including a single damaging tangent. This expertise does not exist for its own sake either. Rodriguez composes a thrilling battle and compelling settings to thoroughly exhaust readers over the course of the book, giving them the sense of what Spider-Woman must accomplish to go home at the end of the day.
If there is a detraction to be made regarding Rodriguez’s artwork it comes from his relative inexperience to coloring his own lines. There is a tendency in Spider-Woman #8 (and other Rodriguez-colored issues thus far) to over render the coloring of characters. His backgrounds look excellent in flat colors combined with his and inker Alvaro Lopez’s clear linework. Individuals are given lots of shading that causes them to seem apart from the work. This can be seen in the use of water effects in Spider-Woman #8. Rain speckles her face causing a blurring of color unnatural compared with the rest of the page and previous images. The problems caused by these choices are relatively minor though, never creating so large of a problem as to break a panel or pull readers from the story.
All of these stunning layouts and fast-paced sequences are dedicated to the core of Hopeless’ script which is a story about motherhood. While that may seem odd considering this is about Spider-Woman beating up a man with shark DNA, it is the core element linking each issue. Here she is hard at work, doing incredible things with little sleep or time. The reason behind this is found in the ending, which is the conceit. Spider-Woman’s drive and willpower is found through her relationship with her home and at that the center of this home is her child. This moment is set up in her conversations with Porcupine both before and during the battle, but it becomes clear in a deep, heart-squeezing manner in these final pages.
The final page turn of Spider-Woman #8 summarizes this issue beautifully. It is the reward and thematic heart of the series beautifully drawn and succinctly summarized. In Spider-Woman’s own words from the third panel: “Easy never felt like this.” That sentiment not only captures the unique rewards of motherhood, but of the creation of Spider-Woman itself. It’s clear how much hard work and sweat is being put into every page of the series, but easy never felt like this.
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