Monday, July 9, 2012

Guest Blog: A Spider-Woman for the 1980s Part 1

By Jef Willemsen
An avid fan of Chris Claremont and Marvel comics in general, Jef Willemsen blogs about the many, many, many times Chris Claremont has resorted to mind control in his 40+ years in the business. Check out his reviews at: http://clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com

Spider-Woman. Nowadays, she’s a popular Avengers mainstay and one of Marvel’s premiere heroines. How times change… Back in the early 1980s, no one seemed to have a clue how to deal with her. But all of that changed once Chris Claremont took over her book.

In all fairness, Chris Claremont really only wrote 12 issues of Spider-Woman. Yet, during that relatively short period, he crafted the defining take on Jessica Drew.


Who am I, really?
Lets be frank: The only reason there even is a Spider-Woman, lies in the simple fact that Marvel wanted to copyright a female version of Spider-Man before someone else did. Not exactly the most inspired launching pad and it showed in those early issues.

Before Claremont took over with #34, Jessica had been everything at one point or another. From her ‘she’s an actual spider evolved into a woman’ origin that, thankfully, got dropped, she went through  a brief stint as an agent of HYDRA  before an equally short arachnid anti-heroine phase, finally ending up as an LA based bounty hunter. Even with 34 issues under her belt, it was pretty hard to pin her down.

Leave it to Chris Claremont to quickly establish and redefine the character of Jessica Drew and through her, Spider-Woman. Within two issues, he had Jessica quit the bounty hunting business and move to San Francisco with her best friend Lindsay McCabe to set up shop as a private detective.


Pretty major changes to the status quo that, by all rights, should have felt rushed and forced.
Yet Claremont managed to pull off this course change with effortless ease and elegance, even making it  seem like a natural, even necessary progression in the life of Jessica and her alter ego.

Something old, something borrowed, something blue…
But Claremont’s new direction was more than a thorough deck clearing exercise. Yes, he brought in new villains like Flying Tiger and called on Angar the Screamer from his days writing Iron Fist…

Yet, he distilled the essence of Spider-Woman to a core storyline that featured, among others, the medieval sorceress Morgana Le Fay, who first meddled with Jessica wayyy back in issue #6, the elder god Ch’ton and the mystery of her long lost mother Meriem who turned out to be Madame Hydra, better known as Viper. Claremont connected many dots that seem obvious in retrospect, but were revolutionary plot points thirty years ago.

Words and pictures
Lets not forget the contributions made by Steve Leialoha, drawing Claremont’s entire run and giving the book a consistant look and feel. At the time, many fans complained about Steve’s work, calling it bland and boring. While its true Leialoha didn’t have as energetic a style as say, John Byrne or George Perez, he made the book work, especially when his pictures were combined with Claremont’s often verbose scripting. Case in point: take the time to study this panel from Spider-Woman #35, as her fight against Angar the Screamer’s sonic illusions reaches its climax.




A spider for all seasons
Another aspect that added to the book’s appeal was Claremont’s ability to write the dark angel in a wide variety of stories that showcased her versatility as a character. With Chris behind the typewriter, Spider-Woman took on alien menaces, conventional and super powered criminals alike. She dealt with the in(s)ane wackiness of the Impossible Man and also mixed it up with arcane menaces like Morgana Le Fay and Ch’ton. Was she out of her league during some confrontations? Yes, but never out of place.

Weaving the web
Claremont was also the first to, pardon the pun, weave a web of continuity that made Spider-Woman feel like a part of the Marvel universe. This trend started when the X-Men showed up in issues #37 and #38 to aid Jessica in her fight against both Black Tom, Juggernaut and Siryn.

In return, Spider-Woman showed up in Uncanny X-Men #148 to help reunite Syrin with the X-Man Banshee who turned out to be her long lost father.


Not to mention Avengers Annual #10, in which Claremont had Spider-Woman rescue Carol Danvers after Rogue had robbed her of her powers and tossed her off the Golden Gate bridge.


2 comments:

  1. Agreed completely! Lovely work from Claremont ( who was at the height of his powers) and Leialoha (who made the most of the San Francisco setting to make it feel "real" and a part of the story.)
    Nees collecting in a nice Hardback with many many extras!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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