by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (art), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Jessica Drew gets recruited by S.W.O.R.D., heading to Madripoor for her first mission to find a Super-Skrull.

What’s Good: In my opinion, this is some of Maleev’s best work.  It’s just gorgeous, gorgeous stuff, sporting photorealistic detail not only in the photo-referenced Jessica Drew, but also in the often very intricate backgrounds.  Even faraway buildings are laden with little windows and cracks.  However, Maleev’s work here is not just that of a detail workaholic; there’s also a tremendous sense of a style here, an odd blend of gritty film noir and dark superhero science fiction unafraid to getting a little creative or abstract.

Maleev also shows outstanding shading and use of color.  He often illuminates an environment by making certain items stand out, such as in a simply gorgeous scene involving Jessica’s yellow umbrella.  He also makes use of his colors and shading to give the best sense of lighting that I’ve seen in a comic in a long time.  A dark room is cloudy and mysterious.  A rainy day is murky and noirish, but oddly romantic.  A night in Madripoor is dense and seedy.  A sunset on the water in southeast Asia is autumnal glory.  The weather and lighting of every scene dramatically changes how the comic looks.  Only enhancing this are Jessica’s powers, which add a weird, sci-fi glow into the mix.

Maleev makes the choice to use a model for Jessica, but it’s a total success, with Jessica coming off as completely natural.  Her looking so life-like actually made me connect with her more.  While not referencing the other characters makes Jessica stand out, it’s appropriate, as this book is about Jessica, front and centre in her isolation.

So far, Bendis is also doing his job well.  It’s clear that he’s in love with this character, and he establishes quickly a very unique, recognizable, and nuanced voice, weighed with a ton of baggage but not without a rye sense of humor that smacks of his work on “Powers.”  This comic mostly works on establishing that voice, and it’s mostly a success; I can say Jessica has a voice all her own and that after this issue, I feel like I’ve gotten to know her a little better.  It’s a very close, intimate comic book, at times claustrophic in its introspection.

When Bendis focuses on her paranoia and her obsessive-compulsive habits, she is at her most human. When she comments on the dirtiness of her hotel bed, she’s instantly likable, almost a friend.  Abigail Brand is also a promising character that I look forward to seeing more of, acting as a more wisened, “been there before,” guide figure.

What’s Not So Good: This comic is a real downer.  In fact, it may be the biggest downer Marvel’s putting out right now.  That’s not a bad thing at all, but Bendis is walking a fine line here with Jessica’s self-loathing.  Her considering suicide was one of the high-points of the book, but I could do without some of the throwaway, snide little remarks within the narration.  I get that Jessica hates herself, but a little more subtlety could’ve been exercised.  Does she really need to use every available opportunity within her narration to throw a little jab or insult against herself?  Towards the end of the book, in Madripoor, it began to feel a little much, bordering on contrived.

Conclusion:  An artistic master-piece with deeply introspective writing.  This is the definition of promising.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans