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

The Story: Jessica Drew finds herself in a Madripoor prison and that’s never good.

What’s Good: As always, the first thing you’ll notice is the art.  Maleev’s art once again looks amazing and unlike anything else on the market.  As always, the modeled Jessica Drew stands alongside grimy, blurred surroundings and Maleev continues to work his magic when it comes to the bright lights, whether it be Jessica’s powers or the red tail-lights of a car.  This month brings some light anime influence into his already multi-faceted work, as Maleev draws a flying car that looks like something out of Ghost in the Shell.  Maleev also works a great deal with shadows and darkness this month, really capturing the mood and feel of the issue and the bowels of Madripoor.  The panel structures also continue to have a highly personal feel, from completely black panels reflecting Jessica’s coming to consciousness, to pages being structured around her face.

Everything continues to feel highly personal, as it did last month.  The narration remains highly self-conscious. Thankfully, the irritating little asides of self-loathing that troubled me last month have been scaled back.  Instead, we get the kind of thrilling chase sequence that Bendis and Maleev perfected in their Daredevil days, an action sequence that is pure art.

The book’s greatest narrative achievement, however, is how it deals with Jessica’s somewhat uncomfortable chemical powers related to men.  I’ve always felt that this power was problematic, always verging on some uncomfortable gender grounds.  Objectification, titillation, and the clichéd femme fatale are only a hair’s-breadth away.  Though Bendis almost falls into those waters at the start (the cleavage shot wasn’t necessary), he ends up succeeding in a very difficult area, and it’s all thanks to that internal narration.  Through it, the power becomes awkward and loathed by Jessica herself, as she hates herself for turning herself into that two-dimensional stereotype.  The power is also given a new kind of resonance: there is a genuine connection somewhere between Jessica and every man she cons, and that it’s artificial and forced is tragic, almost like a kind of rape.

What’s Not So Good: The art is nowhere near the level of last month’s issue.   Don’t get me wrong, it’s still excellent, flawless work, but it didn’t have the pyrotechnics of last month.  The work here is much more restrained and much darker.  While it reflects the book’s mood, after last month’s career-defining performance, it’s hard not to feel let down.  The highlighting of particular colors is gone, the larger images are gone, and the use of weather is gone.  It just feels like there’s a lot less going on and everything is taken down a level.

Also, while the self-loathing asides were scaled back, the little references to Secret Invasion and her being tortured by the skrulls were pretty damned grating.  Thankfully it vanished in the book’s second half, but whenever Jessica talks about how bad she’s had it or how this is nothing compared to her past, it’s nails on a chalkboard.  It’s just pure telling when we can just as easily have the showing and it’s beating us over the head with what we already know about her.

Conclusion: It didn’t feel quite as fresh or jaw-dropping as last month, but that’s more to do with how good last month was.  And hey, the price is dropped down to $2.99!

Grade: B

-Alex Evans