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

The Story: Madame Hydra attempts to recruit Jessica once again.

What’s Good: Madame Hydra/Viper is certainly great fun to read and works as an excellent foil to Jessica.  If Bendis hopes to use her as the arch-nemesis of the series, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea.  The chemistry is definitely there.  Viper’s voice is well-done by Bendis, a good mix of slimy, conniving villainy and rampant sociopathy.  It’s also clear that in the midst of her intelligence, a few screws are loose.  Several times I felt as though Viper’s dialogue wasn’t quite in-synch with her conversational context and surroundings.  It’s very subtle, but it definitely adds a nice tone to the character.

Overall, what this issue does is muddy the waters.  Jessica Drew hunting skrulls for SWORD is apparently, while fun, just too damned simple for a Spider-Woman comic.  Rather, the possibility of her working as a double agent returns and at the end of the issue in particular, her ethical limits will be tested.  Long-term, this issue looks to make things more interesting.

I also enjoyed the internal monologue quite a deal this month.  The repetitive self-pity and excessive quips of self-loathing that I’ve complained about in past are completely gone.  Instead, Jessica’s snarkiness has been raised, making her far more likable.

On art, Alex Maleev is still putting out an amazing looking comic.  His rendition of Madame Hydra looks almost as good as Jessica Drew, and that’s saying a lot.  It’s refreshing that for once, Jessica doesn’t stand head and shoulders above all the other characters.  Maleev’s drawings of the comic’s urban surroundings are also absolutely fantastic.  His scenery shots nicely break up what would otherwise have been a comic entirely of talking heads.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that barring one quick helicopter chase, this entire comic is essentially one long conversation.  That doesn’t make for the most thrilling reading, nor does it feel like particularly brisk storytelling.

Also, while I did say that I liked Jessica’s skrull-hunting occupation being made a little more complex, I am wondering if everything’s happening just a little too soon.  She’s only hunted down one skrull, and already she’s being approached by HYDRA?  She just became an Agent of SWORD, and it already feels as though Bendis was running out of ideas on the simpler skrull-hunting front, so decided to move onto the next thing.

It’s a shame too that older Spider-Woman continuity is already being brought in to play a major part.  I guess I thought this book was going to be a fresher start for the character than it is and I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed.

Finally, this isn’t Maleev’s strongest work either.  While the book is by no means bad looking, Maleev definitely goes overboard when it comes to re-using the same images over and over.  This is fine when it’s used for dramatic purpose or pause, but it’s clear that the only motivation here was cutting corners and saving time.  Changing the size or placement of a face does not mean that it’s a different image, and it’s thoroughly unacceptable on an ethical level.  I bought a comic to see illustrating, not copy/pasting.

Conclusion: I’ve really enjoyed Spider-Woman thus far, but this is issue is feels a little phoned in.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans