Why Spider-Woman's new look has to be more than just skin deep

When it was announced that Jessica Drew would have new duds beginning in March with Spider-Woman #5, the responses were more or less what we're used to from superhero costume changes, be it pants on Wonder Woman, yellow Doc Martens on Batgirl or a complete redesign like Jessica's -- mixed at best, but not without promise.

Here's a quick before-and-after to remind you of the change.

This announcement comes relatively hot on the heels of Barbara Gordon's more youthful look, making some people suspicious that Marvel is just biting on DC's style. Although it's been denied, some fans also suspect the controversy over Milo Manara's sexualized cover may have played a role too. But whether either is a factor is not anywhere near as important as the new direction the change in costume is meant to suggest.

Let's backtrack for a moment and talk about why Spider-Woman's popularity has blossomed in the last few years, and why what Marvel's doing with her recent popularity right now could do with some tinkering.

First, to talk about Spider-Woman, we also have to talk about another recently re-popularized female Marvel hero -- Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. It was through Kelly Sue DeConnick's writing for Captain Marvel (as well as her work on Avengers Assemble) that interest in Jessica Drew came roaring back. Drew and Danvers' friendship gave them the opportunity to fight bad guys together, it gave them a camaraderie and a witty repartee, it gave their characters dimension. 

In addition to heroics, Jessica made use of her more unique power set, like her pheromone secretion, which she used to get the Hulk to make her a sandwich. That moment was, not surprisingly, the stuff of meme legend.

But unlike Captain Marvel, whose popularity had reached such heights that she'll be the first female character that the Marvel movie folks are giving her own movie (coming to you in 2016), Spider-Woman was starting to fade into obscurity.

Then, thankfully, it was announced that Spider-Woman would be getting an ongoing comic of her very own. That was very exciting news.

For about five seconds.

The problem is twofold:

  1. The creative team behind the book (Dennis Hopeless and Greg Land) is not what people expected (or wanted, in some cases).
  2. Spider-Woman's comic begins slap-bang in the middle of the Marvel event story, Spider-Verse.

Let's elaborate on those two issues, because the trouble may not be immediately apparent.

To the first point, Jessica Drew's resurgence was due in no small part to Kelly Sue DeConnick, one of the most popular women writers in comics, one of the most popular humans in comics and an ardent feminist. Like it or lump it, DeConnick draws in what is probably one of the most vocal and growing parts of the comic community -- women and feminists. So when Marvel decided to give Spider-Woman her own title, choosing someone who would appeal to that audience would have been a smart decision.

Dennis Hopeless is not the issue for most Spider-Woman fans. He's not a bad writer; on the contrary, he's written some very compelling stuff. I personally really dug a lot of Avengers Arena despite expecting to hate it.

Artist Greg Land, however, has built up quite a name for himself in the comics community, and it's not a very good one. You may agree, you may not, but it's relevant that Greg Land is known for tracing (there's a forum dedicated to it) and also for drawing women (and men, for that matter) in ways that feminists tend not to care for (there's a site largely dedicated to that, too). 

So when Marvel decided to make a book about Spider-Woman, it's hard not to feel like Greg Land was an inopportune choice for artist if the plan was to keep the audience Jessica Drew already has built in.

Once again, add to that the sexualized Milo Manara variant cover, which kicked up quite a controversy with people who had been previously planning to read Spider-Woman, and Marvel was alienating the people most likely to read a book starring Jessica Drew.

Then there's the Spider-Verse story. The short version is that Spider-Verse is a multiverse story involving every Spider-related character in Marvel comics. The runaway surprise hit of that story has been a Spider-Woman. Great! But not Jessica Drew's Spider-Woman. Not so great. This is an alt-universe version of Gwen Stacey that got bitten by the radioactive instead of Peter Parker. Thankfully, she's currently being referred to as Spider Gwen, but still, she isn't doing Jessica Drew any favors.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the new Spider-Woman ongoing comic begins midway through Spider-Verse. Why would you start a #1 issue midstream like that? It seems unfathomable if your goal is to garner new readers. No one wants to read a long preamble in order to start halfway through a complex story they might not even care about.

So those are the problems. The good news is that, in addition to Jessica Drew's new costume, Spider-Woman #5 is supposed to have a fresh start. Great. Greg Land is also being replaced with artist Javier Rodriguez. Even better. This is how you start earning back readers' trust.

While we're at it, here's a five other things the Spider-Woman team should consider for her 2015 revamp:

  1. Let Spider-Woman stand on her own. You know that Spider-Verse stuff? Forget it. Jessica Drew has never really fit in with the rest of the Spidey crew anyway. Just like Captain Marvel and She-Hulk (more on her in a moment), let Spider-Woman live mostly independent from the storylines happening inside some of the more mainstream Marvel titles. It's much easier to jump into and stay on a book that isn't gummed up with unnecessary crossover events.
  2. Appeal to She-Hulk readers. Her book is ending, and that is a bummer for a lot of people, myself included. But the new Jessica Drew book is supposed to see her as a "street-level" hero, more like a detective than a superhero. Charles Soule's She-Hulk had a similar premise -- just trade "detective" with "lawyer." What I'm saying is, people who were loving She-Hulk are gonna want a new book and character to latch onto, and Spider-Woman seems like a perfect fit. Appealing to those readers is a no-brainer.
  3. A little Captain Marvel never hurt anyone. You know how I said Spider-Woman needs to stand on her own? That's absolutely true, but that doesn't mean Marvel can't take advantage of the established friendship between Jessica and Carol. Let her pop up every now and again. The Carol Corps. will come a-runnin'.
  4. Art consistency. Few things will lose a book readers faster than switching between drastically  different artists. Greg Land is out? That's fine. But try and use Javier Rodriguez as much as possible from now on. And if someone needs to sub in, use someone whose style is similar. Ron Wimberly's done with She-Hulk now -- maybe keep that dude on speed dial.
  5. Let Spider-Woman be fun and funny. Remember when I said Jessica got Hulk to make her a sandwich once? She did. It was hilarious. People loved it. Simple stuff like that spreads across social media FAST. People will want to know where a joke like that comes from, then they'll pick up or download an issue, and then, wham, bam, thank ya ma'am, they're hooked.

So, that's my sage advice to Spider-Woman editor Nick Lowe. Sounds like his team is already on the right path, but it's still a huge challenge to keep the readers they have, bring back the ones they lost and find some new ones while they're at it.

What about you? What are your thoughts on Spider-Woman? And what does her team need to do to get you (and keep you) reading?

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