If you are lucky (or: extraordinarily talented or beloved) you may start a trend, but most times you wind up following one.
I think about that maxim frequently. It applies to movies, memes, restaurants, fashion, start-ups, and comic books. To me the application where it is most obvious is in the music industry.
Bands making an album always have three choices – be themselves, try to match the current popular sound, or try to invent a new one.
A useful context to consider this within is Amy Winehouse. People were doing throw-back-y, Motown-influenced songs before Back to Black, but they weren’t all that popular. She already had a retro vibe of her own, but it was more jazz and classic R&B influenced, and she was moderately successful in the UK. When she went into the studio with Mick Ronson to make Back to Black, they had a choice: be the same Amy as before, try to ape current radio hits to expand her reach, or try to do something new.
That something new not only meant success for Amy Winehouse. It set a trend. Other acts started following the trend. Existing artists dabbled in the sound. I’m convinced that ten years later its trickle-down effect is fractionally responsible for the success of “All About That Bass” and Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.
Whether it’s true of either of those two artists, they bring an interesting subtext to the maxim: what if the trend you wind up following makes you better than you were before? I’d call that a successful pivot, and now we are into start-up territory (or at least, start-up language). Maybe staying the course has proven only moderately successful and you have no idea how to set the next trend. Perhaps the current trend could make you your best self?
This plays itself out in a constant bust and boom in each of the industries I already named. It’s easy to follow with comics, because they are so visual and their success or failure is typically swift and obvious. Marvel had a hit with the “indie-style” Matt Fraction Hawkeye’s starting in 2012 that did nothing like a superhero comic – not the story, the art, or even the colors. Its massive success (and, to a degree, the reception to Mark Waid’s Daredevil the year before) was a reminder that superheroes seen as B-list characters who couldn’t maintain a book might survive by trying something different.
As with Back to Black, I think we’ll continue to see Hawkeye’s wake sweep through comics for years to come, but at Marvel “The Hawkeye Pivot” has quickly turned into a repeatable blueprint: write a small-ball story about how everything is local; give it some modern-day credibility through language or culture; pair it with an artist who doesn’t draw typically muscly/ busty superheroes; and use flat. less-shiny colors.
What’s so fascinating about the brief 10-issue run of Dennis Hopeless’s Spider-Woman is that it started out in the most flashy superhero mode possible – mid-crossover, illustrated by pin-up king Greg Land – and then abruptly executed “The Hawkeye Pivot” mid-run.
Did it work?
Collects Spider-Woman (2015) #5-10 written by Dennis Hopeless with pencils by Javier Rodriguez, inks by Alvaro Lopez, colors by Rodriguez and Muntsa Vicente, and issue #10 line art by Natacha Bustos with color art by Vero Gandini.
#140char review: Spider-Woman’s New Duds was more than a costume change; Hopeless pivots Jess Drew to new status quo w/Rodriguez art.
CK Says: Consider It.
Dennis Hopeless reinvents Spider-Woman in the vein of former boyfriend Hawkeye and Superior Foes of Spider-Man alongside artist Javier Rodriguez and manages to make it feel like organic character growth.
That’s quite the feat, especially considering both of those series had the ability to start fresh with their more lighthearted tones. Hopeless pulls it off mid-run, going from the high-wire of Spider-Verse tie-in issues with Greg Land to a new look and direction here.
First, it must be said that issue #5 is a wonder – a total five-star comic book will leave you filled with glee. It has laughs, capers, and (importantly) Spider-Woman reacting to ambiguous situations in a real, dynamic way.
Hopeless nails the acerbic post-Bendis voice of Jessica Drew, who talks a big game but doesn’t always plan ahead. That these traits are a rubber stamp of every one of Marvel’s leading ladies from The Avengers is a major problem for another essay, but the shoe fits better here with Spider-Woman than it has recently on Captain Marvel or Black Widow.
That’s partially due to Spider-Woman’s history as an occasional screw-up and long-term Skrull captive, but also because Hopeless has her on shaky ground as she tries taking up Spider-Man’s beat of stopping crime. Compare her interior monologue here to the one she delivers as she shepherds Silk through multiple dimensions at the top of Spider-Verse. There she comes off as a cocksure old cowboy, because she’s grown used to the fantastic – aliens, other words, and life-or-death missions.
When all you do is save the world, of course you’re going to be bad at stopping muggings. Hopeless is so incredibly deft at showing this without ever telling it that I feel entirely justified in calling him “Marvel’s secret weapon” a few months back. While his plots can sometimes be slightly derivative, he has a knack for organic voices and actions. He pairs Spider-Woman here with the eternal do-gooder reporter Ben Urich and a hapless Porcupine introduced in Civil War Thunderbolts.
If any Marvel heroine is the sort of character who actually fits the hyper-gorgeous illustration of women in comics, I’d advocate that it’s Spider-Woman. She has never been shy of her allure, given that part of her power set are pheromones that compel men but repulse women! That’s why it’s altogether jarring to take in the first few pages of Javier Rodriguez’s pencils and colors. This is a more slender, sinewy Spider-Woman whose practical costume is more Batman than Spider-Man. Notably, its main feature is no longer that it accentuates her cleavage.
Rodriguez is strong but not stellar as the volume wears on. Some of his faces can seem a little boxy and rushed as the book presses on (compare the faces in #7 to #9), and at points Spider-Woman has a sort of ducky, cross-eyed look to her. Yet, he succeeds in using the new duds to deepen Drew’s character rather than distract from it or act in its place. She has a different sort of confidence as Hopeless scripts her mocking her foes while she wears this svelte motorcycle jacket.
(Also, the colors are not like Matt Hollingsworth’s glorious muted palette of flat fills on Hawkeye. Yet, there’s something a little less glossy about the colors when Rodriguez colors himself on #5-6. Even when other colorists step in, they ground the palette in the familiar colors of Spider-Woman’s old costume, with bold reds throughout. Of recent Marvel titles, the overall feel most-similar to Squirrel Girl.)
The main arc in this book is witty stuff that would feel right at home on a Marvel Netflix show. In fact, it carries heavy shades of Jessica Jones as Spider-Woman settles into the comfortable role of detective rather than street hero. (Let’s not forget, Bendis began her long road back to prominence by having her cross paths with Jones.) A second, two-issue arc is more of a farce – it feels like it will be a jaunty road trip fill-in, but then has a tiresome cliffhanger to extend it. It was a strategic move by Hopeless, so that his final issue (with art by Natacha Bustos) can contrast Spider-Woman’s meaningless caper with the end of the universe occurring in the Avengers books. It also manages to deftly excuse Drew’s frontline participation in Secret Wars, old costume and all. It’s a lovely sleight of hand by Hopeless that carries a subtle undercurrent of, “Of course Jessica doesn’t want to do this, but she hasn’t changed enough yet to say no.”
New Duds is a genuinely enjoyable read that will put a multi-layered smile on the face of Spider-Woman fans: first, because it’s fun, and second, because it finally found a novel way to breathe new life into Jessica Drew as a solo hero. If you enjoy Spider-Woman but have been frustrated by much of her past decade in the limelight this book might finally be the one that makes you happy. As a random pick-up, it might come off as a lightweight “indie-style” Marvel cookie-cutter book – which isn’t entirely a bad thing.
Learn more about how every issue of Spider-Woman ever has been collected, including Jessica Drew, Julia Carpenter, Anya Cortez, and other arachnid ladies of Marvel!