Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff Review
The Death of Jean DeWolff
Written by: Peter David
Art by: Rich Buckler
Inks by: Brett Breeding, Josef Rubinstein, Kyle Baker and Pat Redding (with the fourth issue credited to M. Hands, meaning many inkers worked on it at once)
Colors by: Bob Sharen, George Roussos and Nel Yomtov
Published by: Marvel Comics
Police Captain Jean DeWolff is brutally shot by a serial killer known as the Sin Eater. Peter is distraught at this, considering DeWolff was one of the few cops who actually got along ok with him, so he starts chasing after Sin Eater. But as more and more people get killed and Matt Murdock joins the fray, things start getting more and more desperate. Will Spider-Man be able to catch the Sin Eater before he targets people he loves? And he after he does catch him, what then?
For every superhero or team, there are always a handful of stories that have gone down as all-time classics or important moments for that character. With Batman you have “Year One”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, “A Death in the Family”, etc.; with Superman, it’s “Man of Steel”, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, “The Death of Superman”, etc.
Much like those characters, Spider-Man also has classic stories but he’s one of those heroes, like Batman, where he’s got so many classics that a few of them sort of fall between the cracks. Despite the fact that “The Death of Jean DeWolff” is considered a classic Spider-Man story, I don’t usually see it brought up in the same breath as “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, “Spider-Man: Blue” or “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”. I think people tend to forget about it, which is a shame, considering that it’s not only a great story, but it’s also pretty uncommon for Spider-Man.
Jean DeWolff was a supporting character for Spider-Man during the late 70s and early 80s and what makes her death very poignant (and, more importantly, not just a carbon copy of Gwen Stacy’s death) is that she was killed by a serial killer.
Not Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus or Electro.
Just a regular man with a shotgun. And, weirdly enough, he’s actually a really credible threat.
One of the high points of the story is the fight between Spider-Man and the Sin Eater because it shows just how scary an unhinged person can be, even against a guy who’s fought Wolverine and punched aliens in the face. There are a thousand little things happening at the same time, Spider-Man keeps getting distracted, and the Sin Eater takes every chance he can get.
I also really love the use of Matt Murdock in this story, especially towards the end. Without spoiling it, when they catch the Sin Eater, there is a huge mob of people looking to get revenge on him for all of his killings and Daredevil and Spider-Man basically have this big moral argument about what to do. Daredevil believes that justice needs to be carried out, no matter what the Sin Eater’s done, but Spider-Man has been so hurt by what he’s done, he doesn’t even care. Considering the crazy lengths Spider-Man went to during the Slott run to make sure people didn’t die, it’s interesting to look at an early version of Peter Parker who felt a bit more like a person who could get frustrated enough to throw his morals away.
In terms of problems, while he works well as someone for the other characters to push against and he’s a good threat, the Sin Eater is a bit of a generic serial killer (if such a thing exists). He’s crazy, he’s proselytizing, he’s doing the stuff you expect. It’s not a really big issue, especially because by leaving him with those generic qualities, Peter David could focus on other, more important, parts of the story, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Rich Buckler’s art is also worth mentioning since it’s sort of unusual for its time. It has a very realistic bent to it, with a lot of detailed close-ups on faces, showing wrinkles, eye details, creases on clothing, the works.
This also works very well during action scenes, where things have a real impact, particularly the Sin Eater’s shotgun blasts.
Less so, Spider-Man breaking windows to get into places. It’s like the only noticeably weird thing about the artwork. Sometimes it looks like someone threw him stiff and feet first, straight through.
All of these things are also down to the inkers, naturally (and boy did he have a lot of those across these four issues), but regardless of who gets the credit, this is a very good looking book.
In conclusion, you should go read “The Death of Jean DeWolff”, if you haven’t yet. It’s dark and gritty in all the best ways, and it feels like Spider-Man done as one of those 70s crime movies. You know the ones, where the streets are disgusting cesspools of criminality. Plus, the trade also comes with the sequel story to this which I don’t think is as good, but it’s still pretty strong and you’re getting two stories out of the deal anyway. I give it a strong recommendation, go read it.