This graphic novel collects the seven issues of a 2009-2010 series that was also released as a ‘motion comic’, an animation created by adding a soundtrack to the comic panels.

Following on from the Secret Invasion event that revealed that the Spider-Woman in the Avengers was in fact an alien shape-changing Skrull impersonating Jessica Drew, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. begins with the real Jessica Drew, freed, returned to her identity (to all of her identities), and recovering from the trauma of imprisonment and unsure of her place in the world. She is offered a position by S.W.O.R.D., a spin-off of S.H.I.E.L.D. specifically tasked with dealing with extra-terrestrial threats. Yes, those initials do stand for something, but really, the only really important point is that they have been contrived to form the acronym S.W.O.R.D. Jessica accepts the task of hunting down aliens on Earth. The story is accessible even to those not wholly familiar with Marvel’s convoluted early twenty-first century continuity.

Brian Michael Bendis’ writing can be overpraised, but here he really delivers the goods. It’s a nice taut alien infiltration story, emphasising suspense over superheroics, and Jessica is out of her Spider-Woman costume most of the time. Bendis keeps the text pared back, allowing the art to carry a lot of the story. Alex Maleev’s artwork is dark and atmospheric, and suits the tone well. Okay, so occasionally Spider-Woman looks like she is wearing body paint rather than a costume, but the use of a real model for Jessica (who gets a credit – she’s Jolynn Carpenter) does result in her physical proportions being realistic.

In the end, the weakest thing about Agent of S.W.O.R.D. is that the story doesn’t really stand up on its own merits. It reads like what it was, the opening sequence of what was intended as an ongoing series. As Bendis explains in an afterword, doing the comic and the motion comic burnt out Maleev, and Bendis didn’t want to carry on without him. Still, they managed probably the best comics so far about the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman, a character who is much loved by fans, but has not always been well-served by her material.