Stillanerd Reviews: Spider-Gwen (2015) #1
There are many reasons for Spider-Gwen’s meteoric rise in popularity and success. Aside from the cult of nostalgia for Gwen Stacy which sprang up since her death over forty years ago in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #121, there’s been a renewed interest in the character thanks to popular but (unfortunately) short-lived Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, and Emma Stone’s portrayal of her in Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man movies. It also helps she has one of the best designed superhero costumes in over a decade. Yet Spider-Gwen is also propped up by two very compelling hooks. Not only does have the inciting angle of showing us a world where the radioactive spider bit Gwen instead of Peter, it’s also a re-imagined, modernized take on the now familiar Spider-Man mythos. Those two aspects are what Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez build upon with this premiere issue of this new volume of Spider-Gwen.
Unlike the other “All-New, All-Different” Marvel titles, Spider-Gwen (2015) #1 virtually picks up right where the last volume ended. Gwen is still trying to balance her life between being a superhero and a normal eighteen year old, even though she’s still wanted by the police for the murder of her world’s Peter Parker. Her dad, Captain George Stacy, knowing that his daughter is the infamous “Spider-Woman,” is trying to protect her secret identity even though it cost him his badge. Meanwhile, there’s a half-man, half-lizard creature attacking local eateries (which is also where Gwen is starting a new part-time job at) and abducting pets, which of course brings back memories for Gwen about how Peter became the Lizard prior to his death, and starts to believe there may have more going on than she realized. Like her former teacher, Dr. Curt Connors, may have known more than what he was telling.
This allows for Latour and Rodriguez to insert some well-placed, unobtrusive flashbacks showing Gwen during high school back when Peter was still alive. This also introduces readers to this world’s version of Harry Osborn, who it turns out had bit of a crush on Gwen. Thus, it was Peter’s resentment and jealousy towards Harry “stealing” Gwen away from him is what pushed him over the edge into transforming into the Lizard and attacking Midtown High’s Senior Prom. It’s a crucial bit of backstory, the kind Spider-Gwen needed but never had during the five issues of the series’ first volume, as it gives us a more complete picture into Gwen’s own feelings of guilt in failing to save Peter. Moreover, Rico Rinzi’s usage of color during these flashbacks give Rodriguez’s artwork an appropriate hallucinatory quality, and provides a nice, striking contrast to scenes of Gwen roaming the dark and empty hallways of Midtown.
But Spider-Gwen (2015) #1 isn’t all moodiness and brooding; it has its share of its characteristic lighthearted quirkiness. Like, for instance, the return of the Bodega Bandit, who now has a masked dog named Bandito. Or how this universe’s version of Gwen is no stranger to hard luck, as she has to make a mad dash for work while being chased by cops just as her wed-shooters become jammed. This shift between comedy, suspense and drama works well throughout the comic, until towards the last pages, in which Gwen heads to an abandoned subway line to lure this new Lizard out with corn dogs. Still, Latour manages to rebound himself via an intriguing cliffhanger involving the surprise introduction of Spider-Gwen’s take of one Marvel’s more iconic characters.
As been the case since her first appearance in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, Rodriguez’s illustrations is still one of Spider-Gwen’s strongest selling points. It is, after all, one of the distinctive and original art-styles being published in mainstream comics today, in which even the most static of images gives the impression it will soon explode in kaleidoscopic movement. In the opening sequence of Gwen rushing to make it to work, for example, Rodriguez uses the technique of having Spider-Gwen seeming to seem in multiple places at once on the same panel into show her speed, yet combines this by having speed lines on vehicles with after images from their taillights, and onomatopoeia sound effects which appear to become part of the art itself without distracting from what’s happening on panel. Given how this incarnation of Gwen is a drummer in a punk-rock band, Rodriguez’s art is a perfect representation of who Spider-Gwen is as a character.
Some will argue that Spider-Gwen is overrated, that she’s nothing more than a passing fad. Others may point out she’s nothing more than Marvel’s attempt at capitalizing on the success of DC Comics’ successful revamping of Batgirl. Perhaps these critics are right, and Marvel has certainly been trying to milk Spider-Gwen for all she’s worth ever since the “Spider-Verse” crossover. But the success of Spider-Gwen isn’t just about being a classic Spider-Man love interest in a costume attractive to cosplayers everywhere. As this comic shows, it also has a lot to do with how her creative team are not treating Spider-Gwen like some “flavor-of-the-month” but a genuine, emphatic character in her own right.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- If someone needed proof that Spider-Gwen takes place in an alternate universe, they only need to point out how in her world, fast-food joints which specialize in corn dogs are apparently a successful business venture. Because really? Corn dogs?
- Good thing Gwen is not allergic to cats considering how one curled up and slept on her head during the night without suffocating her. Then again, Gwen and Betty Brant’s dorm room doesn’t look like the most sanitary of places. Or well-organized considering there’s a movable clothes rack blocking their front door. Then again, they are teenagers.
- And so this comic answers one the more puzzling questions about Spider-Gwen: where did she get her web-shooters? The answer is they’re the invention of the Earth-65 version of Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp. Who, based on Spider-Gwen’s bio at the end of this issue, reads much closer to the Ant-Man (2015) film’s take Hank Pym than the comics version of Hank Pym. And speaking of movies…
- Doesn’t the “Are those sirens?” phone conversation between Captain Stacy and Gwen sound very similar to Gwen and Peter’s phone conversation in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)?
- So in Spider-Gwen’s world, Dr. Connor’s is fat, balding and has an over-sized mustache. Harry Osborn has an even more ridiculous looking hairstyle. Yet somehow J. Jonah Jameson looks and acts exactly the same. Guess somethings remain constant no matter what universe it is.
- One other difference between Gwen’s world and the real world? The works of J.R.R. Tolkien and the film adaptions of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are even more popular. How else to explain why not only Harry quoting Gollum became the origin for being nicknamed “The Green Goblin” by Flash Thompson, but that “Elfin’” is the same as a certain four-letter swear-word?
- So “The Mary Janes” original band name was “Murder Fleece?” No wonder Em-Jay changed the name, considering how it’s more heavy death metal than female punk rock.
- With regards to the last page, any guesses about the true identity of this particular incarnation of one shield-wielding superhero?
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