Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
WARNING: Readers should be sure to read Edge of Spider-verse #2 before reading Spider-Gwen #1, or else they will be massively confused throughout the issue. Yes, there’s a brief half-page recap at the beginning, but it barely attempts to tell the whole story. This series came into existence pretty much through the sheer force of fandom, so naturally, the first issue assumes the reader has already fallen in love with Gwen Stacy, which is great for readers diving headfirst into the story, but not so great if you’re just now jumping into Spider-Gwen’s world. Fortunately for newcomers, the events of the recent Spider-verse story event have been wisely kept from bleeding into Gwen’s story, so readers only need to catchup on the one issue focused on her universe to get the true origin of this alternate Gwen Stacy. But for those unfamiliar with this character—despite her meteoric rise in popularity over the past few months—and looking for an ideal chapter one, Spider-Gwen #1.
For the newly risen coven of Spider-Gwen diehards, however, Jason Latour delivers. Now that Gwen is back from her multi-dimensional crossover bonanza, Latour revels in the lack of continuity-based restrictions as he forges his own Marvel Universe, free to reconstruct any and all known properties as he sees fit. There are some constants: George Stacy is still a tough-as-nails cop and father, Kingpin is still an enigmatic crime lord, and Mayor—yes, Mayor—J. Jonah Jameson is still screaming at anything remotely resembling a spider. But for the most part, this is an all-new world, and Latour isn’t afraid to make some head-turning character choices. His versions of Mary Jane, Matt Murdock, and The Vulture are particularly disorienting, but in a way that piques interest rather than scorning it. Readers may find themselves scratching their heads at first, but once they adjust to the new climate, Latour’s drastic remodeling starts making perfect sense for this new world.
Robbi Rodriguez’s art proves indispensable in convincing the reader that this universe and its inhabitants are equally as believable as their mainstream counterparts. In the wrong hands, the Gwen-verse’s Vulture—now a mutated scientist instead of a crazed genius with a cybernetic exoskeleton—would probably seem pretty ridiculous. But thanks to Rodriguez’s depiction of a vicious, grotesque man-bird hybrid, when he cryptically announces, “I feast upon death,” readers believe him.
He uses a healthy mix of cartoon aesthetics with contemporary illustration throughout Spider-Gwen, and it works wonders not only shaping the world but also shaping Gwen. As Spider-Woman, her movements are much more fluid and acrobatic, and as Gwen, we can see on her facial expressions alone the uncertainty and exasperation she goes through, with the brief splashes of bright colors reflecting how immediate and intense her situation is. Latour even writes his sound effects in the same bright colors to give that intensity an identity, so that readers feel her brewing anger as she drums with increasing aggression, and they feel the terror behind her mask when she confronts a supervillain for the first time.
Of course, the hallmark of all their efforts is Gwen herself. If Latour has bestowed any known property with a completely new identity, it’s her, though there are definitely traces of Emma Stone’s razor-sharp wit mixed in. She’s as much of an outcast as Peter Parker was at school—she plays drums in an all-girl punk band (called The Mary Janes, of course), listens to music while she fights crime and runs away from the law, and has to learn to operate in a world where the majority of people think Spider-Woman is a cold-blooded killer—constantly seeing billboards with her dead boyfriend’s face used as propaganda against her definitely saps some of the fun out of web-slinging through Manhattan. Gwen’s artistic abilities especially play a huge part in separating her character from the other Spider-heroes crawling all over the comics as of late, and readers are certainly interested in how they will come to mold Gwen as a strategist and crimefighter.
This is not an origin story (nor should it be), but for someone looking to dive headfirst into Spider-Gwen’s world, this is no doubt a good start. It’s still in its early days, but Latour and Rodriguez appear hell-bent on creating something unique for Spider-fans, and this new world is certainly an intriguing one. Given enough time to blossom, they could have a breakout series on their hands, and as long as Secret Wars doesn’t rip out the rug from underneath them, their already cult-like following has every reason to be excited.
Final Score: 4/5