Feb 26

Comics Review – Spider-Gwen #1

Spectacular! Spectacular! Spider-Gwen!

One of the most unexpectedly popular characters Marvel comics has made in recent years, Spider-Gwen managed to get such a fan response that there was so much fan art and cosplay you’d think she’d been around for years rather than it being before her own introductory issue had been released. So with that massive overnight fanbase Marvel made the natural decision to give her her own ongoing series, even titling it after her fan nickname, Spider-Gwen. Which really does help the comic distinguish itself from the other Spider-Woman and Spider-Girl books. But after all that fan hype, can Marvel make a book to sustain it?

If you don’t already know Spider-Gwen is an alternate reality version of Gwen Stacy, one of Spider-Man’s girlfriend’s who is most famous for dying at the hand of the Green Goblin. I think you can figure out what makes this an alternate reality just based on the name. Before I can talk about the issue the elephant in the room needs to be addressed, Spider-Verse. The multiverse spanning Spider-Man event that just wrapped up which Spider-Gwen was created for, and the comic she first appeared in Edge of Spider-Verse issue 2. Spider-Verse isn’t required reading for this comic, what you need to know gets addressed early on. She was away helping to save Spider-People in the multiverse and is now back. Edge is a little bit more required reading, as it helps flesh out the backstory more, though you can read this issue without needing to read Edge. Essentially Gwen Stacy got bit by the spider instead of Peter Parker, and because of that Peter’s outlet for being bullied was science which turned him into the Lizard. Gwen had to stop him and in the course of the fight Peter died, becoming her Uncle Ben moment. She’s now wanted for murder due to this, and head of the task force was her father, George Stacy, till he found out Spider-Woman’s identity. Gwen’s also a drummer for an indie band known as The Mary Janes and she took down the Rhino at one of their concerts.

After coming back from the Spider-Verse event she’s avoiding talking to her father, still trying to deal with her being wanted by the police, and her band has been propelled to the spotlight thanks to the Rhino attack but looking for a replacement for her. The Vulture is now on the scene, seemingly inspired by the spotlight Spider-Woman has accumulated, and Gwen thinks she needs to bring him down to try and prove she’s not a bad guy.

As a first issue it’s alright. You get a little glimpse into the different parts of her world and see some action, with some set up for things to come. The problems with this are mostly the same as her Edge of Spider-Verse issue, the audience are thrown into the deep end and left to figure out the different parts of the world themselves. That’s partially due to being a follow up to a story that was meant to be a one-shot and not an origin story, so they were already in the deep end and trying to move to a shallow spot would’ve been a terrible way to go. The strength of this is that there’s no padding, no repetition of basically the same origin everyone already knows, no spending six issues setting up the character first putting on the costume. She’s already established, she’s already got problems, time to deal with them.

Even though we have to infer what the world is like we do get enough to figure things out. We see Ben Grimm and Frank Castle as police officers, so this is an early Marvel Universe where Superheroes and villains aren’t commonplace. There’s no Fantastic Four, and with the superpowered Rhino I’d say superpowered individuals exist but aren’t big enough to be public knowledge. Superheroes definitely don’t seem vogue at the movement since when Captain Stacy found out his daughter was Spider-Woman he spoke out to try and clear her name, which got him removed from the task force and is now only attached to the DA office as a consultant.

Mary Jane pretty different than her regular comics version, appearing pretty self centred and letting her new-found semi-fame get to her. The band is called the Mary Janes after all. I hope there’s more going on with her character that will get explored later on. So far it just seems like she’s been given her 15 minutes of fame and she’s being subsumed by the pressure to use it to go places, so she’s lasing out at everyone. I hope she isn’t being set up as an asshole and instead a more nuanced look at the pressures of being a young woman thrust into the spotlight. Though the “unexpectedly become incredibly popular through an event and the digital community” theme seems a pretty deliberate mirroring of Spider-Gwen’s sudden rise in popularity.

Another theme is “Gwen as an inspiration in the worst way” as she’s both inspired Peter and the Vulture’s actions and she must deal with the consequences. Here the Vulture is an old man and dying, so seeing how much attention Gwen gets he decides to make a legacy for himself. He has nothing to lose and if Gwen can become this famous in such a short amount of time then so can he, in theory at least. I hope more of his character is explored in the next issue as there’s some decent set up here and he’s needs a little more fleshing out beyond what we got.

The art though was exquisite. Gorgeous to look at and made the fight scenes, and rooftop webswinging, really dynamic. Take a look.

What did add to the art were the sound effects. All of them seem to if the situation and background so they’re not intrusive and enhance the mood and tone of each scene.

Be it paint dripping:

The Rhino being “interrogated” with the effect looking like it’s punching him in the face:

Or just drumming that’s being cut off by MJ shouting “No!” that feels louder than the drumming:

Overall this was a good first issue, not great but definitely above average. The real problem is that it feels like we’re missing an introductory story arc and instead jumped right to arc two. So the world building needs to catch up. The only guide to help readers is what they know from previous Spider-Man stories, all of which is different here. I’m hoping things improve from here and the world gets a proper fleshing out as the series goes on. It’s not perfect, definitely not in Marvel’s top tier of books, but I liked it enough to keep reading and while I’m sure it’ll be a let down to some after all the HYPE that surrounded the character, I hope that doesn’t dissuade too many people.