From the Retailer: “The breakout hit of the biggest Spider-Event of the century is taking the comics world by storm with her own series! Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman, but you knew that already. What you DON’T know is what friends and foes are waiting for her in the aftermath of Spider-Verse!”
Here we go, starting the Week of Spider-Man with a big one. It should come as no surprise that with the popularity of Spider-Man as a hero, Marvel has printed several spin-off heroes that share his overall theme to capitalize. To some they are colloquially known as the Spider-Family, similar to the extended Bat-Family across the pond in DC. A few like the original Spider-Woman have been around for quite some time, but I pick this title to kick off the week because honestly it’s my favorite Spider-Family series in recent memory (something DaCrowz and I actually agree on; too bad he likes Spider-Man 3). Originally introduced in Edge of Spider-Verse #2 (Spider-Verse being an event based on Spider based superheroes from multiple dimensions teaming up together), Spider-Gwen was originally intended to just be another face in a crossover. However, this changed quickly based on her extreme popularity, leading to multiple printings of the issue and the announcement of her own solo series. But does the character hold up well enough to actually hold up her own title?
Spider-Gwen is based off of a really simple concept, what if Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker? For those unfamiliar, Gwen Stacy was the original love interest for Spider-Man during the golden age before her demise in the famous storyline “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”. That story is not only a landmark in the history of Spider-Man but in the comic industry as a whole, and in fact through her origins told in her Spider-Verse debut we discover that Peter meets his own death in her world when an experiment goes wrong turning him into this universe’s Lizard (a classic Spidey adversary). Spider-Woman (Gwen’s moniker) fights the Lizard not knowing it’s Peter, and he is killed in the fight due to her carelessness. Unfortunately, none of this is told in detail at the beginning of this trade, and instead Volume 0 opts to have a one page recap of previous events at the start before jumping straight into the action.
As one would expect, this first volume serves mostly to worldbuild the universe that Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy resides within. Her father, just like her original incarnation, is a police officer. However, there is a conflict here due to the news media pinning Peter Parker’s death on Spider-Woman, making her a wanted criminal. Even though Gwen reveals her identity to her father extremely early, this puts her directly at odds with him as Captain Stacy struggles with the revelation. In fact, he is even on the task force assigned to take down Spider-Woman. The dynamic between Gwen and her father is the most central conflict throughout these first 5 issues, although two smaller arcs also occur. One focuses on this world’s version of another classic villain, the Vulture, while the other focuses on Felicia Hardy (Black Cat). You may have noticed by now, but an integral part of Spider-Gwen early on is the re-establishment of familiar yet fresh Marvel characters. Frank Castle (the Punisher) and Matt Murdock (Daredevil) are also central players in her story, as well as a rock band she is a part of with her friends teasingly named The Mary Janes (and yes Mary Jane herself is the lead singer).
This truckload of fanservice is expected considering the series got printed purely off of fandom hype, and I’m not ashamed to admit seeing new takes on characters I’ve known for so long is what brings me the most joy reading Spider-Gwen, especially because this universe’s iterations are so interesting. For instance (and a minor spoiler) Matt Murdock may still be a blind ninja, but he works for Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) as his lawyer rather than as the Daredevil vigilante. This all being mentioned, because the backbone (at least in these beginning portions) of Spider-Gwen is the fanservice, sometimes the pacing is slightly off and it is very easy to get lost in the action. For the most part though, the little pieces all come together quite nicely, and Gwen even brings the signature Spider-Family humor into the mix with her own spin.
Just as important to the storytelling of a comic book as the writing is the artwork, and as much as I appreciate the worldbuilding set up in Spider-Gwen I can definitely say if anything the art takes center stage here. For instance, I can gush for a millenia on just how gorgeous her suit design is alone. The use of negative space, the hoodie, the specs of bright pink and blue. It may look a little more impractical than the classic Spidey suit, but damn if it doesn’t make up for that in style. In fact, it was particularly the fan reaction to her suit that made her so popular to begin with, and she continues to be a pretty popular cosplay option at cons. Every panel oozes an aesthetic that I can only properly describe as “aggressively flamboyant grunge”. There is an excessive use of bright colors here, but instead of being jarring it remains extremely pleasing to the eye and makes Spider-Gwen’s world stand uniquely on its own among the multitude of other alternate universes that Marvel has created. Even when it comes to detail this book is a winner yet again, as each individual has distinct characteristics and not even any minor characters look remotely similar (except for the ninjas because identical suits). Facial expressions are extremely well done, conveying specific emotions these people are going through in this wild world of vigilantes and singing cat women. Because so much pops out at the reader, sometimes in fight scenes you can have a hard time telling who is hitting who, but this is a very minor complaint in comparison to all of the glory.
If you consider yourself a Spider-Man fan in any capacity (but especially for those hardcore fans), you are doing yourself a massive disservice skipping out on at least giving this series a try. Spider-Gwen Volume 0 is a suitable beginning to a brand that I hope Marvel keeps in print for as long as possible, as it brings something fresh to a label that has gotten a little stale.
This ties up the first trade paperback review for the Week of Spider-Man, but be sure to check back for more in the coming days, as well as for our Spider-Man Homecoming review on Friday!