For the better part of three years I have called out across the internet and through the hallowed halls of my local comic book store with one pressing question. “Who else is reading Spider-Gwen?’ My call has gone unanswered and judging from sales figures and general buzz around this series in comic book circles, not many other people were reading this book, which finished it’s forty-one issue run just last week. So I thought I would take the end of it’s run as an opportunity to share some of my thoughts about this character and series. There were ups and downs through the run but mostly I leave this series with positive feelings. I stuck with this series long after I felt I should have removed it from my pull list and my patience were rewarded….sort of. Having read all forty-one issues twice and reread some key issues a third time, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this series and share the good, the bad, and the ugly with the world. If you would like my quick, spoiler-free review of Spider-Gwen, it’s a fine book. The art by Robbi Rodiguez is distinct and makes Earth-65 a visually different world. Jason Latour makes some interesting decisions in the writing accomplish a few different things. The first would be deconstruction the whole notion of the super-hero secret identity. The second would be telling the story of a father-daughter relationship that has warmth. Gwen and George have a similar relationship in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man from the 60’s but here the characters are more development and dynamic. I’d have a hard time recommending any individual issues or arcs since what is interesting about the series to me is how it works as a whole. From Gwen’s first appearance in Edge of the Spiderverse #2, you are dropped into the middle of an ongoing story. Your going to feel like you missed something because we skipped all the backstory and cut right to Act Two in the three act structure. Gwen changes as a person throughout the book, she learns from her experience, and she has changed the world around her.
My Personal Relationship with Spider-Gwen
I came to this series a bit late, I will admit. Unfortunately, I missed out on Edge of the Spiderverse #2, the first appearance of Spider-Gwen, which now can be purchased at my local comic book store for the reasonable price of $125. When I got back into comics after a brief hiatus, I was beyond excited to see that Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, had a new series which had been going on for some time. Spider-Woman is beyond any doubt, my favorite Marvel character. At this time, she was involved in a crossover event called Spider-Women, which included the characters Silk and Spider-Gwen, so I had to pick up issues of their series too. Silk didn’t really stick with me but there was something about Spider-Gwen that pulled me in and I have stuck with the series ever since, long after the unfortunate departure of Jessica’s series. I collected what back issues I could and dived head on into Spider-Gwen. While I have never thought this was the best book I was reading, I stuck with it because at it’s heart it is a story about a father and daughter who put everything on the line to protect each other. If you have read the Masterworks Collection of Amazing Spider-Man, seen the countless cartoon series, movies and other media surrounding that our old pal Spidey, this is not the George and Gwen Stacy you know. I will get into the messy details later but this really was All New and All Different. Gwen carries around the burden of being bitten by a radioactive spider and being Spider-Woman, using her power to do all the things her dad taught her to do, living up to his set of principals. Captain George Stacy puts his career, honor, and eventually life on the line protecting his daughters secret. Without spoiling too much here in the early parts of this article, Gwen returns this act in kind. Gwen isn’t well equipped for dealing with the powers she has been given but also feels like being Spider-Woman has give her life some purpose. One of the things I love about this Gwen is that she is in a place that a lot of 20 year olds are, searching for a sense of direction. This Gwen isn’t going to Empire State University. The only job she is qualified for is at a place called Dollar Dog, which is exactly what it sounds like. She has her band, The Mary Janes (more on them later) which is struggling in part because her duties as Spider-Woman keep getting in the way. She isn’t a super genius science major like Peter Parker. She doesn’t have access to unlimited resources like Tony Stark. She is a typical young person, struggling to find her place in the world. I found Gwen to be very relatable in a way that other heroes aren’t, particularly the line of new heroes launched around the same time. She doesn’t have all the answers. She isn’t blessed with an otherworldly intellect. She is a musician, drummer to be exact. Just a normal, good kid who happens to have these amazing spider powers. Much like Peter Parker, these powers have taken over her life and she isn’t sure what to do about it, if she even wants them, or why she chooses to be Spider-Woman.
Earth-65: A Whole New World
When attempting to talk people into giving this book a try, there are some barriers of entry I have found. I will try to address some of those frequently asked questions here. She calls herself Spider-Gwen? Doesn’t that give away her secret identity? What’s the deal with Gwenpool? There are two Gwen Stacy’s now? That sounds like some Clone Saga BS to me. I read on the internet that they made Trump M.O.D.O.K, this book must be all about promoting politics, right?
I will take the last question first since it is the one I get the most. The one page in forty-one issues that I am referring to was from the Spider-Gwen Annual #1, an issue that is so satirical it might as well have been written by the Usual Gang of Idiots at Mad Magazine. Without getting into some really big issues that I largely don’t care about, Spider-Gwen is probably the least political book you will find. That one page was a joke in an issue that was not meant to be taken seriously. Don’t not read a perfectly fine book because of that. Second, Gwenpool is a completely different deal. I feel your pain on the Clone Saga though. She is not a Gwen Stacy who was bitten by a radioactive Deadpool and became Gwenpool. Her name is Gwen Poole and is an interesting character in her own right. If this interests people, maybe someday I will get into her series, which was better than anyone gave it credit for. Finally, Spider-Gwen is the name of the book. At the exact same time this book launched, there was another book called Spider-Woman with Jessica Drew. You can’t right well have two books with the same name. In the end, the title, which was off putting to many, does get paid off, but in her world, she is Spider-Woman.
Spider-Gwen takes place on a parallel Earth, Earth-65. For a frame of reference, the prime continuity of the Marvel Universe is Earth-616. Here things are the same, only different. Spider-Gwen Vol. 1 was launched after the events of Spider-verse, an event way too big for me to get into here but is worth your time. Vol. 2 is a continuation from the first, nothing is changed. It was just given a new #1 issue as part of the All New, All Different initiative in 2015. In this case, everything is really different and that works for and against this series. For people willing to give this series a go, I must ask you, how married are you to Marvel continuity? How willing are you to leave all expectations at the door and take this series for what it is? This series lived up to the name All New, All Different.. The whole concept is a big What If…?, a series that was popular for many years and explored different ideas with varied results. In this case, what if the radioactive spider bit Gwen Stacy instead of Peter Parker? This book takes what you know about the Marvel Universe and changes it. Some things are surface level and not too consequential. For example, on Earth-65, Captain America is Sam Wilson, who is also a woman. Cap plays a pretty big role in this story but for all intents and purposes, this is still Captain America. On the other hand, Dare Devil is evil and the King Pin of Crime in this world, but also still a lawyer. An evil lawyer. Not all the evil characters are good and good characters evil, although that would be interesting. Elseworld stories are nothing new but the approach taken to Earth-65 feels really fresh. A thing that happens throughout the series is that something will happen that most people will recognize from Amazing Spider-Man. My familiarity with that series is largely from the Masterwork Collection, issues 1-200, plus some books from the 90’s. Well, this incident you know from Amazing Spider-Man will happen and sometimes Gwen goes in a completely different direction. This book is not attempting to copy ASM with Gwen in the costume instead of Peter. That would have been the easy approach and low hanging fruit. Writer Jason Latour took an approach that was the most risky from a writing perspective and in regards to the potential commercial viability of the book. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One last word on Earth-65, the pop culture seems to be twenty years behind our own. Music is important to Gwen and familiar lyrics from songs will pop up throughout. Either Jason Latour is about the same age as me with similar music tastes or this world is just now getting to the 90’s in terms of music.
Spoilers are ahead so if I have peaked your interest, go read some Spider-Gwen then come back and tell me what you think. I will start with what I liked about the series because I’m the eternal optimist and a booster. I am more of a story person than an art person when it comes to comics but it is hard to ignore. Robbi Rodriguez has an art style with this series that is distinct and unmistakable. One reason this character will be with us for a long time to come is the costume.
Face it, Tiger, they hit the jackpot with this costume design. A quick google search will reveal more Spider-Gwen merchandise than one can shake a stick at. I’ve seen Spider-Gwen merchandise at my local retailers, figures and what have you. When I can leave my house in small town, middle America and find your merchandise on the shelf at a store, you have made it. There is probably more merchandise items available than people who have read the book and it is all because that look captures the imagination. That is a cool looking character and people want to identify with it, even if they may not know the details about that character. We see this with Deadpool and The Punisher. I have a little game of asking people with Punisher shirts what they thought of the Becky Cloonan run and they look at me blankly every time. And that is ok. Fans are fans. Whatever attracted you to the club, welcome aboard. The point is, this look as got peoples attention and she will be with us for a long time.
More than the costume, Robbi Rodiguez creates a style for Earth-65 that is bold and unique. Even when the book hopes to other universes within the multiverse, the look of that Earth’s New York is completely different. There is a look to Earth-65 that is all it’s own.
That’s a good idea of what Earth-65 looks like. At one point she travels to Earth-617 which is a little closer to 60’s Marvel, that looks like this.
Robbi Rodriguez does such a good job of defining the look and the world of Spider-Gwen that it is pretty obvious when he had to take some time off and someone else handled a few pages. Robbi deserves to take some time off when needed, don’t get me wrong. It was a tough act to follow. Only a few issues are not completely done by Rodriguez and you can tell where his pages end and the others begin.
Having read the original Amazing Spider-Man issues with Gwen Stacy, she is a very different character than the Gwen of Earth-65 and she has to be. The world is a different place from the 60’s. The first issue in which Gwen Stacy appears in ASM, she is upset that Peter Parker is the only guy on campus at ESU that is not drooling over her. She grows during her time on ASM and by the time she dies, she had really taken shape as a character. All of that being said, not being married to that source material was a really smart move. In the pages of Spider-Gwen, Gwen is dealing with the death of Peter Parker in a similar way to how Peter deals with the death of Uncle Ben. Peter Parker on Earth-65 turned himself into The Lizard because he wanted to be like Spider-Woman. Gwen has a lot of the same emotional issues as Earth-616’s Peter Parker but the smart thing that is done in this comic is that she handles it differently. Peter protects his secret identity to some pretty ridiculous lengths (keep in mind my Spider-Man knowledge ends at around #200 so if that has changed since the 70’s, please let me know.) Gwen tries to protect her identity but slowly loses control of the situation, revealing to more and more people over time. Most of the problems come back to haunt Gwen because she protects her secret identity Peter dies, her father loses his job, ends up in jail, and eventually is beaten into a coma by The Rhino, Harry Osborn joins S.H.I.E.L.D and becomes the Green Goblin then later the Lizard, and her band is floundering all because Gwen hides behind the mask of Spider-Woman. The whole notion of a secret identity is turned on its head by this book and it is a strong point of the series.
The one thing they kept from the pages of Amazing Spider-Man is the relation between Gwen and her father, George. In the 616, the relationship wasn’t this intense but they also weren’t the main characters of the story. George in that book is the police captain but his portrayed as more of an upper crust intellectual. He loves and respects his daughter but has his suspicious that Peter Parker just might be Spider-Man, which causes some problems for Gwen and Peter, mostly because of how Peter acts. Gwen is not only the dutiful daughter of her older father, who is nearing retirement, they are almost like good friends. She goes out with her dad to many public functions, which are often disturbed by a Spider-Man villain. They talk with each other on the same level regarding the Spider-Man situation (it is Spidey’s book after all.) In Spider-Gwen, George is Dad Cop. Not to say he is a generic character. There is a movie series that is a favorite of Gwen and George called Dad Cop, which adds some interesting moments through the series. To all the cops, he was like a Dad. To Gwen, he was like a hero. A lot of the reason she decided to become Spider-Woman is based on the ideals her dad taught her. The amount they sacrifice for each other in this series is incredible. It starts with Gwen revealing her identity to her Dad, who covers for her instead of taking his daughter to jail for the murder of Peter Parker. With Frank Castle getting closer to the truth, George sacrifices his job and is arrested protecting Gwen. In return, she makes a deal with Matt Murdock to get George cleared of all charges, which he can do since he is not only a lawyer but the Kingpin of Crime. Of course that favor comes at a price, a price she doesn’t pay. This leads to George being beaten into a coma and Gwen giving into the Venom Symbiote to avenge him. In the end, George pulls through and with nothing left to sacrifice, they get to a place where they can just be themselves. George is the strongest supporting character in the series and the strength of these family bonds is what carries this series. Being a dad myself, it really warms my heart to see this kind of relationship in the Marvel Universe.
There are a lot of small things they do right in this series that really kept me going through some of the more difficult times. One of them was how they portrayed this universes Frank Castle, The Punisher. In this universe, his family doesn’t get killed in a mob hit gone wrong. He becomes a Captain in the police department. However, his wife does leave him because he is so wrapped up in his war on crime as a police officer. While a lot of characters are changed from the main Marvel Universe, seeing that some things are the same no matter where you go is really satisfying on a deep level. Everything could go right in Frank’s life and he would still be The Punisher. These characters we follow from series to series, universe to universe are destined to be important. They have the spirit of heroes, or villains, it all depends. In this case, The Punisher is a constant in the multiverse. We see a similar thing with Reed Richards while Gwen hops around the Multiverse. When in doubt, find a Reed Richards, he will believe you and be willing to help you. Without getting too metaphysical, I like this idea that all our favorite heroes are bound by destiny to become something special, no matter what they look like in whatever universe.
Speaking of looks, we have some fun supporting characters like Peter Porker, the Sporktacular Spider-Ham. He is somewhat of a spirit animal for Gwen, in that he comes to her when she suffers concussions and helps her out. He comes from the pages of Spider-verse so he is a character they have used before. He has such a nonchalant attitude that when he appears, it is usually a lot of fun. Another supporting character who plays a small role is Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. She has a one off issue early one where the crux of it was that she wanted revenge against Matt Murdock for horrible deeds committed by him in the past. Many issues later, Gwen has to break into a S.H.I.E.L.D prison and sees that Felicia has been locked up. Her only explanation is that she got on the wrong side of Matt Murdock. Even I had forgotten Felicia at that point, it had been at least 20 issues since we had seen her. Seeing her locked up really shows the consequences of Gwen’s actions. By not focusing on Murdock and his underworld, by going so far as to accept his help, Gwen has caused a lot of innocent people a lot of suffering. Finally, in terms of good supporting characters, Gwen’s greatest super villain, The Bodega Bandit. The Bandit pops up occasionally, starting as a throw away gag. He knocks over bodegas in New York for their food, even giving us “robble, robble” in one scene. As the series develops, we learn more about this character and his sad story. He is a spoiled rich kid, desperate for attention. Sometimes he gets arrested, his dad bails him out. The bodegas get paid double what he steals from them by The Bandit’s dad. The only person who has shown interest in him is Spider-Woman. Gwen is the only person who acts like what he is doing is wrong. Getting punched in the face enough times, eventually he changes his ways by the last issue. He becomes a barometer for how successful Gwen is at being Spider-Woman. In an issue where Gwen doesn’t have her powers, he reveals to her that he isn’t even hungry. He is just bored. Spider-Woman shows him how he is wasting his life on being The Bodega Bandit and if there is anyone on Earth-65 she had an impact on, it is him.
I will try to keep this brief since my goal is to get other people to read this book. But I have to be real with you, Spider-Gwen is far from flawless. When you take a lot of risks, not all of them are going to pay off. If I can boil down the problems I have with this series into two words it would be Tarantino and Deadpool. Remember the ‘Royale with Cheese’ scene from Pulp Fiction? You love it. I love it. Everyone loves it. One thing I learned in film school is that not everyone can write it. Matt Murdock here is as far as you can get from Daredevil. The idea of a world where Matt Murdock is evil was interesting to me. The way he is portrayed as a Tarantino-esque “devil’s advocate” lawyer who is also the Kingpin never worked for me. His dialogue is stilted, wordy, and awkward. He has really hip dialogue and a too cool for school attitude. It’s difficult to explain but you know it when you see it. Someone writing this book really liked Kill Bill.
His motivations are questionable and in the end, he just wanted to see if power could corrupt Spider-Woman. Granted, this book is not called Daredevil Earth-65. A lot of what we love about Daredevil comes from what his in his head that he thinks about at great length. Getting that character to come though in a book that is not his own, it’s a difficult task. I never felt any connection to this version of Matt Murdock. With the other characters who are changed in drastic ways on Earth-65, there is something about them that connects them to the characters we know and love, even in small ways. The only time he feels even remotely close to Daredevil is when he gives his origin. Of course, his motivation is the same as Jean Girard from Talladega Nights. Matt Murdock wants someone to stop him.
We all love Deadpool too. Sort of. In some circles the concept has been played out but one legacy he has right now is that a lot of books love to throw self-referential dialogue into the story. These quips are suppose to be funny because long time readers know all these little details about the Marvel Universe. But how do these characters know this sort of stuff? Characters should say things like “We’re the Ultimate crossover!” or “We’re going to do a 2-in-1 Team Up!” In Issue #29 a Watcher loses his mind when Earth-65’s Uncle Ben encourages Gwen to just kill Matt Murdock and get it over with. He can’t do that! He’s Uncle Ben! As if the 616 Uncle Ben is the only template there can be for Uncle Ben. This comes from the same writer who will later lecture us about embracing change. Also, a writer can have a character make random pop culture references, but you have to pick where you will put those references very carefully. Some of these attempts at humor not only fall flat but kill tension.
Issue #23 may be the worst comic I have read in my entire life. Rarely, have I been insulted by a comic book. The story itself is about The Mary Janes, a rock band made up of Mary Jane Watson, Betty Brant, Glory Grant, and Gwen Stacy. What if all of Peter Parker’s ex-girlfriends started their own rock band? I’m not really sure I care. The biggest problem with The Mary Janes is that the characters never really get developed through the series. All three of them are a snarky rock chick with a bad attitude! The only distinction between the girls is that Mary Jane thinks Gwen is Spider-Woman. The Mary Janes have 3 of the 41 issues revolve around them. Issue 13 where The Mary Janes are similar to the Scooby Gang and have a Halloween mystery at old man Mysterio’s abandoned amusement park was probably the best of the bunch and a fun one-off issue. Issue #23 is does nothing for me in terms of the main story. This issue is where they introduce the Watcher for Earth-65 as well as Earth-8. They are complete goofballs. They lack any of the qualities you may associate with a Watcher. Well, the Watcher of Earth-65 is in trouble for watching Family Feud instead of watching his Earth. Watcher are supposed to be bound by a sacred duty to watch and record all of the knowledge within their universe. One can interpret the Watchers as the audience. Well, what am I suppose to take away from the guy whose job it is to watch this universe would rather be watching Family Feud? When studying screenwriting, I was told that when a really talented writer is in the zone, the characters start speaking through the writer instead of the writer speaking for the characters. I believe Jason Latour to be a talented writer. And I think by having this Watcher watching Family Feud instead of Earth-65, the characters are asking us, the audience, why are you still here?
Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe a Watcher is just a Watcher. Or maybe the writer was getting a bit frustrated with this series. There is a reason I could see why he would get frustrated. I am not privileged to any insider information but there are some turns this series takes that smell like editorial mandates. The first two story arcs start off strong with Vol.0-Most Wanted and Vol.1 Greater Power. You have built the story of this world up and then we go on a side quest with the crossover event Spider-Women which brings together Silk, Spider-Gwen, and Spider-Woman. I liked that book quite a bit and it got me into reading Spider-Gwen. At the end of that event though, she loses her powers and that will propel the story forward for the rest of the run. It didn’t feel like events were moving in that direction prior to Spider-Women but they start to pull it together with the next story arc Weapon of Choice, in which The Punisher tracks down Gwen and she only has so many power ups to help her in this fight. When she is powerless, the power ups she gets from Earth-65’s Jesse Drew let her be Spider-Gwen for a little while. Again we build to a great point at the end of the arc, George Stacy has been arrested, Gwen makes a deal with Matt Murdock to protect her dad and give her unlimited power ups. Then, never mind that, we will be doing a crossover with Miles Morales for the next arc and not get back to the main story until issue 19. Weapon of Choice ends at issue 12. That’s seven month before the main story gets back on track. In this accelerated culture, it might has well have been seven years. This starts the painfully slow process of introducing Gwenom, moving at the pace of WCW’s Glacier. Gwen bonded with the Venom Symbiote. Gwenom is coming starts with a teaser alternate cover for #18, is hinted at in #19 and isn’t fully introduced until #26. I can see why blood ran cold with this one and the series lost a ton of momentum.
Here are some things that were a bit more subjective. Maybe you will like them. Maybe you won’t. Gwenom is the best place to start. I don’t know what has been changed about the Venom Symbiote since the early to mid 90’s or Amazing Spider-Man continuity for that matter. In this series though, the radioactive spider that bit Gwen was created using Venom goo. The Lizard formula which changed Peter Parker, Doctor Connors, and Harry Osborne also had venom based materials. Did I miss something where every super power is granted by some form of Venom now? Was the Super Soldier serum made of Venom? For as much as was built up about Gwenom being this force, an arch villain for Spider-Gwen to face down, at the end of the day, she is still bonded with the Venom Symbiote. She has learned to control it and be friends with it. But she is still Gwenom. I don’t know what they are going to do with that going forward but it doesn’t seem quite right to me.
The Miles Morales-Gwen Stacy relationship never lives up to the covers or alternate covers or the alternate universe utopia with bratty children they create. This crossover which puts the breaks on everything going on in Spider-Gwen looks on the covers to be a hot and heavy relationship. In the book, it plays as a friendly friendship with some cute moments between two people who share similar powers and problems. At the end of the arc Weapon of Choice, it is clear that Gwen is working for Matt Murdock now and she had better only use her Spider Powers when he says it’s ok. So she hops off to the 616 to have an adventure with Miles Morales. Actually, Miles comes to Earth-65 but none of this Spider Powered adventuring was endorsed by Matt Murdock. He does give them a clue to help them on their way but none of what happens benefits Matt in any meaningful way. Does this sound like the Kingpin to you? And when the event has wrapped up, Matt goes back to business as if nothing has ever happened. Also at the end of the event, Gwen and Miles decided that a cross-dimensional relationship is a bit too long distance but they will remain friends. Doesn’t sound like the beginnings of a utopian marriage to me.
Issue #31 Earth-617’s Gwen Stacy threatens a Watcher and gets away with it. She gives them a lecture about not being so committed to what has been and embrace what could be. It is a speech that frankly should have been given in Issue #1. I have stuck with the series this far, I think that lecturing me isn’t going to help any at this point. If the Watchers are meant to be a stand in for the audience, it felt like the writer wanted to give us a piece of his mind. To top things off, Gwen-617 seems to imply that she has saved some or all of the Gwen Stacy’s of the Multiverse who fell off the George Washington Bridge and given them Spider Powers, keeping them safely locked away somewhere. I hope this is ignored in future continuity of the series. An army of Spider Powered Gwen Stacy’s really diminishes a lot of what they did to build this character into something special and never mind the other Spider-Men and Women across the Multiverse. Are we suppose to be ok with someone altering reality this drastically because a Watcher looked at her the wrong way?
The series comes to an end with a lot of questions left up in the air. The final story arc deals with Gwen turning herself in, revealing her identity to the world. Gwen faces charges for her actions, although she is cleared for the death of Peter. She gets one year in prison. During her time inside, she takes a hell of a beating on a daily bases. She controls her emotions and thus the Venom Symbiote. Once she is out of prison and reunited with her father, they discuss what their future is going to be. Gwen is still bonded with the Venom Symbiote. All of Earth-65 knows her secret identity. She has been pacified by her experience. She doesn’t want to punch her problems away but still wants to help people. In the end, everyone calls her Spider-Gwen and there is no need for the mask. The end of Spider-Gwen reminds me of the last time I saw Donna Troy in the pages of Justice League of America before the New 52 reboot. After being exposed to Saint Walker’s Blue Lantern light, Donna Troy doesn’t want to fight anymore. Well, here, Gwen takes a beating in prison and learns to use kindness and love to control the aggressive nature of the Venom.
Moving forward, this is going to be difficult to work into the character. That is not to say it can’t be good but it will take some excellent writing to maintain this status-quo. Spider-Gwen will be in the upcoming Spider-geddon event. After that there will be a Ghost Spider book with Spider-Gwen under a new name. The problem moving forward is that everyone loves the costume and she has no reason to wear the costume. Jason Latour and Robbi Rodiguez seem to be moving on to other things. It is going to be interesting to see what the new creative team does with the world they created. As a fan, I would like to see a book that is just about Earth-65, exploring that world and it’s heroes a bit deeper. I have a hard time imagining what they can do with Spider-Gwen as she has been left at the end of this book. Perhaps she will be more of a detective and engage in less action. What I can say is that this series has me interested in the character moving forward. Whether they call her Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, or Ghost Spider, I will be looking forward to what comes next.