Image Courtesy of Marvel.com
Spoilers: Keep in mind that my method of reviewing involves spoilers for purposes of analysis. If you care about being spoiled and have not read Spider-Gwen #1 yet, please avoid this review until you do!
If you have talked to me at all over the last two months, you know I love this title, and I love this character. So there will be no surprises on that front in this review. I liked it. A lot. But let’s talk about why.
There’s the obvious stuff. It’s nice and refreshing to see a female-led book where the protagonist is powerful, fiercely independent, and not over-sexualized. It’s even better to see that with Gwen Stacy: a character that is one of the go-to “women in refrigerators” examples (by the way, how great was that “Fridged off a bridge” line in Spider-Woman #4). This book gives her the character development and personality that she never had in the 70′s, but does it work? Is a good read? In short, yes.
There are a lot of excellent things about Spider-Gwen #1, but the first thing readers will notice is the art style. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no question that Robbi Rodriguez makes a book that looks unique. A page out of Spider-Gwen is instantly recognizable as a page out of Spider-Gwen. Personally, I love the art style. The bright, pastel, almost graffiti-like colors (a comparison that is reinforced by the abundant presence of actual graffiti in the book) really work for the title, and they help balance the sometimes very dark thematic tones of the book. It would have been so easy to take a title that is about a hero scorned by the public, who is closing herself off because of her guilt over losing someone, and make it dark, starkly realistic, and really emphasize the suffering, tortured hero story. Rodriguez, though, went in a completely different direction, and thank God he did. Gwen has suffered enough. She doesn’t need the Frank Miller treatment, and using the art style to balance—rather than enhance—the darkness of the plot works great in this title. Hell, even the line work is soft and almost dreamlike, which makes it all the more potent when something IS drawn in a more realistically detailed style, like that first shot of Vulture’s mouth (which kind of stands out as terrifying when it is sitting in the panel next to an almost cartoony looking cop). So not only does the art soften up the grittiness of the title, it can also work to support it when the situation calls for it.
As for Gwen herself, there are a lot of very Peter Parker qualities to her. She’s sarcastic – “Oh just fighting a war for the fate of all reality. Y’know, like you do.” –likes to taunt her villains, and has family problems: All staples of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. But, at the same time, there is a lot of freshness to the character. She is hated by the city in a way Parker never was. Sure, he was hated by Jameson, but when Spider-Man first started web-slinging, Jameson wasn’t mayor, whereas for Gwen he is, and he makes life very difficult for her. She’s also new at this, and she is allowed to fail, which is something we haven’t seen much of in a Spider-Man book in a long time. In fact, she failed to save Peter Parker, just like he failed to save her, but she failed so early in her career that Peter Parker isn’t her Gwen Stacy, he’s her uncle Ben. He’s part of her origin story, and that changes a lot. She finds herself pulling away from her life as Gwen Stacy, and falling further and further into her life as Spider-Woman (more on that in issue #2). She ignores her family, whereas Peter embraced his. She is deeply concerned with public opinion, not because she craves positive attention but because the public’s hatred of Spider-Woman mirrors her own guilt and self-loathing. And yet, she still manages to make you laugh. She’s a deeply complex and interesting character: the character that Gwen Stacy deserves to be after so many years of just being “Peter Parker’s dead girlfriend.” And you have to love a girl who has “Eat all the corn-dogs” at the top of her post-victory goals list.