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 #4 yet, please avoid this review until you do!!
First comic review for May! I am finally pretty much caught up! Let’s talk about Spider-Gwen! Okay. So, no fights in this issue. Usually, as I’ve said before, that’s a risky endeavor for a super hero comic, especially for one as new as Spider-Gwen. We really want to get right back in the action and see what she can do, and half of the Spider-Gwen comics so far have been completely devoid of combat; however, this issue does exactly what a low-action book should do. It is packed to the brim with character development for our heroine. The book starts out with Gwen tracking down kids who are tagging some construction as a kind of protest, and saving them from the dangers thereof. This opening works, because it allows us to see another perspective on how the New York populace sees Gwen. These kids see her as a “sell-out” who is working with the cops, instead of for a sort of crusade against authority (like they are). This is a nice twist, because it shows the awkward place where Spider-Woman finds herself: She is seen as a criminal threat by the authorities, and as too law-abiding for the anti-establishment folks. She has no home, metaphorically speaking.
Which segues nicely into the following scene where the real heart of this book lies. When Gwen visits the Parkers, we finally get to see what her relationship was like with Peter’s family, all of which starts off feeling heart-wrenching. She calls Ben Parker, “Uncle” Ben (aww), and we see that she has a special mug (it says “Gwennie the Pooh” with the G and E written in pink marker), and of course we see her looking at all the articles that the Parkers have collected on Spider-Woman and Peter’s death, which leads to a gorgeous psychedelic full-page spread of Gwen suffering a barrage of headlines with “Killer” written all over. This reminds me of something you would see in a Batman comic featuring The Joker. It’s fantastic, and the look on Gwen’s face combined with the headline imagery does more to show her pain and anguish than has been achieved with her overt expressions of angst in the last three issues combined. And once Aunt May enters the comic, we really see some character progress. She talks to Gwen about how she is not sure that she blames Spider-Woman anymore. She sees Spider-Woman trying to atone, and compares her to Peter, saying, “Maybe she’s trapped in her skill too. Maybe it’s just easier to be someone else behind that mask. To pretend she has no choice.” All of May’s comments seem pretty on-the-nose, and I would chock it up to sloppy writing, if we didn’t know from the old 616 chronology that May figured out Peter’s secret a LONG time ago (Though that is no longer the case since Brave New Day killed anyone’s knowledge of Peter’s identity). Still, I suspect that she is figuring out that there is a connection between Gwen and Spider-Woman, and maybe she is just telling Gwen what Gwen needs to hear. Regardless, it feels exactly like what we need from these downtime issues. We need them to move Gwen’s personal struggles forward so that she can get into the more external struggles, and it works. The (nearly) last page of the comic is Gwen drumming with The Mary Janes again, symbolically giving herself the “okay” to be Gwen Stacy again.
Which brings me very quickly to the only major problem I had with this issue. That should have been the last page. This was a nicely structured arc for Gwen, and returning to the band is a big step towards her finally learning to deal with both halves of her life. It would have been a perfect page to end on. But, instead, we are treated to two-pages of a scene in the police department post-Frank Castle’s fight with Spider-Woman, complete with the reveal of Castle bandaged up with a sling and neck-brace. I feel like this took away from the plot trajectory this issue. It had almost nothing to do with what was happening the rest of this issue. And while doing quick little teases or updates on other plot threads is very common in comics, in this case, it took an issue with great structure and dragged it down. Still, what a great read! And I am so glad that it looks like we are finally done with Gwen being mopey.