By Molly Jane Kremer. Remember last summer when Marvel thought we really wanted a Jessica Drew Spider-Woman comic drawn by Greg Land? The former part of that sounds great: Jessica has a terrific backstory, with plenty of pathos to burn, she’s already established complex, in-universe relationships (with Carol Danvers, Jessica Jones, um, Clint Barton…) that would definitely make for entertaining story development.
But… Greg Land? An artist notorious for blatantly employing “o-face” stills from porn as a photo reference for drawing women, illustrating for one of the most prominent females in the Avengers? With the heavy promotional push it initially had, it felt like Marvel was saying, “Here, girls, you wanted another female-lead superhero book? This is what you get,” and daring us to complain. (Nothing like alienating a large portion of your lead character’s fan base before her comic even sees release. Le sigh.)
But after that meager offering of bread and water came the amazingly delicious (and wholly unexpected) slice of pizza that was Edge of Spider-Verse #2. Five months have passed since that issue introduced us to Spider-Gwen (the alternate-universe Gwen Stacy who – instead of being arm candy for the 616-universe’s ubiquitous Mr. Parker – does whatever a spider can her own-damn-self), to a whole lot of rapturous acclaim. Her first appearance, which could have easily been no more than a forgettable tie-in to yet another Spider-Man crossover (and Marvel originally seemed to have no more ambitions for the character than that) was instead sent back to press three times, inspiring countless pieces of fan art (by pro and amateur alike), cosplays, even covers of in-story rock songs. Spider-Gwen became a phenomenon before she ever even saw print. She was the Spider-Woman we deserve, and the one we need right now.
Now, nothing makes a comic company jump to a beat like a sales bump: and thanks to the wild success of Edge of Spider-Verse #2, a Spider-Gwen ongoing series was announced, garnering extraordinary initial orders totalling over 200,000. It was incredibly satisfying to see a publisher like Marvel realize the demand for this character and fulfill it, and now after what seemed like ages of wait (five months can feel like a long time sometimes, ok?), Spider-Gwen #1 is here, and it’s a massively enjoyable and entertaining comic.
While certainly a continuation of EOSV #2, and of the Spider-Verse crossover itself (Gwen’s debut issue is a helpful – and slightly essential – additional read), there’s no need to have read that entire big ol’ event beforehand. (Though I’m sure it’s wonderful supplemental stuff for the completist.) This story stands on its own just fine, and with its parallel-universe setting, there’s not even that much knowledge of Marvel canon required. Spider-Gwen has staked out its own tiny corner of comicdom and is, story-wise, a self-sufficient machine. Unlike the many titles trying to woo a younger readership by trying to be hip and edgy (trying oh-so-hard and oh-so-obviously, it’s excruciating) Spider-Gwen achieves it effortlessly, both in writer Jason Latour’s playful dialogue and quick pacing, and in Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi’s frenetic, kinetic art.
Latour, an accomplished comic artist himself (have you been reading Image’s Southern Bastards? Because you damn well should be), is writing for an artist whose strengths he knows well, and that really allows for artist Robbi Rodriguez to shine. The book is blessedly never dialogue-heavy, never unnecessarily wordy. The art is allowed to do just as much talking, and the dialogue that we’re treated to is snappy and smart (particularly some of the one-liners Gwen tosses the Vulture’s way: “You’d know confused, wouldn’t you, Gramps.“) She doesn’t approach Peter Parker’s constant near-cheesiness though; Latour maintains Gwen at a level of stark coolness that Parker could only dream of.
Latour takes full advantage of his parallel-universe setting, throwing in an intensely dedicated cop named Frank Castle, one ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Officer Ben Grimm (pursuing a spray-paint-happy Yancy Street Gang, natch) and, rather unchanged from his 616 persona, the Vulture. All of these characters could be used for novelty’s sake, but instead they play essential roles. The Vulture might be the best fit though, with Latour drawing a sly and clever parallel between the crusty old villain and the crusty old comics fans who so vocally oppose anything “new” sullying their treasured nostalgia. (But honestly, can there ever be a better bad guy than an old, entitled white dude?)
Rodriguez’s art is an undeniable highlight of the comic. His inks, under a lesser artist, might seem quick and casual, but he gives Spider-Gwen’s visuals a very conscious fluidity, and his storytelling and sense of movement are masterful. Despite often conservative linework, he manages extremely expressive faces in conversation, even for our eponymous masked heroine. The action scenes, however, look much less deliberate, and have a manic, almost dizzying quality, fitting for fight scenes taking place in mid-air.
A great deal of the art’s impact comes from Rico Renzi’s colors; his visceral neons only grow more vivid as the action hits a crescendo. The colors grow more subdued when we see Gwen out of costume, broke and bummed, which only serves to contrast the vibrancy that abounds when Gwen web-slings. The frequent use of graffiti within the book plays to Renzi’s strengths, and to letterer Clayton Cowles’ as well. His scrawled, intensely-bright sound effects pop with an insanity that makes for exceptionally exciting fight-scenes.
The focus on Gwen’s outsider status certainly hearkens back to classic Spider-Man and X-Men stories. This creative team has taken that tried-and-true formula and made something fresh, fun, and – from Gwen’s immediate acceptance, adoption, and celebration by a still-marginalized portion of comics readers – incredibly relevant. If publishers continue to actively listen to what their readers want, and give talented creators like these the wherewithal to satisfy those desires, the industry will be exponentially better for it. And so will the comics.
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez
Colors by Rico Renzi
10 out of 10