The Edge of Spider-Verse #2
a.k.a. the Spider-Gwen issue
Sorry I’m getting to this a bit late
Synopsis: A band called the Mary Janes rehearse for a gig they’ve got coming up, but one of the band member, Gwen Stacy, is obviously troubled by something.
She flashes back to how after a spider bite she gained super powers and became Spider Woman. However, a student named Peter Parker, trying to be ‘special’ like she was, turned himself into a lizard monster, ultimately resulting in his death. Not only did this death deeply affect Gwen, but (thanks to the public outcry led by J. Jonah Jameson) the police begin hunting Spider Woman for Peter’s apparent murder. Leading the charge is Gwen’s father Captain George Stacy.
Disturbed by these goings on Gwen prowls the night whilst a lawyer named Matt Murdock hires a super powered thug named Aleksei to kill Captain Stacy on behalf of the Kingpin.
Due to being accosted by a police officer Gwen arrives late at her gig but is just in time to see her father attacked by Aleksei. She changes into Spider Woman and defeats Aleksei, but her father confronts her with a gun. She unmasks and tells him it’s her responsibility to use her powers to ensure Peter Parker didn’t die in vain. Begrudgingly George let’s her go and so Spider Woman swings off into the night.
From the shadows another Spider hero clad in a Union Jack observes Spider Woman…
If I were to sum up this issue in a single phrase it’d be:
And I mean that in the most positive sense of the word. I mean that in the sense that this would be very at home on a shelf alongside things like Runaways.
I think this issue is outside what I usually go for, but I still think it’s enjoyable and for an audience with tastes more sympathetic to what this issues offers it’s a great done in one story.
I’m not really someone who goes for stories which try to capture the angst, passion and pumping vibe of adolescence. I mean I love the Inbetweeners which tries to capture very different aspects of being a teenager, but this sort of thing is just not what usually appeals to me. Hell, I didn’t much identify with that sort of stuff (or at least stories about that sort of stuff) when I WAS a teenager, so the chances of me liking something like that a few years on from when I became 20 are slim.
That being said I can not only do my best to recognise something’s objective quality but I can sincerely say I enjoyed this story.
I think it primarily comes from Latour and Rodriguez injecting A LOT of energy and passion into this story, which it oozes off the page and is pretty infectious.
Let me get the negatives out of the way first.
I think the story is too fast paced and leaves you like you know enough about most characters and the situations thier in to be functional, but not quite as much as you’d want. I mean, yeah maybe this was always intended to be followed up on so giving away too much would’ve been a bad idea, but even so I felt like there was a little something something missing from a few characters. Ultimately though this isn’t something to really rip this issue for because it is a done-in-one story so inevitably something like this is likely to occur
Was Aleksei supposed to be the Rhino, because he really didn’t seem like he was?
There was a panel when George was pointing a gun at Gwen and the art seems to imply Gwen is moving but how or why is very confusing. What gives?
Where is Gwen getting her webbing from that was never explained, although we could just assume they’re organic since she didn’t seem scientifically inclined
Who was the fourth member of the band? There was Gwen, Mary Jane, Glory Grant (nice) and…who was that other girl? Jill Stacy?
These are ultimately nitpicks in the grand scheme of things though as the positives outweigh the negatives to the point where I’m sure I’m going to forget a thing or two.
Firstly, Gwen Stacy as a superhero works on a very…comic booky level, which is owed to Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita Senior. Okay that makes little sense and it’s hard to explain. What I mean is the name ‘Gwen Stacy’ is a name that sounds distinctive and memorable and has remained so for decades since ASM #31. Gwen’s blonde, bow-haired look is also visually distinctive and always has been. These elements are nice starting points and selling points for a character in general, even divorced from the wider legacy of Gwen Stacy, and so capitalising upon them for a protagonist is a good thing.
I guess what I’m very badly trying to say is that on an incredibly simplistic level the name and outward appearance of Spider Woman is a good and memorable one for a character in a comic book generally, which is an obvious thing to point out, but still worth mentioning here given that the dynamic has flipped and Gwen is now the protagonist.
Speaking of memorable visuals….damn if that costume isn’t cool. Especially the spray paint eyes. I have no idea HOW Gwen got those onto her costume (though in a neat touch her band has a similar face paint) but it looks great. As does the hood and the boots of the costume which look like trainers.
Yeah technically the hood is impractical, but when combined with these other design elements (especially when Gwen is swinging around with her back pack and head phones on) it really does a great job of emphasising the genuinely youthful and dare I say rebellious vibe of both Spider-Gwen as a character and this story in general. If your aim is to make a comic book story about teenagers FOR teenagers with the intention of emphasising the youth aspect THIS is one of the more effective ways to do it.
And what story with a teen rebellion vibe would be complete without the traditional challenge to authority/parental/older figures. And in this story we of course have George Stacy who is all of these rolled into one. George Stacy is often misremembered as being a more traditional and active cop than he actually was in the Silver Age but here it works just as it did in the Amazing Spider-Man film from 2012.
Actually, whilst this Spider-Gwen character was likely put out in response to the positive reception of Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, it is actually her father who is comparatively more like he is in the movies than Gwen herself. Whilst this Gwen Stacy could be said to be charismatic like Emma Stone’s Gwen (albeit in a different way) and also a character who I suspect many young people and teenagers can get behind, she really is a separate animal altogether from Stone’s Gwen.
This Gwen is defined by three things. Her relationship with her father, Peter Parker’s death and her music. Science or romantic feelings for Peter don’t enter her character at all (at least not from what we’ve seen). This Gwen is a rocker at heart who comes off more street smart and mocking, but not exactly a deadpan snarker or witty banter machine like Peter Parker. This is evidenced in the scene where Spider-Gwen takes down the cop shooting at her. Where that situation handled by Peter Parker, there would’ve been more humour and snark.
Speaking of Mr. Parker when I first read this story his death seemed like a perfectly organic part of the story that worked really well for it. I mean you would want to know what happened to Peter Parker in a universe where Gwen Stacy is the Spider-Hero of New York so addressing that was necessary. And it was addressed in a way which didn’t just hand wave him. Peter Parker IS vastly important to this (currently one issue) mythology surrounding Spider-Gwen. This story would not work without him, so even though he is neither the protagonist nor a supporting character his presence is still felt and it’s still important. One might argue his being dead actually not only frees up more time for other things in the story but also means fans of his cannot help but turn their attentions to Gwen and her Dad who’re the point of this story. Basically Peter Parker, popular and famous character that he is, cannot distract you in this story because he isn’t there.
I also think his becoming the Lizard was a clever way of acknowledging both his scientific angle and how Peter pre-Spider bite may well have wound up a villain if left unchecked, very much like Doctor Octopus. At the same time having him be the Lizard was probably a clever little way to nod to the ASM film.
In addition to all that, Peter’s death, Gwen’s guilt/anxiety over it, the police chasing Gwen because of it (thus leading to the conflict with her father) and Gwen ultimately swearing to make Peter’s death matter by abiding her responsibilities were all positives in the story that were both organic and logical.
Peter’s death killed many birds with one stone and is a generally effective aspect of the story. I mean I’m sure we’ve all seen similar sorts of story tropes right? I suppose this might also be noteworthy because it’s a reverse fridging, wherein a male character dies for the sake of motivating and developing a female one and even more unique than that it didn’t involve any romantic element.
So basically what I’m saying is Peter’s death was a great thing for this story….then after the fact it suddenly hit me hard.
It’s a symbolic role reversal.
Get it because in the original canon…GWEN was the one who died and her death gave Peter angst, guilt, character development and set the authorities against him. But in this story PETER dies and does all that stuff for Gwen’s character! Not only is that ingenious but credit must go for the subtlety with which this was done because had Peter been Gwen’s boyfriend who died on a bridge during a fight with a Goblin themed villain it would’ve been seriously on the nose. But the fact that it was done differently enough (but for the same effect) to the point where I didn’t even get that until much later is a major credit to how subtle the reversal was pulled off….Either that or I was just being dense…
Let’s switch gears for a moment to briefly discuss both the art and the music. I don’t have much to say about the art beyond it was (mostly) clear, vibrant, and filled with energy. I wouldn’t mind seeing Mr. Rodriguez on the main ASM book. I think his art was honestly better than both Ramos or Camuncoli in recent months. For me as a lover of action and especially fight scenes, when Spider-Gwen punched Aleksei hard enough to push him through the brick wall that was the peak of the book artistically. You really got the sense of the true super human strength within this character, something I feel has gotten lost in modern comics. The last time you really got an effective conveyance of just how powerful Spider-Man himself was, was in fact in ASM #700 when Doc Ock punched off Scorpion’s jaw.
Moving onto music….look….I know jack about music. I have no musical tastes. I don’t follow any bands, I don’t know one genre from another. I am ignorant about music beyond knowing I like one sound or another. I also really, don’t like music in comic books because we can’t bloody hear it! This being said….this is quite possibly the single most effective use of music in a comic book I’ve ever seen. It takes music and opposed to really giving you lyrics, through the art, you understand that Gwen and the band are rocking out hard and you don’t need anything more than that. Except Latour and Rodriguez GIVE you more in making Gwen rocking out be an expression (an especially typical and relatable teenaged form of expression in my experience) of her guilt and anxiety over her life as Spider Woman, where she is basically Batman from Batman Year One and has the police/her Dad chasing her for a crime she didn’t commit.
Some final points:
I like that Matt Murdoch in this universe is evil
I like that this told a self contained and emotionally satisfying story but left plenty of room to grow
I like that Power and Responsibility are worked into this story but not exactly in the way we’re used to from Spider-Man and arguably is interpreted differently, whilst adding up to the same results
I like that we have another solid female super hero character
Now, with everything I’ve said I do have to admit that…I think the book and character was overhyped by fans before it’s release. Yeah the book was great but, I do think it was a bit iffy for people to have been all over this character and concept before they saw the results.
To me that speaks more of Emma Stone’s Gwen and her popularity than the merits of THIS Gwen Stacy. Which, between that, this Gwen’s success and the announcement of an ongoing for Spider-Gwen, has left me with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I think it’d be good to check in on this character and would be something I MIGHT consider picking up (believe me that’s a big deal these days). On the other hand….even though objectively speaking the success of this version of Gwen and how different she is should have jack impact upon the 616 universe or that version of Gwen….I really do worry that in some round about boneheaded way this might lead Marvel to consider resurrecting the real Gwen, a possibility made more frightening with speculations of a Marvel Universe Reboot. I really, really, really don’t want to see that at all, despite how keen I am to see more Spider-Gwen.
But, in the context of reviewing this issue as an entity unto itself, that’s neither here nor there.
This is a solid A