This week, Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man series features the TV debut of “Spider-Gwen,” the alternate universe version of Gwen Stacy who stole the hearts of many a Spidey fan during the massive Spider-Verse crossover series of 2014 that featured pretty much every version of Spider-Man that Marvel could legally use. Much like “Spider-Man Noir” and the Japanese robot ‘SP//dr,’ Spider-Gwen was created to be an example of a Spider-Woman that could have been, a universe where it was Gwen and not Peter who was bitten by the spider.
Despite a bit of hesitancy toward reviving a character that was ‘fridged’ long before it even became a term, Spider-Gwen was hands down the breakout star of Spider-Verse, apparent even before the series was done:
Not only was she featured heavily in theSpider-Verse tie-in to the Secret Wars crossover event in 2015, and in the ongoingSpider-Verse spinoff/teamup series Web-Warriors, but Ms. Stacy’s popularity demanded her own book. And, y’all, it’s so much fun. Here’s what is great about it:
Gwen Stacy Lives!
There have been plenty of other female Spider heroes in the course of Marvel’s wallcrawler history, including the popular Spider-Girl, (Mayday Parker, an alternate universe daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane), the current running Spider-Woman’s Jessica Drew and Silk AKA Cindy Moon. And they’re great awesome characters that I’m glad exist. But there’s something unique to the Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman angle. There is something really powerful to me of taking this woman, who is one of the most classic examples of a female death to give pathos to the male hero in the history of comic books, and making her the hero, of giving her the powers, of letting her be the star of her own story. For ladies like me who grew up with the death of Gwen etched into my awareness of my favorite comic (she’d died before I was born,) it’s like a note saying “Hey there’s more to you than this.” And for young girls who find her now, and young boys who can enjoy a female superhero too, she’s the Gwen they get to own.
She’s not just Peter Parker in a blonde wig
Gwen’s book is funny, with clever writing from Jason Latour, who manages to create an atmosphere that allows Gwen’s Spider-Woman to be funny the way Parker’s Spider-Man is, but with a voice and sense of humor of her own. Likewise, while her powers are comparable to Peter’s, her strengths as a superhero are different. She doesn’t have the scientific genius of Peter Parker so that’s not what drives her actions. Gwen is instead the daughter of a police detective, and she uses that investigative ability to hunt criminals. She has to get help on the tech side, which has actually led to unique plotlines like the current “Weapon of Choice” storyline where she’s enlisted the aid of her universe’s Reed Richards. Speaking of which..
Her universe is delightful
Apparently managing to avoid total annihilation during Secret Wars, Gwen resides on a parallel earth designated “Earth-65,” in a nod to the year the original Gwen made her first appearance. Aside from popping over to visit with Jessica Drew and Cindy Moon, which led to this spring’s Spider-Women crossover, Gwen spends most of her time on Earth-65, which makes the book somewhat more accessible to someone who may not read Marvel regularly and might not have an encyclopedic memory of the vast continuity. Cross-overs give enough info to let the reader follow the story, but someone who mostly just cares about Gwen can just live on Earth-65 and it’s worth it.
Long time readers can also appreciate the alternate versions of characters they’re familiar with, from Detective Frank Castle, to a Matt Murdock who was raised by the Hand and seems to be maneuvering himself to replace Wilson Fisk as the Kingpin, to a version of Doctor Octopus who seems to work with an actual octopus:
But what really makes Earth-65 a lot of fun, is the fact that it kinda maybe sort of is a teensy bit of a feminist hugbox. On Earth-65, not only is Peggy Carter the director of SHIELD (complete with eyepatch) but Captain America is Ms. Samantha Wilson:
This isn’t a “Sam took up the mantle of Cap when Steve Rogers was unable to do it” type situation. She has always been Cap, with her own universe’s version of why she was away for decades (she wasn’t frozen in ice, she was kicking ass across time and space.) In fact, on Earth-65, Steve Rogers fills another role:
And you remember that time Captain America punched Hitler in the face? Well…
But we’re here to talk about Gwen, and that leaves me with one more thing to gush about.
Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork
My god, does Rodriguez do some great work on SpiderGwen. Lush, colorful covers with a hint of watercolor bleed-over that indicates that not everything is exactly in its place, that things are just a bit too loud or off. The covers are extremely eye catching; I’ve found new issues from across a store on more than one occasion. And of course, Rodriguez is responsible for that awesome costume, one of the best riffs on the classic Spider-Man look I’ve seen in years:
The white motif with the webbing, the vaguely chuck-looking teal shoes (which don’t actually exist, much to my cosplay chagrin!), and the friggin hood, it’s a costume that shares enough of a vibe with the classic Spidey look to keep it in the family, but yet looks unique enough to imply that Gwen developed it in a world completely uninfluenced by a Spider-Man she didn’t know existed realities away.
An awesome-looking, smart-talking, ass-kicking female superhero? Maybe Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige said it best, Spider-Gwen is just cool.
For those looking to get into the Spider-Gwen series, the best bet is to pick up the “Vol. 0” trade, which features the Edge of Spider-Verse issue that introduced the character (as well as a quick re-cap of her history) as well as the first storyline in her stand-alone series. You should be able to swing it from there.
Riley Silverman totally has her Gwen cosplay ready for Comikaze this year.