Well, I don’t think that could have been any better. Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez deliver a storming first issue of the new Spider-Gwen solo book that picks up the threads from the Edge of the Spider-Verse one-shot and goes on to expand Gwen’s universe. The dialogue is funny, the characters interesting, and the story compelling; all of which can be found alongside incredible art, colours, and inventive lettering. This issue is the whole package, and one great start.
Following a fan-favourite introduction in the recent Spider-Man multidimensional cross-over Spider-Gwen is a very new addition to the wall-crawling family. So, Gwen has been out of town for a few days (getting involved in all of that Spider-Verse action as a helpful and fun editor Nick cameo informs us), and during that time a new villain calling himself the Vulture has decided to become New York’s first real super-villain. The introductory Spider-Gwen story from the Spider-Verse book gave us an insight into Gwen’s world, but this first solo issue does a lot more good work to establish the status quo of the New York that Gwen calls home. It quickly becomes clear that super-heroes are a rare breed here, for example Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four is a regular police man in this world, and likewise Peter Parker’s Lizard seems to have been the first legit super-villian. This is important because it establishes that Gwen is walking a lonely path, there are no Avengers or X-Men to turn to here, and the recent Spider-Verse book has shown her how different things could be.
To add to the pain of self-realization is the fact that the Vulture has stepped into the lime light only because he is jealous of Gwen’s infamy, a suitably self-indulgent and petty reason that sheds a lot of light on the Adrian Toomes of this world. Immediately this is a villain that mirrors and reverses Gwen’s feeling and situation – JJ Jameson (hating on spider-types even in Gwen’s Earth-65) has made sure that Gwen is public enemy number one, which is exactly the reputation that Vulture craves. Gwen doesn’t want her life to be this way, and neither does Toomes – they are opposites about to cross paths.
Writer Jason Latour does a lot of work in this issue, he widens our lens on this alternate Marvel universe, and lays the ground work for the first arc both for Spider-Gwen and regular-Gwen, all the while throwing in some thrilling plot points and funny lines. Gwen is dejected after returning to this world, she won’t face her father and she has quit the band, but most of all she is facing into the hatred of the city she is trying to protect. But her city, like her band, need her to be what they once were – upstarts like the Vulture and ‘cousin Jim’ may be trying to usurp Gwen, but they aren’t about to have it easy. Gwen’s soul searching feels real in this book, and never descends into cloying self-pity, she has shut herself off (listening to music in a dark back alley rather than speaking to her father on the phone, or hiding in the rafters of the Mary Janes studio rather than facing her friends directly). Gwen wants to re-integrate, but after revealing her secret identity to her father, having JJ and pals brand her as a menace, and missing the band’s big gig, she is understandably afraid to take those steps. I really liked that the eves-dropping at of the band yielded a painful truth for Gwen, as Gloria takes MJ to task for being stupid and pig-headed, the words resonate with Gwen too – she makes a faltering first step with her dad (listening to his voicemail) and steps up to reclaim her city. There are a lot of great threads in play by the end of this issue, Gwen still hasn’t reconciled with the Mary Janes, Frank Castle is on her case, and yeah she just got dropped in New York Harbor.
The art from Robbi Rodriguez is simply so good in this book. The physicality and grace of Spider-Gwen is amazon, when she pivots to throw the Bodega Bandit into a dumpster it looks real and effortless and incredible. Similarly Spider-Gwen searching Toomes’ apartment features so many panels of perfect physicality, especially when Gwen makes up her mind to call the Vulture out (she looks pretty damn serious!). But it’s not just the physicality that Rodriguez nails, it’s the details too. The Vulture is a petty vindictive man and his grotesque personality is captured in those very first panels – his grin, his vulture-esque features, his perch; he has truly become a true carrion creature. The Mary Janes are illustrated amazingly, from MJ’s meltdown to her wilted form, to Captain Frank Castle ‘interrogating’ the suspect (and the breadth of Aleksei’s shoulders and chest is just awesome). There are just so many great details on every page, in every panel that this is a treat to just look at let alone read – the bandit’s shoe’s flying off when he is thrown, the city reflected in the window Captain Stacy looks out of, Gwen dropping her 78¢ in the tip jar at the grocery store, Murder-Face the cat’s face in every panel!
Holy moley, are the colours on this book something else! Rico Renzi’s style is a perfect match for Rodriguez’s art, and for this world. The deep mingling greens and yellows of the Vulture’s smoke clouds, the rich hot pinks and greens of the street-art, and the amber/pink hues of every scene featuring the Mary Janes; these are all gorgeously rendered colours that make the visuals of this world ‘pop’ with every panel. Even the more pedestrian scenes, like Gwen in the local store feature some beautiful colour work (check out the deep shadows in Gwen’s hair or the dust on top of the hot dog grill). Gwen’s New York is a vibrant pulsating purple world and it’s skies are an iridescent mix of royal, navy, and aqua blues that long to be stared at. And then there is Gwen’s costume, a stark clean white, with internal webbed pink lining, pink eye-shadow but white void eyes, and a complex shadows from every angle – there is not a panel where the colouring on this outfit is not amazing. Truly Renzi does an outstanding job on this book!
Not to be out done letterer Clayton Cowles does some wonderful work here. The dripping paint sound effect of a spray can, the “kruka” of cracking knuckles, the “rrrummm” of an ignored phone, all of these effects are delightfully integrated into the fabric of this world. Even Gwen’s narrative text is lovely, a deep purple that matches her costume’s lining. Cowles has been doing excellent work over on Bitch Planet and it is great to see that same high quality here.
The cult of Gwen is an interesting side-note, a group youngsters who wear hoodies similar to Gwen’s costume and use graffiti to contradict JJ’s narrative of a villainous Spider-Gwen. They have a prominent scrawl on their backs that reads “YSG” which would imply that they are this world’s Yancy Street Gang; a group that would frequently harass the Thing, both humorously and otherwise, in the pages of the Fantastic Four. Their image of Gwen is accompanied by the words “who’s responsible” so it is possible they are on Gwen’s side, or maybe just they are just making trouble and keeping officer Grimm busy. It is probably also worth mentioning that Grimm survives a six-story drop and crawls four blocks before he is found – he is either preternaturally strong, or maybe there are more super-powers at work in this world after all?
In many ways this book reminds me of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, perhaps it’s the sharp yet light art style, or the tight yet playful writing, or maybe it’s the combination of fun super heroics with deeper than at first glance story telling. In any case this is a really excellent start to this must-read book, and one that bodes well for this series going forward. If this issue is an indication, Spider-Gwen is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier.
Spider-Gwen #1 // Writer – Jason Latour / Artist – Robbi Rodriguez / Colour Artist – Rico Renzi // Marvel
Notes and Observations:
- Is the Bodega Bandit based on a real guy?
- Who is the mystery woman watching Frank Castle ‘question’ Aleksei I wonder.
- I love that Gwen’s backpack is pretty much a permanent part of her costume (even if it does disappear for a couple of panels when Gwen enters Toomes’ place).
- Oh yeah – Matt Murdock is Kingpin again!!
- Gwen finds an ad for ‘Mr Z’ at Toomes’ apartment – Mr Z was a corrupt insurance salesman (real name W.C. Tuttle) who first appeared in the 616 universe back in 1942 via Mystic Comics #10. What is he doing here?
All art belongs to the copyright holder