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Spidiversity: The Spectacular Rise of Spider-Gwen

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Spidiversity is an ongoing feature that explores a diverse range of issues in Spider-Man media, including gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability. It is published on the second Wednesday of every month by Jaleh Najafali and the fourth Monday of the month by Alex Nader.

The upcoming “Spider-Verse” event hasn’t technically started. Well, in the larger sense it has. It’s in the preliminary phases, but it has already proven to be an exciting time to be a Spider-Fan! Presently, the popular mobile game “Spider-Man Unlimited” features a fairly hasty storyline involving the recruitment of multiple Spider-Men to face the Sinister Six, “Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors” has an upcoming arc featuring a multiverse of Spider-Men, and Doctor Octopus is gathering a team of Spider-Men to fight the mysterious assassins intent on murdering Spider-Men and -Women throughout the multiverse. The multimedia reign of “Spider-Verse” has only started, but its most interesting development has arrived with Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman.

SdQCdSt97pBHQpF-5d_MrEEpCoQodNEex0hXWQ5vKAMLast Wednesday, Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman (affectionately dubbed “Spider-Gwen” by fans) debuted in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez. The issue featured Gwen, well into her crimefighting career and facing a disturbing rendition of The Rhino. The comic told a compelling, tightly-focused story with incredible art by Rodriguez. It was self-contained with the potential for future utilization of the character (as solicited). The excitement over this new version of Gwen Stacy began several months ago, when the Edge of Spider-Verse solicits broke.

The Edge of Spider-Verse mini-series features the return of fan-favorite Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Gwen, and three upcoming renditions of Spider-Man (a mechanically inclined scientist, a horror-inspired take, and a mechanized robot). While all five “What-ifs?” are intriguing diversions from the Spider-Man mythos, Gwen’s issue was able to recast the perennially distressed character into a position of power and prominence within Marvel Comics.

Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman is an incredibly potent character, representing the dormant. More than that, she is an indicator of the incredible potential of taking risks and diversifying the comic book audience. Gwen’s newfound popularity is the result of her fantastic design and characterization, and the feasibility of the character’s continued success has only increased following her first appearance.

The Design

tumblr_n6r72p7h9D1r8ybe2o1_1280Rodriguez’s design is clean. It runs counter to many current costume designs, simplifying rather than making complex. The complex style of costume—tactical and pseudo-realistic—has become fairly popular in recent years, a choice I would likely attribute to the costume styles in the X-Men and Batman (Nolan) films. It isn’t unnecessarily busy like Silk’s costume or overly-sexual like Spider-Woman’s (Jessica Drew). Gwen’s costume is reminiscent of Spider-Man’s original symbiote costume—contrasting colors and clever use of blacks combine with the costume’s plausibility—it looks like a costume that a high-school student could make! And it has already been replicated by fans several times, with great success and admiration by Marvel’s artists. Art has been created by countless fans replicating the design and attaching it to their own ideas.

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Gwen’s costume also, perhaps most importantly, does not seek to sexualize the character. At least, not moreso than Spider-Man’s costume (or the inevitably tight spandex inherent to the genre). Place alongside the recent controversy around Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman art, Rodriguez’s design for Gwen Stacy fits the mood of the story alongside the character. The costume is a fresh step in character design, evoking past designs and creating something new. Beyond that, the characters in the comic (and Gwen’s civilian attire) looked like clothing that teenagers wear. This contrasts heavily with the shocking (to me) continued usage of midriff-showing costumes and clothing, and indicates that the designers are at least on some level in touch with their audience and subject. And that is perhaps the most important aspect of the comic’s popularity!

The Characterization

So, Gwen’s costume looks great. But what does that mean if the comic didn’t follow suit? Gwen’s introduction occurs months into her Spider-Woman career. A brief recap page highlights her early superhero career, featuring many parallels to (our) Peter Parker’s Spider-History, including the death of (her universe’s) Peter Parker in a twist on the Lizard storyline.

W_ZQvhG1osld_bPQSEYV_oCjRJp-76EIRSi_La0zt7MLike any good Spider-Man story, the hero is tortured. Spider-Man’s a popular hero, but has no friends at school; Gwen is Spider-Woman, which creates turmoil at home with her policeman father (thankfully not played or drawn as Denis Leary). She is the drummer of Mary Jane’s rock band (“The Mary Janes,” cleverly playing on the characters’ relationships with audiences through their history) and an inheritor of the old “Parker Luck,” or “Stacy Luck” as it were. Latour and Rodriguez were able to take the important aspects of the Spider-Man character and merge them with Gwen Stacy’s vital characterization, creating a character both familiar and new. Gwen Stacy honors both characters while examining the possibilities of a universe where one of its biggest heroes is a woman. This is the type of universe that many readers are extremely eager to enjoy; hopefully we will get the opportunity for more!

The Potential

This revitalized version of Gwen Stacy has a huge amount of potential for continued success in Marvel. The overwhelming response has only continued following the publication of Edge of Spider-Verse #2. The comic has sold out, and reviews have been very positive. As I wrote earlier, she is set to appear later in the “Spider-Verse” event. Beyond Spider-Verse, however, will the character continue? There is definitely demand—just yesterday Spider-Architect Dan Slott tweeted his support for the continuation of the character.

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I spoke briefly with Latour and Rodriguez at Cincy Comic-Con a few weeks ago and they were flummoxed by the fan response, as well as honored and very excited. They did not know what the future had in store for the character but were hopeful that their creation would be lauded (as it has) and suggested that Marvel may be making plans to continue with the character should she prove popular (and financially salient, of course. It’s a business, after all!).

aWuGQtmSBcXKd512066V1Bn4ERAq66ouGhDrYmOY0V0The Spider-Man line has room for diversity. Following “Spider-Verse,” I imagine that there will be many changes in the status quo. Sure, they may only last until the release of the next film, but ideas that break the mold are what keep the industry going. Spider-Man has long been a beacon for diverse elements within comics, from Robby Robertson’s portrayal in the 1960s to the very popular (and dearly missed) Spider-Girl series with Mayday Parker to Gwen Stacy’s turn as Spider-Woman. These elements and more contribute to what make Spider-Man’s world the most exciting currently in comics. And this current event looks like it will only further that reputation. Let’s hope that Gwen Stacy can hold her own; and maybe some (almost-certainly imaginary) day, when the general audience is ready for parallel movies, maybe Emma Stone can reprise her role in a Spider-Woman movie. Well, there’s always hope, right?

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