Usually I talk about the story first, but I have to address this upfront: This is the most beautiful issue of Radioactive Spider-Gwen yet.
Robbi Rodriguez sat out for the excellent “Spider-Women” crossover miniseries, and to say that his return is a triumphant one might be underselling it. It’s almost as if he’s come back with a vengeance! Radioactive Spider-Gwen #9 delivers the series’ most compelling and emotional art to date, perfectly matching every beat of Jason Latour’s melancholy and poignant script about loneliness, friendship, and the burden of an impossible choice. Rodriguez’s stellar linework is elevated even further by Rico Renzi’s inspired colors, with moody golds and reds driving home the sadness of feeling alone in a crowd while cooler blues convey Gwen’s sense of detachment from the surrounding action, whether it’s at a rock concert or pondering her future as Spider-Woman.
For a story about a band pulling closer together, it’s fun to see the creative team firing on all cylinders, particularly Rodriguez who is pushing his character designs and shot compositions to new heights here. The panel of Gwen’s “confessional” is particularly powerful, not just for the script and stark imagery, but also the unusual sight of an extended monologue as a text message and thick brushwork that sets the moment apart from an already stunning issue. Images like this work on more than one level: The following shot of cobwebs forming on Gwen’s drum kit tell an entire story all by itself, as did the thrilling composition of the final panel.
There’s some unusual and interesting panel design happening as well, with Gwen literally throwing herself into the music at the club and later zoning out with an 8-bit arcade game. The stylized sound effects have always been a fun part of this series, but here they’ve become even bolder and sometimes part of the scene itself (the climactic moment in this issue earned an audible “whoa” from me).
The cover does a fantastic job of capturing the story’s mood and theme. It may be a coincidence, but the placement of the logo not only accommodates the artwork, it hints that Gwen’s world has also been turned sideways.
So let’s talk about the story itself.
Following Spider-Women: Omega, Gwen is now home and adjusting to her new reality of limited powers-on-demand. It’s a strange and lonely position. And while the specifics are unique to the world of comic books, I really enjoyed how relatable she seemed in this issue.
After several issues of learning to accept her power and responsibility as Spider-Woman, Gwen is suddenly faced with losing that life forever. She can only “power up” a few more times, so she has to make them all count. But how can she decide if a situation truly warrants her powers? Will using up one of her “lives” cost her later on?
And to me, seeing her deal with those questions was the heart and beauty of Radioactive Spider-Gwen #9.
All of us face our own struggles, and it can be a lonely burden to sit alone with our thoughts, trying to navigate our uncertain circumstances. If we’re lucky, we have some kind of support network that’s ready to help. Yet sometimes our particular challenges can seem too big or complicated or even too exhausting to articulate, even to the people that care. Sometimes it’s easier to push them away, as Gwen has been doing to Glory. But then sometimes we remember that they mean well and let them in, even if it’s just to provide a welcome distraction.
That’s what I loved about the concert scene, even more than its surprise revelation of another funny 616/Earth-65 counterpart. The script and art captured how difficult it can be to give yourself a break when you’re down, and the joy of being able to tune out those worries, even if it’s just for a little bit.
It’s not all gloomy, though. There’s plenty of humor in both the script and images (I loved the Super Mario Brothers homage and the gross beverage concept). For me, the only slight misfire was another 616/Earth-65 counterpart that was an interesting idea that didn’t quite fit within the logic of the script (he looked great but I didn’t get why the Mary Janes would need his help in their own city). There’s also incredible tension with an electrifying action sequence as Castle makes his play to capture Spider-Woman and Gwen uses her weapon of choice.
This series has been funny, thoughtful, unpredictable, and gorgeous. This issue is a great place to jump in.