The second installment of the mini-series Edge of Spider-Verse takes a very different tack than the first one. Whereas in the first issue we were graced with a return to the established universe that Spider-Man Noir calls home, in this issue we are introduced to a wholly new alternate version of Spider-Man. In this universe it turns out, the mantle of Spider-Man is instead taken up by Gwen Stacy. Given that each of the characters featured in this series has been said to play a significant role in the upcoming “Spider-Verse” saga, as well as the high level of anticipation this incarnation has already garnered from just a few preview images, it’s probably a safe bet that this story has a lot of future potential riding on it.
The story spends a few pages and panels showing the stark parallels and contrasts between this particular Spider-reality and the 616 one, packing quite a few relevant and memorable details into Gwen’s origin story before diving headlong into the central conflict of the story. While trying to avoid arrest from the overzealous police force and make it to her band’s concert in time, she discovers that keeping her double life a secret may be next to impossible when her father, the chief of police, is attacked by a super-powered stooge in a public venue. But brutish thugs pale in comparison to her conflict with her father, who she must decide whether or not to trust with her secret.
From the new twists on old characters to the central action and plotting, there’s a lot to love about this issue. It’s a bold and imaginative take on a character whose primary role in Spider-Man history has been that of a tragic figure and lost love. Here we have a Gwen who is her own person instead of the love interest to Peter Parker; her she reacts differently and authentically to similar situations in which we’ve seen the original Spider-Man. The action is kinetic and tight where it needs to be, and the visual depictions of the characters make for an expressive, memorable telling of a familiar-yet-different story.
Between details like the difference in starring protagonists, the rock band relationship between Gwen, MJ, and Glory, and Peter’s reversed and tragic role in this reality as the Lizard (as well as the inspiration for Gwen’s continued donning of the Spider-Woman persona), it’s not difficult to feel strangely at home, in a house that may have the same structural layout as the one you grew up in, but with entirely different furnishings and decor than you remember. It’s an effective tool for stripping down the Spider-Man story to its central themes, giving savvy readers a quick feel for just how authentic to the essence of the character it is.
Of course, just how authentic each story is to to the mantle set forth by Spider-Man is ultimately determined by each reader; one of the surest ways to figure it out is by determining what kind of Spider-Man the main character turns out to be. Gwen’s Spider-Woman definitely has her similarities to our standard Spider-Man: she’s scrappy, witty, and guided by a sense of responsibility that came about from a past personal tragedy, she’s always on the move, has the same problems being on time to important events that Peter did, and can’t seem to get the authorities to give her a break, no matter what she tries. All of these characteristics should seem very familiar to Spider-fans around the world.
But there are undeniable differences here as well. For one, she’s a rocker girl who loves making music. No science geekiness on Gwen’s part is made apparent in this story. And while she may be witty, her banter has much less quip than Peter’s in favor of a more matter of fact, in your face rebuttal to her detractors. This is best exemplified in her exchange with the cop who pulls a gun on her at the train station. Perhaps the most important difference is that she has at least one parent around in this reality. This Spider-Woman was not orphaned in the sense that Peter Parker was. So while she may not have lost as much as he did from the outset she might have that much more to defend from those who would do Spider-Woman harm.
While I do have some nitpicks with a few details, they’re relatively small and do little to detract from the overall enjoyment of the story. One panel explicitly depicts the spider bite that presumably gave Gwen her abilities, but there is zero context with regards to how it happened, and I would have appreciated a little more exposition here, particularly with regard to the idea of the totemic origin of Spider-powers briefly raised in the previous issue. The crooked Matt Murdock-Kingpin subplot that contributes to the latter conflict simply screams contrivance–it could have been left out and explained off-page. And that final panel just comes out of nowhere, and really left me feeling annoyed with how tacked on it felt. I realize we have to tie this into “Spider-Verse” somehow, but I really felt this could have been handled more organically.
It is hard to understate how much I really enjoyed the artwork in this issue. Robbi Rodriguez excels at dynamic action shots and the constant sense of movement, action, and urgency he conveys is consistent from panel to panel. Even Gwen’s more somber, reflective moments are memorably rendered with a touch of color or visual flash. I particularly loved his one shot of Gwen, trying to change out of her costume while her band, the Mary Janes, is going on to perform. It’s visual humor that comes entirely from expression and positioning, and it’s appropriately cartoon-ish in its silliness.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this new iteration of Gwen’s character. This Spider-Woman has many of the same conflicts, motivations, and qualities as the Peter Parker counterpart with whom we’re all familiar. With a compelling series of twists on the world and characters we’ve come to know as Spider-Man’s, and a dynamic visual style that conveys action and drama deftly, this is a what-if story worth reading.