One of the things Spider-Man readers love about their comics are the relationships that get explored and the kinds of developments we see when writers explore characters trying not only to be their best but also do their best by one another. For every iconic action moment such as “The Final Chapter” or “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” there are countless, much subtler moments that are just as rewarding between Peter and the supporting characters in his life. Often, they end up being just as unforgettable as the big action scenes, since they take the characters in new and fresh directions, reveal vital information, or simply give readers more depth.
We’ve seen Peter have “The Conversation” with Aunt May during JMS’s run on Amazing, as well as a post-Civil War confrontation and heart-to-heart between him and Jonah in the pages of Friendly Neighborhood. And that’s leaving out countless memorable character moments with other characters such as Mary Jane, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, and even Uncle Ben. These moments are just as important to a good Spider-Man story and it seems Jason Latour is just as dedicated to making sure we get them in Spider-Gwen as well.
In issue four of this title, we’re given a relative break from the building action of the previous installments, which culminated in two knock-down, drag-out fights in the last issue. Gwen’s biggest altercation here involves an argument with a group of spraypaint toting, underground misfits who see fit to use her image as a symbol of rebellion, while nonetheless still being uncertain enough about her to see her as a threat. As the rest of the issue unfolds, we see that this is an important theme in Gwen’s exploration of her heroic identity, as she tries to make sense of the shifting ways the media have portrayed her in her guise of Spider-Woman.
As her family home has been trashed in the scuffle with the Vulture, Gwen has little choice but to take this breather with her father, who is recovering at the house of Ben and May Parker. This is clearly an uncomfortable scenario for Gwen, who is revealed to have had a long-standing connection with this household and family. “Uncle” Ben retains her favorite coffee mug, which has been altered to say “Gwennie the Pooh,” and May’s affection and concern for Gwen’s well-being indicate that she’s grown to love her as much as her nephew may have.
When they sit down to talk about Spider-Woman, we get one of those wonderful character moments that takes up the lion’s share of pages and panel space, but make for a memorable development of the characters. In revealing that her initial thoughts about Spider-Woman have evolved over time, and that she no longer necessarily blames her for Peter’s death, May solidifies Gwen’s supposition that her alter-ego doesn’t necessarily have to be what others have perceived her to be so far. She also finds the will to move on to other aspects of her life, leading her back to her band, The Mary Janes.
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about this series so far is that I feel like I’m on the ground level for what is certainly starting out as a classically quintessential Spider-Man-influenced experience. We’ve got a new character, with a different take on the same origin story, and certainly a whole new universe, but it’s nevertheless very similar in tone and execution. I like that Peter is the ‘Uncle Ben’ character in this scenario, and I like that Gwen has the same range of problems, doubts, and hang-ups when it comes to maintaining a dual life as a superhero. But just as importantly, I like that in this issue we get these kinds of character studies, just like we occasionally do with Spider-Man.
Latour continues to dazzle with his script and dialog, particularly shining during Gwen’s interaction with May. In a lot of ways, May continues to serve as the same kind of character she is in the 616 world, but her bond with Gwen gives their dialog added meaning as she reveals her change in attitude towards Spider-Woman. It’s also heartbreaking to hear her confess to Gwen her concern about Peter’s tendency to stay trapped in his own head, and that he wasn’t well. It’s the kind of thing that screams for more details about how Peter became the Lizard, but I also can’t help the feeling that that’s probably a story better left untold.
Artistically, Rodriguez continues to use his unique style to service the story masterfully. Even in a less action-y installment such as this one, he keeps things expressive and intense as Gwen and May have their discussion, helping sell the dialog with big eyes and somber expressions. Gwen’s final page, on the other hand, is pure joy as she finally cuts loose with her band and goes to town on the drums in a way that feels as cathartic as it must actually be for her. It’s a given that this artwork and this story go hand in hand, and they continue to demonstrate that it’s hard to imagine one without the other on this title.
If you haven’t yet started reading this title, I’m not sure anything I say is going to convince you at this point. I’ve enjoyed the script, the artwork, the dialog, and the colors on this title, and have been talking positively about them from the outset. I will reiterate that Latour and Rodriguez really seem down with delivering readers the same kind of Spidey experience that others have experienced for decades, even if the protagonist is not quite the same as the original. It’s especially true that female comic book readers will enjoy this title, but I would go even further and say that if you simply enjoy good, classic, Spidey-style stories, then you should be reading Spider-Gwen.