Note: As per Jason Latour, this new volume is solicited as “Spider-Gwen” to make it easy to find, but its proper title is Radioactive Spider-Gwen.
Thanks to unexpected success and a publishing schedule centered around a major event, the creative team of Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, Rico Renzi, and Clayton Cowles find themselves in a unique position: Spider-Gwen gets a third shot at a debut story within the space of a year. How do you make that work, especially when your character has been busy zipping across dimensions in numerous stories by different creative teams?
With great challenges come great opportunities. Radioactive Spider-Gwen reads like the season premiere of a television show – skillfully presenting its lead in a story that both rewards the returning audience and welcomes a new one. That’s a lot to balance in terms of pacing and (re)establishing characters and key plot threads, but the end result captures the familiar vibe of classic Spider-Man (power & responsibility, emphasis on the latter) while throwing you some Ultimate-style “character remixes” to keep things fresh.
It is quickly reestablished in this primary issue that Gwen’s “Uncle Ben moment” was the loss of her universe’s Peter Parker. Not only were Peter and Gwen friends, but he’d idolized Spider-Woman and inadvertently became The Lizard in an attempt to be like her. He died in his hero’s arms and she’s now wanted as a murder suspect.
Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1‘s structure is built around a series of flashbacks that establish how and why Peter and Gwen’s relationship changed when the young, aristocratic Harry Osborn entered the picture. Meanwhile in the present day, the Stacys are separately investigating their own mysteries: Gwen is looking into the apparent return of the Lizard and George is curious about disappearing patients from the local veterans hospital, which he believes is a link to…The Lizard. It’s an interested setup that should reward readers with character development established by how differently the two tackle the same crime.
Speaking of George, I like seeing him continue to develop as a character in his own right. While his scene with DeWolff was mainly exposition, his simple but carefully phrased defense of Spider-Woman stood out for me. It spoke volumes to his integrity and belief in his daughter.
I’m a grown adult with kids of my own, but that and his gentle offer to Gwen to hang out and watch “Dad Cop” struck a chord and I felt compelled to give my own dad a call. It was such a human moment and I’m interested to see how a Spider-character will develop with a supportive parental figure to guide them (a welcome break from the norm).
Gwen’s life continues to be charmingly chaotic, from her messy apartment to her goofy approach to hunting the Lizard (and her initial discovery in the sewers). The book continues in its offbeat and funny sensibilities, enough that Gwen’s dialogue makes me feel my older age, but it’s balanced for me by the character’s sincerity and drive to do good.
While I can appreciate the significance of a character called Curt Connors in a Lizard story, his inclusion here seemed like one element too many. It was a slightly confusing section to read, especially as it didn’t seem to add to the story. Similarly, while I don’t want to spoil the cliffhanger, I can’t honestly say that it did anything for me. I can appreciate wanting to make the story bigger, but the core idea seemed too familiar and I’m hoping that the narrative goes in a different direction.
Surprisingly, there’s an incredible amount of action that happens after the story! The team closes the book with a wonderful Spider-Gwen profile page in the style to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (as a child of the 80s, this was my pre-Internet comic book bible and it warmed my heart to see it homaged here). Not only does Latour recap Gwen’s adventures as presented in the first volume, but he drops revelations about Gwen’s early days as a superhero, including the secret of her webshooters and information on her mysterious benefactor. I loved that clue most of all because 1) until this issue, it seemed that Gwen was the only superhero in her universe and 2) it’s fun to imagine that encounter – not everything needs to be spelled out. This detailed supplement is such a great touch and makes the series feel even more like a creator-owned work.
I’ve enjoyed seeing Robbi Rodriguez reimagine classic Spider-Man villains, whether they go in bold new directions (Rhino, Black Cat) or exaggerate familiar designs in a horror comic homage (Vulture). The Lizard is definitely in the latter camp, and his revelation here is genuinely terrifying. There’s a lot of artistic range in this issue, as the creepiness is balanced by some aggressively cute animals that Gwen encounters during her investigation. One small negative: Gwen’s unmasked face seemed different, most noticeably in her opening scene. I don’t know if her features were intended to convey her bleariness, but it was slightly jarring.
There’s also time for kinetic fun, which you get in the sequence where Gwen is racing to work as Spider-Woman. Rodriguez uses a rare POV web swinging shot to kick things off, followed by different-sized images of Gwen within the same panel to convey motion. It’s a cool effect, punctuated by placement of the word balloons as she attempts to have a phone conversation with her dad.
Rico Renzi elevates the high bar that he’s set in the series so far, particularly in the flashback that introduces Harry Osborn. It’s Renzi that highlights the significance of Harry’s nickname by using one color to dominate each page – first green, then purple. There’s a similar treatment for Peter’s final moments. Not only is it a startling effect, but it exemplifies the creative teamwork that’s gone into this series since day one.
Dan Slott has taken Amazing Spider-Man in a fun and crazy action-packed direction while Brian Michael Bendis’ take on Ultimate Spider-Man (hopefully relaunching soon?) offered more introspective moments. For me, Latour’s Spider-Gwen continues to hit the sweet spot between the two with its balance of action, humor, unpredictability, and heart. I get how its style can be overwhelming and not necessarily for everyone, but it’s backed by substance and is worth a look.