For over a year, Gwen has been traveling between dimensions for various stories but remained the only superhero in her “Earth-65” universe. All of that changed with last month’s Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1, as we got hints about her benefactor Janet VanDyne (The Wasp) and witnessed the dramatic surprise revelation of Captain America.
I realize that I inadvertently sounded a bit harsh in last month’s review when I mentioned issue #1’s cliffhanger. I should clarify that my reaction wasn’t about Cap showing up or even the idea of Cap as a black woman (more of my thoughts on that sort of thing here), but rather the plot point linking SHIELD to the Lizard men. That didn’t strike me as particularly interesting, as I’d seen “major organization attempts to create super-beings with botched results” done very well in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and not so well in All-New Ultimates. Spider-Gwen has otherwise been forging exciting new territory, so I was much more interested to see Gwen meet one of “her” heroes.
My first grin reading this book happened when I saw the creative team adapt their origin montage from Edge of Spider-Verse #2 to great success with the introduction of Earth-65’s Samantha Wilson. The precision of Latour’s dialogue and Rodriguez’s artwork is practically surgical in this sequence, with great things happening in each panel. Every single frame in this two-page spread feels like it could become an entire issue’s worth of story on their own. I love this narrative technique, as giving me room to imagine parts of the story for myself makes for a much more interactive reading experience.
While the idea of Cap and Gwen having to fight before teaming up may have been a bit predictable, the execution of the sequence was anything but that. Rodriguez and Renzi deliver a fresh take on the motion of Cap’s shield in battle, with TRON-like geometric patterns that convey speed and precision. There’s an incredible sense of flow that happens with the fight choreography and character design, with Spider-Woman looking particularly effective as her figure is slightly warped to deliver a knockout kick and later take a brutal punch to the head. All of this is anchored by classic Spidey-style quipping, which makes for an action scene right out of the movies. You can practically hear the soundtrack!
However, while it was fast and exciting, it was also a bit confusing between the inclusion of Dr. Connors, a reference to something called S.I.L.K. (hmm!), the number of Lizards involved in the melee, and the sudden introduction of Cap’s junior clone as the Falcon. Normally I get caught up in the ride but the fast pacing and number of new elements made things a little tricky to keep up with.
Fortunately there’s more to this issue than a battle royale, as Latour and Rodriguez bookend the action with a quieter conversation between George Stacy and Ben Parker. This is a welcome effort to develop Gwen’s supporting cast, and I’d love see more. While I’m not yet particularly invested in further exploring the conspiracy behind Peter as the Lizard, I’m more intrigued by the emotional fallout, particularly how George navigates proving his daughter innocent while trying to provide grieving friends with closure.
This is a book that moves like a rollercoaster, but it’s worth going back to catch fun details in the art and dialogue. There are great touches like Gwen protecting the rescued guinea pig while negotiating Cap’s handcuffs (and the rather sweet payoff), plus the incredible depiction of the sound effects throughout the issue. Seriously, take some time to look at them closely; I’m hard-pressed to think of another series where the lettering is so vibrant and entertaining. Plus if you know your Marvel history, there are easter egg references waiting for you as well as another must-read character profile, this time on Samantha Wilson as Captain America.
Radioactive Spider-Gwen #2 is not shy about throwing a lot at the reader. It can be overwhelming and sometimes confusing, but it’s vibrant and exciting with plenty to enjoy.