While the Ultimate Universe was collapsing, Spider-Gwen earned her own series and sneakily created her own self-contained “Ultimate Universe Mark II” in the process. Once again, familiar names are reimagined, and moving from being variations on a theme to developed characters in their own right. A new continuity is unfolding at a rapid pace.
The in-story explanation for Gwen’s trip is that she needs help breaking out of Captain America’s handcuffs after their battle in the previous issue. Since she doesn’t have anyone on Earth-65 that she can turn to, Gwen pops over to Earth-616 for help from a very pregnant Jessica Drew (her mode of transport is explained in the backmatter of issue #1).
But why the need for 616 so early in the run? In the words of the Rhino, “Hey! What is the give, lady?” Is it too soon? Is this a step backward for the character?
I don’t know if this is what Latour intended, but here’s what I got out of it:
Gwen and Jess meet at the George Washington Bridge, and if you know your Spidey history, you’ll know that this was where the original Gwen Stacy met her end. Much has been written about that story, what it meant for the character and women in comics. Like Rodriguez’s depiction of the bridge, that history still looms over “our” Gwen. Radioactive Spider-Gwen #3 offers a funny and poignant conversation where Jess helps Gwen break free – not just from the handcuffs, but also this legacy. I took her parting words to Gwen (and the broken handcuffs) as a statement of the series’ mission: This book has a rare freedom to do its own thing and is going to make the most of it.
I admire that creative spirit. While I know that a transdimensional reunion is in the cards for next year, it felt right to make the statement early on in order to (hopefully) move further into new territory.
That paves the way for more character beats in this issue. Moments like the band leaving for their annual retreat, George’s visitor, and the surprise reunion capture a range of emotions. Rodriguez accomplishes a lot with the growing cast – their facial expressions convey a sense of their various personalities even when they’re not speaking. There are also three key panels with blank backgrounds – I don’t know if they were Rodriguez’s or Renzi’s choice, but the simple effect makes those moments stand out beautifully.
I can’t say enough about Renzi’s intense coloring work, particularly the skies in this issue. The use of purple against the bridge not only suited the conversational tone but was a great callback to the original Gwen’s iconic outfit, and the peaceful blue over the Stacy home genuinely felt threatened by the intense reds of Matt Murdock hovering at the edge of the frames. The glow of the firepit scene felt warm and inviting, and the dark purples toward the end play right into the cliffhanger.
The issue wasn’t perfect, though. While the final revelation seemed inevitable, it also felt rushed and unnatural in the moment and setting. For a story that features casual trips between dimensions, that’s saying something! It’s indicative of the series’ faster pacing that not only sets it apart from other Marvel titles, but can occasionally make it seem slightly scattered or unfocused. The recap, for example, had little to do with the story that followed.
I find Latour’s style to be an interesting and welcome counterpoint to a Spider-book like Miles Morales in terms of pace and scope. To me, it seems like major (and wildly different) ideas are rapidly thrown at you – three issues in and we’ve already gotten Captain America (and her clone), SHIELD Lizards, a reference to Silk, the mystery of Peter’s fate, Castle closing in on Gwen, George trying to hold off Castle, Murdock, and a grieving Ben Parker. Then there’s the smaller stuff like dimensional gateways casually thrown in as well. Oh, and the detailed character profiles!
It’s a lot to keep up with, but is it too much?
Personally, I love the hell out of it. Radioactive Spider-Gwen’s sense of humor and anything-and-everything-goes style reminds me of Matt Fraction’s and Mike Allred’s FF, which was unpredictable, relentlessly fun, and not shy about pushing the boundaries of what a Marvel book is “supposed” to be. It wasn’t for everyone, but to me that’s the joy of comic books. There are many Spider-titles on the shelves right now, covering a wide range of characters and narrative styles. That said, I get why the indie vibe of this series may not be for everyone. Personally, I’m finding it to be consistently fresh and entertaining. Spider-Gwen is proving to be so much more than a popular cosplay character, and her story and style are definitely worth a look.