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Radioactive Spider-Gwen #4 – REVIEW

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Radioactive Spider-Gwen can be like an adrenaline-spiked energy drink. It’s fast, powerful, over the top, and over too soon. I look forward to its wild pace as a fun break from the norm, but this issue made me realize that I wouldn’t mind slowing down once in a while.

1Last issue ended with Gwen shocked to discover that her recently returned friend Harry was now 1) a SHIELD-trained assassin and 2) off to kill Spider-Woman for the murder of Peter Parker. While Harry’s new identity wasn’t exactly a surprise to anyone vaguely familiar with Spider-Man, the actual revelation felt rushed in a series that had otherwise proven itself very capable of handling quieter and slower-paced storytelling.

So I’m torn about this issue taking things even further and jumping straight to Spider-Woman’s confrontation with the Green Goblin. On the one hand, the idea of redefining the traditional Gwen-Goblin relationship is exciting; she’s far from being his helpless victim (plus he’s accusing *her* of being a murderer!). Why wouldn’t we be eager to see this showdown?

The problem is that the shift feels strangely disjointed and unearned.  While I didn’t need it dragged out for several issues, the jump lowers any character-based tension. We haven’t spent much time with Harry (and he didn’t have George Stacy’s instant likability), so his anger at Spider-Woman feels more functional than meaningful. His odd decision at the cliffhanger literally comes out of nowhere and flirts with being silly. What should have been dramatic and even tragic left me scratching my head. Gwen’s invested in him, but unfortunately, as a reader, I’m not (even with the flashback scenes).

Latour is juggling a lot with this issue, which is much more than just an extended fight sequence. The heart of it for me was Gwen’s struggle to parse out some complicated feelings while holding off the Goblin. The movie-like action is beautiful (I couldn’t get enough of Rodriguez and Renzi’s cold and moody rainy night shots), but I was mainly enjoying getting into what “Power and Responsibility” mean to Gwen.

2Personally, I can’t get enough variations on that theme (Bendis’ work in Miles Morales issues #8 and #9 should be required reading). Latour takes it in an interesting direction as Gwen admits feelings of resentment and helplessness, which I found very believable and honest. She just wanted to have fun with her powers and didn’t choose what happened next.

Gwen’s internal monologue was offset by her quips and surprising penchant for early 90s pop culture, which got me to laugh out loud. While I love the goofy humor, I wondered if it undermined the bigger ideas by contributing to the chaotic tone of the issue. There was some dialogue to connect Harry to S.H.I.E.L.D., S.I.L.K., and the Lizards, but I admit to being a little overwhelmed at that point to really process it, not that I was ever particularly invested in that plot thread.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Rodriguez reimagine classic characters for Earth-65 and the Goblin was at the top of the wish list, given the lead character’s history. While characters like the Vulture and the Lizard were terrifying horror-comic exaggerations, the Goblin (and his Hobgoblins) feature a sleek body armor design with wide eyes on the helmet. It’s simple, but also sinister and no-nonsense – perfect for Harry. The Goblin is also equipped with a lightsaber, because why not? 

The issue features another character bio, this time featuring Gwen’s dad. I highly recommend reading these, as they manage to tell several issues’ worth of flashback stories that we’ll most likely never see realized as full comic books. They’re also just fun to read – the breakdown of Captain Stacy’s superpowers and equipment had me laughing out loud.

Between these bonus “backup stories” and the frantic pace of the main book, Radioactive Spider-Gwen reads with a great sense of urgency, as if it’s trying to make the most of its time. As a fan of the character and the creative team, I hope that doesn’t mean borrowed time and that the series sticks around long enough to catch its breath again.

Listen to us discuss this issue on our podcast, THE ULTIMATE SPIN!

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