At one point in Spider-Gwen #10 (the Radioactive part is naturally dropped from the full title for now), Gwen asks, “What the #$% is even happening right now?” I personally love when comic books move in strange and surprising directions, but have to admit that issue #10 left me feeling just as disoriented as she was. This book has never been shy about embracing over-the-top ideas, and while there are some great character moments here, the overall storytelling fell a bit short for me this time around.
I love the central concept of this arc, which sees Gwen having to manage a dwindling number of chances to be Spider-Woman. Having been forced to “power up” last issue, it was interesting to see her disappointment in feeling like it may have wasted one of her “lives.” The Spider-character motivation was always, “if you can help someone, then do it.” But now she’s forced to question if it’s worth her time or if she should just throw it all away and go back to her old life. There’s also the spectre of Frank Castle, who unbeknownst to the Stacys, has now recruited his old ally (and former War Machine member) Kraven the Hunter to force Gwen into revealing her identity.
Fortunately for this series, Gwen has her dad to help her think things through. I always enjoy their scenes together as warm and sincere, and this issue has a particularly sweet two-panel sequence in their conversation where George comforts his distraught daughter. Unfortunately, this moment doesn’t last very long as the action is suddenly ratcheted from zero to crazy with Kraven’s attack.
The visuals of this series never cease to make me smile. As a child of the 80s, I loved seeing Gwen’s old school Power Pack logo t-shirt (although they seem to be a band in Earth-65) and the ridiculous image of her wearing it over her costume. I’d read it as both a funny gag suiting the surreal nature of the overall story and also the character needing something comfortable and familiar in the middle of her difficult situation.
Rodriguez has created an impressive range of creepy designs for Kraven’s menagerie. Their respective facial expressions manage to be sinister and intimidating, giving us terrifying snakes, a menacing panther, and what may be the strangest villain yet, a truly unsettling orangutan called Louis (complete with weird bow tie). I also really enjoyed the negative outline effect that Rodriguez and Renzi used to convey motion (first with Louis’ escape and then Gwen’s struggle with her damaged device). And there’s Kraven himself, reimagined as a smaller yet still powerful fighter, with a hairstyle and facial expressions that scream “eccentric dangerous weirdo” (can never have too many of those). I liked seeing Rodriguez take the inherent ridiculousness of the original costume to its extreme, modernizing it with jungle cat pajama pants (rawr) and sneakers.
However, while Kraven’s inclusion is a fun idea, this was a rare occasion where the over-the-top style of the book worked against it for me. This book has always cut to the chase with major villains (e.g., Black Cat, Green Goblin), so maybe part of my personal reaction was due to wanting a break from that approach and instead having a little foreshadowing for Kraven before he got to cut loose. I also think a part of it is due to the inclusion of Aunt May in the battle and how she didn’t seem particularly phased by the rampaging animals or the sight of Spider-Woman. It seems like a setup to May revealing that she’s somehow always known about Gwen, but it didn’t flow well for me here. There was also a bit of disconnect for me as to Gwen’s final exchange with her dad; I wasn’t clear on why her extreme response was necessary in the moment, especially as George had just been given a particularly heroic moment toward the end of the battle.
While issue #10 was a bit of a stumble for me, this book remains adventurous and wonderfully unpredictable, and Gwen’s latest setback has me even more invested in seeing where things go next.