Annuals can be a mixed bag. They’re generally oversized releases, often with a guest artist and/or writer, and are usually separate story-wise (or even in tone) from whatever narrative is happening within the main series. They’re a chance to cut loose and try something different, but the end result can be hit or miss. Fortunately, this book is one that you’re going to want to check out.
The “rock band” description is well-suited to this series’ core creative team of Latour, Rodriguez, and Renzi, and the chapters and arcs are like tracks and albums. So it’s fitting that the first Spider-Gwen Annual pulls together an impressive roster of guest creators for a comic book equivalent of a jam session. It’s relaxed but still confident, with different styles coming together to vamp on familiar themes. While Latour keeps the tone on the lighter side, he takes advantage of the anthology format to shed some light on both Gwen’s origins as well as other strange corners of her universe.
This one isn’t about heavy themes or character development. It’s strictly about turning up the volume and having a good time.
Loose Ends’ Chris Brunner reunites with Latour and Renzi to reimagine Spidey’s wrestling debut in “Week One.” Brunner packs incredible energy into these pages, with engaging designs for Gwen’s disguise and her opponent, and every background character standing out as an individual (even the “Hamilton” cast!). The highlight of this story (and one of the highlights of the annual) is a montage that’s practically dizzying in its detail and composition. Be sure to look at that sequence with the hilarious soundtrack selection (although you may need sunglasses to take in Renzi’s explosive colors).
I thought that Dead Letters’ Chris Visions’ heavier style was a perfect fit for the darker themes of issue #5. So I enjoyed seeing him work with a lighter script that focused on Earth-65’s Captain America and what her adventures represent to Gwen and her dad. My jaw hit the ground when I saw Visions’ stunning take on the late Prince and the fantastic audacity to cast him as Cap’s irresistible (ahem) nemesis.
That made it interesting to then switch gears with Steve’s speech to Sam over the bizarre and unsettling visual of Donald Trump as M.O.D.A.A.K. I get that not everyone wants to see politics in their entertainment (that’s a whole different writeup), but I’ll say that the scene managed to be both depressing and reassuring. Jim Campbell’s colors perfectly lock into the art and script with some beautifully dark purples for the flashback, strong bright blues for the present-day scenes and gold for the days ahead. I don’t think that Marvel is ready to launch more Earth-65 books anytime soon, but I’d love to read more of Samantha Wilson’s Captain America.
The Mary Janes are beautifully rendered by Olivia Margraf in the very silly “Who Watches the Watcher.” Although the story itself is one of the weaker moments in the collection (basically the Watcher getting exasperated with the band), the visuals pop in an already beautiful book. Margraf’s character designs and colorist John Rauch’s warm palette make every panel look like a still from an animated feature. It’s a very appealing look, and I think I might have better appreciated the story if we’d gotten a little more time to know The Mary Janes as individuals in the main series.
“Koala Kommander” and “Eight Days A Week” are a series of single-page vignettes that range in tone from mysterious to absurd. While there are interesting teases of Gwen’s unseen adventures, these pages stand out more as a showcase for the guest artists and colorists. This includes Latour’s Spider-Gwen art debut (not counting his variant covers), and the return of Spider-Ham in what might be one of the series’ punniest (sorry, so sorry) moment yet. Tough to pick a highlight, but I particularly enjoyed Javier Rodriguez’s amusing Spider-Women reunion (with the ridiculous visual of Spider-Woman wearing her dad’s sweater) and Plutona’s Emi Lenox’s demonic koalas.
I can’t ignore the latest in a series of beautiful Robbi Rodriguez covers; a simple but visually stunning concept that captures the strange balance between Gwen’s two lives. It’s nice to have a warmer take given the heavier stuff currently happening in the main book.
This is a charmingly off-kilter collection that celebrates the sillier unpredictable side of the series while capturing the carefree spirit of classic Spidey comics. All that was missing was the bonus Hostess ad!