You ever been to a water park, and waited patiently in line to go down their longest, most intimidating water slide? You look back down the length of the line, see all the friends you came to the park with egging you on, and take one deep breath before plunging down into the wet and wild abyss before you.
This issue reads like that one deep breath.
If I may stretch the simile slightly further, Harry Osborn is the friend egging Gwen along; he’s apparently made only lateral movement towards getting his life back together since we last saw him, and somehow ended up in Madripoor. Thankfully, Madripoor is apparently a glitzy urban hellhole no matter which version of the Marvel Universe you land in, so it provides a welcome new setting for adventures. And of course, as soon as you see him there, you realize Gwen will be on her way to help him in some fashion or the other. It’s in her nature.
Except…it’s not really her better nature that sets her on a path to save her friend; she’s mostly ignorant of Harry’s situation. (You’re not a spider-person if you don’t ignore Harry Osborn’s cries for help in favor of your own drama and superheroics.) Ironically, it’s the (dare) devil on Gwen’s shoulder that spurns her into action. Rather, we discover (in a scenario that feels oddly familiar to fans of Spider-Man: The Animated Series), that Norman Osborn is in league with the Kingpin, and Murdock is willing to help retrieve Harry in order to get Osborn to further his own ends.
The similarities to the animated Norman Osborn are more than superficial: cartoon Norms was a ruthless and immoral dude who still loved his son despite being emotionally distant and dysfunctional, in sharp contrast to the complete monster he’d become in the comics after his revival. Both incarnations have their pros and cons, but it seems Spider-Gwen is definitely going with the “Kurtwood Smith from Dead Poet’s Society” portrayal of the elder Osborn, as opposed to “Kurtwood Smith from Robocop” as he’s been elsewhere.
And hey, speaking of unethical mega-corporations that like to tamper in God’s domain, the Venom symbiote is just dropped into this storyline like it’s no big thang, wheeled in by a female Dr. Brock to boot. If this foreshadowing was any heavier, it would be five-shadowing, but I have to give props for A) introducing the concept as a logical extension of the book’s pre-existing pseudo science, B) introducing it in an arc where Gwen’s moral compass is already set to spin over doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and C) using it to further prop up Earth-65 Cindy Moon, who in defiance of all rational expectations, continues to be the single most important villain in Spider-Gwen canon.
Oh, and if you thought Venom and the cartoon callbacks meant the issue was getting a bit too 90’s, it also throws Hand ninja and Wolverine in Madripoor in at the last minute, just to get your 80’s fix in as well. It’s been almost fifteen minutes since Logan had a young female protege, so I’m sure he and Gwen will get along great. Or maybe she’ll take more after Peter and beat his head into a gravestone on their first team up. Either option works for me.
I was clear about my mixed feelings on the prior arc, but so many of my frustrations could be boiled down to comparing it to an issue like this, which juggles so many great plot beats while simultaneously dropping in enticing new avenues to explore. This is the way to kick off a storyline, and it shows what this team is capable of when they’re unleashed and firing on all cylinders. They’ve brought us to the water park and bought our ticket; now let’s ride the ride.