Sometimes comic books can feel a bit repetitive. There’s a doomed love story, a compelling villain and a big battle before it starts all over again. The nuts and bolts of it rarely change, but what each writer and artist brings to a new story are what keep me going back to my local comic book store. In Edge of Venomverse #2, we get a take on what would happen if Gwenpool and Venom became one, and while it does have those basic story elements I mentioned above, what we get is something that couldn’t be more different than the rocky premiere issue. From the dark X-23 we move on to an issue that manages to be cute without being cutesy and tough without taking itself too seriously. What we get is balance, something that is almost like magic in the comic world.
With the second issue, Christopher Hastings has a distinctly different take on Edge of Venomverse, and we notably get a bit more background for our latest character. While Gwenpool is admittedly a newer character than X-23 and may warrant more introduction, it’s helpful no matter the character to have some context. Within the first few pages, in between battling and digesting ninjas, we learn about what matters to Gwenpool, how Venom has enhanced her and helped her become like other superheroes, and we even get to see that she’s as big of a comic nerd as the rest of us. Hastings manages to highlight character while also delivering on the action with guns and swords, opening the book with a bang.
While the general knowledge Hastings throws at us is helpful, his understanding of the duality of Gwen Poole with the symbiote enriches the issue as a whole. After he gives us that initial taste of who Gwen is, he follows through and continues to develop the character. Unlike the X-23 issue, here we see her continuously fight her darker side. She wants to be a hero and emulate the fictional people she has come to know. But Venom pushes her and makes her question herself. Is it alright to kill her boss? What if that’s the only way to protect a hunky guy’s secret identity? Is it only okay to kill those who are evil? Is she just a sociopath? We see these kinds of questions battled right in front of our eyes as Gwenpool and Venom communicate and attempt to find a common ground in this odd world. Hastings does this all the way through the final pages when Gwen and the symbiote disagree on whether going with Daredevil is the right move. He highlights the fact that while Gwen is influenced by Venom and occasionally wants to do something bad, she also fights those instincts and is ultimately the maker of her own destiny.
Hastings also utilizes Daredevil to underscore the absurdity of this scenario. This is not the Matt Murdock we see in the pages of Daredevil, or even the rougher one of Spider-Gwen. This is one who sees that Gwen has villains who work for the Hand, has them for dinner, and doesn’t necessarily deem it bad. The symbiote turns Gwenpool into a ravenous monster, but we also get to observe her thoughts on the apparently scruffy, yet sexy, Matt Murdock. Throughout all of their interactions, from the love doodles to Venom utilizing her feelings for Matt to nudge her in the direction of killing, Hastings demonstrates all the drama and ridiculousness of a teenage crush. I don’t think I ever would have thought the symbiote would talk about Givenchy perfume, but he goes there and it works. There’s a levity to the language which keeps the issue fun, and even though there is more than one casualty, the murders are somehow secondary to all of the other great elements of #2.
In addition to a stronger sense of story and characterization than issue #1, the art in this issue is consistently on point. The big blue eyes, cartoonish backgrounds, and the pink colors Java Tartaglia splashes onto the page lends a youthful feel to the comic. For example, when Gwen dons her business attire and we finally see her face, Irene Strychalski’s art manages to illustrate all of her feelings for Daredevil. The bubbly quality is perfect for all of Gwen’s over-the-top thoughts about him and even though they are not there, you can practically see the hearts popping out of her eyes like an old Looney Tunes cartoon. It aids in developing the lighthearted and energetic aspects that Hastings strives to create through his words. Strychalski also depicts the fluidity of Venom masterfully. This is especially true in the close up panel which shows the fire alarm being pulled and the panels in which Venom detaches from Gwen and becomes a second head. I can’t say much more besides the fact that I think Irene Strychalski’s work here clinches issue #2 as a must-buy.
Gwenpool has elements that would appeal to a wide range of readers. There’s the edgy fighting that draws in traditional comic book fans and also scenes which highlight the problems brought about by an infatuation that appeals to those looking for something a little more realistically lighthearted. I’m not sure what it is about Gwen Stacey in any iteration that resonates with readers, but something about Gwen is inherently good for Marvel right now. Is this a story that grows Gwenpool or crafts a story that clearly demonstrates what this “Venomverse” event will be about? No. Yet it’s fun and exciting. It’s the comic version of a beach read, and I am more than fine with that.