Spider-Man has his Uncle Ben moment, and we’re all used to it being revisited and reexamined in some fashion or another, to varying degrees of success. What’s not pointed to as often is the multitude of Aunt May moments that follow throughout his journey: Peter lost Ben to a selfish and irresponsible mistake, but he’s frequently haunted by the possibility that another mistake could cost him May as well. In Spider-Gwen’s timeline, if Peter Parker is Uncle Ben, Harry Osborn is clearly Aunt May: a reminder of that first failure, and a potential second failure that could haunt her for life.
Further, just like there’s no real way to ensure permanently May’s safety while Spider-Man is engaging with vicious and vengeful sociopaths, Harry is seemingly in a state of constant danger; the thematic difference, carried on from his version of Peter Parker, is that Harry’s peril comes from his own actions. Gwen’s guilt, deserved or not, again revolves around failing to prevent a loved one from self-destructive decisions, and having to deal with the consequences of that.
I’d initially criticized this storyline for Gwen’s passivity over the preceding couple of chapters, but her frustrated inability to improve the situation and save her friend comes to a head here; she’s not able to contain the Lizard as well as Wolverine and Shadowcat, but the insight she’s gained from her trials allows her to reason with her attackers and save Harry’s life along with Wolverine’s soul.
I’d also been cautious of Wolvie and Kitty acting as a distraction from the larger storyline, as Captain America and the Falcon seemed to be in the original Lizard arc. Not only does the pair’s dynamic present a dark mirror for Gwen and Harry’s own relationship, (Shadowcat’s revelation about her own guilt is particularly tragic), but their intervention is ultimately crucial to saving Harry’s life. It’s not often that all of my criticisms of a storytelling direction turn out to be thematically warranted for that story’s resolution, so props to writer Jason Latour for shutting me up on that front.
Gwen’s decision to potentially damn herself to save Harry is further complicated by her father’s brutal beating at the hands of the Rhino; any sense of victory she savors is going to be despicably short-lived. While George’s subplot proceeds in a bit of a predictable fashion, a potential complication in Matt Murdock’s plan show up in the most unlikely of places: DA Foggy Nelson. I’d been under the impression that Foggy was a knowing, if unwilling, pawn in Murdock’s schemes, but his reaction to Captain Stacy’s condition suggests genuine shock and horror. It will be interesting to see if this version of Foggy Nelson shares his counterpart’s capability for heroism under pressure.
Artist Robbi Rodriguez pulls his usual trick of making even small, claustrophobic scenes appear dynamic; what ultimately amounts to a scuffle between Jean DeWolfe and the Rhino is still presented with the gravitas of a superhero battle. This issue also features a few pages by Jorge Coelho, an artist whom I’m not familiar with. I’d say Coelho’s work is a bit of a mixed bag; his figures are fine, albeit blockier and not as fluid as Rodriguez. Where he falters is in the background work and composition. It feels like he’s trying to imitate Rodriguez’s style, which I can understand on a conceptual level. However, Rodriguez’s backgrounds are sparse because they compliment and accentuate the figures in the foreground; Coelho’s more traditional figures and staging leave more of the background visible, leaving much of the page looking empty and flat.
Art complaints aside, this is a spectacular issue both in terms of action and in terms of tackling the moral compass at the heart of Gwen and those around her. The best Spider-Man stories remind you that Spidey is a hero because of who Peter Parker is, and “Predators” is doing the same with Gwen Stacy.
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