Gwen Stacy, Spider-Grrrrl: A Review Of ‘Edge Of Spider-Verse’ #2
Coco Chanel once opined that “fashions fade, only style remains the same.” In channeling the latter through the former, Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman disagrees to great effect in the self-contained Edge Of Spider-Verse #2, on sale now and nominally part of Marvel's Spider-Verse crossover event. The electric color palette and the asymmetrical hairdos and the wildly winged eyeshadow might look dated in a few years’ time, sure, but these pages bleed a fluorescent adolescent attitude found across time and space, from 19th century Spain’s hipster majos to Siouxie Sioux. This is a Gwen that owes as much to Peter Parker as she does to Tank Girl. This is a Gwen—and a comic—with style.
There’s the outfit. It is, as has been discussed here and elsewhere, fabulous, and entirely organic—when I imagine a spunky 20-year-old woman of today gaining spider powers, this is exactly what I see her wearing. The colors by Rico Renzi are incredible, managing to encapsulate both the Forever 21 spinner rack and the rock and roll excess of the 1980s. The sound effects are all scrawled in shades of “fruity cocktail that will get you really drunk,” from THWAPP a la “Adios, Motherf*cker,” to WA-TUP in “Tequila Sunrise.”
And this is the crackling energy of the book, its riot grrrl heart: Artist Robbi Rodriguez's glorious Gwen Stacy pummeling the bejesus out of her drum kit, vibrantly alive and dressed in a remix of her iconic green-purple-black death outfit. This book sneers cheekily at the character’s history and, implicitly, the pleasant dullness of her Silver Age sisters. Writer Jason Latour didn’t just make the original fridged superhero girlfriend an indecisive twenty-something rocker, he put her in an all-girl band, had her piss off cops, and beat the Rhino by using her drum skills. This is a Gwen, the book insists, who can get you backstage and home before your parents realize you’re gone.
It works, mostly. The quips are quippy and the heroics are…well, heroic enough, if a little soggy. It’s a book I’ll recommend to anyone who asks. But it feels a little too loud in its proclamations of Gwen Stacy, Girl Power Amabassador. If the plot had been a little more unconventional, I could have forgiven this—and vice versa, had Gwen been a little less flat. But both elements, the major two of the issue, were lacking. Not tremendously, but I came away from this book with a small, if genuine, smile, rather than a big grin.
It’s not a big deal. Very few introductory issues are slam dunks (or wicked drum solos, in this case) and this one got closer the most. I love—truly, deeply love—the idea of Gwen Stacy as a kickass drummer girl with a cool outfit and cool friends and cool taste in music. I’m a big believer in cool, and I want to make girls in comics cool. Cool is something ephemeral, yet keenly felt, something you want to be and hope you are. It is among the most potent forces known to man. This Gwen, and this comic, try hard for cool—but when you can see someone trying, they cease to be cool. It’s all just a little too theoretical to me, too stuck in the wouldn’t-this-be-neat-if stage. I want to be The Mary Janes’ groupie, but I can tell they’re lip syncing.
This biggest culprit is Gwen’s personality. She’s an improvement over her classic incarnation, which embodied what I think of as the Post-Women’s Lib Girl Trifecta: Sweet, smart, vaguely spunky. It’s the barest hop over the threshold between “obvious damsel” and “actual personality,” and it’s the zone in which many female characters languish. This Gwen has escaped that place, with her interest in music and her sarcasm in the face of the NYPD. On her own, she’s a perfectly serviceable heroine: clever, altruistic, given to resonant platitudes. But in context…I’m a little bored. It’s a feeling I wish I could shake, but returns with every ballyhooed female-led superhero comic I read. I mean, I love that these books are happening, and I absolutely enjoy them. I don’t spend time on comics I don’t have fun reading. But creators and editors are still shying away from taking genuine risks with these women. I want beings of thunderous emotion, goddesses of the sun and twisted avatars of night. I want stand-up everywomen too, but right now I am drowning in a tide of them.
This Gwen is fun and brave and adventurous, and perhaps if she had an ongoing series she would become more than that. Within her current context, though…she isn’t. She’s a sparkler where she should be a roman candle: fun and bright, but not particularly memorable. Her moments of clearest personality come when she is fighting—but I’m a little bothered that those are, essentially, Gwen aping Peter Parker. I’m not opposed to the Spidey mask emboldening insecure owners with snark as a constant across the multiverse, but it feels a little incongruous to me. Insomuch as Gwen has ever had a personality, it has been studious and smart, and I wish Latour had followed that lead rather than Peter Lite. I wish Gwen’s most entertaining scene—that of her teasing the officer—had been something entirely hers. As it stands, she’s…smart, funny, courageous. Which is cool, but very safe. She should be a being of risk, a character readers can take a stance on, even if it’s negative. If Gwen Stacy is going to be a rocker, make her as divisive and disruptive as the genre itself.
None of this is to say that I did not like this Gwen and this comic. It is, again, gorgeous (as anyone who reads Rodriguez and Renzi's Vertigo book FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics knows very well) and I would absolutely buy this Gwen a drink. Unlike many of my favorite characters, she is someone I would actually love to hang out with. We’d have a grand old time singing along to "No Scrubs" and debating the merits of Bratmovile vs. Heavens to Betsy as our manicures dry, I’m sure. This comic is a solid outing by a team with real vision for a character who deserves it, and I plan to follow this Gwen’s adventures as far as they go. I expect that they, and Gwen, will grow stronger and deeper with every page—and really, this issue is a very solid starting point. All that needs to happen is a little more risk-taking, a little more gumption, a little more personality. This Gwen is doing a fine job drumming for The Donnas—she just needs to realize that it would be a hell of a lot more fun to join the Cycle Sluts From Hell.