Strange But True: The Unbelievable Gwenpool Is Your New Favorite Character
When Marvel first introduced the character of Gwenpool, a lot of people were instantly turned off by what seemed like a blatant cash-grab. She’s Spider-Gwen + Deadpool, and inspired by cosplay; there doesn’t seem to be much there to her at all.
So, we should address why she’s called Gwenpool, because it seems like for half of the audience the name is part of the appeal, while for the other half of the audience it’s an instant turn-off. Some people see Gwenpool, think Deadpool, and that’s enough for them. They think about the oversaturation of Deadpool during the last decade, and don’t give the character a second look.
Gwenpool’s secret identity is Gwen Poole, and when she first visited Big Ronnie’s Custom Battle Spandex to get outfitted, the titular Big Ronnie assumed she was going for a Deadpool vibe, and that’s how she arrived at the costume. Of course the character was created with both Deadpool and Spider-Gwen in mind, but in-universe she actually has no link to either character.
The big hook of Gwenpool as a character is that she’s from our universe, and knows she’s in a comic book, and has read a lot of comic books. This is something that affects her every move and action within her stories. She debuted in a string of Howard The Duck back-ups with art by Danilo Beyruth, and at first she was a guns-blazing, daredevil type of character --- but then you realize she’s playing by the Marvel Universe’s rules.
According to Gwenpool, there are two types of people you can be in a comic book, protagonists or extras, so in order survive her new life in a fictional world she goes out of her way to be a protagonist. She’s not actually very good at being a hero or an assassin, but she believes that, so long as people are reading her adventures, she'll always come out on top.
How she arrived in the Marvel Universe from ours is the big question, and it’s one that Hastings has been deliberately dancing around whenever it’s brought up. I don’t fully expect we’ll ever get an answer, especially because at a certain point it stops being interesting, and any answer runs the risk of being underwhelming.
If I was to compare Gwenpool to one comic book in recent memory, it would be Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke’s Ultra Comics, which came out as part of Multiversity. There, the hero begged you to stop reading the book because it was the only way to ensure the terrible thing coming his way didn’t happen; here Gwenpool needs to do everything she can to keep readers interested, because if sales numbers dip, she’s at risk of being cancelled or killed off.
She’s eventually given a reality check by Howard, because although characters die and come back all the time, that doesn’t mean their lives and actions don’t matter. Gwen needs to realize that you can’t just sell a super weapon to HYDRA expecting The Avengers to save the day, because they might be in space.
Gwenpool also reminds me of DC’s Impulse, who was raised in a virtual environment, so when he arrived in the "real" world he had no concept of danger. He’d jump into action without thinking, because as far as he knew, he couldn’t be hurt. It’s the same for Gwen; she’s the hero, so she’ll charge into a bank robbery and kill the thieves, because as far as she understands, they didn’t exist until the writer and artist put them there for her to kill.
The Unbelievable Gwenpool also has one of the best supporting casts right now, and if you’re a fan of the side characters in books like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat, then this will be right up your alley. Most importantly, the first few issues feature MODOK and his attempt to try to go straight-ish with a by-the-books mercenary-for-hire venture, while struggling to keep his megalomania under control.
One of the most surprising things about The Unbeliveable Gwenpool is how much pathos it has for a comedy book. There’s a sequence where a consultation with Doctor Strange gives Gwen the opportunity to transport some of her life and history into the Marvel Universe in order to make it easier to get a social security number and a driver’s license. However, in order to do that, her family’s memories of her in her home dimension will fade and possibly disappear forever. It’s a small moment overall, but it hits hard as Gwen admits that it’s probably for the best.
The first issue of the ongoing runs a mile a minute as Gwen bounces from adventure to adventure, but ends on a very abrupt note when she realizes she doesn’t understand the rules of the Marvel Universe as well as she thinks she does, and accidentally gets a new friend killed. It’s a shocking and rather graphic moment in what is otherwise one of Marvel’s most colorful and energetic titles, and it gives Gurihiru a chance to show their range beyond "cute."
Speaking of Gurihiru, this is one of the most beautiful superhero titles on the stands right now, and their Marvel Universe looks like a place someone from another world would want to live in. Gurihiru have been doing phenomenal work for Marvel for the past decade, and it’s great to see them get their due and stretch their style beyond what’s usually expected of them.
The Unbelievable Gwenpool deserves a lot more credit than a lot of readers might give it considering the name, and should be talked about in the same conversations as Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. If you wrote the book and the character off previously, it’s worth grabbing the first few issues, because it’s one of the smartest and most charming books Marvel has right now.