After the events of Vol. 5: Gwenom, Gwen Stacy has harnessed the power of Venom to maintain her superpowers, but of course, such a deal with the devil comes with a price. As the synopsis says, Gwen “finds herself on a one-way road to darkness,” a road that includes trips to other realities, and even visiting with an another universe’s version of herself. Yeah, Gwen’s life is a little complicated.
And as a result, so is the story writer Jason Latour presents here. Latour does an admirable job keeping everything as easy to follow as possible, but there is a lot going on here and many ideas at play. It can take a bit to really get the hang of what’s happening, especially in the first issue of the collection, which I found particularly disorienting — but then again, maybe it just took me a while to remember what happened in the last installment.
This arc shows us a darker, more reflective form of Gwen than we’re used to seeing, as she wrestles with the delicate balance between herself and Matt Murdock, the critical condition her father is in, and her own guilty conscience. Not helping matters, of course, is the symbiote, which feeds Gwen’s doubts and fears and exacerbates them, further clouding her judgment.
The result is a satisfying dive into Gwen Stacy’s psyche, as we watch her try everything to make peace with who she is. By the story’s end it appears as if she’s succeeded, providing a heartwarming sense of closure to a dark story. Unfortunately, that closure is delivered via a very dialogue-heavy final issue in an effort to wrap things up. It accomplishes its goal, but the pacing of the story does feel a little uneven as a result. It’s mostly fine reading in this trade format, but if I were reading this series in single issues, the pacing may have felt a lot worse.
There isn’t a whole lot of punching going on in this story, but there are enough appearances and cameos of other characters in the Marvel universe to keep you engaged even if you’re growing a little tired of Gwen’s inner melodrama. And it helps that Latour’s writing and wit is razor sharp, really bringing characters like evil Matt Murdock to life with his words.
The artwork by Robbie Rodriguez and colors by Rico Renzi, however, are once again the main event of Spider-Gwen. Rodriguez’s style is certainly not the traditional superhero house style — it’s highly stylized, bold, and evocative. Backgrounds vary between literal, actual scenery behind characters, and emotive visions that correlate with what is being discussed. For instance, a panel featuring character talking about fights of the past has its background filled with bleak visions of Gwen’s past foes and skeletons in her closet, so to speak. The artwork always sells the emotional turmoil Gwen is going through, which really complements the writing.
But as alluded to above, the colors are perhaps the most important element to the artwork. It’s somehow simultaneously neon and dour — evoking an 80s aesthetic while at the same time grounding itself in the grim reality of a timeline being torn apart. While Gwen is interacting in a universe that isn’t her own, everyone else is rendered with a slight amount of noise to convey that they aren’t of the same world. It’s a subtle and interesting touch that helps the reader keep track of everything in a universe-hopping story that can otherwise get pretty confusing.
This arc almost gets to the end without having guest artists on the book, but issue #33 is (mostly) drawn by Chris Visions, and issue #34 features colors by Lauren Affe. Affe’s colors are barely noticeably different from Renzi’s, but Visions’ artwork is vastly different from Rodriguez’s. It isn’t bad by any stretch, but it’s even more cartoonish than the series’ usual aesthetic and did sort of water down the brutal tone of that particular issue for me. Not a huge deal by any stretch of the imagination, though.
Spider-Gwen Vol. 6: The Life of Gwen Stacy is an emotional, dark, reflective story arc that evolves the character in several ways. And despite the bleak tone of the past few arcs, it imbues a much-needed sense of hope.