The title refers to her as both Spider-Gwen and Ghost-Spider, and within the first few pages she calls herself Spider-Woman – Gwen Stacy has an identity problem. An identity problem, which writer Senan McGuire accompanied by new series artist Takeshi Miyazawa, and colorist Ian Herring seem dead-set on homing in on as our first real step for the character in the wake of Spider-Geddon. This is both good and bad, depending on how and where the message is delivered.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
In the aftermath of “Spider-Geddon”, Gwen is ready for her life to calm down — but when is life ever calm for a teenage super hero? Mary Jane’s perfectionist vision for their band is driving Gwen crazy, while Gwen’s father is pressuring her to return to school. Add that to the daily trials and responsibility that come with being a web-slinging super hero, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole new era of radioactive adventure!
A relatively refreshing turn for the character! Especially after world ending spider-events, imprisonment, secret identity reveals, and more. To the narrative’s credit, too, McGuire does a fantastic job of expressing just how relieved Gwen is to be dealing with the problems she is, too. The narration is good, if a little redundant, and gives you a grounded look into Gwen’s mentality, a complex web of emotions and on the spot reactions and calculations that both pan out better than she might think, and worse than she can ever imagine. In microaggressions with Mary Jane, relationship rebuilding with Harry, and a shaky, somewhat heartbreaking emotional stalemate with her father, this book shines. McGuire is a novelist first and foremost, and the credence given to dialogue is fantastic.
Unfortunately, the frenetic pace with which scenes are delivered (no more than a page or two to three panels for each interaction) and the on-the-nose message that Gwen is in an unsure place identity-wise diminishes the whole effect. Not two issues ago, in both Spider-Geddon and the previous solo issue, Gwen was referring to herself as “Ghost-Spider.” So why is she now struggling with this identity issue again? To make a larger point about her trying to find a place in her world? That can be made just as well without the revolving door of superhero names, and the recursive nature of everything around that aspect of the Gwen character frustrates.
Thankfully, the artistic effort here is much more sure-footed. Miyazawa is a fantastic replacement to the previous series artist, Rosi Kampe, and can handle the demands of a dialogue-heavy narrative interspersed with action well. There are some weird one-off issues, such as one scene where I thought there were two of Gwen’s dad because panels are too close together and mirrored, but for the most part, things are incredibly proficient and digestible. Especially so, accompanied by Herring’s colors — some of my favorite in comics right now — which convey a great, realized visual aesthetic that feels wholly different than the rest of the larger Spider-verse, very unique to Gwen’s visual and emotional palate.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to like here. But it’s the smaller stuff that succeeds. A larger focus on an arc that feels overly familiar for Gwen, and her fans is slightly more than detracting, and I hope a course direction is on its way soon – this creative team operates at far too high a level to be satisfied with reinventing the wheel for long.