Rave : 2017 : Reevaluating Spider-Gwen: Part Two

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Date: Aug 26, 2017
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Although I absolutely hated Latour and Rodriguez’s Spider-Gwen run the first time I read the majority of it, I’ve decided to put aside my prejudices and reread the series again. What I’ve found is the book isn’t that bad. In fact, there are many elements that I really enjoy about this series.

In my last rave, Reevaluating Spider-Gwen: Part One, I looked at the five issues of the first volume of Spider-Gwen, which I had already negatively reviewed earlier in Spider-Gwen: Overrated. The content I’m covering in this second installment includes “Greater Power” and the “Spider-Women” crossover, and I haven’t reviewed these stories yet. So, this isn’t a reevaluation of a review I wrote before, but a reconsideration of the negative opinions I fumed about privately.

For the record, I’m covering what I call Spider-Gwen (Vol. 2) #1-8. The series is officially titled Radioactive Spider-Gwen for issues 1-6 and 8, but Spider-Gwen for 7 and everything after 8. This is another example of Marvel’s editorial ineptitude with this character. Spider-Gwen (Vol. 1) ended after quickly five issues due to the Secret Wars event. After a while, Marvel started calling this original Spider-Gwen series “Vol. 0” with what I call Vol. 2 as “Vol. 1.” Edge of Spider-Verse #2, Gwen’s debut, is called Spider-Gwen (Vol. 0) #0 now, I think. Honestly, this whole thing is a mess, so I’m just sticking with Spider-Gwen (Vol. 2). If you could follow that categorization ramble, you are a true saint.

Anyways, what this series is called doesn’t matter as much as the actual story quality. In Part One of my series, I was unimpressed with Latour and Rodriguez’s first arc, and I wrote that they needed experience to get the ball rolling. It turns out those five issues weren’t enough experience, since they face the same problems in their second arc, “Greater Power,” as they did earlier. However, “Greater Power” is still a clear step up, and it succeeds in many areas where “Most Wanted?” fails.

Structurally, “Greater Power” faces similar issues that “Most Wanted?” confronted. The earlier five-issue arc was actually a three-parter with two one-shots tacked on, lacking a unifying element to glue the elements together. Similarly, “Greater Power” opens with a two-part team-up, slows down with an issue of character interactions, and picks back up with two issues of Gwen fighting the Green Goblin. And, between the Goblin arc, Latour sticks in an intermission devoted to side-characters for no apparent reason. This structure is messy for what Latour is calling a six-issue arc, and the pacing varies wildly between each issue. While issue #3 is devoted to slow, lengthy dialogue, issue #4 is entirely focused on a fast-paced fight. I actually thought I missed an issue between the two because the transition is so sudden.

Despite these structural problems, the arc is overall focused on revisiting Gwen’s origin and her sentiments about it. Cleverly, Latour decides to center the plot on her feelings of guilt about Peter’s death. In Spider-Gwen: Overrated, I pointed out how her motives to be a hero are seemingly contradictory with her origin. While she says she fights to avenge Peter, he died transforming into the Lizard in an attempt to “be special” like her. Further, she felt responsible for his death after fighting and taunting him as Spider-Woman. To truly overcome her guilt, shouldn’t Gwen give up being a hero to prevent others from making Peter’s mistake? Almost as a direct response to this complaint, Latour builds up to Gwen’s self-realization that she ultimately isn’t guilty for Peter’s transformation. He had pent-up anger even before Spider-Gwen appeared, and she realizes she couldn’t have prevented him from making these decisions. Gwen feels more helpless than guilty for watching the consequences of his actions and not being able to do anything about it. This character revelation clears up my earlier complaint – Gwen doesn’t feel directly guilty for Peter’s decision to imitate her, so she shouldn’t worry about others making his own mistake.

Considering this arc, Latour does well at centering “Greater Power” around Gwen’s character struggle. While I pointed out that Spider-Gwen’s battles feel like distractions in “Most Wanted?”, her fights with the Lizards and Green Goblin in this second arc reflect her coming to terms with guilt over Peter’s death. Peter turned himself into a Lizard, and Gwen worries his legacy will be ruined when more reptilian people appear. More directly related to her origin, the Green Goblin is her friend Harry Osborn, who repeats Peter’s self-destructive actions. Fighting Harry, Gwen relives the horror she felt when Peter transformed into the Lizard. Further, the Green Goblin feels guilty and helplessness over his friend’s death like Gwen. In watching his guilt consume him, Gwen sees herself in Harry and confronts feelings about her origin. Clearly, Latour puts character first in crafting his plot here, and it makes for an overall superior story than his opening arc.

However, Latour isn’t perfect in developing these plot beats around character development. I already covered how I feel his take on Captain America is derivative and uninspired in Spider-Gwen: Overrated. Not only does that annoy me, but she serves no real point in the story other than being a distraction. Gwen’s confrontation with the Lizards would’ve been more powerful if she faced them alone instead of having Cap’s help. There is a subplot involving the Falcon and Jean DeWolff in the first two issues that feels unnecessary as well.

Another problem with the plotting is Latour’s storytelling decisions involving Harry. While the Green Goblin is a brilliant mirror for Gwen, his character development and buildup are lackluster. Latour introduces Harry in issue #3, and before we get to know him, he turns into a rage machine looking to kill Spider-Gwen. Then, with only half an issue of build-up, the Green Goblin and Spider-Gwen fight to the death for all of Spider-Gwen (Vol. 2) #4. Goblins have historically thrived off of buildup and long-awaited identity reveals, as exemplified by Norman, Bart Hamilton, and Roderick Kingsley in the mainstream Marvel universe. These slow-burn reveals give Goblins a sinister mystery component. Latour misses his opportunity for an interesting Goblin saga by putting his cards on the table from the beginning. Even if he didn’t care to set up any major identity reveals, he should have built Harry’s character and developed his friendship with Gwen before turning him into the Green Goblin. Instead, Harry suddenly becomes Gwen’s arch-nemesis and this preceding fight feels hollow because of it.

Additionally, due to Harry’s poor character development, his decision to inject himself with the Lizard serum like Peter comes off as contrived and irrational. If Latour spent more time building up to the revelation, it might have made more sense. Perhaps Earth-65 Harry could have developed a drug habit like his mainstream counterpart. Like Harry’s transition to a villain, his decision to follow Peter is underdeveloped. Maybe Latour would have been better off by avoiding that plot idea entirely because the parallels between Harry and Peter becomes too obvious when the former turns into the Lizard as well. While Harry was a good idea in driving Gwen’s character development, the execution of his character is poor. He would have benefitted from more space to grow, making for a better villain in a later arc.

While Latour ultimately fumbles with Harry and the plot surrounding him, he makes up for it with an excellent subplot involving Captain Stacy and Matt Murdock. In my last installment of the series, I explained how Stacy and Murdock both have potentials, and Latour expertly keeps their character plots moving as Murdock learns Gwen’s identity. Spider-Gwen (Vol. 2) #5 centers around Stacy’s character conflict of trust regarding his daughter. Murdock offers Stacy the opportunity to do “what is best” for Gwen by entering an agreement and allowing her to be his apprentice. Adding an action element, Murdock plans on sealing the deal with the death of Frank Castle, the police officer responsible for harassing Spider-Woman. Ultimately, Stacy refuses the deal and resigns from being an officer. This arc successfully positions his character development in trusting his daughter with the larger plotlines at work organically. If there is any bright sign that Latour will eventually figure out character-centered storytelling, this is it.

As I wrap up my thoughts on “Greater Power,” I guess it’s necessary to speak about Robbi Rodriguez’s art. By this point in rereading, I have become accustomed to his inconsistent work and poor storytelling. The constantly-shifting character designs and nonsensical angles are business as usual. I’m desensitized to the way thick and thin lines collide gracelessly and background lines obnoxiously overlap onto figures. Beyond my numbing to Rodriguez’s style, however, I believe there is a modicum of improvement in storytelling, especially during the fight scenes with the Green Goblin. The layouts have more space to breath and flow, giving the battle an epic, tense mood. Readers can sense the intensity and emotion in the characters as they clash. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe the art is as bad as it was earlier, and I’m getting too used to its mediocrity. Nevertheless, it seems that, similar to Latour’s learning curve with plotting, Rodriguez is starting to understand the sequential storytelling format better here. Plus, Rico Renzi’s color art gives a distinct look to whatever the artist scribbles on each page.

Following “Greater Power,” Gwen gets tied-up in the “Spider-Women” crossover. Typically, I despise crossovers, as they tend to drag down and distract title directions. As an exception, though, “Spider-Women” deftly works with its characters and their ongoing character arcs, making this a meaningful story for the characters involved. Dennis Hopeless, who I’m not very familiar with, delivers thrilling installments that poke fun at the suburban life of superheroes and villains. His scripts play off of Jessica Drew’s fear of “becoming the job” and failing as a mother as she confronts her Earth-65 counterpart. Similarly, Robbie Thompson uses Cindy Moon’s Earth-65 doppelganger to progress the dark themes he was already working with in his ongoing Silk stories. Cindy confronts her own potential for evil, adding layers to her undercover position as the Black Cat’s right-hand woman. Rather than subverting character development like most crossovers, “Spider-Woman” fully enmeshes itself in it.

Since Latour takes a lesser role in the crossover, Spider-Gwen’s involvement and the impact on her ongoing narrative is more concerned with plot than character. The biggest development of the story is Gwen’s loss of her powers, which is a logical step in the themes of power and responsibility. However, Latour has little time to actually explore this development here, as the issue it transpires in is mostly exposition for the evil Cindy-65. The plot development is important in the long-term plans for Gwen’s solo title, but it holds little importance in “Spider-Women.” While Thompson and Hopeless both write stand-alone tie-ins centered around the characters from their respective titles, Latour is left with the job of providing exposition and setting up their parts of the story. Although the events take place in her dimension, Gwen plays a noticeably smaller role than the other Spider-Women.

The best Spider-Gwen development of this event is the building of her relationship with Jessica Drew. Latour’s scripting of the older hero as a flawed mentor is his strongest dialogue in the series, considering her interactions with Gwen in Spider-Gwen (Vol. 2) #3 and “Spider-Women.” Jessica really shouldn’t be a mentor; she’s been crotchety and self-centered in her solo title. But, this makes her even more interesting. Although her actions are sometimes egocentric, it’s clear that Jessica’s doing her best in guiding Gwen to avoid her own mistakes. Further, in the “Spider-Women” crossover, Latour writes an intriguing interaction between Jessica and Captain Stacy, a compelling moment for Gwen’s two mentors to meet.

While Gwen overall gets the short end of the stick with “Spider-Women,” Latour does write a few interesting character interactions and accomplishes a major plot development that turns Gwen’s series down a totally different path. The crossover as a whole is surprisingly entertaining, despite its narrative split between three writers with completely different styles. The focus on characters and their struggles drives this event, and it succeeds in connecting and developing its large cast in engaging ways.

While “Spider-Women” is a quality story, Latour plays a smaller role and has help from overall better writers. “Greater Power” takes steps in the right direction, but he has yet to write a truly good Spider-Gwen story by himself at this point. With the plot development of Gwen’s power loss, can the Latour/Rodriguez creative team finally hit that sweet spot and channel their chaotic energy into a well-developed, interesting story? Wait until my next (and probably final) installment of Reevaluating Spider-Gwen for my valuable, esteemed (I wish) opinion!