The arrival of an alternate universe Spider-person is nothing new to Spider-fans, yet few incarnations have made a splash like the newest Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen. With an official debut occurring in the pages of Edge of the Spider-Verse #2, the latest Peter Parker-paralleling Spider-Woman helped prove that getting spider-powers has negative consequences regardless of what universe they reside (in this case Earth-65).
This universe’s Gwen Stacy was bitten by a mutated spider whilst attending a demonstration on radioactivity, an accident which granted her the proportional speed and agility of a spider as well as, of course, the collective fear and hatred of the general population of New York City. Despite the lack of love from New Yorkers, her drive to act heroically appears to be rooted in two things: The death of Peter Parker and her father’s service in law enforcement. The details around Peter’s death are sparse, however we know that he attempted to be ‘special’ like Gwen in what appears to be a failed attempt at granting himself lizard-like attributes. That experiment ultimately cost Peter his life. Moreover, Gwen explained to her father, Police Captain George Stacy, after she unmasked herself in front of him, that “…if I don’t define what [the mask] means, monsters like [the Rhino] will.” For the record, Rhino wasn't wearing a mask. Regardless, off we go to an alternate universe where Peter is dead and Gwen is your friendly neighborhood Spider-Woman…
This story begins with a group of teenagers defacing a billboard dedicated to finding Peter Parker's accused killer, Spider-Woman. They're spray-painting an image of Spider-Gwen over Peter's picture along with the phrase 'Who's Responsible". The teenagers, which include Hobie Brown, appear to be working in defense of Spider-Woman since they're all wearing white-hoodies (like Spider-Gwen), however their intentions are not made clear. Their work is interrupted by a police officer, Ben Grimm, but before Grimm could detain them they're attacked by the Vulture. The kids escape whilst Grimm faces the brunt of the Vulture's attack, he drops Grimm six-stories into a dumpster.
Meanwhile, Spider-Gwen quickly thwarts a robbery attempt by the Bodega Bandit, relieving him of the cash register he had just stolen (presumably from a bodega). She then laments at her inauspicious start as Spider-Woman and dodges a phone call from her dad.
George Stacy, alongside Foggy Nelson, is visiting with his injured colleague Ben Grimm at the hospital. Using face recognition software they identify the Vulture as former Oscorp employee Adrian T. Toomes. Foggy then regretfully informs Captain Stacy that he's being removed from command of the Special Crimes Task Force. His replacement: Captain Frank Castle. The switch is driven by Mayor J. Jonah Jameson's anti-Spider-Woman campaign, an effort Captain Stacy openly opposes.
The story then shifts to Castle's interrogation of the Rhino, which is basically just a beat down in the Rhino's prison cell. Castle demands to know who ordered the hit on Captain Stacy as well as Rhino's connection to Spider-Woman. Eventually Rhino coughs up, literally, the Kingpin's name. As an aside, we know from Edge of the Spider-Verse #2 that through Matt Murdock, the Kingpin did in fact put the hit out on Captain Stacy.
In an attempt to get Spider-Woman some good PR, Gwen returns the stolen cash register to the bodega. Of course the owner is convinced that Spider-Woman was in cahoots with the Bodega Bandit and dismisses any notion that she's not a menace. Inside the bodega Gwen catches a TV interview featuring her former band, The Mary Janes. Spider-Woman had indirectly led to the band's meteoric rise (well, maybe not meteroic, but certainly a solid bump) in fame since the attack on George Stacy by the Rhino occurred at one of their concerts. Spider-Woman had intervened and the band was interviewed as to the events behind their calamitous run-in with the masked menace.
A brief encounter with stardom didn't serve the band well though, as the group starts to fracture after an argument over the quality of Gwen's replacement on the drums. After rock 'n' roll reporter Randy Robertson informs the group that they need Gwen to preserve music careers, Glory Grant quits because Mary Jane refuses to allow for Gwen's return. This whole discussion was witnessd by Gwen, who had creeped in through the ceiling as Spider-Woman.
Spider-Gwen soon leaves her friends to continue on her quest of clearing Spider-Woman's name. After reading a news update citing the Vulture as a Spider-Woman copycat, she quickly decides that bringing the Vultue to justice will help her cause. Gwen uses the police's public disclosure of Toomes' home address to pay him a visit. Toomes had vacated his disheveled property, so Gwen resolves to draw the Vulture out of the woodwork by spray painting incendiary remarks about the bald-headed villain all over New York skyscrapers.
The Vulture takes the bait and the two throw down. Gwen's swagger reaches a climax as she decides to teach Toomes a lesson about ego. However, the Vulture turns the table on her, carrying Spider-Gwen far up into the sky and droppingher to the ground below. The story ends with Gwen in free fall...
I'd be lying if I said this series debut was not a let-down. With the crux of that let-down revolving around Gwen's campaign to take on the mantle of Spider-Woman. Her rationale for turning toward heroism resonates considerably less than the 616 Peter Parker’s, in fact it’s borderline flimsy. The 616 Peter selfishly set in motion the events which led to the death of his surrogate father, Uncle Ben, causing an immense feeling of guilt and resposbility for his actions. This Gwen lacks that personal ownership of the loss of Peter Parker, as far as we can tell she bears no responsibility for Peter's death (he did it to himself out of admiration of her life).
The bit about the 'mask being her badge' and 'defining what [the mask] means' comes off as egotistical. Who is she to define what it means to be heroic? If she truly wants to become a force for good, she should use her newly minted powers to serve society's under-privileged. If you start doing good things, people will notice and your reputation will change. Instead, we find her struggling to redeem her name as Spider-Woman by defacing public property in order to drum up a fight. She's coming off an disingenuous and immature. Perhaps that's the author's strategy, I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Moreover, the ramifications of the Spider-Verse storyline place Gwen in an interesting position now that she's returned to her home world of Earth-65. She's discovered very early on in her heroic career that shes not very unique (there's a seemingly infinite number of Spider-heroes across the multiverse). This reality puts pressure on Gwen to not be the only Spider-person that fails as a hero. In fact, that notion seems to be driving her efforts moreso than the death of Peter Parker...should that be? Her motivations seem remarkably self-serving, which is exactly what shes trying to convince the public she's not.
I do find it funny that regardless of the universe, Adrian Toomes has to be the Vulture (like Noir U or Earth 803-Lady Spider U, etc). I know the whole schtick with AltU's is to have everything be the same as the original universe but just a little different. This places most AltU's in an identity crisis as they fail to truly distinguish themselvs from the 616. If this universe can have Gwen as the Spider-person, why can't someone like J. Jonah be the Vulture? Oh right, Jonah is the mayor in this AltU just like the 616 (or at least he was up until a year or so ago). I know I'm going off on a tangent here but my point is, why should I care about this universe if its basically the same thing as our 616?
One final point. Mary Jane is portrayed as an obnoxious, self absorbed diva...hopefully that changes. Not sure how much of that I'll be able stomach before jumping ship.
I understand that we should be patient, and let this universe unfold before we kick it to the curb, my concern is that i'm going to stop caring very quickly if this title doesn't turn it around in the next few issues. At the moment, Spider-Gwen doesn't deserve the hype she's received thus far...