Start with a cover gag combining two popular characters in the most nonsensical fashion possible. Then turn it into a backup story packed with violence and even more nonsensical jokes. Now imagine that in two years it becomes one of the most heartfelt, well-crafted, creative, and moving series in superhero comics. Unbelievable, right? Well, there’s probably a reason this series is titled The Unbelievable Gwenpool.
As hard as it might be to imagine for those who haven’t read the series, Gwenpool has undergone an incredible transformation over the course of 25 issues. It’s premise and gags have morphed beyond the early jokes about breaking the fourth wall into something far more substantial. Gwen began as a reader surrogate pondering what life is like in the Marvel universe, and here she has arrived at some conclusions—her early thoughts rendered into a delightful treatise on why superhero comics matter. That’s part of what makes this final issue so impactful for any reader who loves the genre and thinks superhero stories matter outside of 20 pages of entertainment per month.
Gwenpool #25 is focused on superhero comics, not just superhero stories. The ability to see the existence of the Marvel universe has been shaped in panels, pages, and gutters, emphasizing that Marvel is comics. When Gwen considers the possibility of an ending, it’s talk of new collections and library rentals that reshape her conception of mortality. That notion is more than melodramatic pablum as it shifts the importance of this series onto the reader. Gwen exists when she is read. Every page that makes a person laugh or inspires them to draw or make a costume matters. This is explicit in Gwenpool #25, and it’s an argument familiar to comics fans. Acknowledging that a final issue isn’t the end, that classic stories from Action Comics or Amazing Spider-Man have outlived their creators, provides a strong core of hope to the story.
This also reshapes the essence of Gwen’s powers in manipulating comics. The comics medium is shaped by limited resources. An artist can create anything on a page, but the page itself restricts the time and space in which anything can be done. When an issue is composed of 20 pages, creators must constantly make choices about what is most worth showing. Here Hastings and Gurihiru reframe that choice into one of Gwen’s making. She selects what matters to her and spends these final pages wisely. It forms a value statement for the character and creators alike.
How Gwen spends the final pages is a discovery worth making on your own. She debates and discusses the use of this time and it ranges from over-the-top fun to a sentimental moment that will give “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” a run for its money. This wide range of tones is perfectly distilled by the cartooning of the Gurihiru team. Their work on Gwenpool has consistently stood out as the best fit for the series. Gwen in their linework is exactly as simple as she needs to be, filled with joy, but not too precise as to prevent a young woman from projecting herself onto the hero. Depictions of modern Marvel heroes like Moon Girl and Ms. Marvel are equally well served. There is a pop-art vibe to every panel they detail, and the pages soar when Gwen steps out of reality to look at dozens of them.
It still seems difficult to believe how Gwenpool has transformed in the course of just a few years from cover gag to thesis on the value of reader experience in comics. Gwenpool #25 is delightful purely on its own terms, remaining the fun-loving series that embraced the zaniest corners of Marvel every chance it had. It’s also a love letter to fandom, encouragement to those wanting to reshape superhero comics, and expose on the power of choice within a few panels. That might seem unbelievable, but there are a few other adjectives for Gwenpool #25 worth consideration: Fantastic, Amazing, Uncanny, Astonishing.
Published by Marvel Comics
On February 28, 2018
Written by Christopher Hastings
Art by Gurihiru
Cover by Gurihiru