When you examine the roster of characters at Marvel or DC Comics, there is an incredibly strong bench. More than half a century of stories told by some of the most talented creators to ever work in the medium have assembled a collection of elite superheroes. That doesn’t just apply to their power or popularity, but to their visual designs and thematic makeup as well. Getting a new character to become a hit at Marvel Comics in the 2010s is no easy feat. There have been some notable exceptions though. Ms. Marvel and the newest Ghost Rider both take existing legacies in new directions that have built out new fandoms as well and led to growth in adaptations. One other character that has managed to accomplish this feat, coming from an even more surprising starting point, is the one and only Spider-Gwen.
After four years in Marvel Comics’ lineup, this alternate version of Gwen Stacy empowered with the familiar abilities linked to radioactive spider bites is receiving her second ongoing series. This time the series will come from a new set of creators, writer Seanan McGuire and artist Rosi Kampe, and with an adjusted title, Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider, to more accurately reflect her alter-ego in the story. With this relaunch it is clear that Spider-Gwen has become a lasting piece of Marvel’s comics and future plans. In addition to a monthly series, you can find her in trailers for the upcoming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and even as a mug at local grocery stories. So how exactly did Spider-Gwen crawl from a single-issue introduction to mainstream popularity?
Spider-Gwen was first imagined as part of the “Spider-Verse” event towards the end of writer Dan Slott’s extensive run on Amazing Spider-Man. Slott originally had the idea for a version of Spider-Man with Gwen Stacy under the mask, but it was writer Jason Latour and artist Robbi Rodriguez who defined the concept as part of a prologue miniseries, Edge of Spider-Verse, in which new Spider-people would be introduced in single-issue stories before being drafted into the event. Rodriguez designed the character’s bold white costume with neon highlights and a hood, a design that was accompanied by an equally modern and bright setting. Early previews of Rodriguez and Latour’s vision for Spider-Gwen in the upcoming Edge of Spider-Verse #2 led to a massive amount of fan interest before the character even made her debut.
Early reviews and reactions to the first Spider-Gwen story were overwhelmingly positive, including one at this very site. The first issue sold out instantly and led to seven reprints, pushed by a mix of anticipated collectible status and fan interest. It was quickly announced that in the wake of Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen would be receiving a new series continuing the story her co-creators had just begun. While the first volume only consists of five issues, due to the Secret Wars event interrupting the entire Marvel Comics line, Latour and Rodriguez have been able to guide her story, along with some additional collaborators, for a total of 39 issues across four years.
Marvel Comics hit upon a renewed interest in the long-deceased character Gwen Stacy, delivering an entire month of alternate covers themed around her taking on different superhero mantles and launching Gwenpool in reference to her and Deadpool’s dedicated fandoms. What really made Spider-Gwen stand out from the start and provided her with ongoing success were the immensely talented co-creators behind her story and their position as unique voices among a new generation of comics writers and artists.
Rodriguez’s approach to both the design of Spider-Gwen and storytelling in superhero comics made her first appearance a surefire success before anyone had even read the first few pages. His use of thin lines, diagonals, and exaggerated, long forms made both action and musical sequences hum with energy. Punches stretched across entire panels and web-slinging carried energy all the way from the left to right gutters of the page. Rodriguez’s coloring was equally essential to the character and her world, making it no surprise at all that the film Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse has modeled Spider-Gwen’s scenes upon this exact aesthetic.
Latour showed himself to be a writer in possession of a clear understanding of both what makes the superheroes of Marvel Comics essential and how they can be updated for a new generation. Themes of power, responsibility, and family all resonate in Edge of Spider-Verse #2 and the stories to follow, but they are not specifically modeled after the original tales crafted by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. A non-traditional family structure is emphasized along with the conflict between creative passion and service. Spider-Gwen shares similar DNA to the original Peter Parker, but provides a take that is entirely its own in terms of both plotting and tone.
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Latour, Rodriguez, and their other collaborators have done a lot with the character over the course of the past four years, both growing her character and providing fascinating new takes on classic villains like The Lizard, The Punisher, and Green Goblin. They even drafted oddball elements from other universes, bringing Spider-Ham into the series as a recurring figment of Spider-Gwen’s imagination. There’s no element of Marvel lore that has remained off limits as Spider-Gwen’s story has reimagined the aesthetics and concepts behind many popular characters. Even as they depart, it’s clear that the character and story they created might have only just begun.
Gwen has potential both in her own stories and those of Marvel’s central continuity. In addition to an ongoing series, she has remained in touch with a team of Spider-people from across the multiverse and even pursued a romance with Miles Morales. Like Miles, there remains a possibility that Spider-Gwen could eventually be merged with the mainstream Marvel universe if her popularity continues to grow. In the meanwhile, there are plenty of plot threads and characters within her own alternate universe that remain unexplored. With a new team of creators taking over the character, there’s no guessing which villains or allies might arrive next or how Spider-Gwen’s take on the Spider-Man mythos will evolve. The only thing that is for certain is that nobody has heard the last of Spider-Gwen.