It’s almost comical at this point how many Spider-Man spin-offs there are in the world. Most feel like cash-grabs or easy tie-ins to a larger story that don’t actually add anything to the sprawling web of Spider-Man as it were. Although, they sometimes they expound on characters from the margins of Spider-Man proper in exciting ways. It would be natural to expect the new Gwen Stacy series falls into those categories, how many times can they possibly resurrect the character or retcon a time when she was actually alive? While the series does lean into some of those concepts in a distracting fashion, Gwen Stacy #1 is primarily a fresh look at the character and a fun overall read.
Writer Christos N. Gage pens a story that goes back to the high school days of Gwen Stacy, filling in the gaps of what she was doing before she met Peter Parker and got caught up in the world of Spider-Man. The story is so much more than just “Gwen is a young achiever in high school” as Gage weaves her life in and out of an irregular world populated by superheroes and supervillains. This issue works better than most other stories of that nature and, even though Gwen is sure to cross paths with masked avengers and ne’er-do-wells, we already know the stakes will never rise above her capabilities. What she’s capable of doing is the crux of this book.
Artist Todd Nauck does the heavy lifting on this “in the past but still somewhat modern” story, blending a style that pays tribute to the looks of classic Spider-Man characters from their Silver Age prime, but also maintaining the aesthetic of contemporary wideframe comics art. There’s also the ever-present notion that this is a narrative focusing on “regular people” and Nauck is able to make their mundane tasks and everyday conversations fun and engaging on the page. Even when the dialogue becomes excessive and confusing, the pop of the images maintains your attention. It’s slick and consistent throughout and Gwen remains one of the most interesting characters in Marvel Comics thanks to this work. Colorist Rachelle Rosenberg also manages to set the mood for each sequence in the series to tremendous effect; it’s amazing how she crafts the lighting of each location and for each panel with such precision that it telegraphs the complete emotions in every scene.
The easter eggs and references to the Marvel Universe are mostly handled with subtlety, never taking up more space than needed, specifically the ones about Spider-Man himself. There are however some elements that become distracting, though it’s understandable since they’re paying tribute to characters as they appeared in the earliest years of Marvel Comics. What these moments and beats do for the overall story is set up the larger scheme that Gage has planned and paint a broad picture of one of the pillars of Peter Parker’s life. Gwen and Peter are on a collision course for each other and we already know how that story end, but this title is showing us what came before. Sidebars are made to show how these two stories will intersect, almost giving Gwen’s life with Peter an air of destiny. This might be a turn-off to some readers, but it works surprisingly well.
I was as ready as anyone to ponder the easy cash grab of a non-super powered Gwen Stacy solo series, but it quickly won me over. There’s no cynicism here; it’s all sincerity. Gwen Stacy is built on a love for Marvel Comics, this character, and championing her place in Marvel lore. There’s a timeless quality too which will make this an essential read for any Spider-Man fan.
Published by Marvel Comics
On February 12, 2020
Written by Christos N. Gage
Art by Todd Nauck
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg0comments
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Adam Hughes