"Spider-Gwen #1" Grants a True Second Life

Gwen Stacy takes on a new role and crafts a new legacy for Spider-Men and Spider-Women alike.

Spider-Gwen #1

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez
Publication Date: 2015-04

For better or for worse, some characters are defined by a singular moment. Batman is defined by the murder of his parents. Peter Parker is defined by the irresponsibility that led to the death of his uncle. And Jason Biggs is defined by his intimate dealings with baked goods in American Pie. These defining moments are both memorable and compelling for their iconic impact. But sometimes these moments can weight down a character and limit their development. This is what happened to Gwen Stacy.

For decades now, Gwen Stacy has been defined by her death. Even after her history was obscenely twisted by an affair with Norman Osborn, her death remains the most notable aspect of her character. Her personality, motivations, and potential were all shackled by this moment. That’s why a new world with a new path feels so jarring. That’s what the events of Spider-Verse offered when it introduced Spider-Gwen.

In this world, Gwen Stacy was no longer the girl who died or got knocked up by Norman Osborn. She was the one who got bit by the spider and became a new incarnation of Spider-Man. For a character that’s been around since the disco era, it’s a novelty that shouldn’t feel like one on paper. She’s a cute, pretty blonde who gets Spider-Powers. If she didn’t have any history and tried to come out in an era of female Thors and Kamala Khans, she probably wouldn’t make the cut. But she does have that history and Spider-Gwen #1 shows that this history helps make this new path special.

The context of Spider-Man’s history is what gives Gwen’s status as Spider-Woman weight in the story. There are familiar names all around her from Ben Grimm to Foggy Nelson. Some of these characters are very different. Some aren’t different at all. Kingpin is still a criminal mastermind, Vulture is still a C-list villain, and J. Jonah Jameson is still a cantankerous blow-hard. It’s a world that feels like Spider-Man. But through the eyes of Gwen Stacy, it takes on a bold new meaning.

In many respects, Gwen Stacy’s struggles are very similar to a young Peter Parker. She’s trying to do the right thing and be a hero. However, everyone else in the world thinks she’s a villain. At one point, her own father was Spider-Woman’s harshest critic. And in a world where people J. Jonah Jameson seriously, that’s saying something. Her defining moment to this point was her revealing her identity to her father and saving him. While that moment made her a hero in the same way catching his uncle’s killer made him a hero, it also complicated her life in ways befitting of any Spider-Man story.

Gwen Stacy is really at rock bottom in terms of her reputation as a superhero. In some ways, she has it even worse than Peter Parker. At least Peter Parker didn’t get blamed for the death of his uncle. Since J. Jonah Jameson loves to outdo himself in any universe, he’s made it so Spider-Woman is the reason for Peter Parker’s death in this world. And since her father is still a captain with the NYPD, she doesn’t even have a home to go to. Even on his worst days, Peter could count on a nice home-cooked meal from his Aunt May. Gwen doesn’t have that luxury.

Most of the story revolves around Gwen coming to grips with all the forces that are working against her. But in the tradition of all the Spider-Men and Spider-Women that came before her, she doesn’t let that stop her from being responsible. In fact, she conveys more responsibility than Peter Parker did as a teenager in some ways. She doesn’t blame anyone else for her situation. She doesn’t get overly bitter. She doesn’t even whine about it. She just takes it all in until she sees an opportunity to make Spider-Woman a hero again. And she hasn’t even thrown her costume in a garbage can yet. Compared to Peter Parker and Miles Morales, she’s way ahead of schedule.

The strength of this story is built around Gwen Stacy trying to re-establish herself in a world that is trying desperately to reject her. It’s a world that’s conveyed through her eyes and from her perspective. It feels very personal while capturing all the right elements that make Spider-Man stories great. But beyond this strength, there isn’t much in terms of bonuses.

There are other parts of the story that tie into Gwen’s, but they’re only marginally developed. There’s nothing about this version of Vulture that anyone is going to find novel or intriguing. The same can be said for Kingpin and J. Jonah Jameson. That’s not to say there aren’t other stories worth following. The band Gwen belongs to, the Mary Janes, are one of the more novel aspects of her world. Their story does continue, but not by much. They’re basically the equivalent of Youtube celebrities now. And that can only last as long as the next cat video.

There was a lot to love about Gwen Stacy before she ever got spider-powers. Spider-Gwen #1 reveals a world has a very different Gwen Stacy, but she still has all the same characteristics that make her so lovable. She’s still that sweet girl next door that boys are afraid to talk to since her father is a cop. She just happens to have spider-powers in this world and she’s had the same rotten luck as Peter Parker in terms of using them responsibility. But considering how she ended up dead in Peter’s world, it still counts as an upgrade.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.