Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Spider-Gwen 3, originally released April 1st, 2015.
Patrick: Last week, Drew and I posited that Amazing Spider-Man 17 was about Peter Parking being a bad grown-up. So much of Peter’s identity is tied up in childish — specifically teenage — tropes, that the character has very little sense of agency. He’s reactive more than active. Peter doesn’t have a plan for when he arrives three hours late to his Aunt Mae’s birthday party because he was out fighting the Green Goblin, he just yammers and stammers until he’s ostracized everyone he loves. ASM 17 saw a push away from that attitude with the help of Peter’s sorta-girl-friend-but-not-really (look, Spider-Man got complicated for a while there), but no matter how many opportunities for growth our Spider-Man has enjoyed over his 50 year history, fresh Spider-Man analogues have to start back at square one. Of course, teenage drama might look a little different with the genders reversed. Spider-Gwen 3 ends up being a frustrating exploration of navigating the tough decisions as a teenage Spider-Woman.
Of course, part of the reason the story is so frustrating is that Gwen spends the entire issue coming up against men attempting to control her. Writer Jason Latour builds this story on a series of encounters with men that all want one thing: for her to stop being Spider-Woman. We start off with the most reasonable and move through the spectrum toward the least rational. This first conversation is between Gwen and her father. Obviously, he knows his daughter very well, and as a cop, knows both the trials of fighting crime and the particulars of the NYPD’s case against Spider-Woman. Far and away, he’s got the most perspective on the whole Spider-Woman situation – possibly even more than Gwen does. Artist Robbie Rodriguez doesn’t let us see a lot of George’s face during this scene, putting the reader behind Gwen’s eyes as she hides them behind that mopey hair.
It’s a tough scene to read because it’s all just a touch too familiar. Gwen absolutely believes that she’s right and has to keep up the mantle of Spider-Woman, and George is absolutely certain that he’s right and that she needs to hang up the hood for good. They both present salient points, but in the end it comes down to a parent and child having different ideas about what is “best.” This is a fight that — upon my first read — I felt I totally understood. I’ve been Gwen in this fight, I’ve been George in this fight. Right? Except, as the stakes ratchet up with each successive encounter, the casual misogyny of this first argument becomes more apparent.
While Spider-Woman’s fight with the Vulture has obvious overtones of controlling a woman through threats, and her fight with Proto-Punisher has even more obvious overtones controlling women through violence, patriarchal gender inequality is in force right from the jump. I like to play the “would this scenario be offensive if the genders were reversed?” game from time to time. This is usually a flawed game, because that’s not the way institutionalized privilege works, but it can shed interesting light on scenes that I don’t initially have a problem with. Let’s play my stupid game for a second. Now, instead of Gwen and George, we’re talking about Peter and May. Does May say “Damn it Peter, you’re not listening to me?” or “You’re my [nephew], Peter, you have to trust me to know best” or “You can’t be Spider-Man anymore”? Of course not. May could express her concern for Peter’s well-being, but telling him that he can’t be Spider-Man? That’d make her the villain of the book!
I’ll totally admit that this point went flying past me on my first read-through — I only have my own privileged perspective to work with here. It’s a rare story that forces me to slow down and pour back over it, challenging my view of the story itself. I also originally found some of Rodriguez’ storytelling choices confusing, but they now feel like deliberate attempts to make me question what I’m seeing. Take this panel from Vulture’s entrance.
I looked at this thing like ten times because I realized that’s not a projectile being fired and George’s throat – it’s his tie. Most of the action sequences are clouded by Vulture’s knock-out gas, making even the straightforward action a little tricky to follow. There’s a moment where Gwen has to determine which of the three Vultures she’s seeing is the real Vulture. If this is a normal part of Vulture’s power set, I’ll have to apologize for not being aware of it. I think what’s happening here is Gwen having to sort through the fog of war, essentially encouraging the reader to do the same.
Taylor, how did you feel about the men in Gwen’s life while reading this issue? Also, let’s not Gwen totally off the hook for the reckless decision of webbing her father’s legs to the floor of a gas-filled house. That’s impulsive and thoughtless regardless of gender dynamics. Also, I like this idea of George and Ben Parker hanging out – I don’t know why, but it warms my heart.
Taylor: I honestly hadn’t considered the inherent misogyny in this issue until you noticed it Patrick. This makes me wonder what exactly Latour’s motives are in this issue. Did he plan this misogyny or did it work its way out in the words he chose to put in his character’s mouths? Is he trying to show us the inherent way women are treated unequally in our society or his unintentionally perpetuating it? I was discussing with a friend just the other day the power of word choice when conveying meaning. In examining word choice we can often find a short cut to intent – be it the character’s intent or the author’s. In this case, we see that the words chosen by several characters show us how Gwen is viewed by them. However, while their feelings may be clear, we don’t know if we are supposed to sympathize with them or hate them.
I feel like this lack of clarity pervades the issue and that seriously hampers the the clarity of the theme here. I think the exploration of Gwen’s relationship with men certainly takes center stage here (as you pointed out Patrick) but I’m just not sure what exact message is being discussed. Sure, Gwen’s dad tries to lecture her out of being Spider-Woman, but is that something he says out of fear for his daughter or because he thinks she’s not cut out for the job? Ultimately, not knowing his motive for this makes it hard for us to guess Latour’s meaning in these scenes because we the reader are unsure ourselves exactly how we feel about it.
Similar to the encounter with her dad, Gwen has to face off with the Vulture, who is a big bundle of confusion. He bursts onto the scene trying to get information about Spider-Woman. His plans quickly go awry because Gwen is there, obviously. And at this point it becomes somewhat unclear why exactly he is there and what his motives are. Sure, he’s there because the Kingpin is paying him to be there, but he also goes on a rant about getting what he deserves for all of his accomplishments. Making this tirade stranger is that he compares himself to Gwen, again bringing up the notion of equality for women. Whether this is supposed to make the Vulture more sympathetic or not is hard to divine and confuses the narrative of the story.
The last obstacle Gwen encounters in the Proto Punisher who seemingly materializes out of nowhere.
It’s unclear why the PP is here or who sent him or what he wants. He just simply appears and is evil. Now, as a device to hammer home the theme of Gwen vs. the Patriarchy it sort of works, it fails to fit in with the rest of this issue. He shows up to oppose Gwen physically and she gets rid of him just as quick and it all just seems like filler for a page count. Why he’s in this issue is never discussed and where he goes is likewise ignored. In many ways I feel like reading this issue was like inhaling the Vulture’s gas. It’s a bit confusing, a little frustrating, and ultimately vaporous.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?