Spencer: When asked what fictional universe I would like to live in (which happens more often than you’d think, thanks to weird Tumblr memes), I never give the DC or Marvel universes as my answer, despite them being my favorite fictional universes. I think the reason why is pretty clear: actually living in one of these universes would be utter hell. These worlds run our favorite heroes through the wringer for the sake of a good story, and the lives of their civilians are even more fraught and chaotic. That’s a point Christopher Hastings and Gurihiru make early — and hilariously — in The Unbelievable Gwenpool 2.
The dangers of Earth-616 are only compounded for our titular hero, Gwen Poole, who is actually a young woman from our world who has achieved her dream of traveling to her favorite fictional universe. Gwen’s adventures in her Howard the Duck back-ups focused on the joy of this transition, but now that she’s become the star of her own title, the true consequences of her situation have finally hit home.
Gwenpool’s essentially been blackmailed into working as one of M.O.D.O.K.’s “righteous” mercenaries alongside Mega Tony, The Terrible Eye, and Batroc the leaper, all of whom doubt they’ll survive the experience. Their first mission is to kill an evil druid known as the Seed of Pains — whose services, incidentally, are also required by the Mighty Thor herself! Like last month, Gwenpool’s only real advantage in this fight is her extensive knowledge of the “fictional” universe she now inhabits; in this case, that boils down to her knowledge of Thor’s secret identity of Jane Foster. Despite Batroc’s insistence that Gwen nearly derailed their mission, it’s only that bit of privileged information that allows the team to fulfill M.O.D.O.K.’s mission without getting killed by Thor in the process.
Unlike last month, though, Gwen’s no longer finding her stay in the Marvel Universe to be all fun and games.
Much of Gwen’s behavior thus far can be chalked up to the fact that she thought she was living in a fictional universe — so that means nothing she does really matters, right? Maybe not. After dealing with M.O.D.O.K. she’s fearful for her own life, and thanks to poor Cecil, Gwen’s also dealing with a pained conscience over some of her actions. The fact that the characters she interacts with aren’t “real” doesn’t mean she’s not in danger, and it doesn’t lessen the impact of their deaths either. That may just change Gwen’s whole approach to, well, pretty much everything she does.
Of course, Gwen’s growing fears here may be due, not as much to her conscience, as to her understanding of how stories work. She’s read enough comics to know their formula, and it scares her that she’s not coming across as the hero in her own story — that she’s becoming a henchman to a B-List villain, that she’s becoming a rival to an A-list hero. This is a pretty daring direction to take a character whose primary draw is being wish-fulfillment. I’d hate to live in the Marvel universe, but I think almost all comic fans have, at one point or another, fantasized about what we’d do if we were a part of the stories we so love, and I doubt any of us imagined ourselves such a dark ending. With Gwenpool, though, Hastings explores both the joy and the dangers of living in the Marvel universe, especially as a “normal” person. I don’t think most of us would do even as well as Gwen, and she’s not doing great either.
Hastings has actually struck a pretty fantastic tone here, balancing some zany humor with deeper themes in a way that makes Gwenpool a blast to read even in its darker moments. Another aspect of this title that I love is that Gwen, as I mentioned, is in many ways a stand-in for any rabid Marvel fan. The fact that a female character is being used as an “everyman” character for comic geeks is pretty transgressive in its own right, even if it shouldn’t be; I would love to see Gwenpool help to “normalize” devoted female fans (not that they have anything to prove) to the point where this is no longer the case.
The art and colors of Gurihiru are also a tremendous asset to Gwenpool. Gurihiru’s expressive, somewhat cartoony style is a perfect fit for the character and the stories being told here, but their work especially shines in the fight scenes (and I’m not just talking about that splash of Thor, though that rules).
Take this last panel here, for example; a character breaking through the borders of a panel isn’t exactly novel, sure, but Gurihiru uses it to great effect, not only highlighting Mjolnir’s power and velocity, but using this violation of the panel’s rules to indicate a shift in the scene’s focus, to show that the fight has truly begun, and that Thor is far out of Gwenpool’s league. Gurihiru keeps up their masterful use of common artistic tools as the issue continues.
Again, tilting panels is a common technique, but it’s executed perfectly here; the angles aren’t random, but instead lead the reader’s eye along the rocket’s path — and straight towards its target — in the most propulsive way possible. Gurihiru’s strong grasp of visual storytelling elevates, not only the fights, but every page of Gwenpool 2.
To be honest, I’m a bit surprised by how much I’ve wound up loving Gwenpool. When the character was first announced she seemed like a gimmick, like Marvel editorial and marketing just randomly mixing together a few of Marvel’s most buzzworthy properties with hopes of getting attention. Thanksfully, with Hastings and Gurihiru helming the ship, Gwenpool has become so much more than just a gimmick — it’s become a legitimately good comic, and Gwen Poole has become a character with some legitimate pathos and stakes behind her. I don’t think I could ask for more. How about you, Taylor? And hey — would you wanna live in/visit the Marvel universe if you could?
Taylor: Depends on what part of the Marvel universe. Do I get to hang out with Doreen Green all day? Then sure! Do I only exist as fodder for super villains? Then no. Really the question you should be asking is do I want to be a character in the Marvel universe? Being random person in the Marvel seems OK but times are always tough for named characters. If that were the questions my answer would be a resounding no. Why? Luckily Gwenpool is here to show me.
Before Gwen and her “team” head out to kill the Seed of Pains they have a little get to know you session. This isn’t a normal meet and greet though; think of something more along the lines of the intros made before a team title really takes off. It’s during this time that Gwen realizes all of her teammates fill a certain roll on the team, herself included.
It turns out that Gwen is the tank. For those who don’t know, a tank (in the gaming world) is a character whose main purpose is to be a bullet sponge. They grab the attention of their enemies so their allies get a chance to unleash powerful attacks. Usually these characters have the power to regenerate from the damage they receive, like Deadpool, so even though they may get hurt, everything ends up OK for the team and the tank in the end. Gwen, however, doesn’t have such an ability and this gets to my point about why being a character in the Marvel universe would be awful. As character in a comic you have an assigned role. You’re good or evil, a healer or a damage dealer, a thinker or a doer. Whatever the case may be, you don’t really have a choice about what your role is because the writer of the comic has already chosen that role for you. Basically it’s like believing in predestination, which is pretty big bummer if you grew up in the post-enlightenment world.
What’s clever about the way Hastings incorporates this idea into Gwenpool is that neither Gwen nor I are prepared to cast her in the role of the tank. Even though Gwen has a lot guns, she doesn’t have superpowers to speak of and certainly not the type needed to withstand an enemy assault. This is made abundantly clear when Thor easily subdues Gwen during their battle. But if Thor can so easily take care of Gwen, why does she even bother focusing her attention on her? One reason.
With her knowledge of the comics, Gwen knows exactly who the new Thor is. By saying her alias out loud, Gwen shocks Thor because at this point in the comics few in the Marvel universe know who Thor’s secret identity. Naturally this poses a threat to Thor and she acts on it. By yelling Jane’s name out loud Gwen has fulfilled her role as a tank because she becomes the focus of her enemy’s attention. This is a clever inverse of what I usually think of a tank character as being. Your common tank is huge, heavily armored, and in some can heal themselves. Gwen, with her small stature and lack of powers instead uses her words and knowledge of the Marvel universe to grab the attention of her attackers. By doing this, Hastings casts Gwen in the tank role in a way that is different but just as effective as traditional tank characters.
Ultimately this comes back to the question of if I would want to be in Gwen’s place. Again the answer is no, and the final pages of the issue illustrate this point well. Being a character in the Marvel universe means trouble finds you, whether you try to lay low or not. Even though Gwen proves an effective Tank, Batroc quickly realizes she has no real skills for being a mercenary. This threatens Gwen’s safety since M.O.D.O.K. will probably want to kill her and just like that, Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of danger. This is only natural though. She’s a character in the comic world now and that means danger is her new bedfellow.
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