Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing Spider-Gwen 9, originally released June 15th, 2016.
Spencer: There’s little I hate more than being forced or coerced into doing something. I don’t know about any of you, but I hate that feeling so much that sometimes, even if someone is trying to force me to do something I know I’ll like, I’ll oppose it almost simply out of spite. The only thing worse than someone trying to force you to do something is when life itself seemingly backs you into an inescapable corner, when a twist of fate seemingly decides the course of your life without your input whatsoever. In Spider-Gwen 9, Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi examine how Gwen Stacy’s responded to the twist of fate that’s come to define her life, whether she wanted it to or not.
Gwen’s losing her powers (at the hands of S.I.L.K. in the “Spider-Women” crossover) has brought on an existential crisis of epic proportions. Her friends and bandmates treat her to a night on the town to try to break Gwen out of her funk, but trouble (in this case, the terrifying Frank Castle) won’t stop following her. Throughout this whole ordeal Gwen’s opinions of her powers and her very identity vary wildly and rapidly; she opens the issue in a depressive funk, because losing her powers means losing her purpose, losing her chance to do some good, but by the issue’s finale she’s fleeing from the very idea of being Spider-Woman, fearing that the role is selfish and destructive.
That’s quite a leap to make, but what’s interesting is that both responses stem from the same cause: Gwen never felt like she had a choice about what to do with her life. The spider bite sealed her fate.
Gwen initially embraced the Spider-Woman identity because, after being bitten and gaining superpowers, what other choice did she have? But losing her powers, being brought down to normal, has given her a different perspective. Gwen shuns her masked identity (represented in that final panel by Gwen literally running away from the shadow of Spider-Woman) for many reasons, but ultimately, because she feels it’s the only choice she can make. Instead of embracing fate she shuns it, but either way, they’re both decisions made by a girl who’s been backed into a corner by life.
Really, this has been a running theme in Spider-Gwen since the beginning. Way back in the first volume’s third issue we discussed the way all the men in Gwen’s life attempt to control her, and in her (deleted) text to one of her bandmates, Gwen lists all the other aspects of her life she feels are controlling her: the spider bite, her guilt, Peter’s death, the public’s perception of her. But what’s great about comics — and especially superhero comics — is how they can make complicated concepts and metaphors literal, and in Spider-Gwen 9, the forces seemingly controlling Gwen’s life are brought to life in the form of Frank Castle. Dogmatic past the point of reason, Castle is driven by the idea of “Gwen Stacy=Spider-Woman=criminal,” and nothing will dissuade him. By fleeing Castle, Gwen flees all of the events beyond her control she feels are manipulating her life.
It’s some meaty thematic stuff, but Latour, Rodriguez, and Renzi also nail the smaller emotional beats that hold it all together. There’s a moment where, as Gwen withdraws into herself, Rodriguez focuses on Gwen’s drums and band merch, covered in dust and cobwebs — Gwen’s abandoned something she once loved, which is both a symptom of depression and a sign of what Spider-Woman’s taken from her. At another point, Gwen struggles to bring groceries home, showing how much more difficult her life has become without her superpowers.
For my money, though, the most emotionally devastating scene comes when Gwen visits her old place of employment, the Dollar Dog, whose former-owner has fallen upon some hard times. He blames his hardships on Spider-Woman, and it hits Gwen hard.
This may just be the key moment of the entire issue: Gwen’s entire view of her Spider-Woman persona shifts in this instance. Emotions hit hard on almost every single page of this issue, and these beats turn Gwen’s arc from an abstract concept into something far more intimate.
I also want to shower the artistic team of Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi with some praise here. Rodriguez’s style is always exciting, but I’m especially charmed by some of the storytelling choices he makes this month.
Latour and Rodriguez essentially reinterpret Frank Castle as a force of nature (does he have super strength?!), and every choice Rodriguez makes on these pages is meant to build Castle’s mystique. Notice how we never actually see Castle land a hit: he bends the robber’s gun and he breaks the man’s arm off-panel, and even when he starts growling (!) at the thief it happens off-panel. We don’t see these feats of strength, only the reactions of the crowd, and that does wonders to build up Castle as a monstrous, mythic figure.
(Interestingly enough, Gwen also starts growling when she uses her power patch. If Gwen sees her own actions reflected back at her in the form of Castle, of all people, then no wonder she’s so scared of herself.)
Ryan, this issue is a bit darker and moodier than I’m used to from Spider-Gwen, but that change is a natural part of Gwen’s evolution as a character. What did you think of this one? And if you had the chance, would you try some of the Dollar Dog’s artisanal pickle water?
Ryan M: I would so try the pickle water, because, hey, it’s free. That said, I am with you, Spencer, in that if someone told me it was compulsory, I would hesitate out of some combination of spite and obstinance. In fact, the Dollar Dog is the kind of place I would hear about for six months before deigning to go, just because hype is a deterrent. Then, on a night like Gwen’s, the flow of the city would get me there.
The primary arc takes place inside Gwen’s conflicted and dark mood, but the issue opens completely on the outside. The first page has noir undertones, as the district attorney explains the futility of bringing Gwen’s identity to light while guzzling liquor the color of Pepto-Bismal. The opening clearly functions as exposition and a way to elegantly bring Castle into the issue, but it also immediately sets a tone of hopelessness and angst. Even Ben Urich’s headline on the front page ends in a question mark. This is not a world of righteous heroes on a straight path to justice. Things are a bit more complex, and, for Gwen, quite a bit more sad.
Gwen’s introspection and inability to engage with the world around her echoes throughout the issue. We first see her as she comes home from the grocery store and we are denied her interior monologue. Instead Rodriguez demonstrates Gwen’s state of mind visually.
In the first panel above, Gwen is the only “human” looking person in the hallway. One man in from of her has blue skin and even the flat top of the other man takes on an abnormal look. Gwen is centered in the panel and stands out in her normality. The second panel shows her slow progression up the stairs, head hung low. Though the DA is not referring to Gwen, his “loser with a capital L” comment coincides perfectly with the image of Gwen feeling defeated by a staircase. In just a few pages, the depths of Gwen’s feelings as well as Castle’s determination are established. There really is nothing more needed plot-wise before the final confrontation. But Latour and Rodriguez do not spin their wheels with the intervening story. Instead, we get deeper insight into Gwen’s growing depression as well as the broader issue of modern human connection.
Gwen’s video game is directly juxtaposed with her friend’s flippant treatment of potential dates on Tinder. It can be fun to help your friends vet their dates, but there is a point, as Em Jay notes, where human beings are reduced to a game. Bee-beard deserves more consideration that the poor pie-eating hobo simply because he is a person with feelings. Gwen says nothing in this scene, but her choice to play Dangerous Street Garbage II in silence rather than joke with her friends or even agree with Em Jay is a signal of her inability to connect with the outside world. Gwen already tried to do her best with what she got, but now she is left unsure of her own identity. Rodriguez and Latour create a meta narrative to the page as well. The avatar of DSGII works his way across the page, carrying his bindle, and eating pie, until a pie kills him and he carries his bindle to heaven. The story of the hobo is simple, but resonates with Gwen’s feelings about her own role as victim of fate. The arcade scene works in contrast to Gwen’s experience crowd-surfing. There, her own passivity allowed her enjoyment rather than ennui.
Spencer, as you noted, Gwen’s current predicament allows Latour and Rodriguez to play with a moodier tone. Given the title of the series, we know Gwen will eventually get back to heroics. Using the meantime to both explore Gwen’s struggle with her identity and vividly express her world makes the wait a pleasure rather than a chore.
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?