Fan, Creator and Hero are United by Expertise in The Unbelievable Gwenpool 17

by Patrick Ehlers

Unbelievable Gwenpool 17

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, read on at your own risk!

What do Batman, his creators and his fans have in common? We’re all experts. Or at least, we all fancy ourselves experts. Comics in particular have always had this interactive component to their fandom; requiring readers to visit specialty stores, travel to cons, keep track of unwieldy pull lists. Just keeping up with Marvel comics requires a nearly insane amount of time and energy tracking character and release, and the comic fan reaches their 10,000 hours of practice with the medium early. Gwen Poole is an expert at comics — but is she an expert fan? Expert creator? Expert hero?

Gwen’s settled back in to what she believes is her old hum-drum life, saving up for school and drawing in her spare time. But she just can’t shake the idea that she’s in a comic book. This isn’t the kind of “in a comic book” where she’s privy to the underlying mythology of the story she’s in — in fact, there’s a telling moment when she reveals she doesn’t know what happens in Captain America: Civil War yet. She is well-versed in the medium her story is expressed in. I love this shit. Gwen’s aware of the panel dividers around her, and even posits that she’s living her life in between the pages and in between the panels. That’s an old Scott McCloud-ism: that the action of a story necessarily takes place between the static images on the page. Writer Christopher Hastings writes Gwen with that studied level of comic fandom — blurring the line between fan and creator.

Gwen knows a panel divider allows time to pass, so she gets a pencil in her hand and starts interacting with the page Duck Amok-style. So naturally, obliterating panel dividers allows her to see through time.

Artists Gurihiru pull off this surreal gag and have no problem pivoting their camera outside of the medium itself to try to make sense of what we’re seeing on this page from a different angle. Unlike Daffy, Gwen plays the role of both subject and creator, so she can use the gag to escape the page, and presumably whatever magical prison she’s been placed in. And in this moment, she (or Hastings or whomever) is blurring the line between creator and hero. All three — fan, creator and hero — are united under one umbrella of comic book expertise.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

5 comments on “Fan, Creator and Hero are United by Expertise in The Unbelievable Gwenpool 17

  1. Hey, so I’ve been sleeping on this series, but this piece convinced me to pick it up. One element that caught my eye that I’m curious about is the pink speech balloons. I’m guessing she’s the only one with that affect when she’s in the “comic book world,” but I think it’s fascinating that everyone in her “real” world talks that way. It could just be the way they represent her world as different from the comic book world — that’s just the way “real” people talk — but it could also represent that all of this is happening in her head (since it’s all the same color as her narration boxes). I’m wondering if any longtime readers can shed light on how it’s been used in the past, and if that lends any clues as to what it might actually mean.

    • Pink narration boxes and pink speech balloons are how Gwen always thinks/talks. So when she’s within the Marvel world, everyone else has their own normal balloons. The implication with these last two issues is either that a) this is all part of her imagination or b) that pink background is part of how people in “the real world” talk. Or, I guess c) that Gwen’s imagination and Gwen’s reality have folded in on each other.

    • To some degree, you treat it like you do with how the Ultimate Universe, back when that was around, had their own unique lettering style, even when the characters were in the Marvel Universe. As Doctor Strange describes it in one issue, a dimensional accent. The only time someone other than Gwen uses pink speech bubbles, it is something like her own memories of her past before she entered the Marvel Universe, or whatever the hell is happening in this issue. Whether it is because she’s from the real world, or just a parallel universe whose comic books match the Marvel Universe’s real events like in Multiversity, the pink speech bubbles are the signature of her dimension like the Ultimate Universe’s lettering was for the Ultimate Universe.

      BUt this is a very fascinating book, much better than anyone would expect. It doesn’t always work, but most of the time it has an exceptional understanding of story structure and character arcs, giving Gwen real stories despite how much fun the book has with its highly meta, highly silly premise. Hidden gem

  2. Film Crit Hulk once did an amazing piece on spoiler culture, and on the four levels that we consume media ( The first group experience media in a state of childhood naivety. Completely enraptured, feeling every beat. A pure, emotional experience. The second group, more experienced, have lost the first group’s innate transference. They have experience, and have seen everything enough times to see media not just as an emotional experience, but able to contextualise things a bit more. They have enough of the mature tools to, for example, expect a plot twist. A key feature of this group is that they have moved past the first group’s naivety, but seek to recapture it. It probably explains the popularity of shows like Game of Thrones. They’ve seen enough media not to be surprised when there is a plot twist. But to many, the twists in Game of Thrones were so surprising, that these seasoned watchers felt like the first group again. While becoming like second group just involves watching more stuff, to become the third group requires a bit more effort. We are the third group, who study and explore media. We contextualise the emotional experience and analyse the work. Write pieces like you see on this site. We approach things with a critical mind, with understanding. And then there is the fourth group, who are creators. Those who make media. And this is more than just a little writing on the side. These people have been so exposed to the craft they understand the very act of creating. They aren’t necessarily masters, but they know what they are doing to a degree that only comes from lots and lots of practice. Artists.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these groups, and people have a rich experience at all levels. No group is better than the other. Instead, they are a life cycle. The way we grow as media consumers (if we choose to. It is hard to avoid growing out of that first group, but the second and third groups require a lot more effort to grow out of).

    However, the second group is a group that, I feel, can often lead to dangerous circumstances. That search for the naive feeling that you used to experience leads easily to nostalgia and escapism, and from there to very unhealthy behaviours. The second group is often very healthy, especially when it leads you to pushing your boundaries and finding new sorts of experiences that you don’t have experience with. But what if, instead of watching Game of Thrones, that show you know nothing about except that it will make you feel like you did when you found out who Luke Skywalker’s father was, you try and get that naivety back by staying trapped in a media bubble, losing yourself in the Marvel Universe in a desperate attempt to feel like you did when you first read Peter Parker discuss power and responsibility? Now, this isn’t a bad thing, except when it gets toxic and horrible. When it leads to things like GamerGate, or the attacks on creators like Chelsea Cain or Nick Spencer, where people feel threatened by the idea of change and that they are going to lose the thing that need in their quest to try and recapture that sense of naivety (hell, you could apply this to politics. How much of Trump comes from people wishing that things were back like they were in the days they were ignorant, and wish women/PoC/LGBT would just return to that ‘perfect’ status quo instead of proving how problematic it actually was).

    And I’ve always seen Gwen as a character that is very toxically part of that second group. I’ve never seen her as a GamerGater, she quite simply isn’t. But I’ve always seen some of those same features in her. Gwen is obsessed with escapism to an unhealthy degree. She is all about the emotional response the second group craves, but lacks the understanding that all this media she consumes is about, as Film Crit Hulk describes it, ‘LEARNING TO CEREBRALLY PROCESS OUR EMOTIONAL SELVES’. She’s reading Spider-man, but never learning that ‘With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility’. Hell, her arc through this book so far reminds me a lot of some of the stuff discussed in Innuendo’s Studios amazing video essay series ‘Why Are You So Angry?’. The discussions there around the Bubble fit Gwen so well, even if the specifics are very different.

    And that has been the secret of this book from Day One, the thing that makes it so much more interesting than anyone would expect. But here, things are getting so much more interesting. Because I think we are seeing her finally grow into the third group. Think about it. Just as we discuss the way that the art, or the layout, or any other feature is part of a comic and learn its effect, Gwen is learning about the rues of comics, and they to use it for effect. She’s understanding how panelling works, and the effect it has.
    After last issue had Gwen make a major choice, Gwen has actually changed the way she has approached her media. She now engages it in a more healthy manner. She hasn’t rushed out to see Civil War, but instead waiting until she’s not working. She’s planning on studying, approaching her love of media in a more intelligent manner. Start developing the skills that take her out of group two, and let her enter group three. She’s gone from the fangirl obsessed with vicariously fulfilling her fantasies to someone who is experimenting and building an understanding of how comics work (shown wonderfully through the highly meta art, where Gwen is actually interacting with the comic book elements.

    I don’t believe Gwen is an expert at anything comics related yet. But here, she is taking the first real steps forward that she has for a long time. She’s gone from the girl who was stuck in the second group, as one of the most unhealthy members, and taking the step to finally move to the next stage. Her endgame is the fourth stage, where she finally has the understanding of media required to be the artist she wants to be and use her skills (the best ending for her would be to return to Earth and take up a job at Marvel Comics). But here, she is taking everything she has learned, and using it to grow, both as a person and as a consumer of media. She’s finally engaging with comics critically, understanding how they work. And in the context of a highly meta series like Gwenpool, that manifests in discovering the many ways she can manipulate the very world itself.

    I love that this is a book about how we can grow as consumers of media, gaining more mature understanding and experiencing media in more complex ways. This is the stuff that makes this book special.

    Also, just want to talk about the amazing art, and how well it depicts the weirdness of what it needs to depict. Some of my favourite panels include the giant panel crashing out the window, being given three dimensions, Gwen looking through the infinite corridor at the end and how they actually show future panels, and the fact that in the final page, you can see the two pages that would have occured immediately after the page before, if we still read the comic instead of following Gwen beyond beyond the fourth wall.
    On the other hand, I really hate the wasted potential of the ‘Gwen hits the ground’ page. How does Gwen perceive a panel where she’s shown twice? How would Gwen perceive the way the page is laid out with her mother both at the window and running down? The page is full of stuff that would be so fascinating to see Gwen interact with

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