Gwenpool 20 Stays Sincere in a Landscape of Cynicism

by Patrick Ehlers

Unbelievable Gwenpool 20

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

This arc of Gwenpool appears to be taking a lot of its cues from the recently concluded Secret Empire. While not retreading any of the same thematic ideas, the narrative structure of one moral-extreme version of a character over-writing the history of the opposite-moral-extreme version of that same character features in both. For Captain America, this is a battle over the national zeitgeist, a startling reflection of the persistence of racism and white nationalism, but for Gwenpool, the stakes are more personal. Secret Empire Omega 1 just chillingly illustrated how definitive, national change is virtually impossible, but Gwenpool 20 offers a more hopeful path for the individual and — more importantly — for the comic fan.

Writer Christopher Hastings never betrays the central conceit of the character — the heart of her power is her knowledge about comic books. The Evil Future Gwenpool has applied her years of knowledge to sociopathic cynicism. To her, the fact that the powers that be (be they “the creators, or the editors, or some fan vote or whatever”) prevent Miles Morales from ever really dying gives her license to attempt to kill him. The artistic team of Gurihiru presents this kind of proclamation like some kind of divine edict — biblical and infallible.

However we reach that conclusion, it’s understandable and acceptable as true, especially for long time comic book fans. And remember, that’s exactly what Gwen is. Is the inherent predictability of these stories an excuse not to care about their content? Future Gwen seems to think so. That’s been the common rallying cry against Secret Empire since before the series even started: it’s all going to be cosmic cubed away, so what’s the point? The point, as Vanilla Gwenpool points out, is that we love and invest in these characters, not only in abstract self-aware ways on forums afterward, but as we’re reading them. Unlike Steve Rogers, Gwen is able to select a single path for herself, choosing stories of hope over stories of pain.

As a prescription for fan culture, I can’t imagine a better moral. Gwen is the ultimate super-fan, and her anti-heel turn comes from her aggressively fighting against negativity and cynicism. Secret Empire may conclude with “the threat was always there and it always will be,” but Gwenpool 20 offers to opportunity to stamp out the same threat internally.

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

3 comments on “Gwenpool 20 Stays Sincere in a Landscape of Cynicism

  1. To me, a key thing about Dark Gwen is that she is a liar. And it is in this, that a deeper layer of the comic is revealed. This is a story about fighting against cynicism, and a story about choosing to do the right thing even when it costs a significant amount of your lifespan (because with Great Power…). But there is an even deeper level, breaking down who Dark Gwen is.

    Because nearly every word she says is a lie. She may believe it, but only because she is lying to herself. The fact that she so readily lies about the fates of future Miles and future Sarah set us up to confront her when she starts to really preach the idea that she had to go villain. That being a villain was the only root for her to survive. That the very meta rules of comics meant that she could either be a villain, or disappear to limbo. Dark Gwen may believe this. In fact, the meta rules she blames may being an actual, physical force. But she is still lying. Because that is not why she became the villain.

    She always was. Gwen always has been. We get our first sign when Dark Gwen says ‘Yes… Yes… I’m cool’. That’s not the phrase of someone forced into a life of villainy. She chose evil because she liked it. And the real important scene is Gwen’s horror at seeing Dark Gwen shoot everyone, and saying ‘that’s what I used to be like’. Nothing made Dark Gwen. Dark Gwen is who Gwen has always been.

    In fact, Gwen defeated Dark Gwen by completely changing her life. This is the bad person learning how toxic her approach is, and having to understand that she needs to change everything about her to be a better person. This is Gwen understanding that she can’t look at Miles and Sarah and the other heroes as mere playthings, but real people that need to be approached with empathy (which is why she ends having a real friendship moment with Sarah and apologising to Miles). And it builds into my idea of this as a story of Gwen growing as a writer, learning about the importance of meaning and love in stories, instead of just vicarious self satisfaction. Hell, there is a lot I could say about the possibility of Gwen shortening her lifespan with respect to the writer parallels this arc has been full of (there is a hell of a lot I can say about this)

    But ultimately, the true strength of this issue is the fact that it really makes clear that Gwen and Dark Gwen are one and the same. There is no difference between Gwen and the monster she becomes. Or at least, there wasn’t until she was forced to look in the mirror. And the fact that Hastings is so willing to confront this is what made this arc so, so powerful (if you want to make a comparison with some of the themes in Secret EMpire, it has been interesting seeing some of the people from Charlottesville come out and say that they aren’t like what the now iconic images show them to be. I hope at least some of them have a ‘Are we the bad guys?’ moment, like Gwen here, but too many, faced with Gwen’s circumstances, have instead tried to pretend that the person in the photo isn’t them. Gwenpool has shown a solution, but it only works if they are willing to actually admit that the person they see is actually themselves).

  2. The importance of this arc is greater than you think since it aligns with what Gwenpool has always been about. Coming to terms with Fandom. Gwenpool’s journey is one of self-discovery and growth through her love of comics. She began seeing it as a purely a form of escapism and pure entertainment. A way out. It was only through interaction with the very people who inhabited this world that realized that it wasn’t enough to escape. She had to accept the world she was now in after her escape, that if she made this decision to come here she could not treat it with disrespect.

    Future Gwenpool has no respect for the medium anymore, no respect for the comics outside of forcing cool ideas into stories. She’s jaded by events, by the status quo being God, by the fact the world is against her decisions. So she does what most people do who feel the world is against them and there is no escape. She abuses the world around her, she becomes American Psycho. She does what Deadpool almost did in the Arcade Two Parter. She allows herself to play the game and not give a shit.

    Gwen left her world to escape the trap of a boring, ordinary life that was stifiling her and slowly killing her dreams. But her escape to the MU revealed to her very quickly that she simply gave herself a new set of problems she now has to deal with and accept. Future Gwen’s lesson was “Nothing matters, this doesn’t matter, who cares, I might as well do whatever.” She was given power and abused it to avoid responsibility. She lost any personal connection to the heroes she once loved. Deciding to see them as nothing more than stupid pictures on a page that exist to be mindless entertainment. So she decides that is what she will create, mindless stupid violence, massive character deaths, events that choke hope to death. She does take the role of a cynic fan, but worse yet she stops caring about any personal connection to what she once loved. She becomes a sociopath because she no longer sees any value in those around her and decides comic books, something she once loved, don’t matter either.

    Gwenpool however rejects that notion. For very simple reasons, she loves these characters. She does not want to see them hurt. She wants to see them triumph. She believes in what comics are meant to be. She accepts the lessons they wish to teach her, what her heroes like Peter Parker taught her. That responsibility isn’t something you can escape and with these new powers she has to act on it properly. She cares for these people, she cares for this world. Accepting the role of villain, allowing herself to become a monster to satisfy herself, to abandon her love of comics and decide it’s all pointless garbage she can slash and burn however she wants… she refuses that. Again, the answer is simple.

    “I love Spider-Man! I love all of them!”

    Faced with the truth that her actions as a fan are pointless, that her influence is limited, that no one important will die from her actions, that there’s no reason to care… Gwenpool decides she still does care. These characters still matter to her, they still mean something to her and she decides, even if it means sacrificing herself for them… she refuses to assist in hurting them. She refuses to be a villain and decides to change her life. She seeks comfort with Sarah and rushes to make ammends with Miles. Because she understands she needs friends and more importantly she wants to make an effort to change herself and wants other heroes to know she wants to change.

    In this way, Gwen cements herself as a true Marvel Hero. When given enormous power, she chooses to do good yes, but at the same time she sacrifices something of herself. Just like her favorite hero, when Spider-Man wins, Peter Parker must accept he will lose something in return. And Gwen accepts that, not just for nameless unknown people, but for all of the heroes she cares about. This, in my mind, makes her one of the bravest characters in all of Marvel, sacrificing herself for the world she loves.

    I was never more proud to be a Gwenpool character after reading this issue, confirming why I love this series and defying cynicism in favor of love. Love of heroes, love of fandom, love of others and love of imagination in pursuit of creation. Gwenpool is all that and more and I only hope more people give this series a chance to see that for themselves.

    • That’s a great take. I don’t fully agree with it (as I said above, I think that Dark Gwen’s cynical view of comics is an excuse to pretend that Gwen hasn’t always been like this since the first issue. Gwen has always been a bad fan, and didn’t need some cynical views on events to do the sorts of things Dark Gwen did. Dark Gwen is just normal Gwen who has replaced one pretense for another. And too me, that makes Gwen’s heroism even more powerful. She fundamentally changed when she erased Dark Gwen. She didn’t change the future, she changed herself. Finally became a better fan. And changing herself like that is what really makes her a Marvel Hero). But you’ve discussed so many of the different themes and ideas I have discussed again and again with this book. The same ideas that make Gwen so wonderfully compelling

      I’m always nervous with this book, keep feeling Hastings will mess it up. Push things too far. From the very first issue, I was afraid he wouldn’t handle the premise properly and we would get something terrible. And this arc had me really nervous that it would go too far in the meta elements. But it hits the landing time and time again.

      I completely agree, I really hope more people give this series a chance

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