In preparation for a big Spider-Man event later in the year, Marvel has been putting out comics dealing with Spider-Folk from alternate continuities. If you’ve heard anything about these books, designated Edge of Spider-Verse, then you probably know why I’m interested in them even though I don’t usually read Spider-Books. If you haven’t—and the title of this post didn’t give it away—I’ll let you know in five words: Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman.
Yep, in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, we’re presented with an alternate universe where it was Gwen and not Peter who got the bite, and Peter, not Gwen, who tragically died, and Gwen, not Peter, who has to keep her abilities and activities hidden from her police chief father.
I’ve been desperate for this issue to come out, not half because the promotional art for the issue looked so. Damn. Cool. There hasn’t been a more badass costume redesign for a female character since Carol Danvers lost the bathing suit. But did the issue stand up to the admittedly massive hype?
Well, sort of. The story of the issue is a very simple one: Gwen is at a crossroads in her young adult life and her father (and his police force) is on the hunt for her alter-ego. But when Matt Murdock (who is, in this universe, a skeezeball lawyer rather than a superhero lawyer) sends a hitman after her father, she finds her path, and in the process of saving her dad, reveals her identity to him. There’s some simple thematic parallelism between Gwen’s love of playing music (she’s the drummer in a rock band) and her love of being Spidey, and some excellent action sequences, but that’s pretty much it.
I understand that this isn’t an ongoing comic, and that the story had to be such that they could wrap it up in one issue. But I wish that it could have been more. The story we were given was so basic as to be trite—there’s no more overused plot for a superhero than “forced to reveal my identity to a loved one while saving them”—and pretty elementary-level. For a premise with so much potential to do so many interesting things, I feel like they went with a simplistic, cop-out plot. And because this is a single-issue story and we won’t be coming back to this universe, there are no stakes attached to the reveal. We don’t have to see Gwen and Mr. Stacy have the world’s awkwardest family dinner, or get into fights about her safety, or anything else that would be a direct consequence of Gwen’s coming out of the costume closet.
I’d also have been more interested in seeing more of Gwen’s crimefighting. Are her villains the same as 616 Peter’s, or are they different? How is she treated differently as a female hero, especially since in this universe she is the original Spider-Hero (unlike the 616’s Spider-ladies, who came after Spider-Man)? Did she design her suit and web-shooters herself, or does she have a nerdy accomplice like Kamala Khan? If she isn’t scientifically inclined, under what circumstances did she get bitten? Is she friends with the girls in her band, or do they just tolerate her because she’s a good drummer? Was the media outlash after Peter’s death affected at all by her gender?
They did manage to squeeze the whole of her origin story into a single two-page spread for space’s sake, at least, so a ton of pages weren’t wasted on “Gwen gets bitten, experiments with her powers, watches Peter die, etc”. And what a two-page spread it was—in fact, one thing about this issue that didn’t remotely disappoint was the art.
The most interesting thing about this issue is the reversal of Gwen’s own fridging, which is exchanged for Peter’s death, and how it’s presented in the comic. In the original Spider-Man comic where Gwen dies, it’s inadvertently at Peter’s hands. As she’s free-falling, he tries to save her by grabbing her with web, but the recoil of the webbing snaps her neck. It’s fridging at its purest. In Edge of Spider-Verse, Peter doesn’t die in an accident caused by Gwen. Rather, overcome with jealousy at his girlfriend’s secret superpowers and sick of feeling emasculated when Gwen protects him from bullies, he experiments on himself and dies from the side effects. From a gender perspective, this is kind of fascinating. While it does give AU Peter more agency than 616 Gwen, as he decides to risk his own life in experimentation rather than being a passive victim, at the same time it also paints him as a casualty of fragile socialized masculinity. Male heroes’ girlfriends don’t have responses like Peter’s—resentment, feelings of belittlement—when they’re saved by their boyfriends. But spin it around and let the girl save the guy for once, and it’s apparently easy for the guy to have an identity crisis.
I will also definitely give props to the creative team for deciding that she’d be Spider-Woman and not Spider-Girl. Even though the Gwen of the story appears to be relatively young—a freshman in college, from what I can tell, and therefore only a few years older than the 616 universe’s Spider-Girl Anya Corazon—she’s not infantilized by the designation “girl”. After all, Peter Parker never called himself Spider-Boy, even when he was in high school, and neither did the even younger Miles Morales. It wouldn’t make sense for their AU counterpart to use a more childlike moniker.
So how awesome is Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman? She is pretty goddamned awesome, I’ll give you that. And had this issue been the set-up to an ongoing series, it would have been a great debut. I just wish that, since this was our only real chance to see her in action, we’d been given a more complex storyline to enjoy.