I went into Spider-Gwen, vol. 1: Greater Power blissfully ignorant. I dislike big crossover events and have been actively avoiding all the Spider-Man books since One More Day, so I missed the entirety of the Spider-Verse storyline which introduced our titular heroine. All I knew when I picked up this book was that the series was set in an alternate Marvel Universe (Earth 65, if you must know) where it was Gwen Stacy, not Peter Parker, who gained enhanced strength, speed, and agility, and a precognitive “spider-sense” after being bitten by a radioactive spider.
I was under the impression that this was the first volume of this series but I was misinformed—an honest mistake given the “Volume One” in the title! The actual first volume is numbered Zero and has already been reviewed on this site (quite well, it should be noted) by Danielle Boyd. Apparently this had something to do with Marvel Comics requiring most of their books to restart with new ‘first issues” at some point in 2015—even if those comics (like Spider-Gwen) had only been on the shelves for a few months already.
I mention all this to make a point. Despite my ignorance of the character’s background and coming in on the second volume, I didn’t have any trouble getting into the swing of things. A quick blurb at the beginning gives us all the basic details we need to know about Spider-Woman being wrongly accused of Peter Parker’s murder, Gwen revealing her secret identity to her police detective father, and the investigation being taken away from him and given to a cop more concerned with punishing accused criminals than seeing justice done.
As this volume opens, Gwen has begun investigating several sightings of lizard creatures in the subways of New York—creatures like the one Peter Parker turned himself into before his untimely death. Unfortunately, the Captain America of this world is also on the case and in little mood to listen to a wanted criminal’s opinions on how to handle the situation. Worse yet, an old friend has come back into Gwen’s life—an old friend named Harry Osborn, who is now a Special Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and even more determined to avenge Peter’s apparent murder than the police chasing after her.
Jason Latour’s emulates the old Stan Lee Spider-Man stories in all the right ways, piling up problem after problem for Gwen to cope with in both her personal life and as Spider-Woman. Despite being true to the classic formula, this book still feels like something different. This is largely due to Gwen’s personality, which is similar to that of the Peter Parker we all know and love (i.e. smart, referentially funny and self-depreciating) yet still distinctly different. The relationship between Gwen and Jessica Drew (the Spider-Woman of Earth 616, who acts as something of a guru to Gwen) is also noteworthy for its rare depiction of a student/mentor bond between two female heroes.
The artwork for this volume is largely excellent. Robbi Rodriguez has a fantastic style that suits the narrative well. Reminiscent of Babs Tarr’s work on The Batgirl of Burnside, Rodriguez’s art is angular and lightly-inked, giving the story a sharp, focused appearance the suggests action in every panel. This impression is further aided by the vivid and contrasting colors utilized by Rico Renzi. Less effective, however, is the artwork of Chris Visions, who penciled and inked the fifth chapter of this volume. Visions’ artwork isn’t bad but his rounded, more heavily-inked artwork stands out in sharp contrast compared to the rest of the book, looking slower and darker in comparison to the more lively work of Robbi Rodriguez.
Spider Gwen, vol. 1: Greater Power is accurately rated T for audiences 13 and up. There’s a fair helping of the usual fantasy violence one expects in a superhero story, but no sexual content or anything most audiences would find objectionable. Indeed, I would suggest that this series should have a place of honor in every public or school library’s teen graphic literature collection. Excelsior!
Spider-Gwen, vol. 1: Greater Power
by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez, Chris Visions
Marvel Comics, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: T (13 and Up)