Look, Radioactive Spider-Gwen is cool. She's in an all-girl rock band, she's arguably got the best superhero costume design in years, and a hell of a lot of tie-in merchandise that can capitalize on said costume. As a lady who grew up on The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen really hits home for me. Rather than plunging to her death like the Gwen we grew up with, this alt-universe, web-slinging variant of Gwen Stacy got bit by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker and survives as the crime fighting Spider-Woman of her earth.
All of this makes for an awesome reworking of one of the most famously fridged female characters in comic book history. On top of that, she's beautifully drawn by Robbi Rodriguez and colored by Rico Renzi, and Jason Latour crafts dialogue that captures the weight of the world on her shoulders with the perfect balanced mix in of that coping humor we've all come to love from a Spider title.
But it's her stories. Something's gotta be done about her stories. Due to my own obsession with Spider-Gwen merch, I'm constantly running into fellow fanatics out in the world. The single most consistent thing that people say after telling me they love my phone case is an apologetic "I really haven't been keeping up with the books anymore though."
So, I'm scared for Gwen. Scared she'll go from someone people edit fairly impressive fan trailers for to a forgotten footnote in the Spider-Man mythos that'll only show up again when the seas are scoured for nostalgia. I don't want that for her, and I have some notes on how to best stop that from happening.
Stop With The Rehashed Spider-Man Plots
I totally get it. Amazing Spider-Man has a long history of popular villains to draw from and that means built-in fan favorites to build stories around. There's just one big problem with that though, Marvel: You already did that. It was called Ultimate Spider-Man, and you literally just ended that universe with a huge crossover event that folded it back into the main continuity. (Seriously though, is it Earth-616 still or what's the deal with that?)
These kind of nostalgia-kick storylines are fun for an arc or two, but they lack the thing that makes most of Spider-Man's most popular villains so compelling: the personal connections. It mattered that Green Goblin was Norman Osborn, the father of Peter Parker's best friend, and then later that actual best friend. It mattered that the Lizard was Curt Connors, Peter's teacher. It made the stories hit so much closer to home. But when Earth-65's Gwen Stacy keeps being paired off against her universe's version of the Vulture, the Rhino, Doc Ock, Mysterio, etc., it starts to feel way less personal. Look, of course I'm excited to see how Gwenom is going to play out, but the Mary Janes aren't a cover band, let Gwen build up some greatest hits of her own.
Earth-65 For Lyfe
Speaking of that whole confusing "is there a multiverse or not" debate in post-Secret Wars books, I urge you to just sort of go "Hey look over there" and ignore it completely in the case of Spider-Gwen. Just let her remain a resident of Earth-65, nestled in her own world with its own stories and characters and without repeated messy crossovers that make us go cross-eyed. Did I love the Spider-Women crossover event last year with Silk and Jessica? Yeah, totally. But then just when Spider-Gwen was getting beyond that and beyond the one-off filler holiday books and just about to sink her teeth into the Matt-Murdock-as-Kingpin story arc, Miles Morales drops in with his daddy issues. Six issues, to be exact. You don't need it, Gwen rocks. And you already have Web Warriors if you absolutely do need to send her jumping universes again.
Especially because in this most recent event, the revelation that there are other 'Spider-Gwens' out there undercuts a compelling aspect of this Gwen Stacy- that out of all the multiverse worlds she's been to, she is the only Gwen who survived. That moment in the SpiderVerse Secret Wars arc where Gwen comes to her own tombstone on Battleworld is oh so slightly deflated now that we know there's plenty of other Gwens out there.
This one might get a little more heated, but I'm gonna ask you to put the Gwen and Miles ship down gently and back away, slowly, with your hands where I can see you. Sure, feels are fun and shippers gonna ship. There's cool artwork to be had depicting them on their wedding day in their costumes. But on just a surface level, you've got two characters that you awkwardly tried to make seem more age-appropriate for each other than literally any of us thought they were.
On a deeper level, okay, yes, Miles Morales is not Peter Parker. But he's still Spider-Man. There is such a wealth of options you can chose from for Gwen's love life, why saddle her with the role of being Spider-Man's girlfriend? I know that I'll never get my head-canon where she's queer and shacking up with one of the members of the Mary Janes, but if you're gonna flirt with the possibility of giving her a boyfriend, do something interesting with it. What if her boyfriend is just some mortal dude the way Earth-616 Gwen and Mary Jane (historically anyway) are for Peter Parker? Flipping the script around for a mundane male partner to a badass female superhero would at the outset be something more unusual than we normally see. And it would give Gwen another avenue for the personal stories that I mentioned above.
Move Away From 'What If' Plots
There's a lot about the alternate universe of Earth-65 that I love. Female Sam Wilson as the original and only (and seemingly Hydra-free) Captain America? Great. Peggy Carter as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. right down to the eye-patch? Love it. A Doctor Octopus who seems to work with an actual and seemingly weaponized octopus? Okay .. not sure where you're going with this but you have my attention. These things are cool. I will also give kudos for the teasing slow burn on Earth-65 Matt Murdock being officially revealed as the Kingpin.
But let's pump the brakes on this "what else is different on this Earth?" game because eventually, we get it. You end up with moments like this version of Miles' father being the Scorpion, which fell completely flat and for one specific reason: it doesn't matter to Gwen. There's tension when she meets adversarial versions of Cindy Moon or Jessica Drew, because these are people she's known and fought alongside. To Gwen though, The Scorpion is just a nickname her friend's dad's doppelganger uses. This goes back to my first point about recycled plots. The tension in these alt-universe reveals are entirely on the audience and not on Gwen. You don't need that manufactured tension, though -- Gwen is an interesting and compelling character and she can be allowed to drive the story. Let the alt-universe elements be seasoning instead of the story.
More of the Mary Janes
Gwen's band mates need to continue to play a bigger role in this book. Why? Because right now they're the only aspect of the story that's actually grounding Gwen in her everyday life. Her father's trial plot is firmly layered into her Spider-Woman life, she doesn't have a job taking photos for the Daily Bugle and she's already out of high school so she's not juggling classes with web slinging. What Gwen has is this band. Even though they pretty much know she's Spider-Woman now, they're still the only thing keeping her tied to her life as Gwen Stacy.
Plus, you know, they're just pretty cool.