Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Hey, Marvelites and non-Marvelites! Today, we’re putting a spotlight on one of our favorite lesser-known Marvel comic books and letting you know why you should be reading it! This time we’ve picked THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL by Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru, Danilo Beyruth, and Tamra Bonvillain. One of my favorite things about the superhero genre is the limitless possibilities it offers, both in terms of content and storytelling. Although I can’t claim to have been into comics for as long as some, even I can be annoyed by recent trends in the medium that have made their worlds feel smaller. Heroes are often responsible for the villains they fight, or they at least have a personal connection to them. So imagine my surprise when I found that the adventures of Gwenpool would not only address one of my primary grievances but would also be one of the smartest takes on the genre in years. Despite the nature of its inspiration, THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL is undoubtedly Marvel’s most original book out right now. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #4 page 4. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. Convoluted Conception To truly appreciate the depth of this character, it’s important to consider her origins. In 2015, Marvel released variant covers of their ongoing titles featuring Gwen Stacy in the costumes of the titular heroes, due to the popularity of SPIDER-GWEN. For whatever reason, the design used in DEADPOOL’S SECRET SECRET WARS stood out. From this, an original series was conceived for a new character based on said design named Gwendolyn “Gwen” Poole. Marvel broke up the first issue of her title, THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #0, into two stories. The first was “Ms. Poole if You’re Nasty,” a three-part adventure with Howard the Duck, followed by “Gwenpool’s Holiday Adventure.” Despite this being her introduction, little was learned about Gwenpool other than that she’s from the real world and has no actual connection to Gwen Stacy or Deadpool. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #3 page 13. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. Writer Christopher Hastings introduced Gwenpool as someone without a clear direction. Or, maybe more accurately, her direction was being directionless. Gwen views herself as a superhero, but only adopted a costumed identity to avoid being a “background” character. She’s not evil, per se, but she has no regard for the lives she ends and the destruction she causes. Aware that she’s in a comic book, Gwen believes her actions have no consequences and treats the Marvel Universe like a personal playground. That is until she takes a job that results in her only friend, Cecil, being killed by M.O.D.O.K. Forced to choose between working for M.O.D.O.K. or suffering the same fate, Gwen comes to the heartbreaking realization that she might not be the villain of this story, but she isn’t the hero either. CHAMPIONS #5 Review: Small Town Hate Doom And Gloom Gwenpool’s first proper arc kicks off with her carrying out missions of dubious moral qualities for M.O.D.O.K. Joining her are infamous Captain America villain Batroc the Leaper, new characters Mega Tony and the Terrible Eye, and (eventually) the ghost of Cecil. Gwen learns that she and her motley crew are being led by an unknown client. It’s later revealed that Team Gwenpool has been working for none other than… a guy named Vincent. The seemingly ordinary Vincent desires to return to a world where superpowered-beings no longer threaten humanity. Hastings brilliantly crafts a perfect first foil for Gwenpool, as well as turns a common cliché on its head. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #7 page 14. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. Vincent wishes to create a world exactly like the dull one that Gwen escaped from. Vincent’s desire for simplicity is rooted in his overcomplicated origins, which, in his eyes, are part of the problem. Without revealing too much, Vincent was created under extraordinary circumstances and watched as someone he cared about was corrupted simply by the existence of superheroes. Vincent is the perfect opposite to Gwen’s irresponsible nature. He’s a figure so governed by a desire for stability that he sucks all the fun out of everything. By the arc’s finale, Vincent ends up causing the exact problems that he was so quick to blame superheroes for. In the classic battles of good versus evil, it’s the villain who makes things worse by trying to twist everything to their well-intended whims. It’s a narrative trope from this genre that I have sorely missed. Hero With The Heart Gwen’s series also features several vignettes, typically connected to the overarching plot in some way. The most poignant of these, ironically, takes place in a self-contained “sequel” to the first arc. Gwen and her friends find themselves trapped in a classic RPG-style dungeon run by the villainous Arcade. While there’s a proper point about the importance of teamwork, that’s not where the meat of this story lies. During their dungeon-crawling, Gwen runs into her (costume’s) inspiration, Deadpool! Arcade promised Deadpool he’d be released from the maze as long as he kills every mercenary he finds. Although Deadpool’s the rare character she doesn’t read, Gwen manages to utilize her team’s strengths against the beloved antihero. However, when Gwen reveals to Deadpool that she’s a “fellow fourth wall breaker,” the tables suddenly turn. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #13 page 15. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. Deadpool tears into Gwen, claiming that everyone who doesn’t read her has no idea who she actually is. That, compared to him, she’s nothing. Gwenpool only survives by getting Deadpool to admit that, no matter how popular they are, everyone in this universe ultimately lacks any real control over their lives. Although the story ends on a happy note, this exchange shows the series’ greatest strength. Rather than only utilizing self-awareness for humor, THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL also uses it to make excellent commentary on its medium. This element even enhances the theme of the story. A generic arc about teamwork becomes more poignant now that Gwen is choosing to care about beings she knows aren’t “real.” Although this vignette only touches on the subject, it serves as the perfect taste of what’s to come in Gwen’s next arc. Meta Madness At the end of her most recent vignette, Gwen decided to seek out this world’s equivalent of her parents. What she found instead was her actual brother, Teddy Poole, who also crossed over into the Marvel Universe. Teddy drags Gwen through a portal back to their home, where she seemingly forgets all her prior adventures. Despite Teddy doing his best to give Gwen another shot at a normal life, things only continue to get weirder. Gwen finds that elements of the comic book universe are popping up and, stranger still, she can actually control them. The series only gets trippier from here, utilizing amazing visuals to portray meta-narrative manipulation on a tremendous scale. Not since Mark Waid’s FANTASTIC FOUR #511 or Grant Morrison’s ANIMAL MAN #26 has a comic book torn down the fourth wall in such a brilliant way. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #20 page 12. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. Gwenpool returns to (Marvel’s) reality as future versions of Vincent, Miles Morales, and the Terrible Eye confront her. The trio claims that Gwen will eventually use her newfound powers to become the world’s greatest supervillain. This evil Gwen kills characters, upends lives, and even orchestrated the biggest superhero war of all time for kicks. If that sounds terrifying, it should. Because it sounds like a Marvel fan becoming God and treating their favorite comic book universe like an average game of Grand Theft Auto. It sounds exactly like Gwen when she first arrived in the Marvel Universe, destroying lives with little regards for the consequences. Mixing high-concept meta storytelling with a deeply personal character arc could be a difficult balance to pull off without becoming either annoyingly self-aware or tonally confused. Yet this creative team pulled it off in a way that’s both totally believable and emotionally impactful. EDGE OF VENOMVERSE #2 Review: Meta Metamorphoses But Wait, There’s More! Obviously, a series partially inspired by Deadpool has to have some jokes here and there. While THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL is far more cutesy than crude, it possesses an incredibly smart sense of humor. From amusing visuals to cleverly-constructed jokes, it’s hard not to crack a smirk every now and again. Although Gwen does have the trademark Marvel superhero snark, plenty of other characters contribute to the humorous atmosphere quite well. Of particular note is the Terrible Eye, whose mystic ramblings and total lack of situational awareness are consistently a riot. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #10 page 13. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. Speaking of the visuals, the art in this series is phenomenal. Although there have been a number of other artists for the vignettes, series regular Gurihiru (a pair of Japanese artists) firmly establish the title’s style. While the facial expressions often give away the clear manga influences, the art captures the American comic book aesthetic remarkably well during the more solemn scenes. The use of colors is also worth mentioning. While primarily consisting of a pastel palette, the colors run the gamut of mesmerizing neon to more somber hues. Although the artists have worked on other Marvel properties, their contribution to this series has given Gwenpool a distinct identity that’s likely going to stick for the rest of the character’s existence. THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL: A Genre Personified In many ways, Gwenpool represents the superhero genre in its purest form; taking something that was never intended to be that significant, and transforming it into something inspiring. It’s a cute and lighthearted series that manages to touch on responsibility, medium immersion, and audience-character dynamics. It even made Batroc the Leaper into a more enjoyable character! If you wrote this series off in the past as a desperate cash grab, you’re missing out on one of Marvel’s best books on the shelves right now. It’s unimaginably poignant! She’s undeniably entertaining! It’s all unbelievably believable! It’s Gwenpool!