Spider-Gwen #4 by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez

Spider-Gwen #4 kicks off with the titular Spider-Woman in a fragile emotional place. To stop the Vulture from murdering her father, whom the Kingpin had put a hit on, she was forced to unmask in front of Detective Frank Castle, the leader of the Spider-Woman Task Force.

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As the issue begins, Gwen Stacy is out for some web-swinging to clear her head when she happens upon two teens spray-painting a caricature of her mask and the phrase “Who’s responsible?” on a construction site. She initially scares them, leading to them nearly falling to their deaths. Gwen saves the two, but instead of being thankful, the two are hostile towards her. They accuse her of being a sell-out, questioning why she’s seemingly working closer to the police (in actuality saving her father’s life) and why she’s done so little to figure out whose buying all the land in Hell’s Kitchen. Having no good answers to the kids’ questions, she leaves.

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After her encounter with the would-be taggers, Gwen is feeling even less confident in herself than before. At this point, she finally decides to visit with Ben and May Parker, both of whom are unaware of her dual identity. (A quick catch-up for those who are unaware: In the alternate universe where Spider-Gwen takes Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Woman. Without the lessons he learned as Spider-Man, her childhood friend Peter Parker became that universe’s version of The Lizard to strike back at those who’d bullied him. He
dies during a battle with Gwen, and she feels responsible for his death.) Gwen nearly doesn’t go through with the meeting, but is spotted by Ben Parker. He greats her warmly, ushering her into the house. As Ben hurries to get May, Gwen is struck by a book of newspaper clippings and other materials related to both Peter’s death and Spider-Woman. May catches her looking at the scrapbook,  and begins talking to her about Peter. She confesses to a shocked Gwen that she believes her nephew was in love with the idea of Spider-Woman, and that after seeing the heroic deeds Spider-Woman does she doesn’t blame the hero for Peter’s death. After unwittingly clearing Gwen’s conscience, May tells her that Peter would want them to live their lives, and encourages her to live her life. Emboldened by these words, Gwen rejoins The Mary Janes (the band she’d quite earlier in the series for a major show. All is not well for Spider-Woman however, as the issue ends with Detective Frank Castle returning to work.

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Taking a respite from super-heroic battles and the on-going Kingpin storyline, writer Jason Latour takes Spider-Gwen #4 in an low-key emotional direction. The issue gets us into Gwen’s head more so that any of the others so far.  He also takes advantage of the title’s alternate universe in ways that haven’t been seen since the nascent days of the Ultimate Universe. While he does fall into the usual trapping of recasting familiar characters with new twists, such as Frank Castle being a detective or Matt Murdock being the Kingpin’s lawyer, Latour also creates a series of interesting parallels and role-reversals within the issue. Firstly, there’s the guilt Gwen feels over her indirect role in Peter’s death. While there are obvious connections that can be drawn between that and the normal 616 Peter Parker/Uncle Ben origin, it’s also a reversal of the guilt that version of Peter Parker feels over the traditional death of Gwen Stacy. Secondly,the issue flips the traditional dynamic of Uncle Ben and Aunt May, with May serving a mentor-type roll to Gwen and having her words impacting Gwen’s future actions, including rejoining the band. The story also has May come to accept that Spider-Woman is a force for good in the world based solely on her actions, something that she doesn’t do in either the 616 or Ultimate Universe until she learns that Peter is behind the mask.

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As it has been since Gwen debuted in Edge of The Spider-Verse last year, Robbi Rodriguez’s art is simply stunning. The full page spread of Gwen’s reflection getting lost in the headlines about Peter Parker’s death is a particular standout. The page has a great impressionistic/cartoonish look, while still keeping the reader invested in the story through the sheer emotion portrayed in Gwen’s eyes. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the main cover of the issue, which is seen above. I can honestly say this is one of my favorite Marvel images of recent years, and really captures what makes the Spider-Gwen title so appealing.

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Spider-Gwen #4 is another home-run for this book and creative team. The characterization of this version of Gwen Stacy continues to shine and stand out from the pack of typical comic book characters. Meanwhile the world of this AU continues to be built with familiar yet inverted Marvel characters and concepts. That growth, combined with some of the best art in mainstream comics today, makes this reviewer think that the future is quite bright for Spider-Gwen.

Spider-Gwen #4: A

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