REVIEW: Spider-Gwen #11 – “Castle vs. Stacy”

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SPIDER-GWEN #11
Writer: Jason Latour
Penciller: Robbi Rodriguez
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Price: $3.99

Release Date: 8/31/16

Gwen has to face Frank Castle to protect both herself and her father, but she may have to do so without powers.

PlotAfter having knocked her own father out to keep him from going to police, Gwen seeks Reed Richards’ help get her device working and therefore her powers back. Problem is that even if he fixes the device itself, she can only use it five more times. Will Gwen use her chances wisely? And what will she do if she can’t be a superhero?

Meanwhile, Norman Osborn is being roped into catching Spider-Woman by Frank Castle himself. Will Frank and his wary ally uncover Gwen’s secret after being so close for so long, or will his old partner Jean DeWolff keep him from going too far?

StoryThis issue of Spider-Gwen does a good job of utilizing characters and backstories that were introduced in the previous Spider Women crossover event. Bringing them into the main story helps to flesh out Gwen’s world and proves that she and her supporting cast are much more than a gimmick or a great opportunity for cosplay. Reed Richards and Jesse Drew are especially great this week. Neither one appears for long, but their contributions are memorable, displaying just how different they are from their more well-known doppelgängers while still recalling them in some essential ways.

Gwen is dealing with a lot of self-doubt right, both because of the missteps she feels she’s made in recent issues and because she doesn’t know who she is without her powers. Her guilt and defeatist attitude are understandable and even moving, but it can get wearisome to read after a few pages. Thankfully author Jason Latour doesn’t let it last too long, allowing Gwen to wallow but not stagnating the plot. Soon enough a run-in with none of than the Bodega Bandit wakes her up to what Spider Woman represents and gets the story back on track.

As soon as Gwen’s determination returns, so does the book’s vitality. As a young hero with the weight of worlds on her conscience, her mood swings more often than she does this week. But the early lows are worth it once she’s gathered herself and is raring to go. The build to the final splash page, which I won’t spoil here, is almost cinematic in scope. This issue felt like the calm before the storm to a degree, but Frank Castle better be ready when that storm hits next month.

ArtEverything about the art in Spider-Gwen stands out, from Robbi Rodriguez’s evocative sketching to Lauren Affe’s moody color palette to Clayton Cowles’ purple and black lettering. Together they make up a very specific aesthetic that readers immediately associate with Gwen Stacy of Earth-65.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Spider-Gwen is how it turns the widely overused trope of Women in Refrigerators on its head, and the art seems to reflect that in every dark, shaded and angsty panel.  The colors brood almost as much as Gwen does, never letting her or us forget that Peter’s death propels so much of her action and pain.

Even in moments where the lines are filled in and the colors burst with life, Gwen’s expressions often perfectly capture the turmoil of young adulthood. It’s an excellent reminder that the special brand of superhero angst doesn’t just belong to the men of the genre.

VerdictSpider-Gwen walks a difficult tightrope with its nuanced portrayal of heroism tinged with self-doubt, but the series rarely slips or falls. So far this run has been a bit of a slow burn, especially once Gwen found herself powerless. But the end of this issue points to a change of pace and promises more action, as well as the answer to who Gwen Stacy is when the chips are down.

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