REVIEW: Spider-Gwen #13 – “Carnival of Dread”

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SPIDER-GWEN #13
Writer: Jason Latour
Penciller: Robbi Rodriguez
Colorist: Rico Renzi
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Price: $3.99

Release Date: 10/19/16

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The Halloween-themed issue of Spider-Gwen brings the Mary Janes back into the fold as they try to help Gwen cope with her father’s arrest with some good old-fashioned trick or treating and haunted houses. Some of them are starting to question whether Gwen might be the very same Spider-Woman that George Stacy broke the law to protect, however.

Plot: After an unsuccessful attempt at trick or treating, the Mary Janes decide to visit the grounds of an old carnival supposedly filled with tales of woe. The history of the carnival soon pales in comparison to Gwen’s history coming alive around her, and this time she has no power-ups left to help her friends out of the mess they’re in.

Story: The last arc of Spider-Gwen cost Gwen her powers. While this issue is clearly a break from the main narrative, it sets up the seeds of Gwen confronting what those powers mean to her and who she is with – and without – them. In the midst of a hallucinogen-induced nightmare, she wrestles with whether or not to admit to her friends that she is Spider-Woman, as well as with her guilt over Peter Parker. It’s not just his accidental death that haunts Gwen (literally and metaphorically), it’s all the people she’s hurt along along the way. Most heartbreaking at all is that she subconsciously blames herself for the position her father’s in now, despite Captain Stacy making his own choices.

While the story doesn’t really move forward this issue, it was refreshing to get another peek into the different members of the Mary Janes and their personalities. Betty Brant and her cat Murderface provide some much-needed relief this month, reacting to a potential zombie apocalypse the way we all wish we could. Meanwhile, Em Jay’s confidence in her hunch feels very in character, and the moment that she promises Gwen no one will tell her secret is perhaps the most touching this issue. Of course, it’s lost in the chaos of the haunted house and we’ll have to wait until next month to see if Gwen ends up confessing.

Art: Spider-Gwen is certainly a book that lends itself to a Halloween special, given Rico Renzi’s dark color scheme and Robbi Rodriguez’s mastery of brooding expressions. This issue goes beyond the usual angst depicted in Gwen’s world, though, in order to create an atmosphere that is truly haunting. The lack of detail and use of negative space help accentuate the characters’ fear without giving too much away. In this case, allowing readers to fill in the blanks with their imaginations works to increase tension rather than risk an intended scare to come off cheesy.

And then there’s Betty’s subplot, which is meant to be funny. And the art changes in her scenes, adding in more texture and using clever onomatopoeia in Clayton Cowles’ lettering to convey the more lighthearted nature of those events. It’s when Betty and the rest of the Mary Janes reconnect that the art is best on display, because the clash of Gwen’s more minimal approach with Betty’s outlandish nature seeps into every panel. Even Betty’s Ghost Rider costume is more detailed and flamboyant than the other girls’ outfits.

Verdict: At turns hilarious and haunting, Spider-Gwen delivers an in-depth look at Gwen Stacy’s fears just in time for Halloween. As both she and the readers learn, facing one’s own mistakes is much scarier than trying to battle animatronic zombies. Despite not furthering the plot in any meaningful way, this is one of the best issues in the last few months.

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