This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 8, 2016.
When you talk about Marvel Comics, you often talk about franchises. You don’t just discuss the Avengers or X-Menbook, but the Avengers or X-Men line as a whole. It’s how the publisher has organized their IP in order to better manage and sell it. This year, Comics Bulletin Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett has been diving down the rabbit hole of these franchises in review series. So far he has tackled classic teams like The Avengers and X-Men as well as Marvel’s push to make the Inhumans happen. Now he’s looking at a franchise based not on a team, but a single character: Spider-Man. Is the massive proliferation of Spider-books resulting in quality or just quantity? Let’s find out.
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez
Colors by Rico Renzi
Letters by Clayton Cowles
How long can Robbi Rodriguez’s propulsive panel layouts and Rico Renzi’s rich color palettes maintain your interest while nothing much happens? That’s the question that Spider-Gwen #9 seeks to answer. It’s an issue that is every bit as good looking as the one-shot that launched the series and previous issues. That doesn’t prevent it from feeling like a meal of cotton candy, where you’re left wondering whether you should feel satisfied or full at the end.
Rodriguez’s design work is as on point as ever. His rendering of an alternate Electro as a street-wise guide with a light up hat is simply delightful. The city of New York comes alive in his lines, charged with frantic energy, in a way that very few stories set in the modern Marvel universe manage. Small details throughout the issue call attention to themselves like a hobo-centric arcade game to understandable reactions to drinking pickle water. It’s the small things that make reading Spider-Gwen #9 fun.
His sense of action is key to the central plot of the comic too. A scene taking place at a concert forgoes clear panel borders in order to layer each horizontal level like the smash of bodies in a crowd. As Gwen is tossed on the arms of music fans it’s possible to feel the rush and enjoyment of the experience. It’s these sorts of layouts that set the concept apart in Edge of Spider-Verse #2. Movement is not just something characters are engaged with, but a part of the page itself. That applies to his fight scenes as well. The building charge at the end of the issue leads to a single punch that really hits home. It comes too late to salvage the sluggish nature of Gwen’s narrative, but still lands with a visceral impact in the moment.
These designs and layouts are greatly enhanced by the vibrant coloring of Rico Renzi. He has always approached this series with a neon sensibility and to great effect. His choices of palette and stretching of what can be printed provides the same unbalanced energy that couples well with Rodriguez’s lines. The concert scene in particular shows off their collaborative strengths, as Renzi uses the darkness of a concert to highlight key elements and the energy found in crowds.
The flaw in all of this is that while the proceedings of Spider-Gwen #9 are pleasant to look at, they all happen to the eponymous character rather than because of her. The events of the “Spider-Women” crossover event have left Gwen in a sad state of affairs. She is brooding over her past choices and those she will be forced to make going forward. Writer Jason Latour fleshes out the internal conflicts in text conversations and an ongoing series of internal monologues. Every detail of her circumstances, every doubt and every question is covered. Gwen does not act on any of these rumblings until the final pages of the issue though and it makes for a complete drag.
She is brought out by friends who guide her across the city. She is forced to act first by a thief and then Frank Castle. None of the action of the story is motivated by her own choices, but only as a series of reactions where the baseline is moping. For a series about a teenage rockstar with super powers, Spider-Gwen fails to deliver a character-driven story. This sort of beat, easily managed in a scene or sub-plot, is the driving force of the entire issue and does its best to slam on the brakes.
Spider-Gwen #9 is a stunning superhero comic to look at. It is confident in its approach and execution, showing off a world where you can believe in web-slinging spider-women kicking ass. That’s the sort of superhero comic I want to read, but the style and genre do not excuse a lack of substance. A hero being drug through existence for 20 pages can only look so good before it fails to entertain. Spider-Gwen #9 has found a limit it must overcome or crumble beneath.