Spider Gwen the Ghost Spider #1 - Featured Reviews 

“Spider-Gwen: The Ghost Spider” #1

By | May 23rd, 2024
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Spider-Gwen (or Ghost Spider, if you’re feeling nasty) fans rejoice! Our favorite What If? Spidey is back headlining her own ongoing series. Can Phillips & co. inject some much needed juice into her adventures or is this another false start to capitalize on the character’s popularity? I think the words “trapped in the 616…for good” answers that question quite succinctly.

Cover by Mark Brooks

Written by Stephanie Phillips
Illustrated by Federica Mancin
Colored by Matt Milla
Lettered by Ariana Maher

TRAPPED IN THE 616…FOR GOOD! Welcome to New York! Gwen truly becomes a Ghost-Spider when she moves full time to the universe where Gwen Stacy died years ago. But why did she leave Earth-65? Why aren’t the other spiders supposed to know she’s here? Why isn’t she supposed to suit up? And who will get hurt when she does?

The Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 has had a rough few years, I think it’s safe to say. Her last few minis have been a mix of event-tie ins and halfway to quarterway decent, very overstuffed messes. She hasn’t had an ongoing since #pencilsdown unceremoniously ended the last one and even that ongoing was hampered by a marketing-driven relaunch to capitalize on her new title, meaning there hasn’t been a run longer than 10 issues since the original.

For a breakout character seeing a resurgence of popularity thanks to Spider-verse, that is, to put it mildly, fucking bonkers. It’s why I was glad to hear that we were getting another ongoing, with Stephanie Phillips in the writer’s chair! She was doing great stuff with Harley at the Distinguished Competition, revitalizing her alongside Riley Rossmo, and bringing a good mix of chaos and pathos, something Gwen could certainly use.

You all know this kind of set up by now. Here’s where the monkey’s paw curls.

“Spider-Gwen: The Ghost Spider” #1 is not a particularly strong first outing, underwhelming in most areas, frustrating in others. The biggest positive I can give it is that Mancin’s art is very kinetic. I had a blast with the fight scenes. Anytime we got to see Gwen thwip-n-flip, I was happy as a clam. I particularly love page 8. That final panel is a great example of how to imply motion without simplifying too much.

We can guess how Gwen got from dodging the robber’s left hook to kicking him in the face thanks to the way she hook’s her left foot around the robber’s arm, using it as the fulcrum for her body, swinging around it while holding onto her webbing and then, in the same motion, using her other arm to web him up. It’s clear, it’s economical, and it maintains a higher level of intensity that’s offset by her quips.

I wish I could have the same praises for the rest of the book, or even the art the rest of the time. Alas, I cannot. The shading is difficult to get past and faces seem to drastically shift between panels, particularly with O.B. and in mid-shots. They’re not minor changes either. The sharpness and length of a chin, the shape of an eye, the chisling of a jawline. It’s like four different people and not the same person from different angles. I’m also decidedly not a fan of the shading or the more muted color palettes. The joy of the original series was its watercolors and looser approach to design. Now that Gwen is trapped on an Earth that she didn’t make, I guess she must shed all that made her unique and conform to the aesthetics of the mainstream.

At least she still has her costume.

Which brings me to the main pain point of this issue: the move to 616 only serves to hurt the character. Gwen is now one among many, forced to contend with old villains, old settings and nary a new character in sight. I guess Black Tarantula being involved is pretty fun? But that’s besides the point. We could’ve had a new take on the character, or hell, a new character like Bodega Bandit. Instead, it’s Kraven, shots of three Spideys, and Gwen Stacy, falling off the bridge again.

Perhaps I would have been more amenable to this if issue #1 hadn’t failed to sell me on said move. The structure of the issue, and the dialog, makes one think that this move happened in a previous series – probably “Spider-Gwen: Smash” – and now we’re exploring the ramifications of said move. Nope. It’s all new, all mysterious Gwen with a side-order of consequences. There’s a nonchalance to the pacing too, which is all well and good for a contemplative series that’s centering Gwen’s loneliness but not for the action heavy, cosmic-mystery having plot we’re apparently getting instead. The tone and the content are at odds with each other, making for a far more maddening reading experience than it should be.

Continued below

This is a major status quo shift! Either be upfront with the important details or fully-immerse us into and we’re treated to a lot of telling. I keep coming back to the opening vignette. On its own, it’s fine and serves the character well but once we get more context from O.B., it makes you wonder why the information needed to remain a surprise. Why the feint? Why can’t we know more so we can properly understand the stakes? Because the issue is structured as if everyone knows everything except us and it undercuts the emotional moments as well as the more plotty ones.

I just keep thinking about the opening to the current run of “Amazing Spider-Man.” That too had a radically changed status quo and few answers. However, the issue was structured around those mysteries and building intrigue. I wanted to know and had little to go on but what little I had painted a picture. This paints a picture too but it’s sallow and faded. The questions it asks – who am I here, what have I given up – sketched half-heartedly and partially on a torn-up page.

Still, I found the last quarter of the issue to be enjoyable and the set-up for the next issue tantalizing, though I have a lot more trepidation for the follow through than I might otherwise have had.

“Spider-Gwen: The Ghost Spider” #1 is, sadly, only serviceable. Sure, it can be fun, has often killer action, and enough elements to keep me reading but to truly justify the baffling move to 616, this needed to be a strong and bold opening, swinging for the fences and really proving that the team knows what makes Gwen special. To put a stake in the ground, prepping us to really dig into how this change affects her and the full ramifications of why with the weight of her non-616 history to back it up. Instead, it does little to revitalize the character and gives us an adventure that wouldn’t be out of place in any of the other 616 spidey books with minimal space for her own reflections.

It’s possible, I should admit, that my closeness to the character is coloring my review. “Spider-Gwen,” after all, was my first review here at Multiversity Comics and I’ve been reading her adventures ever since “Edge of Spider-Verse” #2 dropped nearly a decade ago. Perhaps I, too, am clinging to a ghost lost since past. I mean, I still want that Blumenriech run that will never, ever happen. Perhaps new readers, or those coming from the films, will be more forgiving or will find the hook of her move motivating rather than deflating.

My hope is that the series will quickly move beyond these early failings and last long enough to rebuild. There is enough here to give me that hope, but not enough to say it with confidence. I’ve been let down too many times before.

Final Score: 5.5 – With any other conceit, this book would be a great return for Gwen. Sadly, that is not the book we got. Good action with contemplative moments I like, but all in all, not the auspicious start one would hope from Gwen’s latest ongoing series.

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.