In the main Marvel Universe (aka Earth-616), Gwen Stacy was the first love of Peter Parker. Her death was a defining moment that changed his life as Spider-Man forever. But what if things had been different? What if it was Peter Parker who died saving Gwen Stacy from the Green Goblin? What if Gwen Stacy adopted her boyfriend’s identity to avenge his death as Spider-Gwen?
Despite the image on the cover, the familiar Spider-Gwen Ghost Spider costume does not make an appearance in this What If? story. Neither does the version of Spider-Gwen seen in the Spider-verse films. This is the classic Gwen Stacy as written by Gerry Conway back in the 1970s, which brings up an interesting paradox.
There is an unfortunate tendency in modern Marvel Comics to place Gwen Stacy on a pedestal as an idealized innocent. Gwen’s character in the classic Spider-Man stories varied wildly, between Steve Ditko‘s mean girl and Stan Lee‘s stock girlfriend. Recent retro stories have tried to give her a bit more personality, leaning heavily on Emma Stone‘s scientist from The Amazing Spider-Man movies. The sad truth is that Gwen died because she wasn’t as interesting as Mary Jane Watson. And Gwen’s death did more to define the Spider-Man story than her life ever did.
A New (Yet Old) Take on Spider-Gwen
Jody Houser tries to split the difference in What If…? Dark: Spider-Gwen #1. This take on Gwen Stacy has spirit, possessing the drive to do something about the Green Goblin. She also has the intelligence to work out how to use Peter Parker’s inventions.
This does Gwen little good, however, given Spider-Man’s web-shooters are based around Peter’s enhanced physiology and spider-senses. This leads her to try and find another way to be a hero on her terms. This is a fair nod to the classic comics, but it is strange the script overlooks how Peter specifically build his web-shooters so only his spider-strength and a precise touch could trigger them.
Ignoring that continuity point, Houser’s script also glosses over Gwen’s complicated history with Spider-Man. The Gwen Stacy of this story is so obsessed with revenge on the Green Goblin that she completely forgets about her hatred of Spider-Man. At that time, Spider-Man was still believed to have killed Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy, and Gwen told Peter repeatedly how much she’d come to hate the hero.
It was Gwen’s hatred of Spider-Man that kept Peter from telling her about his secret identity. This fact could have added another angle of dark irony to the story, with Peter’s secret not mattering to her. While it is possible Gwen is still in shock as the story unfolds, it seems odd she doesn’t have any conflicting feelings about the revelation that her boyfriend is Spider-Man. Neither does Harry Osborn, whom she recruits to help her seek justice.
The Art of What If…? Dark Spider-Gwen #1
Ramón F. Bachs is a good artist and he does a fair job of mimicking the style of Gil Kane from the original Death of Gwen Stacy comic. The inks are a little heavy, but the action is well-choreographed. With that caveat, there are some incongruities that distract from the story.
For instance, nobody at Peter Parker’s funeral is dressed appropriately for the event. This might be explained as a mistake on the part of colorist Dee Cunniffe, except Gwen is wearing the same clothes she was rescued in. Gwen’s trademark green coat also keeps changing coloration and style throughout the issue.
Despite these flaws, What If…? Dark: Spider-Gwen #1 is a serviceable What If? story. Spider-Gwen fans will appreciate it as a new take on the idea of Gwen Stacy as a hero. Classic Spider-Man fans may have trouble with the details, but should enjoy it as a light read.