By Tara Bennett
Gwen Stacy, well known to comic book fans as the first love of Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, is perhaps the original fridged character.
What do I mean by fridged? It’s short for the phrase “woman in refrigerator,” which was first coined by comic book writer Gail Simone to describe the comic book habit of doing harm upon the girlfriends, wives, or female siblings of a male lead hero for the sole purpose of making the hero hurt. Fun comic book history fact, the term was named after an incident in a Green Lantern comic circa 1994 where Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was killed early in his superhero career and stuffed into his refrigerator by a villain, only to give him proper motivation as a hero. The term would later gain popularity as the de-facto phrase for the pattern seen in most comic books when a supporting female character in a male-centric title would either be assaulted, raped, murdered, etc. only so the hero could feel, well, sad. It’s happened in countless comic storylines, ranging from the Green Lantern incident to Barbara Gordon being paralyzed in The Killing Joke.
But none is as widely remembered as Gwen Stacy, whose death served in cementing the Green Goblin as Spider-Man’s arch nemesis. It was only till later in non-regular Marvel continuity stories that Gwen was given more attention and fleshed out her character. The most recent example of this is The Amazing Spider-Man films, where Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen was among the bright spots of those films. Stone gave us a rather amusing and engaging female character, with her own agency, who could hold her own while helping Spider-Man. But ultimately, she was given the same fate as her comic book counterpart. It’s no wonder there won’t be an ASM sequel because who really wants one when the best thing about those movies is gone?
Well, for those of us who want more Gwen in their lives, we have been bestowed a gift: Spider-Gwen. Originally seen in Edge of Spider-Verse #2 as an alternate universe that examines Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman, the one-shot comic proved to be so popular that Spider-Gwen is now its own regular series, which launched this past week.
Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi—the team who made Spider-Gwen a reality in Edge of Spider-Verse #2—returned for the new series to expand this new take on a familiar character. It’s a standard “what-if” scenario where it’s Gwen Stacy, not Peter Parker, who is the one bitten by the radioactive spider that fateful day, and becomes a superhero who goes by the name of Spider-Woman. While she’s not fighting crime, she’s either playing drums with her band The Mary Janes (yes, with MJ as the lead singer), or trying to work out her relationship with her police chief father.
From the moment she was introduced, fans embraced the character, and supported her because the mere idea of an empowered Gwen Stacy symbolizes what comics fans (especially female comics fans) are hungry to see on the shelves. It also does not hurt that her costume design is perfect thanks to the art by Robbi Rodriguez. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a book with a female lead, she’s not overly sexualized, and her costume appears to actually be functional.
My one complaint about Spider-Gwen #1 is that the first issue recaps much of want transpired in Spider-Verse rather than start from the beginning. It feels jumbled and hurried, and since I love Gwen and Peter, I had hoped to see more of their relationship before he died, but the trend in comics right now is not focusing too much on the origin story.
The writing from Jason Latour is fun, fast-paced, and appropriately quippy in the style of classic Peter Parker from his own early days as Spider-Man. Gwen Stacy is an instantly likable character, whether you’ve read any of her appearances before now or not, and she’s given real problems to face from the get-go: Spider-Woman is public enemy #1 in New York City as the story starts, she’s quit the Mary Janes, and she’s avoiding mending things with her father, who now knows her alter ego.
In the midst of all this we’re introduced to Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, who is pretty much the same character he is in the regular Marvel universe. Gwen knows that stopping this new villain might be the first step in redeeming her reputation as a “super villain” in the media. But she underestimates the Vulture, and for much of this issue he gives Gwen a run for her money, leaving in her in a fairly classic superhero comic cliffhanger at the end. By all means, pick up Spider-Gwen #1.