Radioactive Spider-Gwen #6 sees the conclusion of the “Greater Power” arc, which bounced between tense action sequences and thoughtful character moments at a frenetic and sometimes overwhelming pace. While I’ve maintained that the series’ style and tone has remained fun and unique, the various details within this opening arc has sometimes made it tricky to follow.
How does this issue fare at tying things together? Well, it depends on your point of view.
This issue sees the dual return of Gwen and artist Robbi Rodriguez, who both leap out of the book from the very first panels. I really enjoyed the opening sequence, not just for the effect of Rico Renzi’s bright colors on the soft hazy backgrounds (including THAT bridge), but because this brief dream sequence brings together the ideas that Gwen had slowly been piecing together from her different mentors. She’s been trying to make sense of her situation and everything clicks into place in her moment of need.
Armed with renewed purpose, Gwen wakes up to see Captain America confronting the Lizard. The exciting setup is there: Cap is taking down a rogue agent, Gwen is trying to save her friend, Harry is angry and whacked out on mutagens (and a creepy “voice” courtesy of letterer Clayton Cowles). That’s why I was surprised to see the rest of the issue play out as it did.
As cool as Captain America is (and she is extremely cool), she’s quickly sidelined in one of the more stunningly beautiful SFX panels in the series to date. This also gives Rodriguez and Renzi the chance to depict dramatic shots of Spider-Woman wielding the shield, which would have more impact for me were it not for the unfortunate coincidence of having just seen something similar in last week’s Spider-Man #2. (I liked these better, though.)
Here’s where Jason Latour throws us a curve ball: The motivation behind this fight is flawed, and so it doesn’t happen! In an interesting bit of meta-commentary, George states that “no one really cares how or why Peter died.” Given that the incident was first introduced as part of a flashback origin montage, it never really held my interest as something worth revisiting. Similar to 616 (or is that now Marvel Prime?) Peter and Uncle Ben’s killer, what’s done is done. The real story is about how the character defines herself going forward.
That’s why Harry’s motivation never really worked for me, so I was fascinated when Latour had Gwen see it the same way (although she was a bit more blunt about it). How and why Peter died wasn’t really the focus of this series. It was more about how people reacted and defined themselves by it. Different characters felt responsible in different ways, and used it to justify what they did next. That doesn’t mean those reasons were necessarily right – they may have been shields (or masks) to avoid a messier truth. Gwen had learned to take responsibility for her truth and helps Harry do the same for his own. This is bookended by a sweet scene with Gwen and her dad, as he too puts the case behind him to focus on what’s important going forward.
I won’t deny it – I find the thematic stuff to be really interesting and rewarding, but I also understand how it can get lost in the details of rogue agencies, missing vets, ninjas, and corn dogs. That said, if you do want to know the specifics to those questions, Latour has provided the answers about Peter and Harry within this month’s character bio, which provides a helpful recap of the basic plot points and a healthy dose of offbeat humor.
I can never say enough positive things about the vibrant art and colors in this series. The energetic cover shows Spider-Woman trying to remain above the fray, while also suggesting the issue’s themes of shields and masks. Be sure to turn the cover upside to fully appreciate the design concept. I also thought that the facial expressions were particularly strong in this issue, especially in the warm playful tone of George and Gwen’s conversation.
If you’re reading this, you’re no stranger to the idea of “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” I really admire what Latour has done with this arc by flipping the idea on its head. Gwen’s journey toward taking greater responsibility for her actions has ultimately given her the greater power to be the best hero that she can possibly be. Ain’t no stopping her now.
There’s a lot to enjoy both visually and thematically with Spider-Gwen #6, but you have to be willing to look a bit more closely. It might be frustrating when every dot isn’t connected, but this remains a smart and clever book that shines new light on the familiar themes of power and responsibility.