...and, we're back!
Even before "Secret Wars" began, Marvel bent over backwards to make clear that the event wouldn't impact "Spider-Gwen," essentially keeping the Multiverse intact for her. Latour and Rodriguez fulfill that promise here, delivering exactly the same combination of emotion and irreverence that makes this series so great. Latour also manages to cram in an incredible amount of information into the issue without it feeling like awkward exposition. Let's get started.
First, we learn that the Lizard has returned. We're introduced to a character (in both senses of the word) named the "Bodega Bandit:" he and his dog, Bandito, steal items from small stores. The Bandit and Bandito had just held up the corn-dog establishment where Gwen was supposed to start her new job the next day, when the Lizard appears from the sewers and appears to eat Bandito. As crazy as it sounds, Latour really makes the Bandit human. For example, we learn that he's a repeat offender -- he almost immediately gets caught after his "jobs." It's pretty clear that he has some sort of mental illness, so everyone treats him with kid gloves (even if they're exasperated by him). But, it's the moment where Gwen finds him crying in a dumpster, clutching Bandito's collar, that makes you really realize how much heart Latour brings to this series. It made me want to immediately go home and hug my dog. But, it also shows that Latour sees even a character like the Bandit as a way to connect with the readers.
Gwen is looking for the Bandit in the first place because, upon reporting for her first day of work, her boss told her about the Lizard storming through his store the previous night. (Apparently the cops don't believe him.) After failing to get anything from the Bandit, Gwen heads to Midtown High, and we learn that it was Dr. Conners, a teacher at the school, that helped Peter develop the Lizard Formula in the first place. Gwen breaks into the school's computers to try to find him, only to learn that Dr. Conners appears to be in some sort of witness-protection program. She hurls a computer into a wall in frustration, and we take a trip down memory lane...
We're privy to an adorable conversation in the cafeteria between Gwen and Peter where Peter is fangasming over Spider-Woman. Gwen asks him about Harry Osborn, who sits at the other end of the table from them. Peter gives her the deal: he's transferred to Midtown High after he allegedly burning down his prep school and came to Flash's attention when he went all "my precioussss" when dropping some role-playing die. (I can't tell if the die themselves are important to Osborn, or he was just embarrassed to be outted as an RPGer. I think Latour keeps that part purposefully vague.) Gwen is intrigued, and she takes Peter with her to introduce themselves. ("If even half that stuff is true, there's no way we're not making friends with this kid.") Later, we see Harry awkwardly ask out Gwen during band practice, sparking Peter's quiet anger. Peter becomes the Lizard later when Flash hurls on him in the hallway at school, and we finally see Gwen and Harry at his gravesite, with Harry regretting that he couldn't prevent Peter's death. (Interestingly, Harry seemed to have been there when Peter changed, meaning he also knows that Peter was the Lizard.)
In the present, Gwen heads into the sewers with a bunch of corn dogs to lure the Lizard, but she instead encounters a swarm of missing pets. (Dun-dun-DUN!) She's then attacked by a whole group of Lizards, only to be saved by a female Captain America, announcing that the men are the property of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Gwen is under arrest! Drama!
Seriously, Latour goes straight for the jugular here. It's a relief to know that we're not going to have to wait months or years to start getting to the bottom of Peter's death. Along the way, we're given much more insight into Gwen's world. Latour includes the sort of Easter eggs that make this series fun, like Gwen mentioning that "Ms. Van Dyne" created her Web-Shooters and Captain Stacy referring to the "James Barnes V.A. Medical Center." But, Latour continues to strike the right balance, where the series is clearly telling its own story and not focusing too much on the shock value of us running across the Earth-616 analogues.
Speaking of Captain Stacy, the plot thickens when he has a fight with Jean DeWolff about Spider-Woman. He not only insists that she's innocent, meaning that he won't help Frank Castle nail her, but he also gives us some important information: six vets have gone missing from the Medical Center, two dozen "alligators" have been spotted, and a bunch of pets have gone missing in the same six-block radius. Dun-dun-DUN-DUN! (I'm just glad adorable, corn-dog-loving Bandito is OK!)
In other words, lightning strikes a second time with a "Spider-Gwen" #1. Latour and Rodriguez again present us with a fully realized world that implies that we're only just at the tip of the iceberg. Plus, you not only want more information, but you care how it impacts Gwen and her friends, because we're come to heart them so much (in such a little time). That hearting comes from the fact that Latour does such a great job on her voice, from showing her hilarious (and nervous) banter as Spider-Woman to her dark moments of reflection when she's alone. I couldn't have a more favorite series.
***** (five of five stars)