Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Spider-Gwen #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I literally got chills on the last page of this issue.  latour4ever

I've been one of the legion of people to praise Latour for breaking the mold when it comes to telling an alternate-universe story.  He does so by going beyond the usual shtick of turning a good guy into a bad guy (or vice versa).  Instead, he approaches the difference with more nuance, like having Matt Murdock be the Kingpin's consigliere or turning Frank Castle into a crusading detective.  Instead of just turning the setting into opposite world, as many authors of these sorts of stories usually do, he pushes his characters along a line of behavior and morality.  The result is a recognizable but different character.  Frank is still crazy, but as a law-and-order type of guy.  Matt is still crafty, but as the epitome-of-evil type of guy.  In these cases, this difference makes you understand the original character's personality even better than you previously did.

The proof of this thesis that he's not just randomly inverting people comes in the scene in this issue where Gwen, Harry, and Peter are playing "Dungeons & Dragons."  Such geektastic pursuits didn't exist in the 1960s when Stan Lee first wrote "Amazing Spider-Man;" the only way to show that Peter was a nerd was to have him studying all the time.  Latour takes advantage of the ability to update the story in a totally believable way:  of course, Peter would be a Dungeon Master.  Similarly, Gwen Stacy was an interesting character back in the day because she wasn't just a pretty blond girl created to serve as Peter's "reward;"  she had hidden depths that made her a much more three-dimensional character.  Again, Lee didn't get to explore those depths to the extent that Latour can here, by having Gwen be the drummer in a band or playing "Dungeons & Dragons."  It shows how everyone is moved along the aforementioned line and not just to the opposite side of the circle.  As a result, everything feels more real.

It's Harry's slide along this line that's the most interesting and relevant part of the story.  In this issue, Peter has taken the nickname that bullies at school gave Harry -- the Green Goblin, as we saw last issue -- and turned it into a player character.  Honestly, it's AMAZING.  "Pumpkin bomb +3?"  Nerdgasm extraordinaire.  But, Latour's cleverness isn't just taking the name "Green Goblin" and applying it to such a beautiful package:  nerd culture, Harry's nickname, his alter ego, etc.  It also sets up a fight between the three of them.  Peter's feelings are hurt when Harry rejects the character, and Gwen chastises Harry, telling him that Peter had worked hours on it.  Harry tells Gwen that he refuses to embrace that name, because he won't allow the bullies to beat down his spirit the way that they've done to Peter.  The argument gives context to the fight between Gwen and Harry -- or Spider-Woman and Green Goblin, more directly -- in this issue.  To Harry, Spider-Woman toyed with Peter as he died, and Harry was unable to stop it.  For all his bluster that he wasn't going to let anyone break him, he couldn't stop Spider-Woman from doing it to Peter.  He's angry for that, and he wants revenge.

During the fight, we learn the truth about Harry.  After Peter died, Harry tried to get his father and then S.H.I.E.L.D. to improve upon Peter's formula.  When they refused, Harry went to S.I.L.K., and they experimented on the wounded S.H.I.E.L.D. officers and Dr. Connors, as we saw in issue #2.  Latour makes it clear that Harry has stepped over a line, and he can't return.  Throughout the fight, Gwen contemplates something similar.  She realizes that she toyed with Peter when they fought and that she's doing the same thing now, with Harry.  It comes from her sense of powerlessness, and she realized that Peter felt powerless, too.  Peter tried to hurt people to make them pay for giving him this sense of powerlessness, turning him into a monster.  Gwen realizes that she needs to take the higher road to avoid a similar fate, but it's too late:  Harry has already upped the stakes.  He detonates a pumpkin bomb and then ingests more Lizard mutagen to finish off Gwen.  Gwen begs him to stop, but Harry insists that he's in control.  He sees himself as Peter's greatest idea come to life, and he takes off Gwen's mask as he gets ready to kill her.  He discovers that she's Gwen, and she drops a twenty-sided die that she's been carrying with her as she loses consciousness.  At that moment, Harry has a psychotic break, and the Green Goblin is truly born.

Honestly, the whole issue is just brilliant.  Beyond everything that I've already complimented, Latour does a spectacular job of conveying Gwen and Harry's emotions throughout their battle, reminding us that they're really just grieving teenagers trying to cope with powers that they can't control or understand.  While Gwen is realizing that she has to live with the responsibilities that come with her powers, Harry is going the other direction, seeing the power as a means to get whatever end he wants.  Again, it's different, but recognizable.  I can't wait to see where Latour goes with it.

***** (five of five stars)

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