Before we get into this comic, we need to get to the cover, because it’s very indicative of what a mess the issue itself is. Problems with the Greg Land art aside, it uses the Spider-Gwen comic logo along with her mask… even though Earth-616’s Gwen Stacy is different than her Earth-65 counterpart, and past that, there’s no moment within this issue where she even dons that costume. This is something that extends to the credits page too, using Spider-Gwen’s colour scheme. I assume this is something to do with trying to build off of Across the Spider-Verse’s popularity, but it was just jarring.
What If…? Dark: Spider-Gwen is a disappointing mess. There was a lot of potential here to explore the complexities of the main universe’s Gwen Stacy but instead it just resorts to being just another tale of a superhero wanting revenge before realizing that they want to be a hero.
It’s a shame that this is the case, given that one of the people credited for the plot on this is Gerry Conway, a legendary writer of Spider-Man comics. He wrote Issue #121, the fateful issue where Gwen Stacy was originally killed by the Green Goblin. Of course, it’s hard to say how much Conway is actually involved with this because the story feels very much not like a Conway plot, but who knows? Everyone has bad eggs.
The other plotter is Jody Houser, who also does the script, along with Ramon F. Bachs on art, Def Cunniffe on colours, and Ariana Maher on letters.
Getting the good things out of the way, the art works! I wish it was more similar to the Kane/Romita Sr. (RIP)/Tony Mortellaro/David Hunt in style to maintain some consistency, given that the opening pages are directly from the iconic issue, before hitting you with the blank “WHAT IF?” splash page to switch to the new style and the new story.
The story itself reads more like a speedrun through plot points instead of actually trying to tell a story, which is where the problem remains. I’m not going to sit here and act like Gwen Stacy is one of the most complex Spider-Man characters ever (she’s not) but there’s still the foundation of something there that could have been extrapolated and explored here, and it’s not, which is the issue.
The problem with Marvel’s treatment of Gwen Stacy as a character is that they keep treating her as the perfect girl, the nice girl who could do no wrong, and strip her of her complexities. They take that characterization Peter Parker and everyone else has of her through their rose-tinted lenses and portray her like that, instead of how she was. My biggest expectation with this comic was for them to portray her how she was, but instead we got the rose-tinted lenses.
Where is her inner turmoil as a result of the man she loved also being the man who she blamed for killing her father? Where is the conflict between her deciding that she wants to kill Norman Osborn even though that’s not something Peter or Captain Stacy would ever want? There’s also the nerd in me that’s thinking about how if a normal person tried to swing the way Peter did, their arms would pop out of their sockets, but that’s neither here nor there.
But even ignoring all that, none of the conclusions are earned. Gwen being Spider-Woman (? – we don’t get a name for her by the end), Harry becoming the Green Goblin, it makes sense, but the narrative never spends enough time with any of these conflicts to make any of it meaningful. Peter also being shown to be a Christian at the end is awful and in poor taste, given that he’s a very Jewish-coded character (and given how much respect was given to his Jewish roots in Into the Spider-Verse).
What If…? Dark: Spider-Gwen is a book I cannot recommend in any regard. It’s a very good concept that’s unfortunately just wasted, and falls into another in a very long list of comics that refuses to acknowledge that Gwen Stacy had the makings of a complex, interesting character and instead just treats her as perfect.