Ghost-Spider (formerly known as Spider-Gwen) is still struggling to find her place in the world…or rather, the multiverse. Since her identity is public knowledge back home on Earth-65, she’s started a life as a college student on Earth -616. She’s finding her way through the original Marvel Universe and all its ups and downs when she ends up with a scenic trip to Murderworld, the insane gauntlet created by Arcade. The villain was expecting Spider-Man so he’s in for a big surprise.
The Ghost-Spider Annual is part of the Acts of Evil line-up, pitting heroes against villains they’d never otherwise encounter. That might be enough to get you in the door as it’s a fun premise. Where this book really excels is a great look at Gwen as a hero and a person, differentiating herself from the original version that has been put up on a pedestal as the ideal victim.
As Gwen goes through the gauntlet of robotic villains like the Lizard and the Vulture, in an effort to save a damsel in distress, she’s running through an internal narration full of doubts. Writer Vita Ayala takes her from an unsure hero to one of confidence and poise, ready to tackle anything this world or her own throws at her.
Letterer Clayton Cowles guides us through these thoughts with some expertly placed caption boxes. There’s one panel that really stands out where Gwen barges into a room and the boxes are surrounding her head, like the thoughts are taking up so much room in her mind she can barely concentrate on the battle. It shows how overwhelming these thoughts can be.
The whole issue leads to a powerful face-to-face moment between Gwen and the 616 Gwen Stacy (albeit a robotic version of her). She realizes what this Gwen has come to represent and how dated and silly that is. By fighting for this world’s Gwen, she understands that she’s really fighting for herself. This re-examines the idea of this character that has reached a legendary saint-like status. Like Uncle Ben, Gwen has become this stoic figure in Spider-Man’s history, but now she’s something more. She’s no longer a symbol of the wall-crawler’s greatest failure. She’s a hero in her own right.
To prove this further, artist Pere Perez draws some of the best action sequences around. I really like how Gwen’s hood comes down often in the fight. While the hood looks cool in the costume, it would definitely limit visibility, plus it would move quite a bit, especially with how much she jumps around. My only issue with this design is that there’s a rip in her costume around her right knee. Since Gwen’s costume is a symbiote, that wouldn’t stay there, right?
There are times this issue reads like a horror movie, with Gwen making her way through a haunted house full of Spider-Man’s greatest foes. Colorist Rachelle Rosenberg creates an ominous tone early on with some looming shadows of dark reds and blues. The colors get brighter the further Gwen gets through Murderworld, like she’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also like the sun is rising on a new chapter of her life.
I was already sold on the new direction of Ghost-Spider with the first issue of the ongoing series, but this annual really put it over the top for me. It’s a great examination of the character and her motivations heading into this exciting new phase of her life. It also humanizes her, allowing her to build a support system around herself on Earth-616 as her own character, not just a spin-off of Spider-Man. She can stand on her own.