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Review: The Unbelievable Gwenpool #1

gwenpool 2016 cover After so many years of sarcastic self-awareness, how can Marvel out-meta itself? First, create the visual joke of Gwen Stacy in a pink Deadpool costume. Then, start treating her as an actual character, with a lead role in a holiday special issue and a supporting arc in Howard the Duck. In the course of that character development, give her the worst traits of both of the figures she’s based on: Deadpool’s crass sense of humor and conscience-free recklessness, and Gwen’s lack of superpowers. Establish that she’s neither a clone of Wade Wilson nor an alternate-universe Gwen Stacy, but a girl who happens to be named Gwen Poole. Throw it all in a blender, glue a heavy rock to the puree button, and let the gory, sparkly mess splash all over Gwenpool #1.

As it turns out, Gwenpool is a delicious experiment.The title character is a terrible superhero by design, but she’s a great vehicle for the kinds of narrative reflection that both Deadpool and Gwen do best. Deadpool’s brand of fourth-wall busting is now so far from innovative that it’s looped back into retro charm, so Gwenpool goes a step further. Our antiheroine is a comics fan who’s been swept into the world of Marvel Comics – method and backstory unknown – and who retells her adventures in the hopes of communicating with the folks back home. Since she comes from our mundane world, her only special abilities are her bottomless genre savviness and her even more inexhaustible self-confidence.

The catch, of course, is that Gwenpool might be crazy, after all. The fourth wall might be just another wall, and she might be one of the “extras” in the superhero pageant that she derides. Maybe everyone she encounters is right, and no matter how many times she reasserts that she’s a hero, she’s nothing more than a normal girl who’s going to get herself killed.

Throughout the issue, we encounter normal people who, unlike Gwenpool, acknowledge that they’re normal – the many Gwen Stacys of the Marvel universe. We meet a cop haunted by memories of invaders from another dimension, a teen hacker who can only hack into things that a regular person could actually hack into, and the beleaguered assistant to the guy who hands out jobs to heroes. We, as readers, are continually faced with the conflict between other people’s resigned realism and Gwenpool’s insistence that all she needs to save the world are a cool outfit and a bag of guns. Realism should win out, shouldn’t it?

Except that, despite constant warnings, Gwenpool persists in not dying. And that, in the end, is why Gwenpool #1 works, and why I suspect that this entire series – for however long Marvel lets it continue – will continue to eloquently answer questions way above its pay grade. That’s a testament to Christopher Hastings‘ script, which does a masterful job of building fully realized personalities in a few short panels. It also stems from the brilliant editorial decision to split this issue between two artists: Danilo Beyruth‘s conventional comics style in the prologue, and Gurihiru’s manga-influenced art for what I assume will be the majority of the series.

This is a comic that really knows what it’s doing, so much that it wants you to feel bad about yourself if you take it at face value. If you’re laughing at Gwenpool’s tired and mean-spirited jokes, you’re as self-deluded as she is. (For the truly funny lines, look to the shopkeeper at Big Ronnie’s Custom Battle Spandex, whom I hope we’ll get to see more of in future issues.) Whether you’re fetishizing her in her pink-and-white leotard or self-righteously criticizing its impracticality, there’s a scene to take you to task for that – and it takes place while Gwenpool lies in the bathtub, implicitly referencing the violent sexualization of certain DC characters whom she might or might not resemble. And if you think you know where all this is headed, the last two pages of the issue will tear your heart out of your chest, then send you running to put this title on your pull list.

Gwenpool isn’t perfect, and it’s not for everybody. I’m still not sure whether it’s a step forward for female-led comics, or if it’s wryly undermining its own feminism. Gwenpool herself is a grating character, a little too anti-heroic for readers who prefer to relate or aspire to their heroes. But it’s cool and clever, and it manages to take self-referentiality in a different direction than Marvel titles usually do. Even if you doubt Gwenpool is your cup of tea, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on this first issue.

Story: Christopher Hastings Art: Gurihiru (main story), Danilo Beyruth (prologue), Tamra Bonvillain (prologue colorist)
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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