With Spider-Gwen being introduced to audiences around the world in the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, audiences may want to get a taste of another Gwen-centric variation of a popular Marvel character with the unbelievable Gwenpool.
Following Spider-Gwen's surprise popularity spinning out of Spider-Verse, Marvel Comics commissioned a line of variant covers in June 2015 reimagining its popular characters as different incarnations of Gwen Stacy. Artist Chris Bachalo's cover for Deadpool's Secret Secret Wars #2, featured the debut of Gwenpool, an alternate version of the Merc with a Mouth in a pink and white costume. And a memetic character was born.
What is Gwenpool's Secret Origin?
Gwenpool went viral immediately after her introduction, despite the character not appearing in a story herself. Noticing her popularity online and with cosplayers, editor Jordan White approached editor Heather Antos and writer Christopher Hastings to develop a full character based on Bachalo's designs from the variant cover. However, unlike Spider-Gwen, the creative team sought to introduce a wholly original character unlinked to preexisting characters licensed to companies outside of Disney.
"The last thing we ever expected was for [the variant] to go viral," reflected Antos in an exclusive interview with CBR at the 2019 Emerald City Comic-Con. "Within weeks of that cover being released, there was fan art, there was cosplay. That didn't happen with any of the other covers. [But] Fox owned Deadpool and Sony owns Gwen Stacy. That's why she was Gwendolyn Poole. That's why she actually debuted in Howard the Duck. She had her debut in an issue that was a Marvel property."
After months of development meetings between White, Antos and Hastings in Manhattan's Cosmic Diner, the character made her full debut in a backup story in Howard the Duck Vol. 6 #1 that October, written by Hastings and illustrated by Danilo Beyruth. This was followed up the next month by a holiday special, written by Hastings and illustrated by the Japanese art team Gurihiru. The continued popularity of the character led to a full ongoing series written by Hastings, illustrated by Gurihiru and edited by Antos that launched in April 2016 as The Unbelievable Gwenpool.
Where Is Gwenpool From and What Can She Do?
While Deadpool's knack for breaking the fourth wall was retained to a degree with the new character, Hastings devised an additional twist: Gwenpool was from a dimension where Marvel Comics exist and was a noted fan of the characters she now got to regularly interact with in a series of escalating hijinks.
Hastings submitted a list of potential characters to serve as a mentor for Gwenpool into the Marvel Universe. The team decided that longtime Captain America villain Batroc the Leaper would be the most logical candidate, especially because he was unused by other titles at the time.
Proud of the character and a fan herself, Antos would regularly take questions on Twitter in-character as Gwenpool from fans, changing her name and picture accordingly which would help inform the comic series itself.
"Of all the characters to break the fourth wall, Gwen would be on Twitter, she would get how it works," Antos explained. "It just became a really fun way to interact with the fans. I had Gwen change my header, change my bio, change my location, do an AMA with the fans. And apparently, Chris Hastings would tune in and take notes. [He would tell me later] 'Oh no, when you do that, I pay attention and do little things to lean into the books.'"
What Makes Gwenpool so Popular?
Featuring a new character, the series would run for 25 issues with the popularity of the character leading to her inclusion as a playable character in the mobile fighting games Marvel Future Fight in August 2016 and Marvel Contest of Champions in January 2017. In November 2017, the character would replace Deadpool in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, offering players side missions with her trademark flair of breaking the fourth wall with an extensive awareness of the source material itself.
While the series itself ended in early 2018 as one of Antos' last projects with Marvel before becoming an editor at Valiant Entertainment, it remains her proudest achievement with the publisher. "It blows my mind to this day... she shouldn't exist!" Heather laughs.
"She truly should not exist. She only exists because of the fans. Gwenpool is my proudest accomplishment at Marvel. Gwen's my baby. When I see little girls cosplaying as Gwen... I didn't have a character like that growing up. Seeing that now, there are literally no words. To know she still exists right now in West Coast Avengers and other writers telling me 'we'd love to write her,' it's just so cool to be part of something that big."
A character created by fan response, expanded into other media and merchandising by continued fan support, and informed creatively by the fans themselves, Gwenpool is perhaps one of the biggest instances in mainstream superhero comics of unabashed, blatant postmodernism. A top-down fourth wall creation, the character continues to win over new fans even a year after the end of her series. And with a smile and wink at fans everywhere, she is an example of fan service that has gone on to become part of the fandom that she herself admires.