Spider-Gwen Annual #1

Regular "Spider-Gwen" writer Jason Latour scripts five amusing and disparate tales for "Spider-Gwen Annual" #1, with over a dozen artists and colorists all collaborating with remarkable consistency. Latour focuses largely on the lighter side of the character, but some of the stories do have a serious side, while still others are strictly but successfully played for laughs. In the historic tradition of making annuals, Latour also brings in a number of guest stars to add some variety to his stories, resulting in an anthology that's genuinely fun, even for those who might not be all that familiar with the main character.

Perhaps with a newer audience in mind, Latour opens up the issue with "Week One," referring to the earliest days of Gwen Stacy's career as Spider-Woman, which parallels a defining moment in her life with an oft-seen occurrence in Peter Parker's origin as Spider-Man. Gwen seeks to take down a professional wrestler to try and cash in on her powers, but her opponent isn't Crusher Hogan, and the surprising actual identity of the fighter will be familiar to readers. Artist Chris Brunner and colorist Rico Renzi illustrate the story with an appropriate raw and gritty feel, and the interlude featuring Gwen fantasizing about her possible future career is bright and splashy, conveying her sense of excitement and optimism. The situation is a little different from the mainline version and Gwen learns a completely different lesson than Peter did, while another character gets a very satisfying moment.

The one-page "Koala Kommander and his Drop Bears of Death" -- drawn and colored by Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire, respectively -- is a quick, single-note story, but nonetheless a funny gag featuring the character's origin. Latour follows up with an offbeat team up between Spider-Gwen and her world's version of Captain America, richly drawn by Chris Visions and colored by Jim Campbell. Latour seizes on the idea that comics in Gwen's world are actually real-life adventures in another reality and uses it to briefly touch on the idea of free will versus pre-ordained fate. There's also a bit of a political statement here, where Latour pokes some fun at a real-life current U.S. Presidential candidate, in the form of a brilliantly designed supervillain by Visions. Visions also cleverly reimagines Baron Blood based on a recently-passed celebrity.

Olivia Margraf and John Rauch render and color a Watcher story where Gwen only makes a brief appearance. Here, Latour's Watcher is a hapless otherworldly being who decides to observe Gwen's musical bandmates, which proves to be a bad choice for multiple reasons. Margraf makes the Watcher momentarily resemble the equally hapless Charlie Brown, which may or may not be coincidental.

The issue's final entry somewhat bookends its first, featuring a typically challenging week in Gwen's present-day life presented in a page-per-day structure and illustrated by a variety of artists. The differing styles of these illustrators embellish the differing kinds of threats Gwen faces, from a potential copyright infringement case from Peter Porker, the Amazing Spider-Ham, to the threat of consuming an egg salad sandwich on the verge of going bad.

"Spider-Gwen Annual" #1 is a rare kind of anthology issue where all of the stories are enjoyable and well-crafted; the issue reads like a roll of assorted Life-Savers with no green or yellow ones inside.

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