What if What If got a little dark? Well, in this week’s What If? Dark: Spider-Gwen #1, you just might find out.
What If? Dark: Spider-Gwen #1 is the first in a new round of What If specials that are all being sold on the idea of them being particularly darker than these alternate takes usually are. Personally, I don’t know if this specific issue or its central hook are any darker than some existing ones from the past (there are plenty of listicles on this very topic) but I suppose you need a marketing gimmick to make people take notice. This one is notable, however, heralding the return of the writer of the original storyline being riffed on —Gerry Conway’s “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”— as a collaborator with writer Jody Houser. That’s something!
In this instance, What If? Dark: Spider-Gwen #1 spotlights Gwen Stacy in a different version of events of that storyline wherein she survived her fateful murder attempt from the Green Goblin, but Peter died by drowning while saving her. On the surface, this may sound a bit derivative of Earth-65 Spider-Gwen’s origin, but I would point out the main difference here is that this Gwen doesn’t have powers and wasn’t bitten by the spider like Peter. (She also lacks the now-iconic Spider-Gwen costume, which the cover misleadingly features; hers here uses a similar silhouette but with a more recognizable Spidey color scheme.)
The dark of this What If plays out in the aftermath of her survival and adoption of the Spider-Man name, which admittedly involves higher stakes for Gwen as she’s not “super” in this iteration and therefore more vulnerable. Because Gwen becomes a Spider-Person in the name of revenge rather than a pursuit of the greater good, she seems less focused on helping people and more on single-mindedly taking vengeance out on the Green Goblin for killing Peter; an (understandably) selfish goal that gives this Gwen an edge she otherwise lacks in other versions of this storyline.
Anyone familiar with the Spider-Man mythos probably has an idea of where things ultimately go for her, but like I mentioned above, this issue doesn’t feel any “darker” than some other What If stories have gotten. It feels harsh to describe What If? Dark: Spider-Gwen #1 as redundant, but Spider-Gwen has become such a fandom in her own right now —not to mention the many Gwen variants that have since sprung into existence because of that— that it has the unfortunate effect of making this story feel a little rote. It’s nice to have Conway back on plotting with Houser, whose script is very competently written, but part of the reason why Spider-Gwen became such a smash hit was the many unexpected, big swings it takes from the source material by comparison, which I don’t think an original writer would be able to make from their own work. I do quite like Ramón F. Bachs’ art here though, which emulates the look of comics of that era without feeling cheesy or straight copying, and the inclusion of pages from the original issue up to the divergence point of this story is a nice touch I don’t think I’ve seen in other What If?s before, but on the whole I don’t know if there’s much for Spider-Gwen fans to latch onto with this take.
What If? Dark: Spider-Gwen #14.99
- Writer: Jody Houser (with Gerry Conway)
- Artist: Ramón F. Bachs
- Color Artist: Dee Cunniffe
- Letterer: VC's Ariana Maher
- Cover Artists: Greg Land & Frank D'Armata
- Editor: Tome Groneman & Nick Lowe
- Publisher: Marvel Entertainment