Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It

Writer: Christopher Hastings
Artists: Gurihiru, Danilo Beyruth
Collects: Gwenpool Special #1, The Unbelievable Gwenpool #0-4

To say that Gwenpool is the stupidest idea I've ever heard in my life would be hyperbolic to an extreme, but I feel safe in saying that it's in the top thirty.

Let's examine it for a moment. The base equation is Gwen Stacy plus Deadpool equals profit. The question is why? They're two characters that do not go together, from completely different wheelhouses, and frankly we do not need a fiftieth Deadpool knockoff running through the Marvel universe. We have enough. At one point, there was a team of them.

From what I gather, the idea started as a variant cover, got a special, then some back-ups in Howard the Duck - reprinted as Gwenpool #0, included in this collection - on to a full series. I never understood why and kind of took a pass on the whole thing for a long while. What was it about this seemingly moronic idea that shot it to prominence?

Well, turns out that part of the appeal past the variant cover stage is that it's actually kind of amazingly funny.

Plot is a little sparse at times, but not nearly as much as I expected. The re-purposed Howard the Duck back-ups are just their own thing, as is the Gwenpool special. But the ongoing itself has Gwen looking to become a top shelf assassin, despite having no powers - don't let the name fool you, she doesn't have Deadpools healing factor or even any of her Spider counterparts abilities - no training and nothing going for her but a lifetime of reading Marvel comics. As such, she kind of bumbles her way through, eventually ending up a henchwoman by circumstance for MODOK.

I don't think I've laughed out loud as much as I have with this book in a while. Even comics that strive to be funny don't always hit the mark. After all, you need to understand visual comedy as well as witty dialogue, meaning a necessary synergy between writer and artist, even more than usual. Christopher Hastings and Gurihiru have that, apparently, because between the two, they've put out a book that's better than half the Deadpool material I've read.

But it isn't all about the laughs. There are bits of pathos to be found among the comedy. I quite enjoyed that her knowledge of everything Marvel wasn't just mined for jokes, but for self reflection as well. She knows, just by being in the Marvel universe, that she's probably in comic books now, and at first assumes she's naturally the star by the point the ongoing starts. But her knowledge isn't quite on the level of fourth wall breaking, either, so after MODOK kentucky fries her first friend because she laughed at him, she starts having moments of doubt.

After all, what if she isn't even in her own series? Maybe she's just in back-ups. Or a guest role in another ongoing, like Thors. At that point, she could die at any time, with no real plot armor. She doesn't even know what she's doing with a gun. There's even a serious discussion with Batroc ze Leaper about the nature of stories and fairy tales. Later, she even shows some self loathing, thinking she's better off if her parents from her home dimension forget her. It's compelling.

I also appreciate that the influence of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool begin and end at her costume and the name. She does not have the personality of any Gwen Stacy I've ever read, or even the last name. As for Deadpool, her fourth wall breaking isn't really on the same level as the original - he actively knows and reacts to contemporary stuff from our reality, while she just knows Marvel heroes and suspects she's in a comic because she's read them - and she has none of his abilities, meaning she lucks her way through mercenary work without any of his advantages. Frankly, they could have just switched the costume and altered the name, but they didn't, so eh.

Best of all, the artwork and coloring ticks all of my boxes. Clean linework, a lack of thick lines, plenty of detail without going overboard and, perhaps the part I love the most, a bright color palette. It all fits the fun vibe of the book perfectly. The art for the back-ups and prologue is jarringly different and not near as much to my liking, but it's still technically good. It just doesn't fit. A bit too "Alex Maleev" for the material, if you get what I mean. But it does make me appreciate Gurihiru more.

The concept is still dumb as hell, but its the funniest comics I've read in years and has more heart than I expected. I'll be continuing with it for sure. Highly recommended.

My Opinion: Buy It


  1. I keep meaning to get back into this book. I read about half of the first trade and sort of lost interest, probably because I hadn't yet gotten to the pathos-infused sections you mentioned. That does sound pretty compelling. The Howard the Duck three-parter just didn't hook me, I guess, and I think the ill-fitting (though good!) artwork had a lot to do with that. Gwenpool Special, on the other hand, was a lot of fun.

  2. I enjoyed the Howard back-ups well enough, but yeah, wow, the art just did not suit her at all. I'm glad it's all there for completions sake and it had some good jokes, but I'm surprised no one thought Alex Maleev-esque, dark, grimy artwork wouldn't work for a character in white and bright pink.

    I'd say give it another show. It has just enough character work outside the jokes to be really interesting and that scene where she talks to her departed friend is the moment I realized the book wasn't going to be all silly comedy, but might actually be a slick, funny deconstruction of the "trapped in another world" setup, without needing to be so mind bendingly serious as some of the recent ones in anime.