Unbelievable Gwenpool #1
Written by Christopher Hastings
Art by Gurihiru, Daniel Beyruth and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Speaking as a fan of metatextuality and postmodernism in general, recent installments of Deadpool can seem a tad like a gimmick – an immensely fun gimmick, but the novelty of the self-aware comic book character can wear thin. There has to be something beyond that. Luckily for Deadpool, the past few years, despite some mild oversaturation, have seen some interesting stories with the character. Case in point: Gwenpool. Since this spinoff-of-a-spinoff derives from a character is so centered on a novel idea, and since a certain web-slinging Gwen is already gracing multiple titles, it would be really easy to write off Christopher Hastings' Unbelievable Gwenpool #1. But you really shouldn't — or else you would be missing one of the most obviously fun and subtly intelligent comics of the year.
Thankfully, this isn't an origin story. Gwen Poole knows you don't need one more of those. I've seen Ben Parker die almost as many times as I've seen Martha Wayne's pearls hit the concrete, so I was happy to watch Gwen struggle to open a bank account in a universe where she does not have a valid Social Security number. When a gang of bank robbers, each wearing an animal mask like a furry version of Point Break, our super-powerless heroine decides to respond with some tried and true violence. It was at this point that I realized something that the issue was doing that is refreshingly interesting, and ultimately what is going to set it apart from its red brother.
Gwenpool is, in the context of her story, not a comic book character. She has not become aware that she is a figment of a writer sweating over a keyboard, and as a result does not have the tinge of nihilism that accompanies Deadpool. Gwen is more like Bastion in The Neverending Story. She originated in our universe and is now displaced in this comic book world. She uses her understanding of comic books and other works of art to contextualize and make sense of the world around her. Other characters do the same to a lesser, but still noteworthy extent. The aforementioned robbers forgo an official speech upon entering the bank in favor of defaulting to film tropes, shouting, "You've seen enough movies to know the instructions here!" Later, a hacker who was working for the robbers, Cecil, becomes Gwen's tech-adept sidekick. Gwen urges him to explode some sentinels because people "paid $4.99 for this comic!" His response to her postmodern situation is to refer to it as her "Truman Show thing." Gwen understands and defines the world in which she finds herself through a variety of tropes, comics, films, and games that she has previously experienced, just as Cecil frames this by referring to another story. What Unbelievable Gwenpool #1 does is show a world in which our fictions inform our realities.
The remainder of the story works well, and sees Gwen as completely charming and hilarious and fostering some believable rapport between her and Cecil as she thinks at length about pizza, botches a mercenary job, salvages said mercenary job, and finally realizes what her place in this universe is: of all things, M.O.D.O.K.'s henchman. From start to finish, she uses what she knows about comic book narratives to define her personal narrative.
The artwork in the Gwenpool segment of the Gwenpool Holiday Special was easily among my favorite of 2015. Unbelievable Gwenpool #1 features a return to that same rounded, sleek and vibrantly colored style, but after an oddly gritty 10-page prologue. The prologue art is acceptable – Danny Beyruth, the artist for the prologue, handles long shots well, and Tamra Bonvillain, the prologue colorist, does some incredible work throughout – it just isn't as fully realized and attuned to the mood of the story as Gurihiru's work through the rest of the issue. The faces in particular stick out in the prologue and are not designed well. When Gurihiru's art returns it is refreshing. Of note is the color palate used. Light colors, and in particular pinks and blues, stand out the most. What is fascinating is how the color choices reflect a traditionally feminine aesthetic, while avoiding more problematic aspects of that aesthetic. This comic is pretty, but it is not dainty.
It's going to be a long wait until #2 comes out, but thankfully #1 has a significant amount of rereadability. There is a sequence with a nameless police officer who Gwen describes as an "extra" that is among the funniest things I've ever read, and which made me laugh out loud on two separate read-throughs. Ultimately, Unbelievable Gwenpool is starting remarkably strong. Based on Hastings' work in the holiday special and the backups seen in Howard the Duck, it is in the best hands possible. With excellent art and strong voice, it is the best #1 I've read all year.