As part of a slew of tie-in miniseries for the King in Black event
, Marvel announced Gwenom vs Carnage
, written by Seanan McGuire with art from Flaviano. The series sets the stage for the proper return of Carnage since the Venom comics’ Venom Island arc, and Cletus’ death earlier on in the Absolute Carnage event, as well the return of Gwenom, Gwen Stacy from Earth-65, also known as Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen and, later, Ghost-Spider (okay, Marvel’s editors need to cut themselves off from renaming Gwen at this point).
While many folks are fairly familiar with Carnage and his story, I think folks are less familiar with Gwen’s story, primarily after she bonded with her universe’s version of Venom and how particularly important the symbiote is for her journey. What follows is a post going into detail about Gwenom’s unique origin, design, powers, as well as some light analysis of Gwen’s moral ambiguity and the potential direction they could be taking the character next. https://preview.redd.it/nzmmncybn0z51.png?width=1707&format=png&auto=webp&s=8dff97b417ebb011986fae6602d2a5104713aae8
For the uninitiated, there are two primary eras for Spider-Gwen/Ghost-Spider in her six years of solo comics. There’s the initial 40 issues from Jason Latour, (the limited series and ongoing title both called Spider-Gwen) and the more recent 20 issues from Seanan McGuire (the Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider, and then Ghost-Spider, ongoing title). Both feature and go into some detail on Gwen’s symbiote.
Pretty much all of the different super-power mutagens in Latour’s Spider-Gwen run are tied up with Earth-65’s Cindy Moon’s research into astronaut Jesse Drew, infected from an encounter with “venom-spitting space spiders” on the Moon
. The spit was “turning his blood into poisonous black goo”
, for which Cindy developed an isotope that stabilized Jesse’s blood. The ordeal had the unexpected side effect of granting him spider-powers.
The radioactive spider that would’ve bit Cindy in this reality was killed by a nearby teacher handy with a roll of newspaper
. Cindy, realizing the potential of that moment, and what could’ve happened with her life, sought to recreate the spider using the research from Jesse’s infection. Cindy was successful in this endeavor but was too scared to go through the process of getting the powers for herself
, and so released her new radioactive spider into the wild where it found Gwen.
After curing him fully of his infection, Cindy used the same science and genetic research from the radioactive spider, Cindy developed Jesse Drew’s isotopes further, and give him the same powers he previously exhibited. As part of her criminal organization, S.I.L.K., Cindy granted this earth’s Dr. Curt Conners access to the radioactive spider research
which provided the key to unlocking the potential of the Lizard mutagen that he created with Peter Parker.
Much of this backstory was revealed in the Spider-Women crossover where Cindy and Jesse fought their Earth-616 counterparts, Silk and Spider-Woman, who had teamed up with Gwen. Presumably using the same science that she used to cure Jesse Drew, Cindy-65 depowered Gwen in the fight
. Desperate to continue having superpowers, however, Gwen uses Jesse’s isotopes
to remain Earth-65’s Spider-Woman.
The isotopes were in limited supply, though. Increasingly hunted by the police, particularly Frank Castle, for killing Peter Parker, and with her father now in jail and awaiting trial for collaborating with her alter ego, Gwen allied herself with Earth-65’s Matt Murdock
, the plausibly deniable Kingpin of Crime in New York and the leader of the Hand’s ninja in the West. Murdock used his relationship with Cindy to provide a steady supply of more isotopes for Gwen
, and his lawyer background to provide legal representation for Gwen’s father
, Captain Stacy. In exchange, Gwen worked as his part-time enforcer
and had to ensure her father’s cooperation with Murdock going forward. Honestly, I wish we had more time with Gwen as a member of the Hand. Seeking to further corrupt Gwen
, Murdock sponsored the research of Dr. Elsa Brock, an Oscorp scientist, into finding a more permanent fix for the power-up dependent Spider-Woman. Brock found that exposing a Lizard-mutated individual to the isotopes would extract the mutagen and transform it into a black, amorphous, symbiotic creature, Venom; Considered a “mutant cousin of Agent Drew’s original alien parasite”
and “a hybrid [with] all of the abilities of Spider-Woman plus the regenerative power of the Lizard”
Venom’s drawback was that it was highly radioactive to the host, proving lethal shortly after bonding with them. Despite losing her powers, Gwen still possesses radioactive resistance
from the spider that bit her, making her uniquely able to bond with Venom. That being said, Wolverine-65 was also able to bond with Venom-65 too
, on account of his healing factor. Logically speaking, it would also stand to reason that any other, currently or formerly, super-powered individuals, with a healing factor or that gained their powers through radioactive circumstances, could bond with Venom-65, such as Jesse Drew.
Although she was initially apprehensive, Norman Osborn convinced Gwen to go through with the process for the sake of curing Harry Osborn, at the time still on the run and fighting the Lizard mutation
. Murdock tasked Gwen with bringing Harry in
, so they could cure him, as well as create Venom, giving it a home with Gwen. Despite later defecting and going on the run with him, Gwen was forced to cure Harry when he succumbed to the mutagen fully, and, thus, Venom was born
An interesting aspect of this origin is that no one individual is responsible for Venom’s creation. The research and efforts of Cindy Moon, Curt Conners, Peter Parker, Harry Osborn, Matt Murdock, Elsa Brock, and even Gwen Stacy herself, all directly helped bring Venom-65 into existence as a result of their own individual motivations and actions. Narratively, this tied many of the then existing plot threads together in a meaningful way. Uniquely, it also combines the traditional alien origins of symbiotes from Earth-616, with an artificial component like what is seen in the Ultimate comics. IT’S ALL CONNECTED! DO YA HEAR ME!?! THERE ARE NO COINCIDENCES!!!
Gwen and Venom remain bonded and never separated even after the initial “Vengeance of Gwenom” arc. This means they were bonded during Gwen’s prison conviction
, against the Inheritors at Spider-Geddon
, when she fought the Jackal and Man-Wolf’s gang
when she went into exile from Earth-65 and attended Empire State University on Earth-616
, during the still ongoing Outlawed event
, and during the Last Remains arc in the Amazing Spider-Man comics
. Curiously, Venom-65 had no appearance or reaction to Kindred’s possession and transformation of Gwen
in that latter story, although this is likely because of a lack of desire from the Amazing Spider-Man comics’ writers to acknowledge much from Gwen’s comics
(though there's time for the arc to wrap up yet so who knows).
Gwenom’s Design Already on this subreddit
, I’ve spoken about the design of Spider-Gwen, so I’ll insert the part about that here: By having Venom-65 spawn from both the alien radioactive spider and the Lizard mutagen, it sort of makes sense that Venom would have a toothy jaw and a weird tongue, where the same design choices often seem more random when considering the origins of other iterations. Though using the hood as the mouth for Gwenom had been used on some non-canon variant covers before the actual Gwenom design was ever revealed, none of them looked particularly good. Latour and Rodriguez’s eventual take on it ran with the same idea but using a much more highly stylized design which helped it to land effectively. By having the jaw-seam-thing running throughout the whole outfit ending in a wicked abstractly-long tongue, they cemented Gwenom as an almost absurd-seeming, but ultimately fearsome, force of nature. The design for Gwenom also introduces a white spider motif often seen on more traditional Venom designs. While there isn’t the use of the white-black negative spacing used for the Spider-Gwen design, Rodriguez often uses Gwenom’s entire figure as negative space framed around the teeth, eyes, and tongue. Even when drawn more realistically and by other artists, panels are often framed around Gwenom in such a way that the suit dominates each image. This panel is soooooo good. We also get strong vibes of Gwen's vaguely indie-punk-rocker aesthetic, usually limited to out-of-costume outfits, with the spiked leather jacket, as well as the continued inclusion of Chuck’s but this time not using blue but the pink color scheme. The design shows this is still Gwen, but in her rawest emotional state. This is the initial art from the Gwenom arc's announcement. I’m not sure why the tongue is so short.
Venom-65’s Personality, Powers, and Weaknesses
If you read any of the recent Venom comics set on Earth-616, you’ll find yourself reading the Venom symbiote’s dialogue nearly as much as you will Eddie Brock’s, Lee Price’s, Flash Thompson’s, or whatever host he’s taken that week’s dialogue too. Venom-65, on the other hand, does not have any written dialogue on the pages of any Spider-Gwen or Ghost-Spider comic. Initially, we’re shown some dark thoughts in colored pink captions (as opposed to the purple-pink and white captions that Gwen’s internal monologue is typically put in)
but are then later revealed to be Gwen’s own thoughts, rather than that of Venom. This is my favorite twist on a symbiote story yet.
When it comes to influencing hosts, Venom-65 is much more of a neutral factor than the generally more evil Klyntar symbiotes on Earth-616, or Ultimate Venom, or really most symbiotes that we’ve seen from Marvel Comics at all. It’s not overtly evil or violent but has a softer influence on the host feeding them back their own thoughts and emotions. Hence, Venom inherits Gwen’s strong sense of justice and responsibility, but also her preference for violence and desire for power. Accordingly, the symbiote’s appearance morphs to reflect Gwen’s emotional state, from subtle changes in the shape of her hood
to outright switching between whole outfits
. It is still somewhat sentient, and on multiple occasions, it’s evident that Venom is communicating with Gwen but the dialogue is kept from the reader
After having been bonded to Venom for some time, Gwen finds that when she inputs anger, fear, and pain into Venom it becomes “too much and it’s like a dam bursts”
. Gwen concluded that “if the Venom gives me back ten times what I put in, maybe it’s time I think more about what I give.”
Venom isn’t just limited to the usual symbiote goopiness in its raw form. It frequently manifests itself as small, symbiote “gummy spiders”
, that can operate independently and as a hive mind. In several instances, Gwen dispatches the spiders to gather intelligence
, search for survivors in a disaster
, or investigate crimes.
Gwen is noticeably more powerful after she bonded with Venom than she ever was with her original spider-powers, a lesson that Captain America learned the hard way
. Most of the challenges and baddies that Gwen goes up against, in her solo comics, after bonding with the symbiote, don’t necessarily pose any immediate physical danger to Gwen but are rather more existential threats to her as a hero or aimed attacks at her family and friends. During Spider-Geddon, even the Inheritors proved incapable of harvesting Gwen’s spider-totem life force because Venom gave her the edge
This version of Venom also carries a similar vulnerability to sound and sonics in general. While bonded to a host, sound waves can disrupt Venom
. Although it’s never happened outright, both Wolverine and Gwen have separate instances of nearly separating from the symbiote in this manner. The relationship between the symbiote and sound was further fleshed out in subsequent issues as a way of achieving the emotional balance with Venom and maintaining focus
. Gwen relies heavily on her music to remain centered while bonded to Venom, adding a new dimension to her career as a drummer, or even all that art of her showing Gwen with a pair of headphones or earphones
One particularly well-clarified aspect of Venom-65 is how it eats. Unlike other symbiotes, it doesn’t need to eat anyone, especially not their brain
. Neither does it need to eat copious amounts of chocolate
(seriously what is up with the diet of symbiotes on 616). Venom-65 relies on its host eating a balanced diet
and having a sizable amount of cellulose-based foods, which is unfortunate for Gwen given her weakness for corn dogs
and all things junk-food. After getting out of prison, and not knowing about Venom’s nutritional requirements, Gwen went through a stage of constant headaches, frequent outages in her powers, and occasional blackouts
, all because Venom was malnourished. After some research and advice from Peter Parker-616, Gwen realized she now has to pay the high price of introducing more kale into her diet to maintain her powers and avoid the headaches.
Some other notable abilities and aspects that Venom-65 exhibits:
Gwen’s Moral Ambiguity
Like any good Spider-Man/Woman/Person/Pig/etc story, the comics for Spider-Gwen/Ghost-Spider tackle themes around great power and responsibility. That being said, unlike Gwen, most of these stories usually
end up with the protagonist choosing to do the right thing; choosing the selfless action over the selfish action or lack thereof. However, reading Latour’s Spider-Gwen run, and even McGuire’s run, there’s a general pattern of Gwen being 50/50 on doing the right versus the wrong thing. Particularly in Latour’s run, he leaves it to the reader to discern to what extent Gwen is doing what she is doing out of self-interest or a genuine desire to help others. Gwen’s moral righteousness isn’t a given in the same way that it is for Spider-Man (yeah, I know what happened with Last Remains, and that there’s stuff like Back in Black, but those are breaks from Pete's status quo so hear me out here). Don’t worry, both of these two get better... I mean, for a while anyway.
As stated previously, while Gwen clearly feels very strongly about fairness and justice, she’s more ambiguous in the execution, sometimes literally, of those sentiments. Peter-65’s death is a perfect example of this. Peter turned the Lizard mutagen on himself and had to be stopped, but it was Gwen who chose to prolong the fight and to not pull her punches, even as Lizard-Peter pleaded for mercy. In the end, Gwen's violent approach was what killed Peter
. Even when accounting for Peter’s agency in this flashpoint, at least some of the attention that Gwen receives from the police and press is justified by his death. In her solo comics, and in a narrative decision that has aged well in recent times, Gwen spent just as much time fighting with overzealous law enforcement
as she does with villains and criminals. When she is fighting actual supervillains, it’s usually as part of some interpersonal conflict
that Gwen is actively contributing to rather than to stop some plot to take over the world (seriously, there is no solo comic where Gwen saves the world, city, etc). While Murdock failed in his attempt to turn Gwen to the dark side, by the time she goes to prison in Latour’s run, it’s ultimately justified by all the people she’s hurt along the way
Now on the straight and narrow, Gwen repeatedly chafes against having to cooperate with the police and authorities in fighting crime, her pursuit of Man-Wolf
, and, in the case of Earth-616, getting an education while under-21 superheroes were outlawed
, which hints at a potential return to her criminal status quo. Meanwhile, even after working out how best to feed it, Gwen’s symbiote has been making multiple visible appearances in emotionally fraught moments
. Just as her relationship with the symbiote remains uncertain, so does Gwen’s path.
Further to this, Gwen has a demonstrably unhealthy relationship with power
. Many of her actions and choices can easily be attributed to an underlying desire to attain or maintain power for power’s sake. For instance, the existential crisis she had over losing her powers when she sold out to Murdock, her reaction to C.R.A.D.L.E. and the Outlawed event, and the ultimate example of her desire for power, Gwen’s decision to create and bond to the Venom symbiote. Gwen has never needed to bond with Venom, she wants to
In this way, Venom is emblematic of the journey that Gwen has taken. It gives her a distinct power-set from other Spider-people while adding to her comics’ darker edge and more introspective flavor.
The Future of Gwenom
As mentioned at the start of this post, King in Black: Gwenom vs Carnage, from returning writer Seanan McGuire, is set to pick up where she left off with the end of Ghost-Spider. The announcement article for the mini-series and solicit for the first issue promise "major" and "unforeseen consequences" for Gwen. Taking Marvel at their word, it appears that this mini-series will either cement Gwen and Venom together or separate the two.
Seemingly set entirely on Earth-616, Gwen will evidently fight Carnage, although it’s not clear if Cletus is getting resurrected again. Knull's "dark psychic energy" will affect Gwen and her symbiote (likely causing the more chaotic, spikier, and toothier design that is seen on Ken Lashley's cover of the first issue) perhaps in line with the increased appearances of the Gwenom design in the last issues of Ghost-Spider (2019). McGuire may explore Gwen falling under Knull’s influence completely, something that was previously considered not possible due to the differing origins of Venom-65 and the Klyntar of 616.
Aside from separating Gwen from Venom-65 entirely, which would be a really bad decision, there are some other possible major consequences. We could see a permanent reversion to Ghost-Spider's darker Gwenom state, the loss of Gwen's dimension-traveling (something unique to her following Spider-Geddon
), or something related to the Outlawed event. They could also go with something more out of left field, such as having Gwen bond with Carnage in some way. That last bit’s just pure speculation on my part based on how the tongue kinda looks like the Carnage symbiote on the cover art, however.
In conclusion, building entire characters and story arcs out of puns makes for compelling reading. Now go add Gwenom vs Carnage to your pull list so we can keep getting comics about this character. If you want a detailed breakdown of why McGuire’s Ghost-Spider run was canceled, I also wrote a thread about that