Spider-Gwen and the Cost of Justice

"Spider Love" | Art by Paper Beats Rock. Used with permission.
On Earth-65, Gwen Stacy is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Woman, a wise cracking crime fighter with spider powers—quite like the Spider-Man of Earth-616 (a.k.a. regular Earth). There is a lot of pain in her past. Peter Parker, her shy and introverted friend is bullied more and more in school, until he develops the lizard serum to fight back. Spider-Woman (Gwen’s early persona) ends up fighting him and, in the fight, pushes Peter too far. He dies in her arms. Because witnesses see a reverted Peter Parker dying as a result of their fight, she is branded a murderer and her father, Captain George Stacy, vows to bring Spider-Woman to justice.

In a face-off between Captain Stacy and Spider-Woman, she reveals herself to be his daughter and says:

“You’re a good cop, dad. You put on that badge and carry that gun because you know if you don’t, someone who shouldn’t will. When I put on this mask, I only did it because it freed me from responsibility. I thought I was special. And Peter Parker died because he tried to follow my example. I have to take responsibility for that. To make his death mean something. But I can’t do it in a jail cell. This mask is my badge now. If I don’t define what it means… monsters like this [Aleksei Sytsevich, a.k.a. Rhino] will” (Edge of Spider-Verse Vol 1 2).

A cost has been paid. A life has been lost. A debt is owed, at least in Gwen’s mind. So, she opposes the police and fights crime. She goes after Aleksei and has several run-ins with the Kingpin. She faces the shadow organization S.I.L.K., which is behind all sorts of sinister plots across the multiverse. She travels to several other dimensions amidst the Secret Wars. She discovers that the leader of S.I.L.K. is responsible for creating the radioactive spider that gives Gwen her powers, and ends up injected with a substance that takes her abilities away!

“Spiderwoman” by arkenstellar.deviantart.com.

From this point on, Gwen is thrust into a dependency on radioactive isotopes that return her powers for a limited time; only the corrupt leader of the HAND, Matt Murdock, can supply her with them. Finally, she bonds with Earth-65’s version of the venom symbiote, a mixture of the lizard serum and her spider isotopes, and becomes Gwenom! She is willing to sacrifice anything to honour Peter’s death and make his sacrifice mean something. The deal she makes with Murdock for the isotope has all sorts of strings attached and she becomes more and more under his control, but it’s what she has to do to make a difference, or at least she believes so. Even embracing the symbiote is done to protect her father and avenge those who have died at the hands of S.I.L.K or Frank Castle, a corrupt cop bent on her defeat.

Sacrificing who you are for a greater purpose is not new, but most of the time when I see that story played out in a comic, I think, “I would never go that far.”

But Spider-Gwen’s story is different for me because of Peter Parker’s death. I love Spider-Man. His death because of my actions would devastate me. I could see myself donning the mask for justice and opposing people who have powers. I would also want to do whatever it took to get my abilities to affect real change back if they were snatched away. Making a deal with a drug dealer to protect thousands of people seems like a small price to pay.

More people get hurt along Gwen’s path to stop injustice. Her dad gets into trouble and ends up in prison for helping her even though he’s a cop, and she feels responsible for that.

I’m not sure what I’d sacrifice to protect my family, but it would be a lot. I would have to be incapacitated before I’d let them be hurt, but would I go out hunting people who might hurt them? I want to say no, but I’m not sure I can. Gwen is willing to sell herself into the service of the Kingpin to do so, and that means looking the other way in certain situations. It means doing little jobs that are probably hurting innocent people, in order to have the power to do big jobs to protect even more. I don’t have super powers, but I do what I can to care and provide for my family. There have been times where, to keep a job or fit in with a community, I’ve had to do things that weren’t honest. I’ve had to put myself at risk because a company didn’t want to do things the right way. I’ve sat quietly when the boss makes a racist or sexist comment because I don’t want to be “that guy.” I didn’t make a deal with a corrupt lawyer, but I looked the other way when I could have stood up for justice.

This past year, many people have finally spoken up about abuse.

This past year, a lot of people have finally spoken up about abuse and injustice. They let horrible things happen to them in silence because they believed that’s what it cost to be super, to make a difference, to live the lives they always wanted.

Yet I wonder if that cost is worth it, and so, it would seem, do those who have suffered.

I can understand how Gwen becomes beholden to Murdock. I can relate to giving in to a symbiote. But I’m not sure any more if the end justifies the means.

For Gwen, she is left this year in a state of flux, not knowing if she will be able to resist the symbiote, control it, or succumb to it. For many men and women, their voices are ringing out and the world is listening. They are no longer succumbing to the depravity forced upon them to make a difference. Rather than staying silent in fear or hoping that somehow the evil things done will be overwritten if they do something good with their lives, they are speaking up. They are talking about injustice, even if it costs them power, prestige, honour or their jobs.

I’m choosing to follow their examples and no longer be silent in the face of prejudice. I’m going to be quicker to call out bad behaviour in the office or sexist jokes. When the guys are all making fun of their wives I’m going to talk about how blessed I am because of mine, even though our marriage isn’t perfect. And I’ll stand behind the powerless, even if it means losing my power. At least then I can live with myself and Spider-Man’s death.

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Dustin spends his time exploring the far reaches of space, understand the ancient ways of might and magic, and wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes. If it has a reasonably open world, a crafting system and some way to sneak around, he'll be there. When not gaming, he's probably planning his next D&D character (because his DM keeps killing off the old ones). He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player. He is father of two, husband of one, a sometimes theologian, and all-times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg