Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Volume 4: Beyond the Fourth Wall Review (Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru)

Gwen Poole’s a Marvel fangirl from the “real” world who’s been transported into the Marvel Comics Universe and reinvented herself as the amusing anti-hero Gwenpool - but how did she get there in the first place? Finally, her secret origin is revealed! Also, Gwen discovers that she’s her own worst enemy - literally! - as her evil future self appears to her in the present, along with future Miles Morales. Both are trying to control her destiny because of what she becomes. So what’s a girl to do: destroy the Marvel Universe, the thing she loves the most, or leave it behind forever and forget she was ever a part of it? Or is there another way… 

YES - THAT’S more like it, Marvel! My first five-star rating of the year goes to The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Volume 4: Beyond the Fourth Wall, which it richly deserves. After a mediocre third volume, Christopher Hastings and Gurihiru (the pseudonym of the two-women art team, Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) come back STRONG with this remarkable fourth book. 

What makes it so good? The sheer inventiveness of the storytelling. Hastings goes full-on ‘90s Grant Morrison mind-fuckery by having Gwen mess with the very book you’re holding. What starts out as a deceptively-mundane origin quickly takes a sharp turn into ultra-meta territory with a fake ending/letters page and Gwen noticing - and then picking up - the words “The End”! 

In addition to mainstream superhero comics, I read a lot of indies and I’m sorry to say not a single one in the past year comes close to being as experimental as Marvel’s Gwenpool is. When Gwen reaches out and touches the panel borders? Chills! There’s an equally playful scene where Gwen experiments with caption boxes and stream of consciousness which reminded me of the kind of genius we last saw in a Marvel comic way back in Fraction/Aja’s silent issue of Hawkeye. And it’s anybody’s guess what happens next from then on as Gwen moves between panels, pages, timelines, commenting on the very reading process to the format itself! Brilliant, simply brilliant - refreshing, genuinely exciting, brain-tickling stuff. 

I loved how Hastings actually made evil Gwen empathetic. Usually the bad guy is written very lazily/one-dimensionally - they wanna take over the world, wahahaha, etc. bland, cartoonish supervillainy cliches - but Hastings manages to make you see things from her perspective in a way that’s almost convincing. I even doubted Miles Morales’ own version of things at one point even though evil Gwen is clearly evil! That’s some damn fine writing, sir. 

None of which works nearly as well without a first-class art team and Gurihiru match Hastings’ clever, ambitious script with the enormous range of their imagination and skill. I love their art in general - the line work alone is outstanding - but they really outdid themselves in tackling such an unusual story. Every issue of Gwenpool Gurihiru have worked on has looked incredible though they’ve done their best work with this book - it’s really impressive.

Gwenpool Volume 4 is an absolute home-run. The writing and art are both top-notch and overall it’s such an imaginative, original and fun - so much fun! - comic. Gwenpool’s still the best title Marvel is publishing which is why I’m gutted there’s only going to be one more book. That said, I doubt we’ve seen the last of Hastings or Gurihiru and superhero characters never die so there’s every chance they’ll all return sometime in the future for more awesomeness. 

After a disastrous 2017, here’s hoping Marvel start as they mean to go on and make 2018 less of a flaming dumpster fire - it’s not like things can get worse! Right… ?

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