Skip to main content

Who is Spider-Gwen? Her surprise journey from Marvel Comics gimmick to fan-favorite superhero

image of Spider-Gwen
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Who is Spider-Gwen? Or should we say Spider-Woman? Or maybe Ghost-Spider? Gwen Stacy has gone by all these names in her time as a superhero. And for more casual fans, you wouldn't be remiss to be asking yourselves "Waitaminute - isn't Gwen Stacy dead? Like, dead dead, even for comic books?"

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Well, yes, you'd be technically correct. Gwen Stacy - the original Gwen Stacy - died all the way back in 1973's Amazing Spider-Man #121, and she's pretty much stayed out of the picture since. 

But Marvel Comics has a Multiverse full of alternate worlds, most of which are populated by Variants, a term popularized by Disney Plus' MCU Loki show which denotes alternate reality versions of known characters whose lives and stories differ from their mainstream Marvel Universe counterparts.

And Spider-Gwen (her most popular epithet, though not her official codename) is one of the most popular Variants ever in Marvel Comics.

In fact, Spider-Gwen is one of the characters who helped popularize the Marvel Multiverse with a wider audience thanks to her role in the blockbuster animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - an adaptation of the same comic book story where she debuted.

Spider-Gwen's first appearance as a side character in a major event story made her an instant fan favorite, leading to the launch of her own ongoing title which set an unofficial sales record for a number one issue featuring a character who previously debuted in a different series.

That record was recently snagged by presales for Gunslinger Spawn #1, at least according to Todd McFarlane Productions (the company owned and run by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, naturally).

But Spider-Gwen has spun a web in the hearts of fans that still lingers. And with her Spider-Verse co-star Miles Morales recently reaching new heights with his tenth anniversary in the Marvel Universe, and an impending sequel to their blockbuster animated movie in the works, Spider-Gwen seems a shoo-in to swing back into the spotlight sooner rather than later.

So where does Spider-Gwen come from? How does she relate to Spider-Man? And how does her story differ from the Gwen Stacy of the mainstream Marvel Universe?

We'll untangle the web of Spider-Gwen's history and powers right now.

Who is Spider-Gwen?

image of Spider-Gwen

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

First off, it's important to note that 'Spider-Gwen' is actually a nickname for Gwen Stacy of Earth-65, whose original superhero name was actually Spider-Woman. But the nickname has stuck, even serving as the title of some of her solo series, and is still one of the most common ways fans refer to the character.

On Earth-65, as you may have surmised, Gwen Stacy has powers similar to those of the mainstream marvel Universe Peter Parker, which she gained after being bitten by a genetically-engineered spider - again a lot like the Peter Parker we all know. 

But that's where Earth-65 Gwen Stacy and her world's Peter Parker take a big leap from mainstream continuity. Rather than simply reversing the roles they take in each others' stories, Gwen becoming empowered while Peter remains a normal human is a pivotal moment for their entire alternate version of the Marvel Universe.

On Earth-65, Gwen Stacy learns a lesson about power and responsibility from her father, police captain George Stacy, (similar to the lesson Peter Parker took from his Uncle Ben's death). Captain Stacy tells his daughter that the newly-dubbed Spider-Woman could make a real difference and do some good in the world - if only she was more of a hero and less of a spotlight hound. 

image of Spider-Gwen

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

From there, Gwen/Spider-Woman leans far more into her heroism, earning a new costume and a pair of web-shooters from her reality's version of the Wasp. But with Gwen's newfound superhero profile also comes the same struggle to balance her time as Spider-Woman with her time at school, and playing alongside her band The Mary Janes (which includes Mary Jane Watson in its line up, naturally).

Gwen's biggest tragedy strikes when Peter Parker, her best friend, uses an experimental serum to turn himself into a monstrous creature, much like his mainstream Marvel Universe enemy the Lizard. Though Peter intends to use the serum to become a hero, his mutation into a lizard-like monster also drives him berserk - and straight into the path of Spider-Woman.

The two battle it out in front of their whole school at their senior prom, with Spider-Woman beating the monster so mercilessly that he falls unconscious, returning to his human form as Peter Parker. Shocked, Gwen can barely react before her best friend dies of injuries she caused, unable to survive the trauma in his human form.

Spider-Woman is branded a criminal, putting her in the path of all kinds of twisted versions of known Marvel characters, from corrupt attorney Matt Murdock, to renegade cop Frank Castle, and Earth-65 versions of known Spider-Man villains, from the Vulture, to the Rhino - all the way down to her own symbiote arch-nemesis, Gwenom.

Spider-Gwen in the Marvel Universe

image of Spider-Gwen

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Maybe the heading should read 'Spider-Gwen in the Spider-Verse,' as Spider-Man: Spider-Verse is the crossover in which Spider-Gwen (then still known as Spider-Woman, we'll get to the name change in a moment) first entered the Marvel Universe overall, including her first visit to the mainstream Marvel Universe.

Spider-Gwen debuted in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, which told her origin, from gaining her powers, to the death of Peter Parker, all the way to her father discovering her identity and inspiring her to be more heroic. 

But Gwen's first big outing came in the 'Spider-Verse' crossover, in which she and dozens of other Spider-heroes from around the Multiverse came together to fight off a group of villains with the goal of eliminating every single one of Spider-Man's counterparts from all realities, everywhere.

After the conclusion of Spider-Verse, Gwen returned to her home reality - with her real world popularity quickly leading to her own Spider-Gwen title, which ran for several volumes. Through the course of those stories, Gwen's home reality of Earth-64 expanded even further with new versions of Captain America, the Hand, and more. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Still Gwen was pulled to the mainstream Marvel Universe (technically Earth-616, for those counting) time-and-time again, teaming up with Peter Parker for Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy, forming a group of Spider-Women with Jessica Drew and Cindy Moon/Silk, and even sharing a brief romance with Miles Morales (himself a transplant to the main Marvel Universe from another reality).

When the villains of Spider-Verse returned in the story Spider-Man: Spider-Geddon, Gwen wound up moving to the mainstream Marvel Universe full-time. There, she decided to change her codename from Spider-Woman (since that name had been in use by Jessica Drew in the core Marvel Universe for years), taking up the new codename Ghost-Spider, with an accompanying title relaunch under the new name.

In her latest appearance in the crossover tie-in King in Black: Gwenom Vs. Carnage, Gwenom (Gwen's symbiote controlled form) takes on her reality's version of Carnage, which bonds with Mary Jane Watson to become the oddly nicknamed MJarnage (doesn't roll off the tongue quite like Gwenom, does it?).

Spider-Gwen in movies and TV

still from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Spider-Gwen hasn't made it to live action yet, though Gwen Stacy herself has been played in several different Spider-Man movie franchises. First, she was played by Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3. Then Emma Stone took the role as one of the lead characters in Amazing Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man 2. 

So far, she hasn't appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with Spider-Man: No Way Home's connections to the previous Sony Spider-Man franchise films, a return isn't impossible.

Spider-Gwen has made it onto the big and small screen in animation, however. As we mentioned, she was one of the lead characters of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld (who will portray the live action version of Kate Bishop in Disney Plus' upcoming Hawkeye show).

Spider-Verse has a sequel in the works for a 2022 release, and reports hold that Spider-Gwen will be one of the lead characters in an all-female spin-off movie as well.

Spider-Gwen/Ghost-Spider is no stranger to the small screen either, with appearances in multiple animated series from Ultimate Spider-Man, to Marvel Rising, and even the most recent iteration of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

Whether Spider-Gwen will (or could, given potential film rights issues between Marvel and Sony) come to the MCU remains an open question for the time being. But with a fan base all her own, and a high profile multimedia presence in animation, it seems like a strong likelihood that a version of Spider-Gwen could come to live action in the near future - perhaps as part of Sony's burgeoning Spider-Man spin-off franchise, which already includes Venom, Morbius, and Kraven.

Now is a perfect time to read up on the best Spider-Man comic book stories ever.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)