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Spider-Gwen's new web 

Charlotte-based writer revives character through alternate universe

For Marvel, 2014 was the year of the super women. Popular releases with female leads such as Ms. Marvel, Black Widow and Thor took the market by storm. Marvel continues the trend into 2015 with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Star Wars: Princess Leia and, by popular demand, Spider-Gwen.

Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman was introduced last year as one of the myriad of different versions of Spider-Man from alternate universes. The first issue, which hits stores on Feb. 25, will be celebrated at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find. Writer Jason Latour, artist Robbi Rodriguez and colorist Rico Renzi will sign copies of the comic book, and an after party will take over Snug Harbor later that night.

Like her male counterpoint, Spider-Gwen — a fan-dubbed alias based on her real name — is bitten by a genetically mutated spider. But in her universe, a jealous Peter Parker becomes the villain Lizard after a botched attempt to genetically modify himself. Stacy is blamed for his death, and New York City cops, with her own father at the helm, attempt to hunt her down.

Public interest was the driving force behind Spider-Gwen moving from a one-time appearance to a full-fledged series. According to Latour, a new generation of younger and more diverse comic readers pushed publishers to branch out from the stereotypical white male superhero recipe.

"A white male from the South is not the greatest spokesperson for diversity. But diversity means everybody, and I'd like to be at the table with everybody," Latour, a native Charlottean, says.

The book can be viewed as an anthem for girls, but in the end it's about creating a great story. "I want to encapsulate the things which I liked in comics as a kid," he says of his intentions for the comic, "except the character is a girl and not a boy."

Like other superhero characters, Spider-Gwen struggles to adapt to her new vigilante role, at odds with her everyday life. By day, the masked crime fighter is a college student and the drummer of a punk-rock band.

For those who need a refresher: The character Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker/Spider-Man's first serious love interest. In the comics, the Green Goblin kidnaps Stacy to lure Parker to his death. The two clash atop the Brooklyn Bridge, sending Stacy's unconscious body free-falling to her inevitable death. In an attempt to save her, Spider-Man sends out a single tendril of web to wrap around her ankle. Folks who've seen the movie version will remember Emma Stone in the role of Stacy, who can't be saved by the web's belated grasp.

Comic writers killed off Stacy in 1973's The Night Gwen Stacy Died, believing it was for the greater good of Spider-Man, as readers would have difficulty relating to a superhero who could get married.

Marvel shot down Latour's original idea of bringing back Parker's Uncle Ben as a Spider-Man of another universe.

"By the time I came around to Marvel in 2010, there were two hard and fast rules; Gwen Stacy and Bucky Barnes [of Captain America] stay dead," Latour says. Later, Marvel suggested he run with a simple note jot down by writer Nick Lowe: "Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman."

Latour was unsure of breathing life back into Stacy at first, but the Spider-Verse story arc was the perfect chance to bend the rules a little. "I realized I didn't know who Gwen Stacy is in those books. I know who they tell me she is, but I don't know the character," he says, "It is really absurd to hold on to this rule of a character that died for the good of Spider-Man's plot progression."

In this reincarnation, he saw an opportunity to rethink the starkly one-dimensional female cast of the Spider-Man universe. "They've [the women in Spider-Man] have been reactionary to Parker, now their relationship with Stacy takes center stage," he says.

In the new Spider-Gwen series, Stacy drums in the band The Mary Janes with three other women who were romantically connected to Spider-Man in an alternate universe: lead singer Mary Jane Watson, keyboardist Glory Grant and lead guitarist Betty Brant.

The comic will feature many other familiar faces playing different roles from previous stories. Teasers have been released for stories featuring villains like The Vulture, an evil Matt Murdock as Daredevil and Frank Castle aka The Punisher. Latour also hinted to including other Marvel heroes and villains in the mix.

"There's something cathartic about bringing her back," Latour says. "Superheroes are about, at their core, empowerment, and I think it is a really refreshing thing to have these old tropes in a new context and meaning."

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