In Guest List, Paste’s favorite artists and auteurs reveal the music that’s inspired some of their most seminal works.
Spider-Gwen is a book that fans seemingly willed into existence, summoned by the masses following an overwhelmingly positive response to the character’s one-off debut in Edge of Spiderverse #2. Before that book even hit stands, writer Jason Latour spotted Spider-Gwen cosplay on Instagram, and Texas band Married With Sea Monsters produced a badass real-world single incorporating Latour’s lyrics from the in-comic band, The Mary Janes, in which Gwen plays drums. Kinetically drawn by artist Robbi Rodriguez and brought to neon life by colorist Rico Renzi, Gwen finally swung onto stands this week in the first issue of her own ongoing series, earning widespread praise and uncharacteristically high sales for an (essentially) new character.
Latour crafted a custom playlist for Paste to mirror the bounding energy and exuberance of his new knockout character. We chatted with the writer to discuss how close the playlist came to only featuring songs with “tiger” in the title, how the Vulture landed to roost as the first arc’s primary antagonist, and the role music does — and doesn’t — play in crafting Gwen’s punk rock webslinging tales.
Jason Latour on the Role Music Plays in Spider-Gwen
With a comic book, I don’t feel like music really works on the page. The impact of it all has everything to do with the people making the story behind the scenes, and the best that you can do is really give people impressions of what you were thinking. So as a writer, I don’t do a whole lot of listening to music when I’m working. This is the least rock ‘n roll answer of all time, but I’m always a little reticent to force the audience to enjoy my playlist, you know? [Laughs] On a book like Southern Bastards it may be a little different, because you’re either with us or you’re not on that book. But with a superhero book, the music influences the tone but it shouldn’t put a cap on what people enjoy. I don’t want to be the cranky record store clerk who’s sort of berating people because they don’t get it.
But behind the scenes, music is a big influence, at least subconsciously. There are a lot of things about the music that I like, and music in general, that sort of influence what I do. I think the impressionistic quality of it, the limited space, the way that emotions have to be really earnest, even in a ridiculous premise, I think those are things that carry over and have taught me a lot about what I do. There’s probably someone sitting there reading Southern Bastards and listening to ABBA and enjoying it for all I know. [Laughs]
1. “Secrets,” The Runaways
The Runaways, to my knowledge, were one of the first big girl bands. My knowledge is not exactly encyclopedic on that. [Laughs] At least they still sort of stick out in people’s minds. The song is kind of self-explanatory: Gwen is a superhero who has a secret, that’s really all there is to that one.
2. “Normal Person,” Arcade Fire
I don’t know how people felt about Reflektor, but I really liked that album. This song is really about how people take things on the fringe and ridicule them, but if they hang around, they end up becoming mainstream. I think that’s some of the message of that song. That certainly applies to the book we’re doing, but it also applies to Spider-Man and to comics in general.
What I like about Arcade Fire is that there’s an underlying sort of Springsteen-ness to the writing. There are a lot of people longing to be free of whatever their existential dread is. Sometimes, as much as I love them, I get to where I can’t listen to them anymore. It’s becoming whiny. [Laughs] I think what I liked about Reflektor is that it’s a little more upbeat. They consciously decided to go in a direction that’s a little to the left of what they’ve been doing.
3. “Down On The Street,” The Stooges
I just like the title and the drive and the drums and the feel of this song. It’d be good in a movie.
4. “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” The Slits
I’m a quote-unquote storyteller by trade, so it’s hard for me to make a playlist that I don’t think has a cohesive flow to it. I got into these punky girl group tracks, and I always liked “Heard It Through The Grapevine.” It’s about rumors, so I guess in some weird way it applies to our book.
5. “Tiger Feet,” Mud
This is a weird song. I have a British friend I was joking with about how I have all these songs that I want to put on here that have “tiger” in the title. She sent me the link to this and I was like, that’s pretty goofy, I like that. I almost started with “Eye of the Tiger” just for a joke. [Laughs]
6. “Barracuda,” Heart
You can kind of couple this with that Slits song. I wanted to use “Cherry Bomb,” but with Guardians of the Galaxy using it… [Laughs]
7. “Hanging on the Telephone,” Blondie
There’s a lot of stuff in the book about the importance of phone calls. It would not have made any sense to do this playlist without some reference to Debbie Harry, both because I’m a big hip-hop fan, and if you’re trying to find the crossover in what the band in this book is, and maybe even the audience of this book, with some of my own personal tastes, this would be a good bridge. But also because Robbi told me a few times that when he draws Gwen, he occasionally thinks of young Debbie Harry.
8. “Science Killer,” The Black Angels
I just like the title and the drive of this. It’s sort of an atmospheric song.
9. “Silent Machine,” Cat Power
I couldn’t do a playlist without some alt-country. I had to put some alt-country stuff in sheep’s clothing, so Cat Power kind of fulfills that quota.
10. “Hustle And Cuss,” The Dead Weather
One of the things that strangely separates Gwen from Peter Parker in my head is that she cusses a lot. [Laughs] If you flip through the books, especially some of the upcoming books, she cusses in symbols. I think it maybe is not a thing that sticks out to the reader right away, but I think it is a difference in their personalities. I don’t want Gwen Stacy to just be Peter Parker in drag. “Peter Parker: The Bowie Years.” [Laughs]
11. “Black Cat,” Janet Jackson
We’re potentially doing some Black Cat stuff. I have a lot of ideas for Felicia Hardy.
12. “Anywhere But Here,” Killer Mike feat. Emily Panic & Chamillionaire
I had to segue into some super personal tastes here, but I also think it’s a very New York City song, sort of a good driving-around-late-at-night, being a journalist kind of song. I like the thought of Gwen just throwing this on her iPod as she swings around.
13. “Protect Ya Neck,” Wu-Tang Clan
Maybe that’s a bad joke [Laughs] Anyone reading this knows why it’s a bad joke, but I love Wu-Tang Clan. I’ve actually concocted this internal thing with Gwen’s character that she likes kung-fu movies and old rap music. I said that online the other day, and somebody called me grandpa for it, as if I’m not in touch with kids. My response was, yeah, ‘cause your ears stop working if someone puts on music that’s not from the year you were born. If that were the case, no one would even know who the Beatles are. [Laughs]
The very first verse has a Spider-Man reference on it. I actually wanted to put “Tiger Style” on there too, so maybe I’ll go back and put that on there. [That song] is actually called “Ain’t Nothing To Fuck With.” I didn’t want to lean too heavily into every song having “tiger” in it. [Laughs]
14. “Respiration,” Black Star & Common
It’s just a great New York City rap song, for walking around New York City at night. I lived in New York for two years, so this one really takes me back.
15. “Don’t Move,” Phantogram
I like the beat, and I think it’s a good sort of soundtrack song. And there’s a lot of stuff lyrically in the content. There’s some reference to staying alive, which I think is applicable to a character who has been resurrected.
16. “Face It Tiger,” Married With Sea Monsters
In a weird way, I helped write this song. [Laughs] I was really stunned at how good this song is. I think Robbi has known Kat [Dixon], the lead singer, or some of the guys in the band, maybe, since high school. They’re all from the same hometown in Texas. Robbi speaks to them pretty frequently. He’s even directed a music video for the band and done album covers and stuff. He was so excited as he was working on the first appearance [of Spider-Gwen] that he started handing the band pages, showing them stuff behind the scenes, and they took the lyrics that I’d written as just these impressionistic, almost even visual elements, and expanded them into a whole song.
Robbi told me about it and said they wanted to release it in conjunction with the book coming out, and I was all for it, but I was secretly like, I haven’t heard this song. What if this song is terrible? [Laughs] I didn’t want to have to apologize for it. I’d heard a few things by them that I thought were really good, but my own ego was wrapped up in it, which made me slightly more concerned. Fortunately, I think it’s really great, and Kat sings her heart out on it, which is what makes it great.
17. “Bulletproof,” Amanda Shires
This song is one I was relatively new to. I took a look at Robbi’s playlist and I was not shocked, because I know he likes alt-country music, but Amanda Shires is married to Jason Isbell, who is one of my favorite alt-country musicians. I’ve heard some of her stuff, but I haven’t dug too deeply into it. Robbi picked a really good track there. It really relates to being a superhero, and in the song, somebody gives the narrator a tiger paw, and they’ve told her it makes her bulletproof, and she’s pondering if it has. That sort of lines up metaphorically with Gwen getting bit by a spider. Now that she has spider-powers, people are sort of testing her as much as she’s testing herself.
18. “Where Is My Mind?,” Pixies
I love the Pixies but [this song] is sort of on there as a joke. When Robbi and I first started bandying around this idea, I mentioned the Pixies, because I sort of had Kim Deal in my head for some reason, and I think I had this song in my head, but I don’t know why. I mentioned it to Robbi and he kind of laughed at me, and then he went and did his own playlist, and at the end of his playlist, he was like, “Yeah, I ended up throwing that on there because it’s perfect.” [Laughs]
19. “Mary Jane,” Rick James
It’s a little cheesy maybe, but I think it’s a great song. When we first were kicking around this idea, I kept thinking, The Mary Janes have to cover “Mary Jane,” [Laughs] They have to cover that song! So I ended up going with a couple songs because they were bouncing around in my head during the creation. You get the earworm.
When we first decided to name the band, I would walk around the house singing this version of the song all the time. It’s the kind of song you get stuck in your head and you just end up annoying the shit out of everybody around you with it. [Laughs]
20. “If You Want Me To Stay,” Sly & The Family Stone
I just love this song. It’s almost anthemic if you apply it to the book, the idea that she doesn’t know where she fits in and she doesn’t know who wants her and who doesn’t.
21. “Your Soul And Mine,” Gil Scott-Heron
The main reason I decided to use the Vulture in the first arc is that I’ve always liked this poem. It’s sort of about how you can’t escape death, and it might be a seemingly downbeat thing to end on, but one of the themes of this story is how Gwen is trying to face down Peter Parker’s death. I’ve always liked the idea that the Vulture circling is a constant reminder of what could be her own death, you know? Our approach to the Vulture in the book as much as anything is that there’s a power to his visuals that’s even more impactful than the character himself.
We kind of reversed engineered our way back to the Vulture having that sort of meaning in the story, because initially the thought was that it’d be interesting to see this young new hero fight an old bitter man. There could be some sort of commentary on the state of comics there. [Laughs] But as much as I like that, I don’t want to write a story that’s just meta commentary, so finding a way to link the Vulture back to what’s going on, or why Gwen would be so obsessed with him, is kind of key. This song really helped unlock that little riddle.
After that upbeat sort of end to the playlist, I like trailing off to this haunting thing, as if you can’t escape it. It’s salty and sweet. [Laughs.]