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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments – Day 159

Here is the latest cool comic book moment in our year-long look at one cool comic book moment a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today, we look at the lead-in to one of the more notable Spider-Man issues of all-time.

Enjoy!

Amazing Spider-Man #121, by Gerry Conway and Gil Kane, has a cover with Spider-Man fretting over the fact that SOMEone in his life is apparently going to die.

WHO, SPIDEY?!? WHO?!?!?!?!

Well, let’s find out…

Isn’t that one of the most impressive and chilling single panels?

I’m skipping the next page, because Conway takes away all the awesome subtly of the panel by having Spider-Man say something like, “Hey, that’s Gwen’s purse and a pumpkin bomb of the Green Goblin!!!”

Still, so cool.

41 Comments

The Mad Maple

June 9, 2009 at 4:52 am

Defintely a cool buildup to one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written.

And, like a lot of fans, I’m both anticipating and dreading what’s coming up….

Roquefort Raider

June 9, 2009 at 5:01 am

Excellent comic-book drama!!!

Compared to this classic, all the stories spinned from it (with its multiple resurrections and hidden pregnancies) show themselves to be a comic-book farce.

This would have been a great alternate universe story, but I agree with Greg Hatcher’s sentiment that the death of Gwen became an albatross around the neck of the franchise that it never quite got over.

This would have been a great alternate universe story, but I agree with Greg Hatcher’s sentiment that the death of Gwen became an albatross around the neck of the franchise that it never quite got over.

Speaking as someone who picked up Spider-Man after the deaths of the Stacys, “What a crock!”

Sure, bringing Gwen back and ret-conning stuff about her was awful, but the comic (and Spider-Man) did fine without her. It was just another (albeit momentous) milestone along the journey of Peter Parker’s life. There have been plenty of fine stories since.

The only albatross is from those fans (including Joe Quesada) who didn’t want her to die, and couldn’t get over it!

I always admired that the Stacys, Uncle Ben, Jean De Wolff, etc., remained dead in the comics. Rather than the multiple revolving door to heaven for every other character in Marvel/DC…

Sigh. If only we could say the same for Aunt May. Die! Die you old bag!

ANYway. Gil Kane just draws the heck out of this story. I hope “No, but I saved you,” and the title reveal surface somewhere in these moments, but this one’s as fine as any of them. This might’ve been my first back issue ever (which, incidentally, was also “Fine”), but I’m not 100% on that. I am, however, positive that ASM 121 is the first thing I ever bought on the Internet, despite much shouting and cautionary tale-telling against it by my parents. Ah, memories. Where did I put that long box?

Furious George

June 9, 2009 at 6:08 am

Wow, I never knew just how eff’d up Osborn was in this story. I’ve never read it, but I didn’t know about his outright insanity; it puts a new spin on the story for me and explains just why Peter hates and fears Norman Osborn. Great stuff.

I think the “moment” is when we see the Goblin hovering sinisterly behind Gwen. That should solidify in the reader’s mind who’s going to die.

Hey, how many times did Spidey save someone from falling off a great height and think “not again!” after this story? I can think of at least three: Spidey saving Jean Grey in ASM #28something (it was in the Rick Leonardi posting a few days ago); Spidey saving Gwen’s clone from falling off the Brooklyn Bridge during the Clone Saga; and Spidey saving Gwen from the Age of freakin’ Apocalypse during an issue of X-Man. I believe the last two were BOTH written by Terry Kavanaugh, which struck me as particularly contrived.

I don’t mind all the other people remaining dead in the Marvel Universe, I just don’t like the Stacys specifically dying. It is just extremely screwed up and always left the book with a specter of depression it’s never fully shaken.

Spider-Man is based on the premise that with great power comes great responsibility, and if he doesn’t use that great power bad things happen. It’s part of his “storytelling engine.” With the Stacys dying though, we have two innocent members of the same family dying because of their involvement with Spider-Man. He has one loved one die because he didn’t act and accept great responsibility. He has two loved ones die because he did act. So now the case AGAINST using his powers to fight crime now is much stronger than the case FOR using his powers to fight crime. At least Ben would have died anyway whether or not Spider-Man existed. Captain Stacy died because of something Spider-Man did on the other hand, and Gwen, even worse, was specifically targeted because she was Spider-Man’s girlfriend. And even worse, he didn’t even have the decency to tell her he was Spider-Man, so she was denied the choice of accepting that risk. This is the problem of including real life consequences to comic books, they open the door to analyzing real life ethical issues, which often leave the superheroes coming up short. As long as the threats are cartoonish and the supporting characters never die, you can overlook Pete not telling his friends the truth about his double life. When a whole family is dead because of Spider-Man, suddenly you can’t overlook the ethics of his crusade.

They should have just written her out of the book and left her for later writers to use. Send her out of town on a bus or something. But they kill her, the outrage among fans leads to clone saga and a host of other questionable stories, a million and one homages to people falling off of bridges or scenes of him moping on top of bridges. Her not dying would have saved us untold amounts of bridge appearances in Spider-Man comics. I’m sick of bridges. There’s even a bridge in the Spider-Man movie. “Bridge” should be listed in Spider-Man’s supporting cast thanks to this one story.

Another bad consequence of this story is that it ruined the Mary Jane character, as she’s become a weird Gwen/classic MJ amalgam ever since to fill the void. I miss the classic airhead MJ with the acid tongue and the bitchy attitude. Ultimate Spider-Man took it to the next level and made her not even an amalgam but a pure Gwen character altogether, bringing Ultimate Gwen along as the bad girl instead. It’s like Bendis decided to redo it by killing MJ this time and leaving Gwen alive.

I’m not quite as militant about it as T, but I do think it was a mistake. Mostly because of the reasons he cites, but also because it was a fundamental mischaracterization of Peter Parker.

Peter, as described in pretty much every issue up to that point, would have quit after Gwen’s death. At least for a while. He might have gotten the Goblin first and then hung it up, but the way the story’s constructed, there’s simply no way that Gwen dying isn’t Spider-Man’s fault… and Spider-Man is the guy that swore he could never let one innocent come to harm because of him.

The way to construct the story to keep most of it intact would have been for Gwen to live, discover that Peter is Spider-Man in this episode, and then leave because she can’t cope with it. And Peter would agree with her because clearly staying with him puts her in harm’s way. Maybe even instead of breaking her neck in that fall Gwen breaks some other bone or something and Peter spends the rest of the Goblin fight obsessing over what she might have heard (obviously in this version she’d be at least partially conscious) and the whole story’s built around the tension of beating the Goblin before he can get to Gwen in the hospital, or to anyone else in Peter’s private life. Finally after the Goblin’s put away — dead, jailed, committed, whatever — Peter steels himself to go see Gwen, and the breakup’s in the hospital.

More like how the first movie did it, come to think of it. The point is that the breakup should be the fault of Spider-Man. Not the death of an innocent.

The trick is that Peter’s private life always takes the hit for what Spider-Man has to do — but we should never question the rightness of what Spider-Man does. That’s the whole point. If Spider-Man’s clearly in the wrong, like in this story where there’s no way for him to be right, then it doesn’t work. It feels off. It makes Peter a selfish moron to show him continue unquestioningly as a costumed vigilante after this. That’s my main objection to it.

All that being said, the story itself is terrific just in its execution (you should pardon the expression.) There’s a reason people keep stealing riffs from it.

All that being said, the story itself is terrific just in its execution (you should pardon the expression.) There’s a reason people keep stealing riffs from it.

I agree with this, on its own it’s a GREAT story. Well written, well drawn. I just don’t think it should be in continuity.

Ok. My turn. If you think about it, I sometimes saw Peter / Gwen / MJ as a seriously adult version of Archie Andrews / Veronica / Betty storyline. Truthfully, MJ never WAS interested in Peter, but only changed post Gwen. This story effectively maturated the comics, taking the adult readers to the next level post – Harry Osborne drug story line that was only written around 2 years prior to that….Roy Thomas deserves all the credit for this. Greg is correct about the albatross.
But I have this theory about most of the writers (except Stan Lee, Roger Stern, and JJStraczinski (sp?) for Spidey. Heroes must suffer….bad people NEVER die, but innocents (or friends of heroes) must die. This is sick and I for one am getting real tired of this. Bendis is a sadist with USM and his run with Daredevil.

Even Brubaker with Capt. America and his run w/ DD is criminal for his abusive treatments of Heroes.

Wow. I disagree with so much of what you say. Innocents die all the time. Their deaths spurred him on to be a better person. Why should he quit? He would still have that great power, but would be doing NOTHING with it. The common phrase “With great power comes great responsibility” also implies a great responsibility to USE that power for good. He made mistakes. He is human. Unlike a lot of people, Peter Parker LEARNED from his mistakes (most of the time, depending on the writer)
Oh well, each to their own.

been wondering when you were going to get around that that classic spider man story since its the one that wound up defining spider man for decades to come. not to mention that pannel showed the risk super hero’s loved ones face being friends with heroe’s like spider man.

Wow. I disagree with so much of what you say. Innocents die all the time.

A LOT of things happen all the time. Like anal rape in jails. Doesn’t make them good ideas for in-continuity, ongoing superhero books. I never understand argument that something is a good superhero story idea just because it “happens all the time” in the real world. Also, Greg and I have no problem with innocents dying in superhero comics. Uncle Ben’s death is a pivotal moment. It’s Gwen specifically dying that’s the problem. It’s done more harm than good. I think a major reason JMS did Sins Past was to rectify this issue by trying to show Gwen died not because she was Spider-Man’s girlfriend but because of a personal problem between Gwen and Norman, but that was even worse.

I agree with Blackjak on this one. The book recovered fine; it’s the nerds who couldn’t cope.

And MJ’s not a Gwen clone. She has a personality.

Okay, T. (ignoring the “anal rape in jails” comment that you seem to bring up on a regular basis) if Gwen and her father had not died, would you still like the story, and Spider-Man from those points on?

My point is that, to me at least, they were part of what makes Peter Parker Spider-Man. Alongside the death of Uncle Ben, they are two deaths that hang heavy on his conscience and make him continue what he does. Why he won’t ever give up. Without their deaths, he wouldn’t be the same.

This was an era when Harry was on drugs, for goodness sake. They were trying to deal with serious topics. The death of an innocent bystander was just one. It happened to be Gwen. That made it more personal. To the readers as well as Peter.

That’s my view. If you don’t agree, that’s your opinion, and you’re welcome to it.

It doesn’t make either of us right.

Okay, T. (ignoring the “anal rape in jails” comment that you seem to bring up on a regular basis

I do?

if Gwen and her father had not died, would you still like the story, and Spider-Man from those points on?

I’ve said multiple times in this thread it’s a great story on it’s own merit when viewed in a vacuum.

This was an era when Harry was on drugs, for goodness sake. They were trying to deal with serious topics.

Yes, they were. However I never said they weren’t trying to deal with serious topics. I never said serious topics are always 100% bad. I just don’t think ALL serious topics are automatically good story material simply because they’re serious. A death of an innocent is fine. A death of an innocent who happens to be a member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast is even fine. But when that character dies BECAUSE of Spider-Man? That’s what I have a problem with.

One of the things I like about Spider-Man is that he’s flawed. He’s got fairly low level powers, a smart mouth, and a teenager’s level of maturity. He has great power, great responsibility, and he screws up a lot. He tries to do what’s right, but he doesn’t always get it right, and sometimes, people die because of it. To say that someone dying because him doesn’t seem like too distant a possibility, actually.

Examining the flaws and repurcussions of the life of being a superhero is one of the things that’s best about Spider-Man. Wolverine’s a bad-ass who doesn’t care if anything goes wrong. Bruce Banner fights against his nature, but once he’s the Hulk, he doesn’t weigh his options. He just smashes. Thor’s a God, Captain America’s practically the embodiment of America. Peter Parker just tries the best he can, and sometimes, his best isn’t good enough.

Uncle Ben’s death is the one that taught him he needed to try hard and do great things with his great power. Gwen Stacy’s death is the one that taught him he needed to try harder.

I’m in the camp with Stu and Blackjak. Sometimes good people do do bad things, and those errors, those slips of the way sometimes do indeed have the most horrific consequences. That it is a hero, the very champion of the good, who made such a fatal error throws the whole Spider-man mythos into starkest definition. Great power does come with responsibility… This is an equation that only has meaning, poignancy and profundity when it is a human that must stand in measure of it. And Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and Peter Parker is that human… not a god, and not even a Superman. Can Peter Parker not fail like the rest of us? Should he not fail like the rest of us? Yes, his career has been defined by such a catastrophic misstep… and yet what has been lost (Gwen, and a self-certainty) has been replaced by so much more in terms true self knowledge and a story of epic humanism.

The Mad Maple

June 9, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Wow. Can’t wait to read the comments after he posts the ACTUAL moment, not just the LEADUP to it….

After reading these panels I’m reminded why One More Day should have retconned Norman Osborn’s role in the clone saga instead of the Parker-Watson marriage. If Marvel wanted a “Lex Luthor” for their universe they could have used Roderick Kingsley, Justin Hammer, Richard Fisk, or any other character from their gallery of Evil Corporate Types.

Osborn’s fate here defined Spider-Man for all time. Undoing it is Marvel’s biggest botch job since the first of Jean Grey’s resurrections.

I think this story shows what a void the character of Gwen Stacy had become at this point. All the emotional impact is within Harry, Peter, and Norman; Gwen is practically a spectator in her own death.

The Spectacular Spider-Man has done more in two season to make her a character than anything the comics ever did.

I think this story shows what a void the character of Gwen Stacy had become at this point. All the emotional impact is within Harry, Peter, and Norman; Gwen is practically a spectator in her own death.

As far as comic book superhero girlfriends go, Gwen Stacy was no more a void of a character than any other superhero character’s girlfriend. Even Sue Storm, a member of the Fantastic Four, didn’t really have many compelling narratives in this era. It’s just how they wrote women in general back then, not any inherent weakness in Gwen Stacy.

Gwen had become radioactive in the book since her father’s death, I think. No one really knew how to write her because no one knew how to handle the ethical issues George Stacy’s death caused. It was the norm for a superhero to hide his identity from a loved one, but after he is responsible for the death of her father? Where do you go from there? So they started trying to use her less it seems, not really knowing where to go with it. My theory is that at some point, Conway decided it would just be easier on everyone to just kill her.

The trick is that Peter’s private life always takes the hit for what Spider-Man has to do — but we should never question the rightness of what Spider-Man does. That’s the whole point. If Spider-Man’s clearly in the wrong, like in this story where there’s no way for him to be right, then it doesn’t work. It feels off. It makes Peter a selfish moron to show him continue unquestioningly as a costumed vigilante after this. That’s my main objection to it.

Greg, I pretty much disagree with this.

To me, a well constructed story-telling is going someplace. The construction of the protagonist, the supporting cast, the setting and the every thing else create a forward momentum toward a logical conclusion. There may be 2, or 20, or 200 stops along the way, but the beginning defines the ending.

In classical tragedy, it was an ending that the audience knew was coming and hoped the hero could avoid. In that sense, Batman is the most classically tragic of modern American superheroes. Neil Gaiman did a great job making that point in “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” and it drove Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” . However, Spider-Man is not far behind.

Spider-Man is, after all, a coming of age story. The choice Peter Parker makes at the end of Amazing Fantasy #15 is more mature than one he made to let the burglar go, but it is not fully adult. Lee and Ditko had people questioning the choices Spidey made in nearly every issue and his critics are not entirely wrong. Getting into pitched superhero battles in the middle of Manhattan is an incredibly immature thing to do. Literally hundreds of innocent bystanders are at risk every time Spidey and the Green Goblin square off.

In other words, the Silver Age Spider-Man had a Great Power, but was sort of limited from a responsibility stand-point.

More to the point, Stan Lee seemed to understand this. An awful lot of bad things happened as indirect result of Peter being Spider-Man over the years. Maybe he was a “selfish moron”, but that is hardly atypical of young men. Sadly, Peter soldiering on through reversal after reversal gave a sense that the consequences of his behavior were mounting, like those of an addict.

Gwen Stacey dying felt like the inevitable result of everything that had happened to that point. Sadly, the logical result of all this Peter leaving the web-shooters behind to help humanity as a medical researcher, or something. Obviously, that was never going to happen (or at least not in a lasting way). Marvel had pages to fill, so they kept the story going after the logical conclusion.

No one really knew how to write her because no one knew how to handle the ethical issues George Stacy’s death caused. It was the norm for a superhero to hide his identity from a loved one, but after he is responsible for the death of her father? Where do you go from there?

See, this is where we disagree. Captain Stacy died because he took action, he stepped into the combat zone because he was trying to save a child. Yeah, it’s sad, and yeah, Gwen blamed Spider-Man… but it was forgiveable because we all knew the real facts.

Gwen’s death wasn’t a ‘misstep’ on Peter’s part. Gwen wasn’t an innocent bystander or collateral damage. Peter didn’t do anything wrong. Gwen was sought out, targeted specifically by a supervillain because he knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man. It was the worst-case of every hero with a secret identity, and it wasn’t because of what Peter Parker did, it was because of who Peter Parker was.

THAT is the basic problem I’m talking about with the story’s premise. Construct it so it’s a case of Peter making a mistake and it’s a different story. This is a case where there was no right action for Peter Parker to take that would have saved her from the Goblin, because there wasn’t any action on his part at all — it happened due to the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

The Peter Parker that I read about from Lee and Ditko and Romita wouldn’t have been able to deal with that, because there’s simply no way that he wouldn’t see that death as being Spider-Man’s fault; he knows that from that point on, every time he puts on the suit he is putting his loved ones at risk. Knows it, he’s seen it demonstrated.

There are those folks that think it ‘raised the stakes’ or made the strip more ‘adult,’ or whatever. My feeling is that it put Peter Parker in a bad position ethically, just for the sake of keeping him going as Spider-Man.

The short version — Continuing to endanger his loved ones after Gwen’s death seems to me like something Peter Parker would not do. Spider-Man works better when Peter’s got the moral high ground. Then the misery of his private life looks bearable, even noble. When he doesn’t have the high ground, he just looks like a jerk.

Hey, for someone born a decade after the night Gwen Stacy died, it more or less defined the superhero genre for our young minds: Spider-Man is all fun and games, but something seriously bad happened in his life once, because he decided to be a hero. For better or for worse, that story can’t be taken back.

Well, the reason he decided to be a hero in the first place is that something seriously bad happened in his life.

There are those folks that think it ‘raised the stakes’ or made the strip more ‘adult,’ or whatever. My feeling is that it put Peter Parker in a bad position ethically, just for the sake of keeping him going as Spider-Man.

The short version — Continuing to endanger his loved ones after Gwen’s death seems to me like something Peter Parker would not do. Spider-Man works better when Peter’s got the moral high ground. Then the misery of his private life looks bearable, even noble. When he doesn’t have the high ground, he just looks like a jerk.

From a detached (maybe “cold”), utilitarian standpoint, one might argue that it makes him more heroic going on as Spider-Man despite awareness of the fatal danger to his loved ones. In other words, Peter’s able to recognize that without Spider-Man, many more people will die than with, but the trade-off is that the people who DO die will often be close to him. Remember, that Spider-Man does not really have the same dynamic as Batman of possibly creating his own foes, so most of the people he saves would have died without him around.

Also to continue the Batman counterpoint, being Spider-Man is pretty much THE way for Peter to use his powers to help people, unlike Bruce Wayne whose vast resources may have been better applied in other ways. For Peter to retire the webs on account of of a personal tragedy undermines the essence of the character, and always fails, because it puts him in the ethically nasty position of ignoring the catastrophes and super villain assaults which always seem to land in his immediate vicinity. The moral high ground, in my opinion, IS to stay on as Spider-Man.

- However, there are complications in that to be truly noble after the death of Gwen Stacy, Peter ought to have continued as Spider-Man AND lived a life of relative isolation. Obviously though, this would fuck with the storytelling, as the supporting cast always drives a good chunk of the Spider-Man stories. THIS is the problem with these types of tales, which I think a lot of people are saying in different ways, that they clash with future storytelling by calling into serious question the motives of characters who are fundamentally silly and not designed to withstand heavy scrutiny.

THIS is the problem with these types of tales, which I think a lot of people are saying in different ways, that they clash with future storytelling by calling into serious question the motives of characters who are fundamentally silly and not designed to withstand heavy scrutiny.

Well, yeah. I think, way back long ago and far away, that was probably my point whenever I originally was talking about this story in the column a couple of years ago. The trouble is, anytime anyone around here says so, a howling mob descends yelling about how there’s no limit on the different kinds of superhero stories you can tell and who the hell are we to limit the genre, do we WANT nothing but kid’s stuff…. etc.

My ACTUAL position, when you strip away all the Spider-Man continuity folderol, is simply that most superheroes work better done as light entertainment, because of the inherent absurdity of the concepts involved. You can get interesting culture-clash hybrid things when you deliberately play against that lightness — Miracleman, Brat Pack, The Authority, etc. — but when you do it in more mainstream books with characters like the JLA or Spider-Man you get something that’s both depressing and silly at the same time. I’m fine with superheroes for adults…. but I object to forcing what are essentially children’s characters, or let’s say popcorn-entertainment-type characters designed for a younger audience, into ‘adult’ scenarios they were never meant for.

I think this particular story is probably the earliest instance of that, as well-done as it was, and that’s really where my discomfort with where it leaves Spider-Man’s status quo comes from.

See, this is where we disagree. Captain Stacy died because he took action, he stepped into the combat zone because he was trying to save a child. Yeah, it’s sad, and yeah, Gwen blamed Spider-Man… but it was forgiveable because we all knew the real facts.

It was forgiveable to US, but could you ever sell it as being forgiveable to Gwen? That was the challenge. Sooner or later, if Gwen was kept alive, someone would have to tackle this story. Spider-Man’s negligence in creating that web fluid that caused Doc Ock’s arms to lose control in a crowded battle zone could be seen by a reasonable person as causing Stacy’s death. It wasn’t as clear-cut forgiveable as you make out, even when one knows all the facts.

Stan Lee left without ever resolving this problem. From the issues I read after George Stacy died, I don’t think he knew HOW to resolve it. Gerry Conway didn’t seem to know what to do either, and he was so young at the time maybe he just didn’t know how to write the inevitable scene where Peter revealed what happened or how to make Gwen react to the death.

Greg,

I agree wth your “ACTUAL position”, bar one thing. Spider-Man. His origin involves tragedy. There has always been a certain stigma attached to his powers, unlike a lot of other superheroes, which I think is one of the things that makes him so relatable. His lightness and humour reflect the absurdity of his life. He is all about learning and “growing-up”. Kids can appreciate being treated as “adults”, without resorting to what is “adult material”…

I know I did. I’m not talking about sex and violence, I’m talking about accepting responsibility for things. Learning to accept that we cannot win everything. Some of the harder lessons in life.

That, to me, was what made Spider-Man so special, compared with Iron Man, Thor, etc, as Stu, Cass and Dean pointed out…

See, where I disagree with T and Greg is the belief that Peter is somehow culpable in the Stacys’ deaths. Even setting aside the whole “Sins Past” thing (which I prefer to do; every retcon, revisitation, and reworking of this story has made it worse)…Gwen Stacy died because a crazy supervillain decided to kill her. Saying that he targeted her “because she knew Peter Parker” removes moral responsibility from the crazy supervillain (who made the decision to kidnap a young woman, fly her up to the top of a bridge, and chuck her off) and put it on the guy who tried and failed to save her life. If Peter Parker hadn’t been Spider-Man, maybe Gwen Stacy would be alive…or maybe she’d have died in the crossfire of a war between the Kingpin and the Green Goblin for control of New York City’s mobs, or been killed because she wound up dating Harry Osborn and Norman decided she wasn’t good enough for his boy, or maybe she’d be alive and three dozen other people would be dead because Peter Parker wasn’t there to save her. Peter cannot spend his life second-guessing that split-second where he failed. He can’t control everything. (To quote Doctor Who: “If you really could decide who lived and who died, that would make you a monster.”) All he can do is try to make the world a safer place by putting the monsters of the world behind bars. If he gives up being Spider-Man, if he tries to make his own loved ones safe by hiding his head in the sand and not doing anything to stop evil, well…he knows how that ends. He’s been on the receiving end of pointless, random acts of violence.

I think the series was better for Gwen’s death for a long time. I’ve read just about every comic Marvel published in the 1960s, and I profoundly disagree with T’s statement that Gwen was no more vapid than any other Marvel woman. She’s actually Number Two on my list of Most Vapid, Inane, Empty-Headed Male Appendages In Comics History (shortly behind #1, Betty Banner.) Sue Storm, Mary Jane, Betty Brant…heck, even the Wasp was a more well-rounded female character than Gwen Stacy was! Gwen existed to do nothing but sigh and say, “Peter’s so dreamy…” (Until her father’s death, of course. Then she said, “Peter’s so dreamy…but I hate that Spider-Man!”) Compared to her, MJ was a feminist icon. She had goals, dreams, ambitions, and personality. The only thing she lacked was maturity, and you saw her gain it in one panel at the end of this story, when Peter lashes out at her and she refuses to let him drive her away.

No, the mistake they made was in bringing back Norman Osborn. His death is truly one of the finest moments in the series’ history, as karma deals out rough justice to him for his callous acts. Peter steps away from vengeance, showing himself as a true hero, the Goblin tries to kill him anyway, showing himself as an irredeemable monster, and he is hoist on his own petard for it. It’s a perfect end to the story…and a brilliant evolution to the character. From that point on, the Goblin becomes an idea, a standard that other characters rally to. He becomes a metaphorical ghost, haunting Peter by continually inspiring new villains to take up his mantle (and by the way, Roger Stern is an absolute genius for his decision to make Roderick Kingsley into the Hobgoblin. It’s so fitting that a fashion designer accused of stealing other people’s work and passing it off as his own should become an ersatz Green Goblin.) Bringing back Norman Osborn doesn’t just reduce the impact of the story, it doesn’t just seem implausible (really? A chunk of metal the size of a small tree through the heart is survivable?) It makes justice itself, not just Spider-Man, seem small and impotent. If the innocent die, but the guilty always survive for another go-round, it makes it hard to see how a hero can ever make any difference.

Norman should have stayed dead. Everyone should have left this story alone. It’s just too damn good to tamper with.

My ACTUAL position, when you strip away all the Spider-Man continuity folderol, is simply that most superheroes work better done as light entertainment, because of the inherent absurdity of the concepts involved.

@ Greg: I agree with you, but with caveats.

First, no one hates the “Women in Refrigerators” stuff more than I do. That tendency came into comics in large measure with the Death of Gwen Stacey and the Dark Phoenix saga. However, I think it is unfair to judge the stories themselves based on the unfortunate trends that followed. The short version of my earlier post is that Gerry Conway and Gil Kane told a great story here that was true to world Stan Lee and Steve Ditko had created.

Second, it is true that comics during the Silver Age were designed as entertainment for children. The lightness of tone that readers love in that material was the brightness of an adult trying to explain the world to a child. There is limit to where you can and should go with characters designed for that purpose. However, that was not true of either Golden or Bronze Ages. Golden Age characters were designed for a general audience, which certainly included everyone. That is very different than writing stories directed toward children. Bronze Age characters were tailored to college aged baby boomers and comic fans.

That is why “Identity Crisis” felt so appalling, while “The Dark Knight Returns” was justly celebrated. As a kid, the Ralph and Sue Dibny were like friends of your parents. They were unhip to a comical degree, but you cared about them. Conversely, Bruce Wayne is a brooding narcissist. He is much cooler, since he lives almost totally outside the world most suburban kids experience.

This is true of the vast majority of the Golden Age superheroes. I watch old episodes of “The Adventures of Superman” and the Fleisher cartoons with my young son. Both need careful previewing, because they are often shockingly violent, or mature in their subject matter. This is fifty plus year old content. “A Night of Terror” seemed like it was adapted from a James Elroy short story. George Reeves and Phyllis Coates were pretty frankly flirtatious in many places. Whereas, the Fleisher cartoons had Lois and Clark talking like a young couple talking twenty minutes before having sex, Reeves and Coates always seemed to be coming back from either his or her place. Her interest in getting married that turned up in the comics around this time makes a lot more sense.

Oh … the double identity business was treated as an inside joke, or more to the point as a private code that is shared between Lois and Clark.

The point is that I did not pick up on most this when I was a kid, but it is unmistakably there. You can read the content both ways and enjoy it equally. That is totally gone from modern superhero stories and has been for a long, long time.

Sue Storm, Mary Jane, Betty Brant…heck, even the Wasp was a more well-rounded female character than Gwen Stacy was! Gwen existed to do nothing but sigh and say, “Peter’s so dreamy…” (Until her father’s death, of course. Then she said, “Peter’s so dreamy…but I hate that Spider-Man!”)

Then you’re an extreme revisionist. Even Lois Lane didn’t do much but pine over Superman or try to prove he was Clark Kent for decades. And pre-Stern Wasp as a well-rounded female?

Compared to her, MJ was a feminist icon. She had goals, dreams, ambitions, and personality.

Reread those stories again without keeping any later retcons in mind. Just read them and try to consider them in a vacuum. MJ would hardly appear for large stretches at a time even. She was extremely 2-dimensional and vapid. You are letting later stories and retcons and creator legends color your perception I think.

(Gwen Stacy)’s actually Number Two on my list of Most Vapid, Inane, Empty-Headed Male Appendages In Comics History (shortly behind #1, Betty Banner.) Sue Storm, Mary Jane, Betty Brant…heck, even the Wasp was a more well-rounded female character than Gwen Stacy was! Gwen existed to do nothing but sigh and say, “Peter’s so dreamy…” (Until her father’s death, of course. Then she said, “Peter’s so dreamy…but I hate that Spider-Man!”)

@John Seavey:

To me, the acid test of female comic book characters is how often I want to compare them to actual women in real life. They are two-dimensional versions of three-dimensional human beings. If you define a “Lois Lane” as a persistent, curious, competitive and career-minded woman, then I can name a half-dozen of them. If you define “Mary Jane Watson” as a young aspiring actress-model-whatever who has a good heart that gets her into bad spots and bluffs more confidence than she has, then I can name a half-dozen of those. If you define “Sue Storm” as an introverted woman struggling with her relationship with a workaholic, then I’ve met a couple of those. If you define a “Jean Grey” as a young woman from a nice home who wants to be a “bad girl” and gets in over her head, then that is a type I know. If you define a “Janet Van Dyne” as a woman with minimal interests beyond shopping who puts up with an abusive relationship, then I have even met that person.

The person I have never met is a “Gwen Stacy”. She has always seemed more like a symbol of what young men think they want in a woman than an actual woman. That is part of why this story works so well. Gwen is largely what the reader wants her to be.

If you define “Mary Jane Watson” as a young aspiring actress-model-whatever who has a good heart that gets her into bad spots and bluffs more confidence than she has, then I can name a half-dozen of those. If you define “Sue Storm” as an introverted woman struggling with her relationship with a workaholic, then I’ve met a couple of those. If you define a “Jean Grey” as a young woman from a nice home who wants to be a “bad girl” and gets in over her head, then that is a type I know. If you define a “Janet Van Dyne” as a woman with minimal interests beyond shopping who puts up with an abusive relationship, then I have even met that person.

The problem is, these descriptions of these characters do not apply to their Silver Age incarnations, they are what those characters became after later Bronze Age retconning and fleshing out. If Gwen Stacy survived into the Bronze Age, she’d have been subject to the same treatment. Sue Storm was not an introvert struggling with introversion, she just an attention whore ditz. Jean Grey didn’t have bad girl issues that got her in over her head, she was a bland idealized good girl. Janet Van Dyne wasn’t putting up with an abusive relationship. There wasn’t much proof MJ had a heart of gold and was bluffing confidence, she was basically a raging narcissist party girl. That’s why I think it’s not fair to compare Gwen to other female character who had most of their fleshing out done post-Silver Age. You have to compare her to other female characters AS THEY EXISTED in the Silver Age.

The pumpkin on the purse is killer, definitely a great moment in comics.

You’re right, T, Silver Age MJ wasn’t a troubled girl hiding it behind a veneer of confidence. She was an aggressive, ambitious woman who wanted to make it as an actress and was determined to work hard, take minor parts, hustle her butt off (notice how she was always shown as having a _job_ in the Silver Age?) and oh, by the way, she was also an exciting, glamorous 60s woman who flung herself into life. Because she didn’t have to spend her entire existence pining over Peter Parker, Lee could actually do things with the character, like give her a personality.

(And Sue Storm was way more than just “an attention whore ditz”. Sure, the first few years of Sue on the title were shaky, but even in the latter Lee/Kirby issues, she’s asserting her independence, even going so far as to leave Reed when he refuses to treat her as an equal member of the team and respect her abilities. And Janet, who you insist wasn’t fleshed out until decades later, became a super-hero because she believed that it was the right thing to do and she needed to help Ant-Man make sure nobody else died like her father did. Her “ditziness” was mostly in her dialogue; she was usually portrayed as being just as competent as Ant-Man was. Um, for what that’s worth. :) )

Honestly, what surprised me most when I went back and read these Silver Age comics was just how good some of the characterization of women was. I won’t say all…Gwen Stacy and Betty Banner still stand out to me as being terribly sexist, even compared to other female characters of the period (and not, as you continue to insist, compared to my imaginary expectations of future versions of female characters of the period.) Admittedly, Marvel was generally more progressive than DC in that regard (although Sue Dibny was very well done.) But Gwen really was near the bottom. Even her post-Silver Age flashbacks tend to focus more on the hagiography of, “Ooh, isn’t it so sad she died? She’d have been so perfect for Peter!” Even in death, she’s defined solely by her connection to Peter Parker.

T doesn’t enjoy good comics. Someone buy him a life.

This story showed that comics could be ‘adult’ long before Watchmen came along.

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