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Welcome to the four hundred and sixty-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and sixty-eight. This week, it’s a special theme week! All legends revolving around the classic Spider-Man story “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”! Was a DIFFERENT Spider-Man cast member originally going to take Gwen’s place and be killed? Was Gwen killed off behind Stan Lee’s back while he was on a trip to Europe? Did Stan Lee make the famous George Washington Bridge/Brooklyn Bridge mistake?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Aunt May was the original victim of the Green Goblin’s rampage.
STATUS: Basically True
Amazing Spider-Man #121 came out at a very interesting point in Marvel history. Stan Lee had given up the Editor-in-Chief position to Roy Thomas in 1972 and had become the publisher of Marvel Comics. At the same time, Lee had pulled back on the writing reins on the last two titles that he tried to avoid dropping – Marvel’s spotlight titles, Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man (he had taken breaks on the books very recently, but then had returned). The assignment of writing Amazing Spider-Man passed to Gerry Conway, who was not even 20 years old at the time (Roy Thomas had written the book during Lee’s first temporary break). By the time #121 came around, Conway was 20 years old and all alone as the writer of one of Marvel’s most popular titles.
Conway was clearly a disciple of Stan Lee and just like how Lee valued the input of his artists when it came to plotting the comics, so, too, did Conway. So John Romita was a big part of Conway’s early Spider-Man run, even if time constraints often prevented ROmita from actually penciling the finished comic after he plotted it. Romita joked to Tom Spurgeon in an amazing interview Spurgeon did with him back in 2002 (check it out here – it’s great. Tom Spurgeon is so awesome) that Gil Kane always ended up with the plum assignments because Romita would be needed all over the rest of Marvel (when Lee became publisher, Thomas inherited Lee’s Editor-in-Chief job but Romita inherited Lee’s Art Director job) and so Kane would step in an pencil a story that Romita has plotted with the book’s writer.
So Lee had now officially left Amazing Spider-Man. It is now all Gerry Conway’s to work with. This is a time when you want to let readers know that they should stick around, so coming up with a major plot twist would be a good idea. Roy Thomas then came up with the idea (I am not sure if he came up with it WITH Conway or by himself) of having Spider-Man’s nemesis the Green Goblin return and kill a beloved member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast…
Originally, it was Aunt May!
When Conway brought the story idea to Romita, though, Romita suggested that Gwen Stacy be killed instead. As Romita recalled in an interview with Dan Johnson in Back Issue #18:
ROMITA: I remember telling Gerry that Aunt May was too important to Peter’s secret identity for us to kill her. I know she was a pain in the neck to a lot of readers, but she was a good foil and as long as Aunt May was around, Peter was going to be a kid. I suggested that if we were going to kill somebody, it should be Gwen or Mary Jane. [This was] based on Milton Caniff’s trick. Caniff used to take very important female characters in Terry and the Pirates and knock them off regularly every four or five years. As a young kid, I was very much into Terry and the Pirates and I remember when Pat Ryan, who was the main hero, lost his girlfriend, there were people on the street the next day talking about how Raven Sherman had died. I thought, “This can’t be! I thought I was the only guy who thought of these characters as real people!” It stuck in my mind that if you’re going to kill somebody, kill somebody very important, make it a real shock.
CONWAY: Make it count.
ROMITA: That was the only suggestion I made to Gerry when we were plotting this. I thought if somebody was going to die, it should be Gwen. I thought she was so important, [the readers] imagined she would never die. I think it bears out, because 35 years later we’re still talking about it!
And so it was Gwen Stacy who was Green Goblin’s victim in Amazing Spider-Man #121, an issue whose title was hidden until the very end of the book…
By the way, I feel out of place doing a “Death of Gwen Stacy” themed Comic Book Legends Revealed without pointing to one of my earliest Comic Book Legends Revealeds, which was about who, exactly, added the “Snap” to Gwen Stacy’s death.
You can read that one here.
Thanks to Conway, Romita and Dan Johnson for the information!
Check out the latest TV Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Fox nearly adapt The Da Vinci Code for the third season of 24?
On the next page, was Gwen Stacy killed off without Stan Lee’s knowledge?
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