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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #469

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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?

Let’s begin!

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…

asm121cover

But who?

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…

asm121-1

asm121-2

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.

asm121-5

You can read that one here.

Thanks to Conway, Romita and Dan Johnson for the information!
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Check out the latest TV Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Fox nearly adapt The Da Vinci Code for the third season of 24?
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On the next page, was Gwen Stacy killed off without Stan Lee’s knowledge?

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105 Comments

As bad as I think Gwen’s death was, biggest mistake in the history of the franchise, killing Aunt May at Green Goblin’s hands would have been SO much worse, so thank goodness for that. Peter Parker responsible for BOTH of his guardians’ deaths?!

Brian Cronin

May 2, 2014 at 9:45 am

Especially when we would have had to see Norman Osborn having sex with Aunt May years later in Sins Past if that happened.

Bill Williamson

May 2, 2014 at 9:47 am

I disagree that killing Gwen was a bad choice, although killing Aunt May would have been.

Aunt May would have been brought back within a couple years, somehow, in some ridiculous story involving life model decoys or hypnotized actresses or somesuch, and we’d never be able to discuss that story without moving immediately to the ridiculous but ultimately necessary retcon that followed. Whereas Gwen was just important enough to be able to stay dead.

“Lee co-wrote Amazing Spider-Man #116-118 with Conway.”

Not to nitpick, but wasn’t it more a case of Conway adapting the story from THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN # 1 black and white magazine?

T:”As bad as I think Gwen’s death was, biggest mistake in the history of the franchise, killing Aunt May at Green Goblin’s hands would have been SO much worse, so thank goodness for that. Peter Parker responsible for BOTH of his guardians’ deaths?!”

I don’t think that one can really hold Peter Parker responsible for the Green Goblin killing Gwen, seeing as how the only way to have prevented it would have been for Peter not to use his powers to help people in the first place. And that would have made Peter directly responsible for the deaths of all the people that he refused to save.

“Lee co-wrote Amazing Spider-Man #116-118 with Conway.”

Not really. Those three issues saw Conway & the rest dust off Lee’s little seen story from Spectacular Spider-Man magazine #1, modify it to be a three-parter with an actual hooded foe and add colour. (Issue #2′s story was more conventionally reprinted in abridged form in annual #9 in 1973 as a Green Goblin tribute special.)

“As bad as I think Gwen’s death was, biggest mistake in the history of the franchise…”

Really you think one of the most epic events in comic book history was a mistake?!? WOW!

You must be young or new to comics because I’ve never once in 40 years heard anyone say that.

“Especially when we would have had to see Norman Osborn having sex with Aunt May years later in Sins Past if that happened.”

You go to so much Hell for that, Cronin.

The third item is listed as False, yet you say Lee admitted that he made he mistake. So it’s true? Am I reading something wrong? Also “Brooklyn Bride”?

Gwen Stacy’s death, and the manner it happened, was a genius stroke.

Killing May would have been an interesting move. If there was ever a time to kill May and make it stick, that would have been the moment. Now Spiderman has entered that “museum” phase every hero gets to where status quo changes are always a temporary thing.

Never mind. Rereading the legend tells me that it was Thomas, not Lee. Derp

Bill Williamson

May 2, 2014 at 10:34 am

Bob: The mistake was made, but it wasn’t Stan who made it. It was Roy Thomas, hence “false”.

Marlowe: Peter is responsible. If the Green Goblin didn’t know who he was, he couldn’t have killed Gwen to get to him.

Would it bother to revive Gwen? The only death that defined Peter was Uncle Ben’s; Gwen’s death is just added trauma to Peter’s psyche.

LouReedRichards

May 2, 2014 at 10:51 am

@Knightwing

T’s been commenting on here for years and years. A casual perusal of the columns would tell you that.

Just because someone doesn’t agree with conventional wisdom doesn’t mean they’re young or new to comics. Sometimes we just have different opinions.

I’m sure T will be back around and able to defend his position far better than I can though.

Bill Williamson:”Peter is responsible. If the Green Goblin didn’t know who he was, he couldn’t have killed Gwen to get to him.”

How so? If a cop puts a mob boss away, and the mob boss then puts a contract on the cop’s wife, is the cop responsible for his wife’s death? No, the mob boss is responsible.

Bill Williamson

May 2, 2014 at 10:54 am

Steve: Gwen’s kinda like Jason Todd. One of those characters who weren’t particularly interesting when alive but take on a whole new meaning and significance once killed. To bring back Gwen would be like bringing back Jason Todd. Pointless.

Besides, there’s always the Gwen clone.

@Michael P. – No, he goes to hell when it’s in “The Line is Drawn” next week.

And who didn’t LOL?

“Sheesh! I didn’t mean kill off all of my characters.” But it was done. It was irrevocable.

Bill Williamson

May 2, 2014 at 10:59 am

Marlowe: It’s different. Peter’s carelessness led to the Green Goblin finding out who he was, which led to Green Goblin targeting and killing Peter’s girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong, Green Goblin deserves most of the blame, seeing as he did the actual killing, but Peter is partly responsible. If he had been more careful, Goblin couldn’t have killed Gwen.

Bill Williamson:”Peter is responsible. If the Green Goblin didn’t know who he was, he couldn’t have killed Gwen to get to him.”

And that still leaves the fact that a Peter who does not use his powers to help people would be directly responsible for the deaths of all the people that he could have saved.

“Aunt May would have been brought back within a couple years, somehow, in some ridiculous story involving life model decoys or hypnotized actresses or somesuch, and we’d never be able to discuss that story without moving immediately to the ridiculous but ultimately necessary retcon that followed. Whereas Gwen was just important enough to be able to stay dead.”

Apart from the Vulture I’m struggling to think of a Spider example from before the 1990s where an intentionally dead significant character (as opposed to a “no body found in the explosion” ending) was resurrected. Maybe Mysterio in the #190s after his off-panel death & replacement some fifty issues earlier but otherwise characters killed off generally stayed dead and their apparent resurrections turned out to be someone or something else – most obviously Gwen herself being a clone.

Bill Williamson:”It’s different. Peter’s carelessness led to the Green Goblin finding out who he was, which led to Green Goblin targeting and killing Peter’s girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong, Green Goblin deserves most of the blame, seeing as he did the actual killing, but Peter is partly responsible. If he had been more careful, Goblin couldn’t have killed Gwen.”

So your argument is that Peter is to blame because the Goblin figured out who he he is? Again, I fail to see how that makes Peter responsible for Gwen’s death. To go back to my cop analogy, that would mean that an undercover cop whose cover is blown by the mob would be responsible for a mob hit on his wife/girlfriend.

Bill Williamson

May 2, 2014 at 11:10 am

Marlowe: The cop would be responsible. Undercover cops, funnily enough, aren’t supposed to get their cover blown.

Thanks to Tim and marlowe for catching my error regarding ASM #116-118! I fixed the piece accordingly.

I can’t remember the episode, but Len Wein on his nerdist podcast had some good stories about Stan as publisher around that time. He even said he had a small role in creating The Punisher.

I’m assuming that this edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed is to tie in with the release of Amazing Spider-man 2? If so, this is also a tie-in.

SPOILER ALERT!! Amazing Spider-man 2 SPOILER ALERT!!

I’m sure it’s not too much of a surprise to anyone who’s read this edition of Legends that Gwen dies in Amazing Spider-man 2. In fact, I’d be shocked if any comic book reader seeing the film WOULD be surprised to see Gwen die. Well, in the climactic scene, when Gwen dies in a clock tower (not the Brooklyn Bridge ) there’s a shot of clock, which has stopped, because of what occurred inside. The Clock has stopped with the hands reading 1:21, which as we see on the cover above, is the issue number that Gwen died in.

At least I think I saw that. Anyone else here who saw the film can confirm this?

i’m not a spiderman fan but the event in this issue affected me.

Quite apart from just how much responsibility Peter bore for the Goblin knowing to target Gwen (a certain 2000s storyline aside), there’s the whole debate about the snap and everything. The finished story seems to draw back from this but it seems the “snap” and the explanation given in the letterspage a few issues later, plus Peter’s weakness due to his cold, all combine to imply that the oiginal intention was that Gwen would die *because* Peter acted and used his powes – the natural counterpoint to his *not* using them leading to Uncle Ben’s death. It took decades for the comics themselves to acknowledge and explore the implications of this.

I know Green Goblin pushed / dropped her but didn’t Spider-Man kill her when he tried to save her. The web caught her “Swik”, but around her neck area we see a small but very powerful ‘snap’. So without going thru the moral stand someone will take on this. GG and Spidey caused her death.

I love it when characters in comics say “Blast you!”

My all-time favorite is from an issue of Weird War Tales way back when: “Blast you, yellow Jap! Blast you to Hades!”

That’s interesting, though the Silver Age of comics took a darker turn in comics. Drugs, murders, madness all seem to have a serious tone to comics, leading to the Bronze Age. I doubt if Aunt May’s murder would have been worse, because she would have been replaced, just like Gwen with MJ(who is considered the only GF for Pete). The fact that Aunt May was considered a choice doesn’t surprise me, because the Silver Age, as a whole, did bring a more serious turn in comic books.

Is easy to look back and say killing Gwen was an awful decision or killing Aunt May would have been the biggest mistake in comic book history. But is not if you look at the Silver Age of comics, which is considered by comic book lovers and old-schoolers, the best of any era. All these characters eventually get replaced, and if Aunt May was the one killed, trust me, Spider-Man would have had another parental figure taking over.

Tim: This is more of a function of their not having been short-sighted enough to kill off a character as essential to the story engine as Aunt May [which is to say, at the time, May or JJJ] than of their not having the ‘technology’ necessary to bring characters back. (Lightning Lad came back almost a decade earlier, remember.)

As a side effect we’d probably also have seen Pere Osborne brought back decades ahead of schedule as well.

Bill Williamson

May 2, 2014 at 11:35 am

Brian: What about the typo on Page 3? The Legend reads ‘Brooklyn Bride’.

Jeff Nettleton

May 2, 2014 at 11:36 am

I tend to side with you on the Stan not knowing legend, both based on comments from Marvel staffers and Sean Howe’s book. Add to that, the conversation Lee had with John Romita in that video series he had, in the early 90s. I haven’t viewed it in years, but I seem to recall that they said something about Gwen falling more and more off their radar, as Mary Jane came into the picture. Part of it, according to Lee, was how Romita drew Mary Jane, vs Gwen. Mary Jane had more personality, visually, which Stan picked up on. Therefore, I think he was informed and said “sure.” If it had been Mary Jane up for the chop, I think he would have said no and suggest Gwen, instead.

I suspect the backlash put him in backpedaling mode. Now, I would like to think it was bad memory that made him say he was unaware; but, I kind of doubt that, at the time. I think bad memory has made that excuse gospel, in his mind, over the years. Based on interviews, I sometimes get the impression that Stan wasn’t above passing the buck. His history doesn’t suggest someone who fought to hard on controversial issues. The one exception I have read (or at least, the strongest) was that he pushed behind the scenes for Marvel to settle the art return dispute with Jack Kirby. Otherwise, history isn’t replete with Stan’s battles against the “powers that be.” He’s not alone in that, by any stretch, but I think Stan was more concerned with his career than anyone else’s. In other words, he was a fairly typical executive; he took chances when he had nothing to lose, and he didn’t rock the boat when things were working.

Williamson:” The cop would be responsible. Undercover cops, funnily enough, aren’t supposed to get their cover blown.”

Of course not, but the risk is always there. Even if he does everything correctly, something could go wrong. Someone could show up who knows his real identity at an inopportune moment. And the vast majority of people would not hold him to blame for doing his duty. I certainly would not.

I do like how the creative people in 1973 realized that, once the Green Goblin became responsible for killing Gwen Stacy, then he had to die himself next issue, or else Peter Parker would have been made even more pathetic.

It was just in the 1990s, when triumphing psychopaths like Hannibal Lecter and the Joker became popular, that they brought Norman Osborn back and allowing him to parade about as a highly respected member of society, despite being a murdering psycho.

At least I think I saw that. Anyone else here who saw the film can confirm this?

That is, indeed, the reference in the film.

Jeff Nettleton

May 2, 2014 at 11:45 am

@Franky

I think you are right about another character filling in the parental role. There was already some of that with Capt. Stacy and Robby, at the Bugle. In fact, what could have been a really interesting turn of events would be J Jonah stepping up to the plate. I know this goes against his portrayal; but, consider this. Aunt May is killed. JJJ has shown some loyalty to Parker, even if it is more in the tough love vein. Suppose, he feels guilty about how he has treated Peter; a good, decent young man? Suppose he starts to take Peter under his wing, maybe at Robby’s urging. Perhaps it starts out with some choicer assignments, perhaps he just lets Peter know that he is there for him, in a moment of privacy. From there, a bond grows. You still have that dynamic of Peter’s parental figure being disproving of his alter-ego, while maintaining JJJ’s hatred of the vigilante Spider-Man. However, you could have Peter work at softening JJJ’s stance, while JJJ might help Peter to toughen up and focus more on what he wants out of life. It would have certainly removed some of the comedic element from JJJ; but, would have brought a maturity to the stories. Hard to say if it would have been commercial, though.

Jeff Nettleton:”Part of it, according to Lee, was how Romita drew Mary Jane, vs Gwen. Mary Jane had more personality, visually, which Stan picked up on.”

I’ve always thought that the revision in Gwen’s personality was a bad move. In her Ditko appearances, Gwen was an ice queen, the kind of girl who expects adoration. That gave a certain spark to her interactions with Peter, who was the one boy who did not fall on his knees when she batted her eyes at him. Heck, in AMZ 37, she even tried to slap Peter when he insulted her.The Romita-Lee Gwen, in contrast, was an icon of pure goodness, and that usually comes across as a bit bland (although Busiek and Ross used that iconic quality to good effect in MARVELS).

Tim Roll-Pickering: “Quite apart from just how much responsibility Peter bore for the Goblin knowing to target Gwen (a certain 2000s storyline aside), there’s the whole debate about the snap and everything. The finished story seems to draw back from this but it seems the “snap” and the explanation given in the letterspage a few issues later, plus Peter’s weakness due to his cold, all combine to imply that the oiginal intention was that Gwen would die *because* Peter acted and used his powes – ”

Except that she would have died if he had done nothing. This was one of those rare occasions when a comic book actually obeys the laws of physics. Normally, regardless of how far they have fallen,people are perfectly o.k. in comics if they are caught before they hit the ground. In the real world, of course, inertia exists. Once you have fallen far enough, being caught will kill you.

Jeff Nettleton

May 2, 2014 at 11:58 am

@Marlowe,

I agree in Gwen in Marvels. To me, that showed all of the wasted potential, though to be fair, I hadn’t read many Gwen stories, at that point. Spidey was always a little too whiney, for me, when I was a kid, in the 70s, so I didn’t read a lot of his stories, apart from Marvel Team-Up. Meanwhile, I could have fallen in love with that Gwen. The wonder she found in the world was very refreshing. It’s one of the things that brought me to Busiek’s work, was his tapping into human elements in various characters, and creating those elements in his Astro City series. I’ve been around superheroes long enough that it takes more than a great action piece to hold my interest and those kind of character moments really elevate a story, even when the plot is just “so-so.” That was the same reason I enjoyed the short lived Innovation (and, previously, Pied Piper and Wonder Color Comics) series, The Hero Alliance. It centered more on the characters as people, rather than as action heroes, though it provided plenty of that.

Via WIKIPEDIA, here’s Roy Thomas* on Gwen’s death:

“it saddens us to have to say that the whiplash effect she underwent when Spidey’s webbing stopped her so suddenly was, in fact, what killed her. In short, it was impossible for Peter to save her. He couldn’t have swung down in time; the action he did take resulted in her death; if he had done nothing, she still would certainly have perished. There was no way out.”

* From the letters’ column in The Amazing Spider-Man #125 (Oct. 1973).

ArchieLeach:”I can’t remember the episode, but Len Wein on his nerdist podcast had some good stories about Stan as publisher around that time. He even said he had a small role in creating The Punisher.”

If memory serves, they were looking for a good name for the character. So they went to Stan and he dubbed him the Punisher.

Jeff Nettleton

May 2, 2014 at 12:10 pm

“If memory serves, they were looking for a good name for the character. So they went to Stan and he dubbed him the Punisher”

Probably because the Executioner was already taken. I sometimes think the only reason Marvel didn’t get sued over that (especially after the B&W magazine origin stories) was that everyone was doing the same (Pentrator, Death Merchant, Destroyer, et al…).

Penetrator? I think I saw that on Cinemax.

some stupid japanese name

May 2, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Let me tell you about the Brooklyn Bride…She looked just like the George Washington Bridge!

Part of it, according to Lee, was how Romita drew Mary Jane, vs Gwen. Mary Jane had more personality, visually, which Stan picked up on

Click through all three legends in this entry again, and then tell me how reliable Stan Lee’s recall of history is. His retroactive mythmaking is legendarily unreliable. Read the whole Lee/Romita run, compare the usage of Gwen to the usage of Mary Jane, and tell me if that statement passes muster. Gwen is consistently prominent throughout, while there are whole stretches of issues where Mary Jane doesn’t even appear, and when she does it’s for like a panel or two, to show off a new hairdo or something. This is just one of those things Stan says in interviews that becomes legend but has very little truth once under more scrutiny.

Jeff Nettleton:”Probably because the Executioner was already taken. I sometimes think the only reason Marvel didn’t get sued over that (especially after the B&W magazine origin stories) was that everyone was doing the same (Pentrator, Death Merchant, Destroyer, et al…).”

Yeah, the Punisher is pretty clearly a Mack Bolan knock-off. Even incidental bits like Bolan’s War Wagon and War Journal were “appropriated ” by Frank Castle.

RE: Lawsuits,

I have no idea why legal action wasn’t taken. Then again, Philip Wylie didn’t sue over Superman being clearly derived from GLADIATOR.

interesting for always heard that stan lee did not know about gwen getting picked to die by the green goblin for he was in europe when the story finaly saw print. and also just assumed the gwen was picked to be killed off from the start not aunt may as the intended victim of the green goblin.

Not that great but hey it’s good

Andy E. Nystrom

May 2, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Cute typo. “In the Mighty Marvel tradition of Night Nurse comes… The Brooklyn Bride!”

(Actually if it was done as a tongue in cheek parody of romance comics I’d probably buy this. You should submit a proposal to Marvel).

One thing that always got me was how Joe Robertson’s son was on the cover as one of the potential cast members facing “unbelievable death!”

No! Not Randy Robertson!

(It was Randy, wasn’t it?)

I bet more than half the kid laying down 20 cents for Spider-Man #121 were going: “Who’s that dude under Aunt May?”

I have various problems with the Gwen story. First, it really sucked a lot of energy from the book and it went to a very terrible place. The post-death issues are simply a slog to get through to me. The original clone saga they spawned is horrible.

I think the actual death issues are pretty good from a creative standpoint. They should have been What If? stories however. In a long-term property like Spider-Man, what is a good finite story may not be a good long term franchise story. It’s a very different beast. Much as I dislike Mort Weisinger and think he was a terrible creative force, one thing he understood was that books that rocked the boat to drastically long-term but had good short-term potential should take place in their own reality.

Franchises work best when they have an easy to duplicate storytelling engine. If anyone ever wants to adapt Superman, it’s easy. Clark, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Daily Bugle at the core. Pick and choose your extra toppings from the 75 year history. Easy. Batman the same: Bruce Wayne, with or without a Robin, Alfred, Commisioner Gordon, a Rogue’s Gallery, and you have the core right there. Archie, the same. Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead at the core. All these franchises have various times where they did an illusion of change, but it always returned to the core storytelling status quo. Once Spider-Man hit its commercial stride under Lee/Romita, it had a great storytelling status quo also that it could be frozen at: Aunt May, Gwen, MJ, Flash, Harry, Captain Stacy, JJJ, and Robbie. You could make that your storytelling core and I think it works well. Killing Captain Stacy, then Gwen, it really sucked a lot of the great adaptability of the work. Now you either have to leave Gwen out when you adapt it or reboot it, or you introduce her and then everyone just keeps waiting for her to eventually die, or you make MJ into a weird amalgam of Gwen and MJ to make up for her absence. Gwen’s death also became Mary Jane’s death because the real vapid party girl MJ ended up disappearing as well as she basically had to become a combination of both.

Picture if at the peak of Superman’s popularity Lois Lane was killed for good or at the peak of Batman’s popularity Dick Grayson was killed for good. Think of how every following adaptation would have been negatively impacted.

Also, there is a lot of questionable morality in superhero comics that can only work if you use childlike logic and don’t explore real-world consequences and adult stakes. For example with the Flash, once he was engaged to Iris, fans started complaining that it was pretty scummy he was going to marry Iris and not reveal his secret identity. So they realized they had to make her find out, because now that they were married it looked bad.

So in Spider-Man’s case, once he gets his girlfriend’s father killed by his reckless plan, then continuing to date said girlfriend without telling her his role in getting her dad killed, then he gets his girlfriend killed by letting his identity get discovered by an enemy, then letting said enemy remain free despite the fact he would occasionally regain his memory, and never coming clean to her about who he was the danger her life was in by being his girlfriend at any point in their relationship before she died, it makes him a real messed up scumbag. With low stakes and the girlfriend always getting rescued in the end, this questionable superhero morality is not so bad, just like how in a world where there are very few innocent bystander casualties Batman’s no killing under any circumstances rule seems like good morality too. Real world adult stakes and tragic consequences change all that for the worse.

Also, Spider-Man is Spider-Man because his refusal to fight crime gets his loved one killed. Now with the Stacys it’s a case where his mission to fight crime and accept responsibility actually CAUSES his loved ones to get killed. TWICE. This undermines his motivation TWICE. Now he has two exhibits in evidence for why great power shouldn’t lead to great responsibility versus one exhibit in favor of great power leading to responsibility. Amazing Fantasy #15 becomes very undermined.

If you must have her die, have her die because of something that would have happened anyway, regardless of whether Peter was Spider-Man and was her boyfriend. That way, it would actually supplement Amazing Fantasy #15. Now, he thinks okay, with great power comes great responsibility, but my girlfriend still died from a random thing I wasn’t there to stop so now I am even more committed to feeling obsessively responsible for stopping all random crime everywhere.

And for the people who argue that Peter wasn’t responsible for Gwen’s death, I disagree, but let’s just say you were right, that he wasn’t responsible for her death. That still leads to more problems. Many of you use an undercover cop as an example, but the wife of an undercover cop knows he is an undercover cop and CHOOSES to accept the risk of dating or marrying him. She knowingly assumes that risk. Peter never gave Gwen that choice. Maybe if she knew she was dating Spider-Man, she would have stayed with him anyway. Maybe not. Either way, she deserved the right to know the risk she was undertaking by being his girlfriend. He never gave her that choice. So it’s still his fault she’s in that risky situation to begin with, and it’s very scummy. Again, in a world where the stakes are not as real, these shaky types of superhero moral choices can be overlooked, but once she actually dies as a result it falls apart and now is looked at through a different lens and suffers as a result.

So your argument is that Peter is to blame because the Goblin figured out who he he is? Again, I fail to see how that makes Peter responsible for Gwen’s death. To go back to my cop analogy, that would mean that an undercover cop whose cover is blown by the mob would be responsible for a mob hit on his wife/girlfriend.

To the degree that it was his fault the mob found out his identity, then to that degree it would be his fault his girlfriend or wife died. But that’s not even the biggest factor. What matters is that said girlfriend or wife KNOWS that he is an undercover cop and willingly assumes the risk of dating or marrying him. That’s a fully disclosed risk that she assumes. Gwen is denied that choice because she was never told who she was dating.

How is it Stan Lee’s fault the bridge as misidentified when Gerry Conway scripted that issue and Roy Thomas edited it?

Brian Cronin

May 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm

How is it Stan Lee’s fault the bridge as misidentified when Gerry Conway scripted that issue and Roy Thomas edited it?

It isn’t. That’s why it is false. ;)

D’oh! Way to show off my reading comprehension skills!

Killing Gwen and developing Mary Jane beyond vapid party girl was probably the best development in Spider-Man. The Emma Stone version in the movies make people forget that Gwen in the comics was nowhere close to being as appealing. She serves the franchise better as one of Spider-Man’s greatest failings and the catalyst whose death brought together Peter and MJ.

Killing Gwen and developing Mary Jane beyond vapid party girl was probably the best development in Spider-Man.

Why did you have to kill Gwen to develop Mary Jane beyond a vapid party girl? Why not keep Gwen alive and then develop both characters more and then have two strong long-term female characters instead of one?

The Emma Stone version in the movies make people forget that Gwen in the comics was nowhere close to being as appealing.

So what? No Marvel female characters in 1975 were anywhere as appealing as they’re depicted now. If that’s your metric, all pre-1975 Marvel female characters should be dead then.

Brian Cronin

May 2, 2014 at 2:07 pm

D’oh! Way to show off my reading comprehension skills!

Ha! Nah, you’re good, Kurt, it was a particularly tricky one because rarely do we find a guy erroneously claiming to have made a mistake, ya know? People tend to try to take undue credit for successes, not mistakes! :)

That second legend is interesting to me. I fully believe the creators involved when they say that Stan knew about their plans to kill Gwen, and that at least some of them felt betrayed when Stan feigned ignorance once fans reacted negatively to it. Having read countless stories about Stan over the years, I have a hard time fully believing the happy-go-lucky cool-dude act he puts out there. I can’t help but think he’s actually quite manipulative, and this story — among many others — backs that up. I get that you do what you have to do to get the job done. I also get that at that time he was probably OK-ing any number of story beats that he may well have forgotten about. But I don’t buy that he’d somehow let that particular plot point just pass him by. If you’re an editor/publisher, you stick by your creators, especially when they do something controversial with your approval. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Stan would throw the creators under the bus just so he didn’t lose popularity as a personal brand. But it does make me respect him a little less.

Andy E. Nystrom

May 2, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Stan has a notoriously bad memory (which obviously seeped into the stories from time to time). I once heard a podcast where he claimed not to have killed off too many characters and that Wonder Man was after his time, when that was early on in his Avengers run. It’s entirely possible to me that he was consulted about the story but then, no longer active in writing the stories, genuinely forgot.

T:”To the degree that it was his fault the mob found out his identity, then to that degree it would be his fault his girlfriend or wife died.”

Using that logic, he should never have gone undercover in the first place. After all, then she would have been in no danger from the mob at all. Of course, then we wouldn’t have any undercover cops….

T:” But that’s not even the biggest factor. What matters is that said girlfriend or wife KNOWS that he is an undercover cop and willingly assumes the risk of dating or marrying him. ”

What if she leaves him but the mob still goes after her? She hasn’t assumed any risk. She’s tried to leave. But the mob, operating on the assumption that he still cares for her (which is not unreasonable; I know a lot of divorced couples who still care for one another), kills her. Is he still to blame? What about siblings and other close relations? Their blood relationship will always be there. Will he be responsible for their deaths as well?

T:”That’s a fully disclosed risk that she assumes. Gwen is denied that choice because she was never told who she was dating.”

Well, as I already pointed out, disclosure does nothing. The bad guys only need to know that a relationship once existed. But, having said that, at what stage in his relationship with a woman should Peter tell her who he is? The first date? The first kiss? Second base?

T:”Also, Spider-Man is Spider-Man because his refusal to fight crime gets his loved one killed. Now with the Stacys it’s a case where his mission to fight crime and accept responsibility actually CAUSES his loved ones to get killed. TWICE. This undermines his motivation TWICE. Now he has two exhibits in evidence for why great power shouldn’t lead to great responsibility versus one exhibit in favor of great power leading to responsibility. Amazing Fantasy #15 becomes very undermined.”

AMAZING FANTASY 15 is only undermined by the deaths of the Stacey’s if you assume that their lives are worth more than all the other lives that Peter has saved as Spider-Man.

T:”So in Spider-Man’s case, once he gets his girlfriend’s father killed by his reckless plan, then continuing to date said girlfriend without telling her his role in getting her dad killed, then he gets his girlfriend killed by letting his identity get discovered by an enemy, then letting said enemy remain free despite the fact he would occasionally regain his memory, and never coming clean to her about who he was the danger her life was in by being his girlfriend at any point in their relationship before she died, it makes him a real messed up scumbag. With low stakes and the girlfriend always getting rescued in the end, this questionable superhero morality is not so bad, just like how in a world where there are very few innocent bystander casualties Batman’s no killing under any circumstances rule seems like good morality too. Real world adult stakes and tragic consequences change all that for the worse.”

T, following your logic about assumed risk, Peter should be entirely blameless in George Stacy’s death. After all, he knew who Spider-Man was (and did not tell his daughter, by the way). So he knew about the potential risk. More importantly, Stacy was a cop himself; he died saving an innocent bystander. He did not die because someone was trying to murder him as a way to get to Spider-Man.

Furthermore, bearing in mind the idea of putting relatives at risk, what about George Stacy’s career as a cop. Wasn’t he putting his daughter at risk? Should’t he have left the force when his daughter was born?

[…] via Comic Book Legends Revealed #469 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book ResourcesComics Should Be Goo…. […]

Brian Cronin

May 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Stan has a notoriously bad memory (which obviously seeped into the stories from time to time). I once heard a podcast where he claimed not to have killed off too many characters and that Wonder Man was after his time, when that was early on in his Avengers run. It’s entirely possible to me that he was consulted about the story but then, no longer active in writing the stories, genuinely forgot.

Agreed, I think that’s certainly possible.

It was definitely Peter’s fault Gwen died. He destroyed all the evidence Norman was the Goblin instead of letting the police arrest Norman and telling the authorities about the Goblin formula. That was completely irresponsible- he was trying to protect Harry but just learning the truth might have been easier on Harry than his father killing someone Harry cared about. Every New Yorker has heard stories about someone released from a mental institution too soon hurting someone- what happened with Norman was completely forseeable.

In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122, Spidey does acknowledge that he must share some of the responsibility for Gwen’s death. A police officer tells Spidey that an ambulance has arrived, and he says… “She doesn’t need an ambulance, officer. She’s dead…and SPIDER-MAN KILLED HER.”

Annoyed Grunt

May 2, 2014 at 7:23 pm

“Probably because the Executioner was already taken. I sometimes think the only reason Marvel didn’t get sued over that (especially after the B&W magazine origin stories) was that everyone was doing the same (Pentrator, Death Merchant, Destroyer, et al…).”

It should be noted though that The Executioner, Penetrator, Destroyer and Death Merchant were all published by the same company.

On Don Pendleton’s site he’s quoted as saying “Let’s just say The Punisher has taken a lot of liberties with my work. Anyone who knows the history of The Executioner has known that all along. I elected many years ago to just let it pass, feeling that there is room for both of us in this industry. Of course, new Executioner readers may get the impression that I have “borrowed” from The Punisher, but let me set the record straight: War Against the Mafia debuted in 1968, and has been a flagship of action/adventure in all mediums throughout these years. Sad to say, my own publisher at Pinnacle began the trend, firing off invitations to various writers with copies of my books and stating that he would be interested in considering similar stories for his publication. The way this business works, practically every other major publisher jumped on the bandwagon. Of course, I have no bitterness or sense of loss from any of that; it is the highest form of complement for a writer to become a standard-bearer, and certainly The Executioner has remained in that special place all these years, and worldwide.”

I would also note that a Google image search of The Penetrator brings up a wider array of images than you would think…

Romita’s interview in Back Issue #18 is a bit different from an interview he gave in Comics Scene #33 (May, 1993).

I thought I had sent you this a while back.

Anyway here are some snippets of the interview I had posted on another website.

page 21
“We had a meeting, Stan and me, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas. We were brainstorming an attempt to jazz up the book, because it would stagnate every so often. Stan said, “I’m having trouble with Aunt May. I’m tired of doing the Aunt schtick.”

“One suggestion Stan denies, but I remember well, was that Aunt May would die. I pointed out that Aunt May was too important to his secret identity, and it would make him another Clark Kent if he didn’t have an aunt to constantly irritate and tell him, ‘Don’t catch cold,’ or ‘Be careful walking down the steps.’ I thought we would miss too much if we lost her.”

“I don’t think we should kill Aunt May, she’s too important to the premise. We probably have one girlfriend too many”

“If you kill Mary Jane, I don’t think it would be a big loss”

“I suggested Gwen [be killed off] and Stan at first said no, but then realized it would be the most shocking. Gerry Conway got threatening mail for months after that death. He shouldn’t have to take the rap alone; it was a committee decision.”

Destroyer was one of my fav book series. It was made into a movie, Remo Williams, and had two separate marvel adaptations. Despite the name, it’s nothing like the other books and really is more of a violent satire.

The way ASM #121 was drawn, and assuming the issue was produced “Marvel-style” (plot, then art, then dialogue), I’d often wondered whether Conway had originally intended an alternate explanation for Gwen’s death…specifically, the possibility that the Goblin had already killed Gwen before Peter even arrived at the bridge. Gwen never moves at all throughout the battle, and Peter even makes an observation to the effect of “She’s lying so still, she must be in shock.” The Goblin’s taunt could have been changed from “Romantic idiot! She was dead before your webbing reached her” to “Romantic idiot! She was dead before you even GOT here!” (or even “Romantic idiot! I killed her thirty-five minutes ago!”) and the dialogue would have fit the artwork just as well.

“One thing that always got me was how Joe Robertson’s son was on the cover as one of the potential cast members facing “unbelievable death!”

No! Not Randy Robertson!”

The Green Goblin cares nothing of some journalist’s son that Peter barely talks to.

But if it had been the WHITE Goblin, you can bet Randy’s ass would be the first off that bridge!

Those were the good ol’ days when deaths actually were irrevocable. Now you can expect Gwen (the real one, not the clone) to return eventually.

I agree that killing Gwen was a good move. It let Peter develop a much deeper relationship with MJ leading to marriage.

Oops.

Travis Stephens

May 3, 2014 at 12:07 am

I thought Gerry Conway always stated his criteria for picking Gwen was that she was already at the upper bound of her creative usefulness- especially after her father (who played the role of surrogate father for Peter) has been killed.

Basically, Conway felt Gwen had little potential other than the future Mrs. Peter Parker and that was a path that the higher-ups at Marvel did not want. Party girl Mary Jane, however, was a better fit for the college age audience that they wanted to capture.

It looks like this debate had been raging for some time before Gwen’s death. Gwen’s appearances diminished after her father’s death. And outside of the non Comic Code issues Mary Jane appearances were limited. Both had roughly the same amount of appearances during the Hammerhead/Smasher arc. It’s like they were trying to gauge fan interest.

Interesting how this week’s legends wound up being almost as much about Stan Lee as about “The Death of Gwen Stacy”.

Also, I pretty much entirely agree with T. on this one. If you’re going to have a hero’s loved one die as a result of their actions (at least in part), Spider-Man is a *terrible* character to choose.

[…] behind-the-scenes stuff and legend-debunking about the seminal arc, check out this article over on CBR, it’s really good […]

Touch-and-go Bullethead

May 3, 2014 at 5:33 am

I can offer some personal testimony as to the quality of Stan Lee’s memory, having once (circa 1990) heard him refer to the 1970s Fantastic Four cartoon as their first TV adaptation. When someone brought up the 1960s Hanna Barbera version, he denied that there had ever been any such thing.

Obviously, he had known about the 1960s series. However, he had nothing to do with it, and he wrote a couple of scripts for the 1970s series, so it is understandable that he should have a stronger memory of one than the other.

So when does anyone think Gwen will be brought back? No one really stays dead forever except origin deaths right?

Bill Williamson

May 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

JokersNuts: They actually considered it around One More Day, but decided against it. They’ll probably consider it again in light of The Amazing Spider-Man series of movies.

They don’t really need to, though. There’s always the Gwen clone.

T: “Killing Captain Stacy, then Gwen, it really sucked a lot of the great adaptability of the work. Now you either have to leave Gwen out when you adapt it or reboot it, or you introduce her and then everyone just keeps waiting for her to eventually die, or you make MJ into a weird amalgam of Gwen and MJ to make up for her absence.”

Actually the comics have gotten on fine without Gwen or her dad. So have adaptations in other media–seriously, it’s not like Gwen not being in a particular adaptation somehow ruins it. Back in the Silver Age, maybe, but now she’s just one of several girlfriends, and nowhere near as significant as MJ. That’s not to say she’s a bad character, just that now she’s only slightly more significant than Julie Madison from the 1940s Batman.

And given the level of comics adaptations back at the time, I don’t think “Wait, how will Gwen’s death affect the popularity of some future TV or movie version?” was really going to trouble anyone. And it shouldn’t.

I have to point out there are two errors in John Romita’s memories of Milton Caniff’s work.

First, the quote “Caniff used to take very important female characters in Terry and the Pirates and knock them off regularly every four or five years.” is incorrect. Caniff created the strip in late 1934, and worked on it until December 1946. Raven Sherman is the ONLY major female character who died. (October 16, 1941 was the date of the daily in which she actually died, but the entire sequence covers the run of dailies and Sundays from October 5th to 19th) – Other major female characters (Burma, Normandie Sandhurst, April Kane, Cheetah, and the Dragon Lady being the ones who appeared the most) – may have suffered, but none were casualties. Raven’s death was the first major death of a character in a comic strip, and indeed the public reaction was as he remembers. (Caniff received hate mail for weeks, and 38 years later was still getting black bordered “in Memoriam” cards for her.)

Second – Pat Ryan was a love interest for almost every female character in the strip – but Raven was not the one who any would consider his girlfriend – His love interest was the aforementioned Normandie Sandhurst. (nee Drake). Raven Sherman was – at least in the months leading up to her death – romantically involved with Dude Hennick – and indeed, was in his arms at the time of her death.

@Iam Fear – “No! Not Randy Robertson!””

Actually, I think including Randy is a brilliant part of the cover. Your jaded comics fan (and there were some even back then) would look at the cover and figure it had to be a nobody like Randy because Gwen, MJ, and the rest were too important. Having ‘figured it out’ they could go into the comic being genuinely surprised.

Those were the good ol’ days when deaths actually were irrevocable. Now you can expect Gwen (the real one, not the clone) to return eventually.

Hopefully that happens one day. It was actually on the table for Brand New Day but they nixed it. Too bad really…

T, following your logic about assumed risk, Peter should be entirely blameless in George Stacy’s death. After all, he knew who Spider-Man was (and did not tell his daughter, by the way). So he knew about the potential risk. More importantly, Stacy was a cop himself; he died saving an innocent bystander. He did not die because someone was trying to murder him as a way to get to Spider-Man.

Okay, let’s say I’m going to stop some bank robbers who are armed and dangerous, with high powered assault rifles. My genius idea is to create a device that causes them to spasm uncontrollably with their fingers on the trigger, causing their guns to fire erratically and cause their aim to be uncontrollable. So these guys are just spasming with automatic weapons and waving their arms wildly, spraying thousands of bullets everywhere. If someone gets shot by that wild gunfire, I didn’t directly shoot that person but to a large degree it’s my fault because (1) that wild result was entirely predictable, (2) I knowingly did it in a crowded area, and (3) I highly increased the probability of injury by making a reckless decision.

Same goes for Spider-Man. On an incredibly crowded NY City blow his brilliant idea is to cause Doctor Octopus to lose control over his incredibly dangerous arms? He made the battle even MORE dangerous to bystanders, and is highly responsible for whatever casualties resulted from his causing Doc Ock’s losing control of his arms.

AMAZING FANTASY 15 is only undermined by the deaths of the Stacey’s if you assume that their lives are worth more than all the other lives that Peter has saved as Spider-Man.

The fact that the lives of his loved ones are more valuable to him than the lives of the thousands of acquaintances and strangers he’s saved as Spider-Man is a core premise of Spider-Man. If not, he would have stopped being driven by Uncle Ben’s death a long time ago, because he’s made up for it so many times over. He let one guy died but saved thousands upon thousands. So the scale is definitely balanced and then some. But it never is enough for him, is it? He can save hundreds of thousands of strangers but will always hold the death of Uncle Ben as something that outweighs all of that and keep atoning.

So I’m not “assuming” the higher value Peter places on close loved ones over random strangers. It’s a core premise of the storytelling engine.

Actually the comics have gotten on fine without Gwen or her dad. So have adaptations in other media–seriously, it’s not like Gwen not being in a particular adaptation somehow ruins it. Back in the Silver Age, maybe, but now she’s just one of several girlfriends, and nowhere near as significant as MJ. That’s not to say she’s a bad character, just that now she’s only slightly more significant than Julie Madison from the 1940s Batman.

Did Spider-Man get along fine without her and her dad? Because I’ve been binge-reading all the Spider-Man books from the beginning to present day, and honestly the book suffers for long stretches post-Gwen. There are long periods where the book loses its way and loses a lot of its heart and is just a slog to get through. Lots of lame potential love interests that don’t go anywhere are introduced, and the Peter/MJ romance is not particularly compelling, or at least is not especially more compelling than Peter/Gwen, and MJ ends up getting written out for long stretches at a time…the truth is the book was largely a wasteland until Roger Stern came on in the 1980s, and MJ only became a really compelling love interest when she was turned into a Mary Jane/Gwen mashup, something that Stern also set into motion.

And Gwen is not “just another girlfriend.” She’s Spider-Man’s biggest failure, and that failure casts a long shadow on the book. Look at the other entry Brian did the other day showing all the “homage” scenes that have occurred over the year involving Spider-Man and bridges. How many Gwen clones have their been? Both literal Gwen clones and figurative ones (Marcy Kane, Jill Stacy)?

In House of M, when Peter was shown living out his ultimate fantasy life, he was shown living it out with Gwen not Mary Jane. That’s not to say that such a depiction is gospel, but it at least shows that she’s more than just another random girlfriend, because if they tried to have his ultimate dream life include marriage to Betty Brant. Cissie Ironwood, Felicia Hardy, or Marcy Kane the book would not have worked nearly as well.

In Ultimate Spider-Man, it’s also very telling that Mary Jane and Gwen were essentially personality-swapped. Mary Jane is a “good girl” and is nicknamed “Brainy Janey?” Ultimate MJ is basically Gwen Stacy. Gwen Stacy is now a bad girl? So Ultimate Gwen is basically an updated Mary Jane.

The fact that Mary Jane had to be retconned into being more like Gwen than she was ever originally intended to be in the comics, that the Ultimate Mary Jane was basically Gwen Stacy with little to no aspects of traditonal party girl MJ, or that the Raimi movies also went the route of a Gwen/MJ amalgam in their version of MJ speaks volumes.

Another thing…if Gwen was so obviously boring and such an albatross on the book, why was the reaction so largely negative to her death? Shouldn’t the fans have not cared, or even been happy about it? Why did Stan find it necessary to throw his underlings under the bus regarding it. Shouldn’t he have been proud to own his contribution to the end result. Gerry Conway himself says he did the Gwen Stacy clone storyline as a way to appease all the angry fans.

Also, if she was so boring, please, by all means, tell me which Marvel female love interests were especially exciting? They were all pretty much variations of Gwen and MJ. The angsty, frustrated pining good girl or the manipulative, vain, fickle, superficial party girl. Stan Lee was a good writer in many respects, but his depictions of women weren’t among his high points. People make the mistake of looking at later writers’ character development with a lot of the classic Marvel female characters and believing that these characters were especially strong or interesting from their conception. Jane Foster, Pepper Potts, Janet van Dyne, Betty Ross…the only real exception I can think of is Sharon Carter, who while still in that pining good girl category is a surprisingly strong and dynamic character for Stan. Mary Jane in her original incarnation was fun, sure, but was far more one-dimensional than Gwen and had less of a personality on which to hang a relationship on, as shown by how little she was being used by the end of the Lee/Romita era.

That’s not to say she’s a bad character, just that now she’s only slightly more significant than Julie Madison from the 1940s Batman.

Julie Madison and Gwen Stacy are very different cases. I’ve read golden age Batman and Julie Madison is only there for a few appearances and there is no indication they are especially serious. He’s shown flirting with Catwoman and being attracted to her fairly early on, so Madison was not that important. Not so with Gwen. She was prominent for years and involved deeply with Peter.

But the biggest, most important part..Julie Madison didn’t die in a way that could be plausibly argued to be largely Batman’s fault! That is the huge problem. She simply went away. A writer could use her or not use her, but the point is she’s not dead, and she’s especially not dead in any way due to the protagnist’s superhero career.

That is the biggest problem with how Gwen was handled…first that she died, and second that she died as a result of Peter’s “great responsibility” to fight crime. If a writer didn’t want anything to do with her, he should have just broken them up and sent her out of town on a bus until a later writer had an idea or wanted to use her. Or maybe she gets sent out of town on a bus and is never used again because no writer wants to use her, as was the case with Julie Madison and Batman. Either way, don’t write her out in a way that undermines the premise of the book and casts a long shadow for years to come and unnecessarily complicates the storytelling engine for future adaptations.

With MJ, it was obvious many writers didn’t especially find her compelling post-Conway. So they were broken up and MJ was written out of the book for long stretches. When later writers like Stern and Defalco felt they had something to say with her, she was written back in and developed. No one felt they had to shit the bed and kill her just because they didn’t want to write her. They put the toys away in a safe place for later people to use. The same could easily have been done with Gwen.

Like I said, in a vacuum Death of Gwen Stacy is a great finite story. It’s just awful franchise management though, and at the end of the day this is a corporate franchise.

I agree that killing Gwen was a good move. It let Peter develop a much deeper relationship with MJ leading to marriage.

Why do you have to kill off Gwen to make Peter develop a much deeper relationship with MJ that leads to marriage? You can just have them break up. Archie at times dates Veronica, Archie at times dates Betty, neither one has to die in order for the other to be with him. And the MJ that Peter developed a deeper relationship with that led to marriage wasn’t the real MJ anyway, she was a drastically altered Gwen/MJ frankenstein hybrid. Another indication that writers realized Gwen’s loss left a giant hole in the dynamic. So with Gwen’s death we not only lost Gwen but eventually lost MJ too, both being replaced by this character who wasn’t really either. Although maybe that last part was for the better.

Yeah, as a late ’70s reader I grew up with the Stacys as nothing more than a footnote and never got the impression that they’d left any particular gap in Peter’s supporting cast. Because of when I came in, for me the death of Jean DeWolff is a much bigger deal than Captain Stacy. And going back and reading the issues where they were still around, I never felt like “oh, if they only had lived!” But of course going into it with the benefit of hindsight means that Gwen’s always going to be the dead one. The Julie Madison comparison is pretty apt; I just can’t put myself in the headspace where Gwen was somehow supposed to be The One for Peter.

The Julie Madison comparison is pretty apt; I just can’t put myself in the headspace where Gwen was somehow supposed to be The One for Peter.

Julie Madison made a grand total of 5 appearances in Detective Comics before being written out of the book for good by 1941. I really don’t think it’s an apt comparison. I’m pretty sure no one missed her, there was no outrage by fans, she was not revisited in the book repeatedly the way Gwen has been since her death. Her importance to Batman history is nowhere close to Gwen’s important to Spider-Man, and she was indeed being groomed by Stan to be the great love of Peter’s life, hence the reaction her death got.

All my responses are stuck in moderation except one. :-/

For me the downside of killing Gwen is not the question of leaving her out of adaptations in other media (aside from her death, she’s pretty skippable as part of the cast or as part of Peter’s character development) but the perceived need to include her in all these adaptations just to retell the story of her death, because that’s, in retrospect, the only important thing about Gwen Stacy, and I dislike the predictability of telling the same stories over and over with every cinema reboot rather than just, you know, telling new stories with the characters. The fact that we’ve had Gwen show up in both recent Spidey cinema franchises and yet no J. Jonah Jameson in the current series of movies is just ridiculous. I don’t see what the point of even doing Spider-Man movies is without JJJ, whereas you’d only include Gwen to either retell the story of her death or for some elaborate fake-out because that’s what we expect them to do.

T, I agree with you on Sharon, who genuinely stands out from the pack.

(aside from her death, she’s pretty skippable as part of the cast or as part of Peter’s character development

I disagree, she is Peter’s first true love, his first stab at a mature relationship rather than the puppy love he had with Betty Brant, and we get to see for the first time what Peter Parker as a real, meet-the-parents, steady boyfriend is like. How is that a skippable part of Peter’s character development? That’s his first true love, his first steady girlfriend, his first real long-term relationship. Up until then, she is probably one of the BIGGEST parts of his character development, as up until then we never got to see Peter-as-steady-boyfriend before. We got to see Peter make a sincere effort to balance superheroing with an adult relationship, as opposed to what he was doing before, which was sacrificing those types of connections in order to remain Spider-Man. We got to see how he reacted to Gwen pressuring him to marry her in those stories leading up to her trip to London….I would say she was the single biggest post-Ditko source of character development for Peter up until her death, especially if you include her father. How she translates into a “skippable” part of the cast is beyond me. Sure, maybe if you look back in hindsight after 50 years of Spider-Man with her being gone for 4/5 of that time, over 40 years, with the rest of the cast surviving for the ful 50 years, she gives the impression of being the most skippable, but up until her death she actually wasn’t. Even after her death I’d still argue she wasn’t skippable.

For me the downside of killing Gwen is not the question of leaving her out of adaptations in other media (aside from her death, she’s pretty skippable as part of the cast or as part of Peter’s character development) but the perceived need to include her in all these adaptations just to retell the story of her death, because that’s, in retrospect, the only important thing about Gwen Stacy, and I dislike the predictability of telling the same stories over and over with every cinema reboot rather than just, you know, telling new stories with the characters.

Well if a story makes it so that an adaptation can’t use them without ruining said adaptation, then that’s bad franchise management, which is exactly my point! You’re basically saying that she shouldn’t be used in “all these adaptatons” (when she really hasn’t been used much in adaptations at all, to be honest), because this one event so dominates everything else about the character. First off, I disagree that her death was the only important thing about the character. How many things were important about Pepper Potts in the Silver Age, yet she plays a prominent part in the Iron Man movies. How many things were important about Jane Foster? Yet she plays a prominent part in the Thor movies. The Wasp did nothing but act like a materialistic ditz and try to make Hank Pym jealous every other panel. All Mary Jane did was use “groovy” lingo and dance a lot and talk about “swinging scenes, Dad!” Meanwhile Gwen was rather progressive for a female Stan Lee Silver Age character. She was a top notch scientist who may even have been more scientifically talented and definitely more academically disciplined than Peter. That’s notable. She was very supportive and nurturing to Peter, unlike say Iris West and Jean Loring, who were constantly emasculatiing shrews. Her relationship to her dad was well-written and notable, she wasn’t a shrew or a ditz. By the standards of the day there were plenty of interesting things about her, more than there were about Mary Jane or many other Silver Age love interests. Yet, you say the only thing interesting about her is that she died, not that she was a scientist, that she had a great single-parent relationship with a police captain, etc, etc. It just proves further what a bad story this was: it is so major and overwhelming that it comes to outweigh everything else about the character and retroactively becomes the character’s defining feature. Once you look at the character from that point onward, that’s all you see: the dead girl.

Instead of being angry at the movie adaptations for feeling compelled to use the character and seeing the character as only being defined by one thing, why not get mad at Conway for making the character difficult to adapt and making it so that the character is now overwhelmingly defined by that one thing, even though she had other notable aspects.

Another thing I find weird is how many knee-jerk feminists you have on this site and across the comics blogosphere in general who complain about women in fridges and women as sex objects and Bechdel tests and are always ready to call foul or cry misogyny at any slight against women, yet will defend this incredibly sexist story simply because of nostalgia and the fact that it’s part of a legend they grew up believing.

Look at Romita’s justification for killing her:

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.

The women should just die because hey, why not? Just kill a woman every 4-5 years to get a reaction and inject easy drama for the male hero? That’s pretty sexist, and textbook Women in Refrigerators type stuff.

Or how about Gerry Conway’s take?

Only a damaged person would end up with a damaged guy like Peter Parker. And Gwen Stacy was perfect! It was basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy. Stan married a woman who was pretty much a babe— Joan Lee [Stan’s wife] was a very attractive blond who was obviously Stan’s ideal female. And I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife… And that’s where his blind spot was.

So one guy basically felt she should die because a woman should be killed for shock value every 4-5 years, and the other guy resented the character for being “too perfect” and threatening, which is mildly misogynistic in a very nerdrage kind of way that I find very disturbing. There’s a weirdly bitter undercurrent there, a whole “I want to kill the cheerleader who would never date me” vibe to it I find strangely unsettling. Either way, we lose a character with a lot of story and role model potential, especially as a female scientist, for a vapid party girl who models and acts and basically conforms to gender stereotypes in her personal and professional roles.

The kill her because she’s too perfect rationale was especially ironic because in the 90s when Conway returned to the Spider-books Mary Jane was now a freaking supermodel.

@T. The major reason why Gwen was killed was because by that point in time Marvel had adopted the policy of “illusion of change” and if she had stuck around readers would have wanted her and Peter to marry. If they had just broken up, somewhere down the line another writer would probably brough Gwen back, had her and Peter get back together, andf Marvel would have had the same problem again. Many writers and editors at Marvel are just steadfastly convinced that Peter Parker does not work as a married character. Which is why we ended up with the even more ridiculous dissolution of Peter & Mary Jane’s marriage via a pact with Mephisto, after several other efforts to split them up over the previous decade had failed.

When you come right down to it, that is the major, glaring problem with Spider-Man at Marvel. The character has been featured in multiple ongoing titles over a 50 year period, but he has not been allowed to grow & develop since the early 1970s. When you come right down to it, he’s just treading water. That’s why I really no longer read anything by Marvel or by DC… in the end, the characters are just going to be jogging in place for the rest of eternity.

@T.: Again, agreed pretty much completely – though I’m not sure I agree with the “don’t blame the filmmakers” bit.

though I’m not sure I agree with the “don’t blame the filmmakers” bit.

When I say “don’t blame the filmmakers,” what I mean is, you shouldn”t blame them for wanting to use a character that was such a major and notable part of the franchise, and instead we should place a lion’s share of the blame on the comic editors and writers who made the character so radioactive and difficult to use that adapting her became problematic in the first place.

For example if someone wrote stories that so negatively defined Olive Oyl or Lois Lane that all Popeye and Superman now had a huge handicap working against them when using those characters, I’d place a lion’s share of the blame on the people who made those characters difficult to adapt to begin with, rather than blaming the people who understandably would love a shot to adapt major, notable characters from a franchise.

The major reason why Gwen was killed was because by that point in time Marvel had adopted the policy of “illusion of change” and if she had stuck around readers would have wanted her and Peter to marry. If they had just broken up, somewhere down the line another writer would probably brough Gwen back, had her and Peter get back together, andf Marvel would have had the same problem again.

Yes, but this happens all the time. Pepper Potts left and returned several times, and even married other people. Superman and Lois Lane got together and broke up well into the modern age without ever marrying. Captain America lasted a long time without marrying Sharon Carter. Hal Jordan lasted a long time without marrying Carol Ferris. Same for Thor and Jane Foster. I just don’t buy that keeping her alive demanded that they get married. They could have broken them up and sent her out of the book on a bus or plane to somewhere else, like they did with Karen Page and Pepper Potts at times. And even if the argument is that sooner or later they would end up married, hey, that ended up happening with Mary Jane later on anyway (notably after she was changed into an amalgam of Gwen and classic Mary Jane). And they were able to undo that without killing Mary Jane either.

When you come right down to it, that is the major, glaring problem with Spider-Man at Marvel. The character has been featured in multiple ongoing titles over a 50 year period, but he has not been allowed to grow & develop since the early 1970s. When you come right down to it, he’s just treading water. That’s why I really no longer read anything by Marvel or by DC… in the end, the characters are just going to be jogging in place for the rest of eternity.

It’s a corporate franchise, same as Popeye or James Bond. They’re designed to largely job in place for over 50 years. The problem isn’t that Spider-Man is jogging in place, it’s that he has a readership that doesn’t want to accept that jogging in place is part of the nature of the property. It’s built into the DNA of long-term, open-ended corporate franchises. That’s why even though the superficial aspects change, for the most part James Bond keeps the same storytelling engine.

Back in the days, readers weren’t expected to grow up with a character, and characters weren’t expected to grow up with the reader. You read a comic until you outgrew it, then new blood entered the hobby in the form of new readers who were the age you were when you first discovered said character. If you got too big for Sesame Street, they didn’t change it to deal with your boredom or mature the characters to teen-friendly and then adult-friendly formats. They expected you to move on and expected new viewers to come in for whom all of this was fresh and novel.

Hmmm, yeah, you’re probably right, T. I guess I “outgrew” Spider-Man quite some time ago, which is why I haven’t followed the books in years.

The thing to remember about Gwen is that the Gwen that readers today see in flashbacks and in places like Busiek’s wonderful “Marvels” book shares no personality traits with the actual Gwen Stacey who appeared in Spider-Man.

Gwen, the sweet, wonder-filled innocent of “Marvels” is a great, GREAT character, but the actual Gwen was a loon who made Carol Ferris look stable. And her mood-swings were just nuts. She’d go from icky-sweet to shrill harpy across panels. Her personality changed completely based on what the writer needed in any given panel. I don’t expect say, Alan Moore level characterization from late ’60s/early ’70s comic book characters, but Flash and MJ had more defined personalities than Gwen ever did (“bipolar” isn’t a personality. ;-) ) . Gwen was just a placeholder for whatever emotion (happiness, guilt, shame, anger) the writers needed to direct at Peter.

Killing Gwen made sense.

“If anyone ever wants to adapt Superman, it’s easy. Clark, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Daily Bugle at the core. Pick and choose your extra toppings from the 75 year history”

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet Snyder and Nolan still managed to cock it up.
Leaving aside the fact that a Superman story w/out the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle is MISSING half the story, how the hell are you gonna put Steve Friggin’ Lombard at the Planet and not Jimmy Olsen..?

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