Comic Book Legends Revealed #469
COMIC LEGEND: Gwen Stacy was killed off without Stan Lee’s knowledge.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
As noted, by 1972 Stan Lee was now the publisher of Marvel Comics and as a result, he had very little day-to-day involvement in the production of Marvel Comics. However, for years he continued to play a general role in the production of Marvel Comics. I’ve written twice, for instance, of examples of Marvel staffers misinterpreting Stan Lee “edicts” about Iron Man’s nose and about Marvel covers not being green. However, while those stories revolve around the notion that people misinterpreted Lee, they still point to the fact that he was still connected with the running of Marvel Comcis well into the late 1970s. He just had other main priorities.
So this brings us to the death of Gwen Stacy. In an interview with Leonard Pitts Jr. at some time in the 1980s (it is credited in Stan Lee Conversations as being in 1981, but that’s clearly not the case as it cites comics that came out after 1981 in it, like Roger Stern’s “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” from 1983):
I never would have killed Gwen Stacy in the first place. When I gave up the strip, he (Gerry Conway) said, “How should I write it?” I said, “You’re the writer now, do whatever you want.” I don’t feel it’s right to try to control something if I’m not there anymore. I had to go Europe for a while. When I came back, I found out that she had been killed. I said, “Sheesh! I didn’t mean kill off all of my characters.” But it was done. It was irrevocable.
This echoes Lee’s statements to fans during the 1970s, as well, when Gwen’s death set off quite a fan outrage.
Both Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, though, are adamant that Lee was informed of Gwen’s death before it happened.
In Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Conway recalls:
He was okay with it to the extent that Stan paid attention to anything. At that time he was primarily interested in expanding the line, asserting his authority as publisher to the higher-ups that owned Marvel, and promoting his own brand and his own career. Once he stopped wtiting a given comic he stopped thinking about it. And so when he stopped writing Spider-Man, even though he had a propriety interest in it, really, it was “Yeah, whatever you want to do.”
And Thomas notes:
The idea that the three of us together [Thomas, Conway and Romita – BC], or even separately, would have tried to sneak in the death of Gwen Stacy without Stan approving it is just so absurd. Besides, he was never out of town that long.
Conway followed by also mentioning that he was very traumatized by the lack of support he felt he got from Lee when the fans went nuts over the story.
Romita has also commented on the matter, just making a general comment about Lee’s memory not being great.
I think it is pretty reasonable to believe that Thomas and Conway are correct and that Lee did approve of the story. However, it is also very possible that Lee honestly did not care that much and possibly legitimately didn’t recall approving it, as he didn’t think it would become as big of a deal as it did.
Thanks to Sean Howe, Leonard Pitts, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas for the information!
On the next page, did Stan Lee mix up the Brooklyn Bridge with the George Washington Bridge in Amazing Spider-Man #121?