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Drawing Crazy Patterns – What is it With Spider-Man and Bridges?

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In this feature, I spotlight five scenes/moments from within comic book stories that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently in comics). Here is an archive of all the patterns we’ve spotlighted so far.

Today, in honor of the new Spider-Man movie, we take a look at five instances of Spider-Man having a dramatic confrontation at the top of a bridge!

Enjoy!

NOTE: There are so many images in this piece that I’m splitting it up over two pages.

NOTE #2: Remember, this is only about listing FIVE instances of this. There are certainly more than five instances of this. I am just listing five, though. So I did not “forget” other instances, I just happened to not include them in the five that I chose, that’s all.

First up is the granddaddy of them all, Amazing Spider-Man #121, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, John Romita and Tony Mortellaro, where the Green Goblin kidnaps Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and take her to the top of the “George Weashington Bridge” (really the Brooklyn Bridge)…

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Next up, in one of the quickest instances of nostalgia, Amazing SpiderMan #147 leading into #148 (written by Conway, drawn by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito and Dave Hunt) find Spider-Man captured by the Jackal, who blames Spider-Man for the death of Gwen Stacy…

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Roughly twenty years later, during the NEXT Clone Saga, Terry Kavanagh, Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin brought the aforementioned Gwen Stacy clone back in Web of Spider-Man #125. She appears to be taken captive by a NEW Green Goblin and Peter Parker (currently wearing the Scarlet Spider costume because Peter had been wrongly accused of murder and Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, had switched places with Peter in prison while Peter tried to prove his innocence…

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The twist is that the Green Goblin is a GOOD guy and was there just to help save the Gwen clone (just thinking she was a typical damsel in distress). That’s why he seems so confused by Scarlet Spider’s attack.

Go to the next page for trips to the bridge by Paul Jenkins and Mark Millar!

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33 Comments

aroesnbarger

May 3, 2014 at 6:11 am

Spider-Man on bridge is the same as Batman’s origin – every writer wants to retackle it, but there are few that actually succeed in surpassing the original story. I cannot think of one of these stories that is a DIRECT reference to the Night Gwen Stacy Died.

Wait, when did the Chameleon learn that Peter was Spider-Man?

While I know this list is limited to five instances only, it should be noted that the first “Spider-Man” had MJ being tossed off the bridge and the 1990s Spider-Man animated series featured the same event. In both cases, Mary Jane Watson survives. It seems that every time Mary Jane gets tossed off the bridge, she lives. Only Gwen dies from that fall.

Ha, you have to appreciate Millar at least using the George Washington bridge in his recreation.

Chameleon learned his ID soon after the Clone Saga in a JM DeMatteis story in Spectacular spidey. This Jenkins story was brilliant…it reminds me how creatively great he was when he arrived on the scene. And although I like Aguire-Sacasa’s sensational run, how he resurrected Chameleon in a totally unexplained way was really cheap. Not to mention that I have no clue who is that Chameleon that runs around in the Spidey books post OMD…

Yeah, I wish that comic writers would lay off the bridge setting. And apparently, the majority of these stories happened within the past ten years too.

Where do you get the last 10 years and “majority”? The first three were from more than 10 years ago lol.

In X-MAN #37 (in which Spidey guest-stars), the Gwen from the Age of Apocalypse reality is somehow brought to the main Marvel U. Guess what? She falls off the Brooklyn Bridge and Spidey saves her.

Guess who wrote it? Kavanaugh again–I couldn’t believe he recycled his own plot.

Not the point, I know, but holy crap, who ever thought that Scarlet Spider costume was a good idea?

In Spec #200, we see Harry, as the Goblin, taking MJ to the same point on the Brooklyn Bridge to prove a point.

You’d think every bridge Spidey came across would trigger a traumatic episode. Try throwing some people off of buildings or something else, villains!

Now hold on a sec — in that Scarlet Spider example, the narration calls it the GW Bridge but the towers are concrete, so it must be the Brooklyn Bridge, right? Is the writer repeating the same mistake from the original story or what? Maybe he was from out of town and just took the earlier story as gospel.

I am SO glad that we’ve finally gotten beyond the McFarlane-inspired “Huge Spidey-Eyes” way of drawing SM.

Spider-Man just has no luck when it comes to bridges. Maybe Peter Parker should move out of Manhattan and relocate to somewhere that isn’t surrounded by water.

Jackal mentions Gwen dying two years ago. Were Marvel comics progressing in real time at that point?

Out of curiousity, what is Spidey’s web actually attached to when he comes swinging in over the top of the bridge?

@Toozin Marvel comics were not progressing in real time at that point but that tended to be a common mistake among the main Marvel writers of the day, especially Thomas, Conway and Englehart. They would refer to an event as “years ago” when the younger characters (Spider-Man, X-Men, Human Torch) were still clearly late teens/early 20s.

I loved that MJ would then go on to shoot Osborn for throwing her off the bridge in that Millar story. So badass and a perfect example of why she’s a better fit to be a part of the superhero lifestyle than Gwen ever was.

Oh, okay. That’s kind of a weird way to handle things but I guess cartoons do it all the time.

It’s also a little weird that on the whole Marvel seems to stand by the viewpoint that Peter couldn’t have saved Gwen, but then writers keep showing ways that he could have. It’s not even a big deal if someone gets tossed off a bridge anymore; Spidey is now a bridge rescue expert.

I loved that MJ would then go on to shoot Osborn for throwing her off the bridge in that Millar story. So badass and a perfect example of why she’s a better fit to be a part of the superhero lifestyle than Gwen ever was.

Eh, Mary Jane as she existed at the time of Gwen’s death would have done so such thing either. Mary Jane evolved quite a bit since those days, into quite a different character. Comparing 2000s Mary Jane to 1973 Gwen is hardly fair. If Gwen was still alive and married to Spider-Man in that story, the writer would have simply written Gwen doing the exact same thing.

What you’re saying would be equivalent of if Janet Van Dyne died in 1970 while still a shopaholic ditz, you read a book today with Ms. Marvel leading the Avengers, then declared “this is why Ms. Marvel is better than the Wasp ever was! The Was could never lead a team of Avengers!” not realizing that if left alive the Wasp would have been matured by later writers and would indeed become a very successful leader of the Avengers on multiple occasions.

@Toozin
That’s the point. Spider-Man, through losing Gwen Stacy, became a better hero. Even if it means becoming a bridge rescue expert. He couldnt save Gwen because he was still an inexperienced hero. But by losing Gwen, Peter Parker relearned the value of life, and how he should do everything to save it.

That’s the point. Spider-Man, through losing Gwen Stacy, became a better hero. Even if it means becoming a bridge rescue expert. He couldnt save Gwen because he was still an inexperienced hero. But by losing Gwen, Peter Parker relearned the value of life, and how he should do everything to save it.

So it made him a better hero by making him a much worse one first? That’s like those stores that price their merchandise extra high to begin with, so that when they later sell it at a more reasonable price they can claim they are offering 80% discounts. Peter Parker didn’t need to relearn the value of life. I read every issue from Amazing Spider-Man to the death of Gwen and never saw any indication that he forget the value of life at all.

People grow up being told what a classic and necessary thing this storyline was, and they just accept it as an unexamined, unquestionable belief. Modern readers start off with the unquestioned conclusion that the story was great and necessary, and then retroactively reinterpret the evidence and impact to fit that preconceived conclusion, rather than first taking the evidence and impact objectively, then coming up with the conclusion afterward.

Reading Conway, Wein, and Wolfman’s post-Gwen death storylines, I didn’t see anything about that death that made him a particularly improved hero. In fact those three seemed to ramp up his incompetence considerably until Roger Stern came along.

T. –

However, retroactive recognition works both ways. Some readers also dislike the story not for what it was at the time it was published, or what actually is in the story, but on account of the supposed influence it had on later “death of…” stories.

It is telling that no one hated this story until the early 1990s, when it and a few others started to be recognized as some sort of start of darkness for the superhero genre.

Necessary it wasn’t, because no story is really necessary, nor did it make Spider-Man a better hero. But classic, yes. Very powerful and packing quite a punch too.

However, retroactive recognition works both ways. Some readers also dislike the story not for what it was at the time it was published, or what actually is in the story, but on account of the supposed influence it had on later “death of…” stories.

Well for me personally, I largely dislike it not just for its legacy but for what it was at the time it was published …it sucked a lot of the innocence out of the book and ruined a great storytelling engine and ruined an easy-to-adapt dynamic. Take a look for example at Greg Weisman’s Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon. Great, great, fun cartoon. Probably the best adaptation of Spider-Man I’ve ever encountered. Weisman read the whole Lee/Ditko/Romita run and used that as his basis. He took Gwen and Harry and MJ and other characters that first appeared in college and made them all in high school. His plan was for the series to run for 5 years and during that 5 years Gwen was never going to die. And as a result, the series works wonderfully. It’s a very balanced, fun, compelling storytelling engine, and even though it only lasted two seasons you didn’t feel this specter of death hanging over everything and sucking the joy out. No sense of dread permeating everything. Just a great piece of characterization and plotting with no gimmicks.

Amazing Spider-Man franchise plays it closer to the comic and look what happens with part 2. Worst reviewed and most polarizing Spider-Man movie ever, even worse than Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 in its reviews, with much of the word of mouth and buzz being about how noncomics fans who saw the movie are saying they are definitely not seeing part 3. I also predict a major drop in box office for weekend 2. When it happens, remember you heard it here first.

I love Spider-Man but I feel that it’s a character plagued with as much if not more bad directionless storylines than good ones, and I think much of that bad writing came from that ruined storytelling engine that happened from Gwen’s death.

Also, I don’t buy the excuse that a writer should never be blamed for what future writers do with his ideas. These are not auteur-owned and auter-driven works that have finite beginnings and endings. These are corporate owned work for hire franchises that are intended to be open ended and run for as long as humanly possible. That means you shouldn’t break the toys. You should leave them in a way that the next person can play with them. And most of all, since the property is designed to go on into infinity, you should realize that HACKS ARE INEVITABLE. Sooner or later, across a long enough timeless, there will always be hack editors and writers who are just terrible. That’s why the best thing you can do is “hack proof” the book. For decades and decades editors and writers either maintained the status quo or did an illusion of change, which limited how daring and powerful a superhero book could be in the hands of a master, but it also limited how crappy and damaging such a book could be in the hands of a hack. That’s why DC was smart in having “imaginary stories” that allowed writers and artists to explore daring scenarios without ruining the core franchise. If the story was great, wonderful. If it was disastrous hackery, the damage was minimized because it wasn’t core continuity. Same goes for Marvel’s What If?

Wth corporate franchises, there’s more at play than whether or not a story is powerful, there’s also franchise management. If these books were under the watchful eye of one or a few creators only and had a finite end, I’d be fine with toy-breaking storylines. On another level though, I think the story was not so great in its craft. The bridge mixup, the ambiguity over whether or not she was already dead or not before being knocked off the bridge, the unanswered question over whether or not Spider-Man killed her by snapping her neck, the unnecessary morbidity and gruesomeness of her neck being snapped at all, her total lack of agency or participation in the whole thing (she’s pretty much passed out through the whole ordeal, presumably from shock, so she’s just there for men to fight over like property, and rather than being a person it almost feels like their fighting over a mannequin). Then it leads to the original Clone Saga which was depressing and godawful and loaded with plot holes (and I can definitely blame the writer of Gwen’s death for that because he also wrote the Clone Saga followup too). On a craft level I think it leaves a lot to be desired.

Sure watching the hero’s girlfriend get knocked around like a rag doll, get her neck snapped and die is powerful but a lot of things are powerful. Doesn’t make them good ideas for a long-term franchise. Peter Parker getting gangraped by supervillains would probably be very powerful if done well also but it would have a terrible long-term impact on the franchise. Even if a story is powerful, that’s not always a good enough justification for having it in continuity in a major corporate franchise.

@T.
To remove the story from its context, I can see how one might come to its conclusion. But this story came in 1973, not 2003. This is at a time when the loved ones of heroes were safe and considered off limits. It’s good precisely because of its execution, as well as the actual execution of the story itself. The pacing is brilliant because for someone cold to the story, you have no idea what could happen. And the second part is also great, because we see our hero pushed to his limit in terms of anger. Not to mention the effective narration: “So do the proud men die: crucified, not a cross of gold but on a stake of humble tin.” Even if you disagree with the death of Gwen Stacy, I think the actual execution makes it one of the strongest marvel stories ever, and one that has really stood the test of time.

I never said that not saving Gwen made Spider-Man a worse hero. When a fireman fails to save a pedestrian from a burning building, does that make them a worse hero? No, but you can bet he or she will look back and see what they could have done differently, if anything. In fact, looking back at your mistakes is what makes you a stronger hero.

Peter relearns the value of life every time he saves someone and every time he fails as well. To relearn doesnt mean you necessarily forgot it. But you can relearn something from a new perspective. Peter at the time of Gwen’s death didn’t taken into account the effect of one web strand on the human body from a great distance. There was a great story by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin recently called “No One Dies” and it was about exactly that.

Looking at where the character is now, you can see the power of Gwen Stacy’s death. The supposed poor execution of the writer and subsequent ones doesnt negate the role an event like this could have.

@T.
Somehow I didnt read your last post before posting. I think Weisman is a great writer in general, and he could have done a great version of the Night Gwen Stacy Died. The example being of course Young Justice, which featured the untimely end of Wally West.

The problems with the second entry for Amazing Spider-Man 2 is its convoluted plot, unnecessary parental backstory, and too many characters, at least per the reviewers. The general feeling toward the Gwen and Peter dynamic is that its the best part of the film. I havent read too much of people disagreeing with Gwen’s death, other than it robs the franchise of the asset that is the wonderful Emma Stone.

The Night Gwen Stacy died set the stage for the next twenty or so years of Spider-Man storytelling. Her death didn’t necessarily make Spider-Man darker or lose its innocence. The Spider-Man story starts with the death of Uncle Ben and includes the death of her father before her own death.

I definitely dont agree with the idea of no toy-breaking storylines. Most of the greatest storylines need to have major changes (not just death) in order for a comic to function as an ongoing narrative. If they didnt, you wouldnt need to buy the next issue or next run.

If you want to tell a story with Gwen Stacy, you can do what Marvel always does: release a mini-series that’s out of continuity. It just needs to be a good enough story to require Gwen Stacy as opposed to Mary Jane.

I dont think Peter Parker getting gangraped would make a powerful story. Ever.

Isn’t retroactively interpreting the evidence exactly what one is doing when judging on how later adaptations would use Gwen Stacy as a value judgement on the original story? In 1973 “franchise building” consisted of hoping you could get a cartoon out your show. Not multi-media conglomerates that wouldn’t exist for 30 years. (And the best Spider-Man adaptation was the original cartoon, and Gwen was nowhere to be seen in that).

Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t getting bad reviews because SPOILER they killed Gwen Stacy. It’s getting it because everyone saw cramming in all those villains was a bad idea, and everyone was predicting it would do well the first weekend because he’s Spider-Man but would have a big drop off because people wouldn’t be seeing it twice. It’s looked anywhere from shaky to awful for weeks. If anything people don’t like it because it didn’t adhere to the comics closely enough, and jammed the storyline in at the end, and messed up all the build up with Norman, not Harry. If it had been more like the comic it would be getting better word of mouth. So the fact that they did something like the comic isn’t hurting the film…it’s hurting that they didn’t do it like the comic enough. And that they did it badly.

Brian Cronin

May 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm

It is kind of nuts how studios aren’t following the Marvel Studio version of how to do comic book movies. Marvel Studios films routinely do well and yet no one pays attention to it and continues to do their “How much can we change to make our film different?” approach to adapting comic books to movies.

T. –

There are 52 years of Spider-Man’s stories. Gwen Stacy has been present for roughly 7 years. Isn’t it more logical to assume that the importance the character acquired is due to her death? Also, it’s highly debatable that Spider-Man has been ruined (after Gwen) or incomplete (before Gwen) in those other 45 years.

Also, she was killed when Spider-Man’s stories were only 11 years old. That would require Gerry Conway to be very prescient to imagine that, starting more than 20 years after the stories, in the grim and gritty 1990s, Gwen’s death would have been counter-productive to the superhero genre.

I am sensitive to the issue that editors should watch out for the long-time health of franchises, I am. But sometimes enough is enough. Sure, when something is so badly advised that it influences things negatively in a couple of years, that is bad. When things are changed willy-nilly every couple of years, that is bad. When you change stuff that has generated sucessful stories for decades, that is bad. But NOT when you kill a character in a strip that is just 11 years old and the character herself hasn’t been in a whole lot of stories and hasn’t really solidified into the “storytelling engine”.

A story should be judged primarily for what is in it. This reminds me of the futility of talking about alternate history. When we talk about what the death of Gwen Stacy “meant” for the superhero genre, we’re assuming a LOT. Just imagine if Stan Lee had jumped in and forbid Conway to kill Gwen. You can say things would have been a lot better, etc. but the truth is that we don’t know, because it happened 41 years ago, and that is a lot of alternate history. Four decades!

It’s just as likely that the Spider-Man comics would have become mired in an endless Peter-MJ-Gwen triangle and people today would have been complaining about how Gerry Conway was such a coward for not killing Gwen, and that the stories jumped the shark when they refused to kill Gwen and generated 4 decades of boring love triangle stories.

We just can’t know.

As for the story itself, I think the ambiguities you mention is what makes it even better for a lot of people. Also, there is a eerie sense of inevitability in the story that is amazing and unusual for the time, and also so resonating to how tragic events sometimes happen.

The one criticism I consider is that Gwen is primarily passive in the story. True. But even THAT is a criticism that has been mostly made decades after the fact. Gwen died just before the women’s liberation movement started making waves in comics.

There are 52 years of Spider-Man’s stories. Gwen Stacy has been present for roughly 7 years. Isn’t it more logical to assume that the importance the character acquired is due to her death?

I think it’s the other way around. Her death resonates for decades because she was important rather than her being important because of her death.

Before Gwen died, Iron Man also had a girlfriend die as a result of one of his battles. Her name was Janice Cord, and she’s pretty forgettable and never brought up again in Iron Man history. From the minute she was killed there was an uproar and said uproar caused Conway to create the Gwen clone to appease many of those readers.

On a related note, here’s a related article on the topic from Forbes:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2014/05/05/amazing-spider-man-2-and-its-self-sabotaging-plot-twist/

Captain Librarian

May 7, 2014 at 9:40 am

A bit late to the party but put me down as, even though I generally agree with Brian, telling the Spider-man story without the death of Gwen Stacey would be one of the most interesting things and something I would have loved to see in either the movies or the Wiseman animated series. I mean, we accepted having Peter meet Mary Jane first in the Rami movies, among a bazillion other critical changes, we can’t accept that divergence? Stacy breaks her neck is as critical to the Spidey-mythos as the Spider-bite? I guess for some people it is. I would have been happy with a ‘fake out’ where he saves her or even the 90s animated series with her trapped in limbo. But I suspect I’m the minority.

It is telling that no one hated this story until the early 1990s, when it and a few others started to be recognized as some sort of start of darkness for the superhero genre.

Reread the history. Plenty of people hated it when it first came out. That’s why Stan Lee had to backtrack and throw the writers under the bus by claiming he knew nothing about it. It’s also why Conway did the Clone Saga and the Gwen Stacy clone, to appease some of those angry fans.

It is kind of nuts how studios aren’t following the Marvel Studio version of how to do comic book movies. Marvel Studios films routinely do well and yet no one pays attention to it and continues to do their “How much can we change to make our film different?” approach to adapting comic books to movies.

I think the other studios see that as a negative, that Marvel is slavish to the comics. When they really aren’t. They change things. But they understand the soul of their comics, and know what shouldn’t be changed. And Marvel keeps a tight lease, but hires a lot more filmmakers to make their movies outside of what the non-Nolan movies are. Webb could be any guy making a Spider-Man movie, really. He has no connection with the material or proof that he wasn’t just a one film wonder.

But then, let’s be honest, the only thing they want to copy is Marvel’s franchise, and Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t a movie, just a set up for other movies.

I do think T. has a valid point, which is the same one Brett White addresses in his new column “In Your Face Jam: The Amazing Gwen Stacy Problem.”

Ever since Gwen’s death ASM #121 way back in 1973, whenever the character has shown up in in an adaptation or alternate reality, the instant you see her your first thought is probably going to be “Dead woman walking.” You are literally counting the seconds, waiting to see when Gwen is going to die. It happened in Ultimate Spider-Man, and it happened with the reboot of the Spider-Man movie franchise.

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