The Night Gwen Stacy Died

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"The Night Gwen Stacy Died"
The Amazing Spider-Man
  1. 121 (June 1973). Cover art by John Romita, Sr.
Publisher Marvel Comics
Publication date June – July 1973
Genre
Title(s) The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122
Main character(s) Spider-Man
Gwen Stacy
Green Goblin
Creative team
Writer(s) Gerry Conway
Penciller(s) Gil Kane
Inker(s) John Romita
Tony Mortellaro
Letterer(s) Artie Simek
Colorist(s) David Hunt
Editor(s) Roy Thomas

"The Night Gwen Stacy Died" is a story arc of the Marvel Comics comic book series The Amazing Spider-Man #121–122 (June–July 1973), that became a watershed event in the life of the superhero Spider-Man, one of popular culture's most enduring and recognizable fictional characters. The two-issue story, written by Gerry Conway, with pencil art by Gil Kane and inking by John Romita Sr. and Tony Mortellaro, features Spider-Man's fight against his nemesis, the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin abducts Spider-Man's girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and she is killed during the battle.

Plot[edit]

The Amazing Spider-Man #122 (June 1973). Cover art by John Romita Sr.

Prior to this arc, Norman Osborn had been the Green Goblin, but due to amnesia suspended his identity as the supervillain and forgot that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person. Also, Harry Osborn, Parker's best friend and Norman's son, became addicted to drugs and was sequestered in the Osborn home for detoxification. Norman Osborn's parental grief, combined with financial pressure, triggers a breakdown resulting in Norman Osborn remembering his Goblin identity and again targeting Spider-Man and his loved ones for misery.

The Green Goblin abducts Peter's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and lures Spider-Man to a tower of either the Brooklyn Bridge (as depicted in the art) or the George Washington Bridge (as given in the text).[1][2] The Goblin and Spider-Man clash, and the Goblin hurls Stacy off the bridge. Spider-Man shoots a web strand at her legs and catches her. As he pulls her up, he thinks he has saved her. However, he quickly realizes she is dead. Unsure whether the whiplash from her sudden stop broke her neck or if the Goblin had broken it previously, he blames himself for her death. A note on the letters page of The Amazing Spider-Man #125 states: "It saddens us to say that the whiplash effect she underwent when Spidey's webbing stopped her so suddenly was, in fact, what killed her."[1]

The Green Goblin escapes, and Spider-Man cries over Stacy's corpse and swears revenge. The following issue, Spider-Man tracks the Green Goblin to a warehouse and beats him but cannot bring himself to kill him. The Goblin uses the opportunity to send his glider to impale Spider-Man from behind. Warned by his spider-sense, Spider-Man dodges, and the glider instead impales the Green Goblin, seemingly killing him. Later, a devastated Parker, back at home, encounters an equally shocked and saddened Mary Jane Watson, who has lost her close friend Stacy, and the two attempt to comfort each other in the wake of their loss.

Significance[edit]

  • The death of Gwen Stacy shocked the American comic book community. Previously, it had been unthinkable to kill off such an important character - the girlfriend of a title character with a large fanbase. Generally, a superhero did not fail this disastrously unless it was part of his or her origin story. This story arc has been proposed as a marker of the end of the Silver Age of Comic Books, and the beginning of the darker, grittier Bronze Age.[3]
  • The frequent tendency for the wives and girlfriends of male superheroes to meet grim fates was referred to as "The Gwen Stacy Syndrome" by the Comics Buyer's Guide.[4]
  • A fan poll conducted by Marvel Comics for their series The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time voted The Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 1) #121 and 122 to be the 6th and 19th greatest issues of all time, respectively.[5]
  • Sarah Bruni's novel, The Night Gwen Stacy Died,[6] is about a couple who refer to themselves as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.[7]

Development[edit]

Behind the scenes[edit]

The decision to kill Gwen Stacy was made jointly by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., and editor Roy Thomas. They killed Gwen because they did not know what to do with her anymore. Gwen and Peter had grown so close that they were bound to get married, but nobody at Marvel wanted a married Spider-Man: it would have drastically aged him and would have made plotting difficult. At the time, he was still a college student in his late teens. Furthermore, a breakup would have appeared unrealistic.[8]

In the comic book collection The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time: #9-6 (Amazing Spider-Man #121 was the #6 comic), Conway explained that Gwen and Peter were a "perfect couple", but taking that relationship to the next level (i.e. marriage or at least Peter revealing his secret identity to her) would "betray everything that Spider-Man was about", i.e. personal tragedy and anguish as root of Peter's life as Spider-Man. Killing Gwen Stacy was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: breaking up the "unfitting" relationship and reinforcing the element of personal tragedy which was, in his opinion, the essence of Spider-Man.

Bridge[edit]

The bridge in the original issue of Amazing Spider-Man #121 was stated in the text to be the George Washington Bridge. The Pulse #4 (Sept. 2004) also states the bridge to be the George Washington Bridge.

The art of The Amazing Spider-Man #121, however, depicts the Brooklyn Bridge. Some reprints of the issue have had the text amended and now state the bridge to be the Brooklyn Bridge rather than the George Washington Bridge. Titles supporting the Brooklyn Bridge include The Amazing Spider-Man #147-148 (1975), The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987), and Daredevil v. 2 #8 (2000). In a television interview for the Travel Channel's Marvel Superheroes Guide to New York City (2004), Stan Lee said that the artist for the issue had drawn the Brooklyn Bridge, but that he (as editor) mistakenly labeled it the George Washington Bridge. This was corrected in newer prints of the issue.

Different bridges are depicted in subsequent adaptations of the storyline. Mary Jane Watson was thrown off the Queensboro Bridge in both Ultimate Spider-Man number 25 and the 2002 Spider-Man movie, while in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Mary Jane is thrown off the George Washington Bridge.

Cause of death[edit]

Gwen Stacy's death in The Amazing Spider-Man #121.

The original comic features a "snap" sound effect next to Gwen Stacy's head in the panel in which Spider-Man's webbing catches her, however some later reprints remove the effect. In The Amazing Spider-Man #125 (Oct. 1973), Marvel Comics editor Roy Thomas wrote in the letters column that "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."

In the History Channel special Spider-Man Tech, Stan Lee states that her neck was indeed snapped.

Physicist and comic collector James Kakalios, in his book The Physics of Superheroes, states that in the real world, the whiplash effect would have killed her.[9][10] [11] The comic book Civil War: Casualties of War: Captain America/Iron Man (2007) concurred that the proximate cause of death was the sudden stop during a high-speed fall. An issue of Peter Parker/Spider-Man revisits the issue, and further confirms Gwen died of a broken neck due to the use of the webbing.

For some time, however, fans speculated that the shock of the fall itself caused Gwen Stacy's death, due to the Green Goblin telling Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man #121, "Romantic idiot! She was dead before your webbing reached her! A fall from that height would kill anyone — before they struck the ground!" In the fourth issue of Marvels, the police forensic scientist reports that she died from the shock of the fall prior to her neck breaking, placing the blame on the Green Goblin and not Spider-Man.

Replays[edit]

Several subsequent issues have echoed Gwen's death when others fell from great heights during Spider-Man's battles. On most occasions, he saves them by jumping after them and working with their momentum, rather than trying to stop them with his webbing (as he did in the What If? where he saves Gwen), most notably when he jumped off the same bridge to save Gwen's daughter, Sarah Stacy, around seven years after her death; due to accelerated aging caused by her Goblin-enhanced mutated body chemistry- Sarah's father being Norman Osborn after a brief affair between Gwen and Osborn- Sarah looks exactly like her mother.

In another storyline, the Green Goblin once again replays the scenario, this time with Spider-Man's wife Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As with Gwen, Mary Jane plummets toward her death (this time from the recoil from her gun when she shoots at the Green Goblin). Learning from his previous error, Spider-Man uses multiple weblines and catches every major joint, saving Mary Jane from suffering the same whiplash effect that killed Gwen.[12] A similar event occurs when Spider-Man saves Anna Maria- the girlfriend of Otto Octavius during a time when he was in Spider-Man's body- when Green Goblin uses her as a hostage and throws her off a building after learning that his true enemy has returned, Peter reflecting as he catches Anna Maria that he has learned over time to catch every joint in moments like this to limit potential whiplash.[13]

During the Civil War,[14] both Iron Man and Captain America cited Gwen as argument for their opinions on the Superhuman Registration Act. Iron Man argued that if Spider-Man had received proper training as registered heroes were given, he would have saved her, while Captain America argued that Gwen was only in danger because the Goblin knew Spider-Man's identity, the Act requiring heroes to register their identities with the government.

What If?[edit]

In a non-canonical parallel universe story in What If? #24, Spider-Man saves Gwen by jumping after her rather than catching her with a web-line (in the same way he saved Mary Jane in the film), allowing him to cushion her from the impact as they hit the water and subsequently give her CPR. In the aftermath of this rescue, he proposed to Gwen after revealing his secret identity to her, and, in a subsequent confrontation with the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn finally fought off his evil side when Harry moved to protect him regardless of what he'd become. However, their life was not destined to be a happy one; to ensure his victory, the Goblin had sent J. Jonah Jameson proof of Spider-Man's real identity, which Jonah had subsequently published and used to acquire a warrant for Peter's arrest, thus forcing Peter to escape from the police mere moments after his wedding to Gwen. As the issue ended, Gwen departed with Joe "Robbie" Robertson, who promised Gwen that they would do whatever they could to help Peter.

Ultimate Gwen Stacy's death[edit]

In Ultimate Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy died in a completely different way a few issues after she found out Peter's secret identity. Walking home after a talk with MJ, she realized she had forgotten her key so she tried to open the door to the cellar (Peter's lab) but that was locked too. She heard rustling in the bushes so she turned around and was grabbed by small tentacles coming from Ultimate Carnage who killed her the way it killed its other victims: absorbed the life out of her. The last thing Gwen saw before being turned into a mummy-like corpse was Carnage taking the form of a more solid Peter (actually Peter's father due to Dr. Connors mixing his and Peter's DNA with elements of the Venom suit, which was used with Richard Parker's DNA).

In Ultimate Spider-Man #128 Gwen Stacy was reintroduced to the series. Carnage had recreated her body and her memories and essentially cloned her. After a battle with Venom, Carnage left Gwen to join with Eddie Brock. Since this battle, Gwen Stacy has been completely rid of the Carnage symbiote and is now living with May Parker.

In other media[edit]

Television[edit]

  • "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" was seen in Spider-Man: The Animated Series in the episode "Turning Point", where Gwen was replaced by Mary Jane. Green Goblin hurtled her off the bridge, but instead of dying, she falls through a portal, unseen to Peter, who believes she has fallen and perished in the water below. The episode's name is the same name of the first issue in "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" arc.
  • Gwen's death is reenacted in Ultimate Spider-Man in the episode "The Spider-Verse Part 1" with Spider-Girl replacing Gwen. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin travel to an alternate universe where the sexes are reversed. Spider-Man, his counterpart Spider-Girl and the female Green Goblin end up fighting on the bridge at night and the Green Goblin knocks Spider-Girl off the bridge and she falls, but gets saved by Spider-Man the same way Spider-Girl saved him when he first arrived in her dimension.

Films[edit]

  • "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" was adapted in end of the 2002 Spider-Man film, with Mary Jane Watson (as played by Kirsten Dunst) again taking Gwen's role, although she did not die; Spider-Man managed to save her by jumping after her and catching her in person, subsequently battling the Green Goblin after lowering Mary Jane to safety, although the Goblin died similarly to how he did in the comics.
  • In 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, when Spider-Man swings off the crane in a final swing you could see the Bridge where Gwen Stacy died in The Amazing Spider-Man issue #121 as an Easter Egg.
  • Gwen's death was loosely adapted in the climax of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In the finale, Harry arrives as the Green Goblin and drops her through the top of a clock tower. Spider-Man saves her and begins battle with the Goblin. Spider-Man knocks Goblin off of his glider and the glider hits into the clock tower gears that Gwen is standing on. Falling, Spider-Man catches her once again and she dangles below. Goblin attempts to cut the web line but the turning gears eventually take out the Goblin but cuts the web Gwen is hanging by. Spider-Man dives after her but realizes that he'll never catch her in time. He shoots a web but she strikes the ground with her head at virtually the same moment the web-line catches her, continuing the canonical ambiguity about whether Peter's actions caused her death or if she was dead before he could do anything. Many plot points were left out in the film and major changes were made.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Saffel, Steve. Spider-Man the Icon: The Life and Times of a Pop Culture Phenomenon (Titan Books, 2007) ISBN 978-1-84576-324-4, p. 65, states, "In the battle that followed atop the Brooklyn Bridge (or was it the George Washington Bridge?)...." On page 66, Saffel reprints the panel of The Amazing Spider-Man #121, page 18, in which Spider-Man exclaims, "The George Washington Bridge! It figures Osborn would pick something named after his favorite president. He's got the same sort of hangup for dollar bills!" Saffel states "The span portrayed...is the GW's more famous cousin, the Brooklyn Bridge. ... To address the contradiction in future reprints of the tale, though, Spider-Man's dialogue was altered so that he's referring to the Brooklyn Bridge. But the original snafu remains as one of the more visible errors in the history of comics."
  2. ^ Sanderson, Peter. Marvel Universe: The Complete Encyclopedia of Marvel's Greatest Characters (Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1998) ISBN 0-8109-8171-8, p. 84, notes, "[W]hile the script described the site of Gwen's demise as the George Washington Bridge, the art depicted the Brooklyn Bridge, and there is still no agreement as to where it actually took place."
  3. ^ Blumberg, Arnold T. (Fall 2003). "'The Night Gwen Stacy Died:' The End of Innocence and the Birth of the Bronze Age". Reconstruction 3 (4). Retrieved 2008-11-14. 
  4. ^ "How NOT to end a relationship!". Comics Buyer's Guide. 16 February 2001. Archived from the original on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 14 November 2008. 
  5. ^ Spider-Man In The 100 Greatest Marvels Of All Time
  6. ^ Bruni, Sarah. Mariner Books (July 2, 2013). ISBN 978-0547898162
  7. ^ http://publishersweekly.com/978-0-547-89816-2
  8. ^ "Gwen Stacy". Book of the Dead. Archived from the original on 2004-10-31. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  9. ^ Kakalios, James (2005). The Physics of Superheroes Gotham Books: New York. ISBN 1-59240-146-5.
  10. ^ Kakalios, James. "The Physics of Superheroes - Death of Gwen Stacy" (Video). Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  11. ^ Feder, Toni. "Teaching Physics with Superheroes". Physics Today. Archived from the original on 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  12. ^ Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12
  13. ^ Superior Spider-Man #31
  14. ^ Iron Man Captain America: Casualties of War