The Night Gwen Stacy Died
|"The Night Gwen Stacy Died"|
|Publication date||June – July 1973|
|Title(s)||The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122|
"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.
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). 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."
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.
- 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. This story arc is considered one of the markers of the end of the Silver Age of Comic Books, and the beginning of the darker, grittier Bronze Age.
- Gwen Stacy's death is listed on the website Women in Refrigerators as an example of a trend in superhero comics whereby female characters tend to physically suffer more than their male counterparts in the service of those male counterparts' emotional storylines.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sarah Bruni's novel, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, is about a couple who refer to themselves as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.
Behind the scenes
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.
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.
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. 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
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."
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!"
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.
During the Civil War, 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.
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
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Gwen 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
- "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" was adapted in end of the 2002 Spider-Man film, with Mary Jane Watson (as played by Kirsten Dunst) taking Gwen's role, although she did not die; Spider-Man managed to save her before battling the Green Goblin, who died similarly to how he did in the comics.
- In the The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Gwen (as played by Emma Stone) dies in a similar manner. Harry (as the Green Goblin) kidnaps Gwen after piecing together that Peter is Spider-Man, after seeing the two together. He drops Gwen into a clock tower where Spider-Man saves her. Gwen falls again and Spider-Man manages to catch her with a web line. While holding onto the line, Harry attacks Spider-Man. The webline becomes snagged in the cogs of the tower and snaps just after Spider-Man subdues Harry. Gwen falls to the ground and Spider-Man snags her just as she hits the floor. It's left ambiguous to whether the webline causes her neck to snap, or the impact of hitting the ground kills her.
- 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."
- 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."
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- Spider-Man In The 100 Greatest Marvels Of All Time
- Bruni, Sarah. Mariner Books (July 2, 2013). ISBN 978-0547898162
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- Kakalios, James (2005). The Physics of Superheroes Gotham Books: New York. ISBN 1-59240-146-5.
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- Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12
- Iron Man Captain America: Casualties of War