CCI: Comic Character Investigation #13

1 septembre 2011 Non Par Comic Box

[ENGLISH] This month: Gwen Stacy. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.

In Remembrance: Gwen Stacy

Gwen Stacy was short lived in comic book time yet has an indelible place in comic history. Having New York’s most famous and notorious superhero fall in love with her would earn that for a girl permanently (see Mary Jane Watson). Yet Gwen’s immortality and importance to readers was an event so powerful it could create an epitaph that said: “Here Lies Gwen Stacy. Killed By The Green Goblin. And Maybe . . . Spider-Man.”

Despite later cloning of the character, there was only one original Gwen who stole Peter’s heart and introduced him to the tragic loss once again of someone with whom he was very close. Every fan in the world knows the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben was the turning point for young Parker away from selfish indulgences of money and fame with his powers and which inevitably led him to truly learn his uncle’s greatest life lesson… that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Perhaps at the moment his webbing attached to Gwen Stacy and snapped her neck as she fell was his greatest failing of that adage. Even though it was the Green Goblin who caused her famous fall, it is heroes who rack with guilt over loss and failure. How Gwen died has often been debated in the stories. Believe what you will but even though it had been mentioned that the fall from such a great height was enough to kill her, it eventually was shown that her neck did break after her body being stopped at a sudden velocity.

Spider-Man did not have Gwen Stacy for very long but while MJ has endured, Gwen is recognized as his first love, ensuring her place not only for fandom but in Peter’s life. Created by Stan Lee and  Steve Ditko, Gwen Stacy first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #31 and was obviously intended to be his college love since he met her on his very first day of school at Empire State University. It shows the power of slow-burn storytelling that it took almost thirty stories later to get them to go out with each other. Peter had been concerned about his aunt being sick during that time in his life and had also been dating Betty Brant. But after some time the magic developed between Peter and Gwen in subsequent stories. Despite the usual drama in such relationships (read the issues for those), they ended up deeply in love.

Norman Osborn, a.k.a. The Green Goblin killed her in The Amazing Spider-Man #121 in June of 1973. The battle had its usual superhero battle elements but it was the involvement of Spider-Man in Gwen’s death that makes the issue so horrible. Peter Parker has spent his whole life with laments, tragedies, and complications but this was the worst thing that could have befallen the hero. There was no time to swing down to catch her when the Goblin throws her from the GW bridge. Only one chance to save her. To keep the love of his life from crashing into the watery grave below. Only a moment to keep his heart from breaking. And Spider-Man took the shot. Gwen’s body jerks in reaction to the connecting web as she falls and terribly, inexplicably, unfairly, her neck snaps. When he reaches her he finds her dead. If we could have looked behind the mask at that moment, we would have seen Peter Parker’s world crumbling at the site of her lifeless body. It was the funeral dirge for Gwen Stacy and also for the great Silver Age of comics.

Discussions of these comic ages can be in dispute regarding their beginnings. It is generally perceived that Carmine Infantino’s newly designed Flash launched the Silver Age. The death of Gwen Stacy has its historical significance to many fans because it is considered the landmark for what closed the Silver Age or if you prefer (as I do) what started the Bronze Age (the age this author grew up in—afraid I’ll have to play favorites here). It is regarded as such a marker simply because a superhero failed in dramatic fashion. This had never been seen in a comic up to that point and is what makes Gwen Stacy so important and what separates her from the long list of superhero girlfriends we’ve seen, even Mary Jane Watson. Because one might have come across tragedies in origin stories which were necessary to motivate the heroes but this was the first time a superhero failed which resulted in the death of a major character. Plus this was the hero’s great love and one of those had never died before either in such a quick and terrible way.

All may not agree that this is the marker of the next age but it definitely should be. Considering the fact that it changed what could be done in stories forever makes it worthy of that honor. Gwen Stacy was thrown from that bridge and it immortalized her unlike any other character in comic history before that. Not bad for a superhero’s girlfriend. And it is the first love no one forgets. A beautiful blonde . . .complex, loving and a tragic figure, for readers her epitaph should read: “Here Lies Gwen Stacy Who Changed Our World. We Will Not Forget Her.”

[James Parducci]

James Parducci is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.