An avid comic collector and fan for nearly 20 years, Vic started collecting comics around eight years old. Comic investing since the 2000s.
Let's take a look at Gwen Stacy from the Spider-Man comics and revisit how the character was translated to the big screen. As a comic book fan, I'll focus more on the character of Gwen from the comics, however. She is a somewhat important love interest for Peter Parker in the comics and later becomes a spider-hero herself. You may wonder how that happened, since one of Spidey's classic, well-known Bronze Age stories depicts Gwen dying—but do comic characters really die?
Alright, let's get to it.
Meet Gwen Stacy
Gwen Stacy debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #31, along with college friend and son of the original Green Goblin, Harry Osborn. The key issue comic's cover date is December 1965, making it a Silver Age comic for her debut. She was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and has been a fan-favorite character and one of arguable significance and controversy.
History of Peter Parker's Love Interests
The character of Gwen Stacy was not Peter's first love interest. Liz Allan was actually Peter's very first love interest, and it was very much one of those unrequited love tropes. You know, boy likes girl, but girl doesn't like boy in the same way and is going out with a jerk that bullies boy. Yeah, that love trope.
Then, after a while, Liz seemingly gets over Flash Thompson and develops a crush on Peter. However, Peter is dating one Betty Bryant and has lost a considerable amount of interest in ole Liz Allan. So another trope develops, and that's the clash between Betty and Liz over Peter.
But high school doesn't last forever, and thank the stars for that. Peter met Gwen Stacy in college at Empire State University. For a while, Peter was dating Mary Jane Watson, but later concluded that MJ is shallow and narcissistic. Thus, he begins to date Gwen Stacy. While Betty Brant appreciated Peter's kindness, Gwen Stacy appreciated Peter's intellect. Being a science major herself, Gwen was also a smart cookie like Parker.
Gwen's First Appearance
Here's the introduction of Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, and Parker is worried about Aunt May who had an episode prior to this scene and was taken to the hospital. Harry thinks Peter snubbed them on purpose, but Gwen is instantly shown to be appreciative of Peter's intellect.
Significance and Controversy
According to Stan Lee, his wife Joan was the inspiration for Gwen Stacy, and the character was meant to be Peter's one true love while Mary Jane was created "just for fun." However, it seemed that fans took more to Mary Jane than to Gwen, despite her being a smart, blonde bombshell.
The Death of Captain Stacy
Gwen's father, Captain George Stacy, was introduced not long after Gwen, and he made his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #56. Gwen's father was a Captain in the New York Police Department who had come out of retirement. Captain Stacy was supportive of Gwen and Peter's relationship. However, he was also supportive of Spider-Man. Captain Stacy was the antithesis of J. Jonah Jameson. He was one of the few supporting characters who was a strong supporter of Spider-Man and often stuck up for the wallcrawler.
In keeping with the tradition that actions have consequences and loved ones are not exempt from harm in the world of Marvel, Captain Stacy meets his end in Amazing Spider-Man #90. In a fight with Doctor Octopus in issue #90, Spidey and the villain knock into a chimney and cause large chunks of it to rain down on the crowd below. Seeing a young boy about to be crushed by one of the chunks, Captain Stacy sacrifices himself.
While dying in Spidey's arms, Gwen's father reveals that he knows Parker and Spidey are one and the same and says, "Be good to her, son! Be good to her. She loves you so very much."
The Death of Gwen Stacy
After Stan Lee, Gerry Conway took over as main writer and Roy Thomas took over as editor. When John Romita Sr. was still the main penciler in the titled series, he had first suggested killing off Gwen to Conway. Later, Conway admitted to giving in to the idea so they could bring Mary Jane Watson to the forefront. MJ was a more interesting character to the fans, and it seemed that Gwen just didn't have that edge.
Uncle Ben. Captain George Stacy. Peter Parker has been surrounded by the tragic deaths of loved ones, and in some way due directly or indirectly from his actions or lack of. His Uncle Ben died because he didn't help catch the very robber that murdered him in a prior incident. Captain Stacy died due to the carnage and damage created during a battle with Doctor Octopus.
Spider-Man's Role in Gwen's Death
However, the death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121 was yet another landmark moment for Spider-Man and the world of comics in general. Never before had a superhero's romantic partner died directly from the action of a hero.
In the story, Green Goblin kidnaps Gwen and holds her hostage on the G.W. Bridge to lure Spider-Man. Soon as he arrives, Goblin tosses her off the bridge and Spidey shoots a web to catch her. The strand succeeds in catching Gwen before she meets an even more grisly fate from the water below, but the whiplash ends up snapping her neck.
Impact of Gwen's Death
Fans were not exactly happy with the very sudden death of Gwen Stacy. In response, Stan Lee has said that he was in a hurry getting ready to go to Europe for a business trip when he hastily gave the ok to kill off Gwen when the idea was brought to him, but both Romita and Gerry Conway refuted that account.
The event greatly affected the Spider-Man mythos and brought upon several important events for characters. The first one was Mary Jane Watson's evolution. Gwen's death and the loss she felt helped her mature and become more compassionate. As a result, she and Peter become closer and eventually romantic partners again.
Gwen's death also affected the character of Miles Warren, who first appeared as a professor at Empire State University. It seems this character had a secret crush on Gwen, and her death leads him to go insane and become the Jackal. I recently wrote about the Jackal in an article that talks about the first appearance of the Punisher. The two debut in the same issue.
Also, with Miles Warren as the Jackal, the return of Gwen from the dead and a Clone Saga soon followed in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. The story goes that Stan Lee wanted Gerry Conway to write a story bringing Gwen back, but Conway initially opposed the idea. Eventually, Conway gave in and a clone of Gwen was created by the Jackal, and the storyline became what is known as the original Clone Saga.
The term "fridged" was coined by well-known comic writer Gail Simone in an online discussion. She and other feminist comic fans created a website called "Women in Refrigerators" that listed and discussed how female comic characters underwent dramatic trauma to further move a story arc or plot forward for male characters. The title directly refers to an incident in which Kyle Rayner finds his girlfriend's murdered body stuffed in a refrigerator in the story to Green Lantern #54.
Gwen Stacy's death was also listed on this site as a mere plot device simply to advance Peter Parker's narrative in the Spider-Man stories. Even Nick Latour, co-creator of the revamped Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman (more popularly known as Spider-Gwen), admitted he wasn't familiar with Gwen Stacy except for being a "fridged" character killed for the sake of plot progression. Latour felt he could turn the character into a potential hero that could represent women in a better way.
Created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, an alternate-reality version of Gwen Stacy from Earth-65 debuted in 2014's Edge of Spider-Verse #2. In the reality of Earth-65, it was Gwen Stacy who was bitten by the radioactive spider and became Spider-Woman, while the Peter Parker of that reality concocts a formula that turns him into the Lizard. He would die of this and Spider-Woman would be blamed for it by none other than J. Jonah Jameson.
This version of Gwen Stacy has become widely popular among comic fans and cosplayers. The fresh take on the character has flipped perceptions of Gwen Stacy simply being a female that was killed off to further the character development of mostly white male superheroes. Also, she has managed to distinguish herself to some fans as more than just a female variant of Peter Parker.
Dan Slott first conceptualized the idea of Gwen being a spider-powered character for his Spider-Verse story arc and suggested it to editor Nick Lowe. Nick then went to Jason Latour to write a series based on a spider-powered Gwen Stacy, and Latour got Robbie Rodriguez to design the character.
Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman has had several comic series, starting with the self-titled Spider-Gwen and then more recently titled as Ghost-Spider, a code name she later adopts. She also crossed over from Earth-65 to become a character in the Earth-616 mainstream continuity.
Gwen Stacy in Film
When it comes to the character of Gwen Stacy on the big screen, it's hard for me to choose which one I like better. Bryce Howard Dallas physically reminded me of the character without a doubt but Emma Stone was a very believable Gwen Stacy as well. So far, the live-action versions have all been different from the comic book counterpart to one degree or another, but there were things that did not divert from the actual comics.
The Amazing Spider-Man Movies and Spider-Man 3
Both versions of Gwen Stacy played by Bryce and Emma did reference that the character is a smarty, but both really didn't divulge too much into that aspect. Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man both had Gwen the daughter of a police captain George Stacy. Both versions did have Gwen a love interest of Peter Parker. However, Spider-Man 3 did have the love triangle between Bryce's Gwen and Kirsten's Mary Jane a thing, and that thing was actually in the comics. A serious romantic relationship with Gwen was not the main purpose of the character in Raimi's Spider-Man 3 nor was it explored.
The Amazing Spider-Man did explore a more serious romantic relationship between Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy and Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker, but their meeting and relationship played out in high school. In the comics, the pair first met and got involved while at Empire State University, which Spider-Man 3 did get correct.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sequel also used Gwen Stacy's Death based off the story of "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" in issue #121 of The Amazing Spider-Man comics, but instead of Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin that sends Gwen to her final fall as it is in the comic, The Amazing Spider-Man sequel has Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, guilty of the deed. Also, Electro was not part of the climatic fight in the original "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" comic story, but was in the film. To this day, this is the only live-action depiction of Gwen Stacy's death based off Amazing Spider-Man #121.
Into the Spider-Verse
Another more recent cinematic version of Gwen Stacy is the popular Spider-Gwen character in Sony's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It's apparent that this animated character is taken from the Earth-65 version of the comics who first debuted in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, a lead-up to the story arc, Spider-Verse, which the film Into The Spider-Verse obviously based itself on, even if loosely.
Much like the actual comics, this version of Spider-Gwen (Spider-Woman), voiced by the wonderful Hailee Steinfeld, crosses over from her dimension to have adventures with Miles Morales. While the animated film has yet to see this happen, the comics did have a romantic connection between the pair, and it is a fan-favorite pairing.
To Sum Up
The character of Gwen Stacy has had one hell of a journey as a character. Originally created to be our favorite Webhead's true love, it seemed that the original Gwen Stacy was too nice, normal, wholesome and boring for comic fans back in the day. She lost out to one Mary Jane Watson with fans, and was killed off during the Bronze Age of comics.
Her death became significant in the comic industry for more than one reason. While her murder pushed darker realities in comic narratives and exposed that even superheroes couldn't always protect those closest to them and can even make mistakes that may lead to their deaths, Gwen unfortunately became more known as a "fridged" character in more recent times.
Regardless, this prompted comic creators to revamp the character as an alternate reality version who becomes Spider-Woman and ultimately redeems Gwen Stacy from a mere plot device to a headlining hero. This revamp has led to Gwen Stacy becoming even more popular in modern times.
While the live-action movies have yet to produce the newest iteration of Gwen Stacy as a webslingin' heroine, I think it's only a matter of time as I like to say. It's just too good a thing to pass up.
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© 2022 Vic