Oh my goodness, comic junkies! I am late yet again on my monthly blog post. This is primarily because I am finishing up my last semester of grad school and my master’s thesis is kicking my butt! Aside from my student turmoil, I wanted to take this month’s blog and examine a pretty important character in the Marvel universe: Gwen Stacy.
Now let me start by saying that I never used to be a Gwen Stacy fan. Sure, she was smart as well as beautiful, but I was always more interested in Felicia Hardy (aka Black Cat) and Mary Jane as romantic interests for Peter Parker. I’m not really sure why this is, except that by the time I started reading Spider-Man issues myself, he was already in a relationship with Mary Jane.
And Felicia Hardy was someone I became obsessed with when I went further back into the series to catch up on what I had missed. And, let’s face it, Felicia Hardy is so sexy and sassy!
But Gwen Stacy is really something special. She was, and is, hugely important to comics.
First of all, Gwen Stacy’s death is an incredibly iconic moment not only in Spider-Man’s fictional life, but in comic history. The graphic death of Gwen Stacy by Spider-Man’s hand was shocking on multiple levels. The “snap” sound effect drawn on the page was somehow brought to life as readers collectively heard the bone brake. It was gritty, visceral, and real. It was in this moment that comics also took a firm stance against the Comics Code Authority and proceeded to tell stories in which superheroes were fallible. The death of Gwen, though debated for a few months after the issue’s release, was entirely Peter’s fault. His overconfidence in his abilities and himself as a superhero lead to the heart-breaking death of his beloved girlfriend. And this is someone who is supposed to have an intimate knowledge about physics!
With Gwen’s death, Spider-Man became less perfect and more damaged, launching a comic movement that drifted away from the Comics Code and towards “grey storytelling.”
Now I know what many of you are going to say. “Gwen Stacy was killed off in order for the male protagonist’s story to progress. She was put in the refrigerator!” There is no doubting that this is true. Gerry Conway even stated in an interview “I really defy anybody to come up with anything memorable that Gwen Stacy ever did other than die.” But we can’t deny that her death launched a crazy profitable and beneficial trend in the comic community for multifaceted characters and interesting storytelling. Her death wasn’t just “memorable,” it was franchise altering. Many superwomen have been “put in the fridge” and are never given a second thought by comic readers, but Gwen Stacy’s death is one that is still mourned by the comic community. And Spider-Man STILL pines after his first love. Even prior to marrying Mary Jane, he dreams about Gwen Stacy. When gassed by the Jack O’Lantern in Civil War, Peter laments and takes responsibility for Gwen Stacy’s death.
I actually wrote a paper on the traumatization of Spider-Man as a means of sustaining his superhero identity, which I hope to present at Comic-Con this year.) Gwen was important.
And she continues to be. I mentioned last month that one of the new comics I was excited to read was Spider-Gwen and, let me tell you, it was every bit as magical as I was hoping it would be.
With only one solo issue and an origin story in the Spider-verse comic arc, Spider-Gwen has become a HUGE hit! Comics shops throughout the country have sold out of “Spider-Gwen #1” and cosplayers have already designed, and are selling, costumes of her unique Spidey-suit. Fans weren’t just excited; they rallied around this story. And, what’s more interesting, is that Gwen is every bit as charming and misunderstood as Peter is in his universe. This alternate reality is salving a wound comic fans have felt for years. Furthermore, her comic is helping to create yet another “comic franchise altering” movement: the comic community as more welcoming of female readers and writers.
So there you have it comic junkies. I have confessed my new-found love for Gwen Stacy. Peter Parker sure knows how to pick some pretty amazing women.