Valentine's Day Special: A Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker RetrospectiveA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Dylan B. Tano
Valentine's Day is today and some of us are at that age where our friends get engaged, and the rest of us are left alone on with our comic book collections. Some use this time find new love, others ignore Valentine's Day claiming it a holiday engineered bu greeting card companies (true), some celebrate it with the ones they love and others (me) use this time to reflect on past relationships. The year 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Set during Valentine's Day, Peter Parker is up in the attic recording a letter to Gwen Stacy that she'll never hear. It is a cathartic exercise that offers a unique look into the relationship that was and almost wasn't. Loeb does an amazing job retelling the story from Peter's perspective, including how it led to Pete and Mary Jane's relationship coming to be. It is a major event in Peter's life and shaped who he has become almost as much as the death of Uncle Ben. What I want to do this Valentine's Day is take a look back at this relationship between people who were torn apart in the midst of their love for one another.
Most of comicdom is familiar with the death of Gwen Stacy, but the mainstream public seems to not know too much about her, especially those in their early twenties. Considering the movie coming out this summer refocuses on Gwen and Peter, now is the perfect time to catch up.
Gwen's death was a game changer -- it came at the height of the Bronze Age and it basically blew the doors open for the Dark Age that followed. Before Gwen it was unfathomable that something that tragic could happen to a hero outside of their origin story; you just didn't kill the girlfriend of the main character. Death is such a major part of the comic universe now, where once it seemed so unlikely. In my opinion, it's overdone now -- at this point, it seems like someone is resurrected every week, which makes the fact that her death has stuck all the more powerful.
It could be argued that Gwen and Peter were stronger than Pete and MJ. The whole reason they killed her off was because they were a flawless pair. There was nothing else to do with them at the time, Spider-Man hadn't gone on his unmasking spree and he was considered too young to be married. Artist John Romita, writer Gerry Conway and editor Roy Thomas decided the only thing there was left to do was kill Gwen Stacy. In a very Shakespearean moment, the creative team decided to kill the perfect couple; reaffirming that Peter Parker must struggle to overcome personal tragedy.
The tragedy stuck to this day, although it isn't referenced as much as Uncle Ben's death. After thinking it over, I'm glad it isn't mentioned too much. It shows growth in the character and some continuity, for in Spider-Man: Blue, Peter tells "Gwen" that Mary Jane taught him to love again although he admits that he still misses her.
Everything about Gwen and Pete seemed perfect... but then we get J. Michael Straczynski's Sins Past storyline. I have mixed feelings about this story. While the idea that Gwen would (SPOILERS) have an affair with Norman Osborn and give birth to twins seems unfathomable, Straczynski originally didn't want Osborn to be the father. Peter was his original choice, but the higher ups at Marvel said no and the result was a continuity clusterfuck. This also changes the reason she died -- Green Goblin didn't kill her to mess with Parker; now it was because she kept Norman's heirs from him. Before I hang Straczynski up for this crime against Peter Parker's one good memory, he did claim a desire to retcon the whole Gwen/Norman relationship during the One More Day saga. It didn't come to pass, as evidenced by Gabriel (one of the twins) appearing after the fact. He was annoyed about the version that went to print, and about the fact he wasn't able to undo it.
I have to agree. It seems tactless -- I know Marvel likes to tinker with their characters, and as a writer I agree you have to put your characters through shit so you can show what they are made of. Spider-Man, however, is a hero with very, very few true wins. That is his persona, that is his tragedy and that is his curse. While Gwen's death was tragic, it was a memory that was untainted. This decision to show her as someone who betrayed Peter seems made purely for shock value and feels completely out of character. For those people whoe weren't even aware that it happened, congratulations! You can now share the burden of that knowledge with me. It's the equivalent of Peter throwing Aunt May out of a window -- it just doesn't happen.
That is the current state of Peter's greatest love. I call it greatest now because they've undone the Mary Jane marriage, and while she comes in and out of Peter's life; I'm not holding my breath on those two getting back together. Stan Lee even admits that Gwen was and always would be Peter's main love interest.
Gwen died early. She never got to know Peter as Spider-Man. We've seen what their life could have been like thanks to series like House of M and other titles. Marvel likes to put their characters through the wringer, we all know that. People die, people come back. Bucky, Captain America, the list goes on and on. Villains always come back. Yet Gwen Stacy has remained dead, but not out of the limelight. She isn't always at the forefront, but with the turmoil surrounding Spider-Man over the past few months I am mildly surprised she hasn't come up more. Spider-Man is single again and Marvel seems intent on keeping him that way. Perhaps instead of breaking his heart one more time they should just let him be for a while. Even at the end of Spider Island when it seems he gets a straight up win, he loses Carlie Cooper in the process. For the sake of Valentine's Day, lets leave Spider-Man blue and at peace with himself.
For further reading, I recommend going back to some old Stan Lee/John Romita trades depicting Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy's. Marvel has some of it in Masterwork form. It's hard to describe their interaction, even as I went back and read a lot of issues to catch up. Parker never revealed his identity to her because of the death of her father. She blamed Spider-Man for that death, so Parker and Stacy never got their timing quite right. She died before that could happen. It's a tragic love story, one I recommend.
- Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volumes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (black and white, if you want to read their entire relationship)
- Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 13 (full-color, if you just want the death scene)
- Spider-Man: Blue (if you're looking to be melancholy)
- Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past (if you really want to never go home again)
Dylan B. Tano is a relatively new reviewer powered by a love of bacon and constantly distracted by a kitten who would rather use his laptop as a bed. He grew up idolizing Spider-Man and can’t believe he gets to review comics all day.
You can read some of his short stories at tanoworks.tumblr.com