Back when I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s, there were three monumental events in my life: one was the American Bicentennial, the second was seeing Star Wars when it came out in theaters in 1977, and the third was the death of Gwen Stacy, the love of Peter Parker’s life in The Amazing Spider-Man #121 in 1973.
Granted, I was only three years old at the time and wasn’t reading comics until I was at least five or six years old, but by the time I’d gotten into comics in the late 1970’s and read that groundbreaking two-part Spider-Man storyline in issues #121 and #122, my heart broke into a thousand pieces. That was the first and only time I ever cried while reading a comic book, and the effect that it had on me still resonates to this day, as well as the effect it had on millions of comic book readers and the Marvel universe itself.
Stan Lee once said that the only death in Marvel that ever stuck was that of Peter’s uncle, Ben Parker, but I always believed that there were three deaths in Marvel comics history that should’ve remained immutable – Ben Parker, Captain Marvel(Mar-Vell), and Gwen Stacy.
Ben Parker’s death was, of course, the impetus for Peter Parker becoming the legendary superhero he would become. Mar-Vell’s death from cancer made him an iconic figure that he was never able to become in his own underperforming comic book title. Mar-Vell became the John F. Kennedy of superheroes; the hero that every other Marvel superhero aspired to be like, and yet a reminder that every superhero(with all due respect to Thor) is still mortal and vulnerable.
But Gwen Stacy’s death forever changed the trajectory of Peter Parker’s life even more than the death of his Uncle Ben, and showed that sometimes the hero doesn’t win in the end and save the damsel in distress at the last minute. Sometimes mistakes happen that can cost the lives of loved ones, such as Peter’s mistake to snag Gwen with a web-line after the Green Goblin threw her from the top of the George Washington bridge, which stopped her fall so suddenly that it inadvertently caused her neck to snap, killing her instantly.
The death of Gwen Stacy hung like a specter over Peter Parker, causing him to seek out vengeance against Norman Osborn, The Green Goblin, and even ignore the plight of his best friend, Harry Osborn, who was struggling with drug addiction, because he was the son of Gwen’s killer; something Peter was unable to look beyond. Gwen’s death took Peter down a darker path than he’d ever gone before, and it affected his choices and relationships from that moment on, including his relationship with Mary Jane Watson.
However, over the years the Gwen Stacy character has refused to stay dead. While she remains a corpse in the 616 Marvel universe, she has become a pivotal figure in alternate, parallel universes such as the Ultimate Universe and the Age of Apocalypse alternate reality storyline. But even in the 616 universe where she remains dead, Gwen has shown that she still haunts Peter and has a profound influence on his life to this day, such as in the infamous ‘Sins Past’ storyline which ret-conned Gwen’s history revealing she had an affair with Norman Osborn while still involved with Peter, which resulted in her bearing twin children shortly before her death.
This was perhaps one of the most reviled ret-cons in Spider-Man history, along with the ‘One More Day’ storyline that erased Peter and Mary Jane’s entire marriage. And proving that you can’t keep a good dead girl down, Marvel has introduced yet another alternate reality Gwen Stacy, only this one joins the long list of Spider-Woman characters that includes Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter, among others.
The ‘Spider-Gwen’ comic book series created by Jason Latour that takes place in the Earth-65 continuity has Gwen Stacy being bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker, imbuing her with all of the classic Marvel Earth-616 Peter Parker’s abilities. Gwen, having become the Spider-Woman of Earth-65 has most recently appeared in Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse crossover storyline, and has become an instant hit with readers.
I personally find Gwen’s successful second-life as an alternate reality character ironic considering that the reason Marvel killed 616 Gwen off in the first place, according to writer Gerry Conway, was because her character was relatively uninteresting and they simply didn’t know what to do with her anymore. Conway felt that Peter and Gwen taking things to the next level with him revealing his identity to her and the two possibly getting married would betray everything that the Spider-Man character was about.
Killing her off was a way to not only make Peter single again, it reinforced the element of personal tragedy that had been the essence of Peter’s story from the beginning(although Marvel seemed to have no problem having Mary Jane Watson become aware of Peter’s true identity and become his wife a decade later). It also set off a trend in Marvel comics of heroes losing their female love interests to tragic ends(most notably the X-Men’s Jean Grey), often called the “Gwen Stacy syndrome.”
Yet, nearly four decades after Gwen’s death in 1973, she has undergone a renaissance in popularity.
First, there’s Gwen Stacy from the Ultimate Comics universe, who had become a much more relevant figure in that universe than she had in the 616 universe. The adult 616 Peter Parker and Ultimate Comics Gwen Stacy even got to meet in Brian Michael Bendis’ ‘Spider-Men’ crossover storyline, which had 616 Peter Parker cross over into the Ultimate universe in pursuit of Mysterio, and eventually meet up with his Ultimate universe counterpart, Miles Morales.
I must admit that while I enjoyed that storyline and Peter’s interactions with the Gwen from that universe, I felt somewhat let down by how rushed that storyline seemed. I felt that more could’ve been explored with that story, and Peter could’ve had a bit more catharsis with Ultimate Gwen. While her being a teenager in that universe made her somewhat age-inappropriate for the twenty-something 616 Peter Parker, they still could’ve had Peter tell her about the fate of her 616 counterpart and how she was truly the love of his life, although Peter probably felt that again, this would’ve been inappropriate considering the circumstances and the fact that he had very little time to stick around in that universe.
But now, there’s another new Gwen in town, and she’s no longer the damsel in distress, but a full-fledged spider-superhero. Spider-Gwen represents yet another step towards increasing the number of female superheroes in print, although one would’ve thought that there were more than enough Spider-Women in Marvel comics as it was.
But I do find the idea of making this alternate reality Gwen a superhero quite appealing, although it’s a shame that the Peter Parker of her universe died while attempting to acquire super-powers for himself in order to be a superhero by Gwen’s side; which resulted in him suffering the fate of the 616 universe’s Dr. Curt Conners and becoming The Lizard of Earth-65, which ended in Peter dying in Gwen’s arms in an ironic reversal of fate. Spider-Gwen seems to be very much a modern superhero, and while she shares 616 Peter’s abilities, she employs tactics and methods that are uniquely her own.
Her costume is undeniably inspired by the classic Spider-Man design, although the only trace of the classic red color scheme and web pattern is found on her hood(yes, she wears a hoodie) and on her arms. The rest of the suit seems inspired by the 1980’s black & white alien costume, only with more white than black.
And I must say, the idea of 616 Peter Parker meeting the Earth-65 Spider Gwen during the Spider-Verse storyline was very intriguing. Peter has always lived with the burden of putting the women he’s loved in mortal danger, except when he’s been involved with women who were superheroes themselves. I must’ve been in the minority back in the 80’s because I loved Peter’s relationship with Felicia Hardy, The Black Cat.
While may fans wrote in to Marvel’s letters page(this was before the internet and email) complaining about Felicia’s character and showing her nothing but hate, I loved the fact that Peter was involved with a woman who could share his superhero life with him. More recently Peter ended up in a short-lived but surprisingly popular relationship with Carol Danvers(Captain Marvel), and the two even acquired the ‘shipper name “Spider-Marvel,” given to them by fans of the pairing.
I know that some might find it blasphemous to even consider Peter being with anyone other than Mary Jane Watson, her being an ordinary human married to a superhero has caused quite a lot of stress and drama in their lives. The only successful human-superhero relationship I can even think of has been the classic Clark Kent-Lois Lane pairing in Superman comics, and even that’s had its issues. And since the events of ‘One More Day’ and the recent ‘Superior Spider-Man’ storyline, it would appear that Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship is over for the time being.
Now, Spider-Gwen does not exist in the 616 universe and only briefly crossed paths in the ‘Spider-Verse’ storyline, so the possibility of a pairing between the two is highly unlikely. But another important question is, if it were possible, would such a pairing undermine everything that the death of the 616 Gwen Stacy did to Peter Parker’s storyline?
I’ve often argued against bringing back Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, because it would effectively eliminate the impact of his death. The Death of Captain Marvel was one of the greatest graphic novels of the 1980’s, and bringing him back would only cheapen what was one of the most moving and poignant moments in Marvel comics history.
So even though Spider-Gwen is an alternate reality character and not the Gwen that Peter remembers(nor is he the Peter she remembers from her universe), would the pairing of the two effectively cheapen the tragedy of the loss they felt for the Peter and Gwen they loved in their own respective continuities?
I highly doubt that Marvel comics would go there, but Marvel Studios is another story entirely.
I’ve made it no secret that I’ve had my issues with many of the decisions Marvel Studios has made regarding their cinematic universe – most especially their horrific decision to eliminate Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne from the Avengers storyline in the MCU and to use Edgar Wright’s Scott Lang-based Ant-Man script instead, which ultimately ended up not working and resulted in Wright quitting the film altogether.
But now that Marvel Studios has reached a deal with Sony Pictures to include Spider-Man in the MCU, and to have him appear in their upcoming Civil War storyline in the next Captain America movie before having Spider-Man appear in his own movie, some have raised the question of whether Gwen Stacy should be brought into the MCU and back into Peter’s storyline. More specifically, there has been speculation of whether Spider-Gwen should appear in the MCU as Peter’s love interest.
Not only do I doubt that Marvel Studios will do this, but I think it would be a mistake for a number of reasons.
First, audiences are still reeling over the death of Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield’s chemistry made them a popular screen couple in those films, and audiences may not accept a new and totally different Gwen so soon. And considering how poorly received that film was by critics and audiences, I’m pretty sure that Marvel Studios will want to dump any and all baggage left over from Sony’s two previous Spider-Man franchises and start fresh.
Second, having a Spider-Gwen in the MCU would confuse the hell out of an audience unaware of the Earth-65 Gwen Stacy. Regardless of how much influence the Ultimate universe has had on the MCU, it is still primarily 616-based, and introducing alternate reality characters into the MCU would only convolute things(Hope Van Dyne, this means you!).
Third, it wouldn’t make sense to introduce Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman character into the MCU when Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman hasn’t even been introduced yet. Being a character completely separate from Peter Parker’s storyline and introduced as the creation of Herbert Wyndham, the High Evolutionary, Jessica Drew would fall outside of Sony’s film rights and Marvel would have complete freedom to use her any way they want to; much more so than Spider-Gwen, as the Gwen Stacy character would still be owned by Sony.
Jessica Drew is a popular Spider-Woman in her own right, and it is yet to be determined if Marvel Studios intends to include her in the MCU or not.
At this point, speculating whether or not Spider-Gwen will ever make it into the MCU is like speculating about Miles Morales making it into the MCU. While the Marvel comics universe seems littered with more Spider-People than ever before, Marvel Studios will probably not want to over saturate their cinematic universe just yet. They seem intent on just introducing Peter Parker into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, and then seeing where they go from there. I personally wish they wouldn’t make Peter a teenager yet again, as Sony has pretty much fished that well dry, and Peter in the comics hasn’t been a teenager since the 1970’s. He’s been in his late twenties for pretty much the better part of the last thirty years, and I would hope they would finally allow Peter to grow up on screen.
And while I do like the idea of Spider-Gwen, and I hope that she and 616 Spider-Man have more crossovers in the future, it may be too soon to put her onscreen in the MCU. Let’s see how her character progresses in the comics for the time being. Also, I’ve often said that television is the future of comic book adaptations, as television drama more closely matches the serialized format of comic books than any other medium.
CW’s successful Arrow and The Flash TV universe seems to support this theory. So perhaps if Marvel decides to stop wasting audiences’ time with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter and make an attempt at a television universe at some point in the future, we’ll see Spider-Gwen make an appearance there. Who knows?