The Night Gwen Stacy Died, a two issue story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man #121–122 (June–July 1973), took the comic book world by storm and became one of the most notable and poignant moments in the popular superhero’s history.
Other than the death of his beloved Uncle Ben, donning tight spandex and web-slinging through the streets of New York had never significantly impacted Peter Parker’s personal life to such a tragic extent. To be fair, Ben Parker’s death wasn’t really due to Peter being Spider-Man. Don’t get me wrong, there were several times when Peter considered giving up his heroic pursuits in favour of protecting those he cared for most, but in the end, the bigger picture of stopping criminals always won out. Good always triumphs at the end of the day, right? Wrong! Good may always triumph over evil but as the immortalised Spider-Man quote goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”, as well as great sacrifice. As we’ve seen time and time again, superheroes tend to distance themselves from those they love and give up the things they want most in life in order to carry out their duty as protectors of mankind.
The relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy is one of my favourites. My understanding of the characters in the silver age Amazing Spider-Man (circa 1960 – 1980) comics gave me the impression that Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy were an odd match initially but their close friendship quickly led to a romantic relationship that just felt so natural and right, not only to the characters themselves but to readers of the comics as well. To Peter, Gwen was every man’s dream come true. She was elegant, charming, kind and gorgeous to boot. She wasn’t just Peter’s girl, she was someone he could feel completely at ease with, barring the exception of keeping his crime-busting, night-time activities, a secret. Likewise, Gwen was devoted to Peter. It’s evident through the many panels of the Amazing Spider-Man series that she truly cared for Peter, loved him dearly and supported him completely, even going so far as to accept him as Spider-Man upon the truth being revealed. Their love story is one we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives, that is, the experience of first love. Our first love is something precious that we carry with us even after the relationship ends. For Peter, Gwen was especially important to him, not only because she was his high-school sweetheart, but also because she was his first true love. And what could be more tragic than when the person with whom you hoped to share your life with is ripped away from you in a blink of an eye?
Up until issue #121, Spider-Man can often be seen being rather cocky and nonchalant in the way he fights crime (I mean, who has time to engage in witty banter when their being attacked by giant mechanical tentacles?). The first part of The Night Gwen Stacy Died was a game changer and forced Peter to take things more seriously, especially when it came to protecting the people he loved. Readers were given an inkling as to the fate of the blond bombshell when the Green Goblin, one of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis, kidnapped her and took her up to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. With Spider-Man close on his trail, the Goblin had no choice but to push Gwen off, sending her falling toward her ultimate demise, to which Spider-Man responded by ‘catching’ her legs with his web. I’ll never forget the bold “snap” that was written next to Gwen’s neck as she fell. At first, Spider-Man rejoices at his ability to save her but quickly learns that something is amiss when she doesn’t wake up. What follows are three emotional panels where the reality of Gwen’s death finally hits Peter. His one true love was gone.
Issue #121 leaves readers emotionally raw, though with a small bit of hope that somehow Peter will find a way to bring Gwen back to life in issue #122. Sadly, for Peter’s life to change dramatically, Gwen needed to remain dead and no revival was seen in the second part of the story arc. Instead, what followed was an epic battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, which led to the evil mastermind being killed by his own glider (this scene was re-enacted in the 2002 live action movie, Spider-Man).
So why was Gwen Stacy’s death so significant? From what can be assumed from the comics, the loss of the love of his life shattered Peter and paved the way for another important romance to enter his life. Had it not been for Gwen’s death, Peter Parker and the fiery red-headed girl, Mary Jane Watson, would not have gotten as close as they did. As Spidey fans are well aware, Mary Jane eventually becomes Peter’s best friend, confidant and later, his wife, a relationship that spanned decades and gave Peter someone worth fighting for, not to mention someone to fix up his torn and ruined Spidey costumes.
Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane didn’t preclude him from carrying the guilt and hurt of Gwen’s death with him. Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale delves into Peter’s memories of Gwen and the feelings he still has, despite being happily married to Mary Jane. It’s an emotional yet beautiful tale that will tug at your heartstrings and perhaps cause a few tears to be shed. But that review will be kept for next time.
Until then, remember that life is short. Cherish your loved ones and let them know how much you care before it’s too late.
For a more modern take on the death of Gwen Stacy, check out Sony Picture’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, which depicts the entire scene of issue #121 on the big screen.