The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Scripter: Gerry Conway
Artist: Gil Kane
Inking: John Romita, Tony Mortellaro
Letterer: Artie Simek
Colorist: David Hunt
Originally published: June 1973
I had written a glowing review of this issue, as well as reviews of the next three things on the list. Then I accidentally deleted them. So this is my second go-around at it. Normally I wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect but, frankly, this issue was so good that I don’t mind re-reading and re-reviewing it.
Amazing 120 ended with Peter wrapping things up in Montreal. At the start of this issue he’s back in New York, ready to go visit a very sick and drug-addled Harry Osborn. Harry has been taking LSD and is quite sick. Harry’s diagnosis says that the drugs, combined with Harry’s existing state of depression has led to schizophrenia. When Peter actually tries to go see Harry, he is confronted by a very angry and very unhinged Norman Osborn. Osborn accuses Peter, along with Gwen and MJ, for Harry’s situation and orders them out of his house. Freaked out by the episode, Peter can’t help but wonder if Osborn is starting to lose control and slip into the grip of the Green Goblin again. After they leave, Norman Osborn, consumed with legitimate worry for his son and concern over his dwindling fortune, is beginning to crack up. Outside, Pete and Gwen wonder aloud about Harry’s motivations for taking the drugs, Mary Jane casts her eyes downward in shame and mumbles a half-hearted “I don’t know.” I suspect that MJ might know more about Harry’s troubles than she’s letting on.
Later, Spider-Man is heading to the Bugle and finds himself winded and dizzy. This is the part of the issue I have the biggest problem with, for three reasons. This “Peter has an illness” sub-plot has been used before, I believe even used the last time Pete fought the Goblin. It’s sole purpose is to provide an excuse for Peter fighting at a level below his norm. Having been done before, the sheer mention of his illness comes across as being tired and unoriginal. Furthermore, the reason for this illness is extremely flimsy – Pete speculates that because he’s not used to the “zero-degree weather” up in Canada, he must have picked up a virus. Here’s the problem:
- Montreal’s weather isn’t that different from NYC’s
- Viruses have nothing to do with temperature
Anyway, I know this is a small problem to focus on. Frankly, it’s really the only weakness in the issue, so it’s easy to blow it up out of proportion. Onwards…
Back at the Osborn home, Harry’s doctor has just left and Norman is feeling guilty about everything. As his sanity starts to slip away he has a hallucination of Spider-Man attacking him and, as he vows to kill Spidey, all of Norman’s memories flood back to him. He remembers that he is the Goblin, and he remembers that Peter is Spider-Man. Taking off into the night, Osborn heads straight to one of the Goblin’s old hideouts and makes his transformation complete.
As Pete heads back to his apartment, he’s looking forward to a long overdue talk with Gwen. Little does he know that the Green Goblin, aware of Peter Parker’s secret identity, is heading to the same apartment where Gwen is waiting. When Peter arrives he finds the apartment a mess. A small, unmistakeable pumpkin sits atop Gwen’s handbag on the floor.
Desperate to find the Goblin and Gwen, Spider-Man heads out into the city, trusting his spider sense to lead him in the right direction. He is finally drawn to the top of the George Washington Bridge, where he finds his prey. As Spidey approaches, the Goblin calls out his conditions – either Spider-Man dies, or Gwen Stacy does.
Not satisfied with this offer, Spider-Man attacks and, after a fairly brief fight, delivers a massive blow to the Goblin’s ugly mug. As Spider-Man races towards an unconscious Gwen, he doesn’t realize that the Goblin has recovered quicker than anticipated. Just as Spidey reaches her, the Goblin swoops by on his glider and sends Gwen toppling towards the icy water hundreds of feet below. Thinking quick, Spidey shoots out a web to catch Gwen and he does!
Giddy with relief, Spider-Man pulls Gwen back up… only to find that she is dead! There is some controversy over the cause of Gwen’s death. The Goblin tells Spider-Man that the shock of the fall killed Gwen, that nobody could live through a fright like that, and Spider-Man accepts this explanation. Some people believe that Gwen was dead before the Goblin even sent her over the edge, that she was dead before Peter arrived.
I believe most people – myself included – think that the cause of Gwen’s death was Spider-Man’s own web. There is an unmistakeable “snap!” as the web stops her descent, indicating that the sudden stop caused a massive whiplash and broke her neck. Unknowingly and quite unintentionally, Peter has killed his own true love. Of course, that’s only in the most direct sense. Has Pete done nothing, Gwen surely would have died anyway. The Goblin had condemned her and there was really nothing Peter could have done, but the details really do make it a much sadder situation.
The panels when Peter realizes that Gwen is dead are incredibly moving and convey very realistic emotion. It’s impressive that Conway and Gil Kane manage to make Spider-Man so expressive behind his mask. In a way, it reminds me of Hugo Weaving’s performance in V for Vendetta – there is a surprising depth of emotion coming through, even though all the features and details of the face are hidden.
The issue ends with Spider-Man, clinging to Gwen’s body, shaking his fist in the air and vowing that the Goblin will die for what he’s done.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I usually hate Gerry Conway’s writing. The drastic shift in quality from his usual output to this issue is startling. Conway manages to tell a very human, very touching story here. I don’t know if maybe he’d been putting in so much time and effort on this issue that his other work suffered, or if he really just finally hit his stride here. All I know is that this issue was great and lived up to my very high expectations.
Besides Conway’s writing, the art by Gil Kane (along with Romita, Mortellaro and Hunt) and even the lettering by Artie Simek were fantastic. Other than the annoying bit about Pete’s virus, this issue was damn near perfect.
Having reached this point in the project is weird. Gwen Stacy’s death has always been a milestone in front of me, and now that I’ve passed it I’m not sure what I have to look forward to. Part of me is eager for the Secret Wars, for Venom and Carnage, for the Clone saga. But none of these are as iconic and important to Spider-Man’s history – and the history of comic books – as Gwen Stacy’s death. This issue was a very important marker in the project, and I’m very glad it was as good as I had hoped.