Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gwen Stacy, Alive and Well

I'm not sure Stan Lee had this in mind...

About ten years ago I wrote an article on this blog where I discussed the Spider-Man supporting character Gwen Stacy. I had recently seen The Amazing Spider-Man and, after being enamored with Emma Stone’s performance and her great chemistry with Andrew Garfield, I wanted to write about how Gwen’s character had been completely compromised due to decades of being martyred as “Spider-Man’s Dead Girlfriend.” So ingrained was this one aspect in the hearts and minds of fans and creators alike, that every new adaptation of the character either always inevitably dies or the creators planned for her to die if they were allow to continue the story the way they wanted (the creators of Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon have said their ideal scenario for the show would have included a TV/Home Video movie where Gwen was killed). No real reason for this is ever given beyond “that’s just what Gwen does; she dies.”

My original article (which you may want to read) very briefly ran through Gwen’s tragically short history and also touched don some reasonings and suggestions on how they could bring her back and give her the opportunity to be an actual character again, something she hadn’t been since the 1960s. But more than that, I challenged the creators of The Amazing Spider-Man to not kill Gwen off in a sequel, and seeing as they had a super talented rising star of an actress in the role I was convinced that they would not.

 Then Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out and completely proved my point by unnecessarily killing Gwen off. Awesome.

Pictured: The preferred version of Gwen, according to the writers

I was pretty convinced at the time that Gwen would remain this nebulous area that were seemed terrified of altering the status quo, regardless of how inherently sexist this concept of turning her into a Spider-Martyr had really become. I resigned myself to it always being the way because too many editors and producers think of Gwen’s death as being too sacred to ever even entertain the idea of bringing the character back.

I was wrong. Marvel Comics did bring Gwen back and they did it in a way I would have never expected: as a superhero in her own right. From the pages of the original Spider-Verse comic, a story where Spider-Man had to team up with variants of himself from across the multiverse, one of the encountered characters was a version of Gwen Stacy who developed spider powers instead of Peter Parker. Almost immediately upon her debut did the character become a breakout hit for most fans both old and new, especially in the cosplay scene. Since then the character lovingly referred to as “Spider-Gwen” has become a major recurring character in the comics, regularly appearing in cartoon shows, and has starred in one of the most celebrated animated films in history and set to return in its sequel later this year.

Today I’m like to talk about Spider-Gwen in detail, partially out of a longing to do a follow-up on my original article, and discuss who and why she is, why she is popular, and why she is extremely important to both the Spider-Man mythos and to the salvation of the decades long wronged character.

 Learn about Spider-Gwen after the jump.

Sorry, but that costume freaking rules!

Spider-Gwen is the real-world designation for the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 (an alternate universe to the main Marvel Comics continuity on Earth-616) who here was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker and it was her who developed spider powers and became a crime fighter known as Spider-Woman. She first appeared in 2014’s Edge of Spider-Verse #2 and is a major character in the original Spider-Verse storyline wherein she meets and befriends both the Spider-Man of Earth-616 and Miles  Morales, the Spider-Man of Earth-1610.

Spider-Gwen was apparently first conceived as a potential character by then-current Spider-Man writer Dan Slott (meaning that when he was asked if he would ever bring back Gwen he was crossing his fingers when he said “no”) and pitched the concept to editorial who in turn commissioned writer Jason Latour to pen a series for a “Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman.” Even at that point, so many years after the original character’s death, Latour STILL hesitated because he felt doing so might harm the integrity of her original demise (because the Green Goblin, who died in the same story, coming back to life 20 years later and the inherently problematic Sins Past storyline apparently didn’t hurt its integrity at all, I guess). But he soon changed his mind and teamed with artist Robbi Rodriguez to flesh out and design the character.

Spider-Gwen impact was immediately noticeable. Once the mysterious hooded Spider-Woman was revealed as an alternate version of Gwen Stacy fans both new and old flocked to find out more. Spider-Gwen cosplays became instant favorites at comic book conversion, which for such a new character would have been considered rare. So popular did she become that a few months later Marvel did a silly little thing where for a month various comics that had nothing to do with her would have variant covers featuring Gwen as other superheroes; one of them, a mix of Gwen and Deadpool, became popular enough to be a new character in her own right. (Called “Gwenpool,” who actually has no relation to Gwen Stacy at all, but that’s another story)

As far as adaptations go, Spider-Gwen was featured in several animated cartoons and shorts soon after her debut but it was the release of the 2018 animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did everything suddenly shift. She was featured as one of the three main characters of the film, alongside Mile Morales, a character who had his own unprecedented surge of popularity over the years. This movie, which I consider to not only be the single best superhero movie ever made but also one of the best animated pictures of all time, ended up being a huge hit. Suddenly new fans who have no idea about the original Gwen Stacy are now fans of Spider-Gwen. With two sequels on the horizon this trend is likely to continue.

For a while, Marvel really wanted to make "Ghost Spider" happen

That is to say that we are on the precipice of the idea that in the eyes of the pop culture osmosis the only “Gwen Stacy” that the average person will know or care about will be Spider-Gwen, a Gwen Stacy who is decidedly NOT Spider-Man’s girlfriend and a character with genuine traits and a personally that isn’t just forgotten about by writers. This is unprecedented and potentially greatly disrupts the status quo of the Spider-Man mythos.

How did this happen? How did what was just a simple concept turn into a status quo distributing threat? Well, first and foremost I think creators (both comic and other media) greatly overestimate fans’ loyalty to the “iconic” nature of the death of Gwen Stacy and their resistance to ever revisit the character meant they had no way of gauging actual interest in bringing her back. In reality, I think a lot of older fans (me included) were eager in shaking up the character, even if we didn’t realize it until it happened. Suddenly a lot of possibilities open up. Also, Spider-Gwen is a great example of introducing a new character at the exact right moment, in this case in a very big Spider-Man storyline, where they become the breakout character in a natural way. Marvel couldn’t hope for a better scenario here. Also, and most importantly, that Spider-Gwen costume is perfect! Outside of the original Spider-Man costume and the black costume this is best design for an outfit in this franchise’s history. And this is coming from someone who thinks hoods on superhero custom normally look silly (The Scarlet-Spider costume classically never had the hood up; in more recent years when it is up it ruins the costume for me).

Spider-Gwen, no more

So what does this mean for the future of the legacy Gwen Stacy? Well, as long as the media keeps showcasing her without mentioning of her 1960s counterpart it’s really just a matter of time before the “true” Gwen Stacy is Spider-Gwen. She’s already much more popular with both comic fans and pop culture fans (who may not even know who the original Gwen is). Eventually someone, maybe Sony Pictures or maybe Marvel Studios if they can reclaim the rights somehow, will adapt this superhero version of Gwen into a live action film and if that film is successful then that’ll be it; the cultural osmosis/mob rule will take precedence. Seeing as Marvel, post-Disney’s purchase, has demonstrated that they can and will change their continuity to better fit in with whatever is popular in live action at the time I think the shift will be complete and the only folks who will pretend to be upset about it will be stubborn nerds older than me (and I’m quite old) and as old nerds our days are always numbered.

But I think this is for the best. Gwen Stacy was an interesting character when she was first conceived however over time she stopped being useful or interesting to the story as a whole; if you recall, that’s one of the reasons the writers decided to kill her in the first place. I still maintain that the correct move would have been to, you know, change how you write her if you think she’s so dull but creating a new version of the character, one who is not fated to die in order to push forward the story of a male main character (See: Fridging) is the next best thing. Here in 2023 I do not give a red cent about how guilty Peter Parker feels about his girlfriend dying at the hands of the Green Goblin in 1973, but I am pretty interested in checking out this Spider-Gwen: Gwen-Verse miniseries that came out last year where she teams up with even more variants of herself. If Gwen Stacy only exists to be a martyr then we’re better off with Spider-Gwen and I’m excited for how she continues to expand her presence in comic book history. 

Okay, maybe they've gone too far this time

Now let’s just hope they don’t kill her off in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse this summer to give Miles Morales more motivation, and let’s especially hope they don’t do it by having fall off a tall thing.


  1. Good to see you back, things going alright? And what about that novel you were working on?

    1. Sorry for the response. Things are good. I'm still working on the novel; unsure if anything will come of it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...