Spider-Man’s Dead Girlfriend Is A Kick-Arse Superhero Now

Spider-Man’s Dead Girlfriend Is A Kick-Arse Superhero Now

Spider-Gwen is a weird title for the newest heroine to swing through the Marvel Universe. Technically, she’s a Spider-Woman. But the ‘Gwen’ part of her moniker highlights the most potentially exciting aspect of her: she’s an alternate version of Gwen Stacy, a character most famous for how she died.

Forty-two years ago, Spider-Man lost a girlfriend in a brutal battle with the Green Goblin that ended in a cruel, twist ending. The final pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #122 — in which the wall-crawler snags Gwen with webbing after his archenemy knocks her off the George Washington Bridge — went on become an iconic part of comic-book history. It was a collective loss of innocence for an era of fandom, which dared to present a story where superheroes can’t always save innocents.

Comic book characters don’t usually stay dead. Supergirl dies. She gets better. Captain America dies. He bounces back. But same characters, even when they show up in new continuities, seem to exist to be killed. For a long time, that’s been Gwen Stacy’s plight.

Spider-Man’s first true love is so associated with her untimely end that the inevitable questions cropped up about her when it was announced that she’d be Peter Parker’s love interest in the most recent Spidey film reboot. “Is she gonna die?” “You can’t put her in the movies and not have her die, right?” The filmmakers responded by coyly teasing that they’d stay true to the comics.

Granted, the handling of her on-screen death was one of the best things in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen was a smart, vital part of the film, but there she was dead all over again.

Recurring death plots are rough enough for a character, but Gwen Stacy’s been written into other miseries, too. A decade ago, a comics story called Sins Past introduced the plot point that Gwen had slept with Norman Osborn (and borne children for!) before he killed her.

This retcon was hated by many longtime Spider-Man fans and made Gwen even more of a plot device than she’d ever been before. Sins Past never seems to feel like it comes from what she might have desired for her own happiness. It’s a series of events designed to make Peter Parker feel and react the way the plot required. And let’s not even get into the time that she was brought back as a clone. While the Ultimate Universe version of the character never suffered a tragic death, she’s still ben written in a secondary role. It’s way past time she got to be alive and written about in an altogether different way. And a new, alternate-reality version of Gwen Stacy is letting Marvel do just that.

The run-up leading to this week’s Spider-Gwen #1 has been almost entirely unexpected. She debuted just four months ago as part of the Spider-Verse crossover event and seemed to be an immediate hit. After her initial appearance in Marvel’s high-profile event, Spider-Gwen got her first real spotlight in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, which was a surprise critical and commercial success (it’s had four printings). The enthusiastic reaction to Spider-Gwen is due in part to a great character design. Her costume — which brilliantly fuses negative space ideas, high-contrast colouring and could-actually-exist practicality — is one of the best riffs on the Spider-Man motif in decades.

But the other source of excitement could come from the chance to re-visit a character most famous for being a plot device and a victim.

In her appearances so far, this alternate version of Gwen Stacy has been both divergent and familiar from the one who died in the mainline Marvel Universe. She still has a cop for a dad, one whose job entails hunting for New York’s web-slinging vigilante. But she harbours much of Peter Parker’s usual travails, too: being broke, enduring media smears and co-existing with a fickle, often unappreciative public. She cracks wise when busting bad guys, too.

With this first issue of her new series — created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez — Spider-Gwen feels like it’s basically kicking off an extended What If? (in a good way). The comic takes place in an alternate universe. And like Marvel’s old-school speculative series, readers will show up to see how familiar elements of characters’ lives get re-invented. There’s a whole 40-year-wide palette of continuity to mix and match. So, it’s intriguing when J. Jonah Jameson runs the entire city instead of the Daily Bugle newspaper, as in recent Spidey plotlines. In another example, a character best known for gunning down criminals without remorse is part of the police force here. This first issue features a familiar central villain in the form of the Vulture but Gwen’s methods for calling out to a showdown — graffiti insults only he can see while flying — feel fresh and unique.

In a weird way, Spider-Gwen feels inter-related with Silk, the other new Spider-heroine recently introduced to Peter Parker’s corner of the Marvel Universe. Both of them are riffs on the Peter Parker formula, in that the main characters are perpetually put-upon everypeople. None of them are unbelievably rich or powerful enough to destroy planets. However, Spider-Gwen looks like it’s going to engage more with the social-outcast themes from early Spider-Man stories. For example, Gwen has to deal with decisions about whether she can still be in the Mary Janes, the garage-band-made-good led by frenemy Mary Jane Watson. Yes, the same Mary Jane that’s Peter’s principle love interest in the mainline universe. There’s not been any romantic tension yet in any of her spotlights but that feels ok considering the older version of Gwen Stacy was pretty much arm candy for much of her existence.

But what of this Spider-Gwen’s version of Peter Parker? Peter Parker dies the most perfunctory, plot-driven death in Edge of Spider-Verse #2. His demise wasn’t preceded by any sort of grand romance either, just lots of story-convenient pining-away. He’s been rendered in a ghost, a source of guilt and motivation for Gwen to grapple with. It’s a role reversal that feels enriching to what the creators are trying to do, which is to, at long last, give Gwen Stacy a reason to live.


  • Was never quite sure why a ‘fall from that height would kill anyone, before they hit the ground’

    • Wasn’t it the violent deceleration by being webbed while falling that caused her neck to break? It’s like bungee jumping with a normal rope and it was attached to you below the neck.

      • Yup. Imagine a single web shot catching someone in the mid section and stops them falling fast.. they bend in ways they shouldnt lol.

        I would imagine that’s what he meant. Cause i agree with you they wouldn’t die from that fall if it had caught them pretty much anywhere else. (except the head..)

        • There is a deliberate ‘snap’ sound effect in the panel.

          But there’s also a lot of debate about whether she was already dead by the time Goblin threw her off. IIRC that was never confirmed/denied, which made the death much more poignant.

      • Yep, pretty much confirmed in “Marvels”. She would have died anyway, but “saving her” killed her first. Even in the movie, if you watch closely, you’ll realise that there was no other cause for her death either.

    • You can die from falling before hitting the ground due to lack of oxygen but from memory i think you need to be about 30km up.

      • You know skydivers jump from higher distances without oxygen masks. Base jumpers do it too. She’s not going to die from asphyxiation from falling from a bridge.

          • Yes but if you ignore the context of the original question of ‘fall from that height’ to something absurd, of course she’ll die from some absurdity.

          • Not sure what this has to do with what i said at all lol, wasn’t even talking about her i was just saying that people can die from falling :/

    • Are there many reasons why she could have died? As others have pointed out, there is the broken neck. The sudden deceleration could have caused her brain to impact on the inside of her skull…

  • The suit design is a bit boring, and that hood isn’t even practical.

    Not too sure about this one

  • Mary Jane in Spiderman Reign still had it worse. Death by radioactive sperm, what a way to go…

  • It’s a really good comic, I’ve been enjoying it a lot. A spotlight on Silk – Cindy Moon – would be great, too.

  • i clearly mis-read the title lol
    i read it as ‘she is teaming up with kick-ass!’
    Totally bad-ass… hells yes!

  • Gwen is my favourite Marvel comics female character(see my username), and it bugs me that a lot of people don’t appreciate the true history of Spider-Man.

    With both Mary Jane and Gwen on the scene, Peter chose and fell in love with Gwen… I really recommend people read ASM#31-90 or so to get the real feel for Spidey. After this, Stan Lee stopped writing and let Gerry Conway take over… and it was no surprise that he preferred MJ over Gwen, so he killed Gwen off. A lot of fans were upset(and I’ve heard that Stan Lee was heckled by fans and also asked GC to bring Gwen back), but he did so via the clone saga like a “hahaha fck you I’m in power and here’s my troll”. As time went on, many comic book fans began to view that issue as the end of an era… and it was. It was a cheap fridging(even though that term came about later on) climax of an established character and the books went downhill in quality from there. Most of the population now have been exposed to Spider-Man a certain way; they grew up with games like Marvel Super Heroes or the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon, or the Tobey McGuire movies where “he’s loved MJ all along”, or he’s been married to MJ with a kid on the way in the comics, or the terrible newspaper strips where he’s with MJ, and Oscorp/Osborn is behind everything(Avi Arad). And in the current comics, MJ isn’t the love interest, and I’m hoping Dan Slott doesn’t have some grand master plan to rehash the “MJ is still his true love” thing. Exposure to Gwen since then has been pretty much flashbacks… and anyone doing research typically finds out about the bridge thing and that’s it.

    The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon was pretty good, and Emma Stone as Gwen was a positive thing about the ASM movies(even though the ASM movies were pretty bad outside of that). That was also a huge problem in ASM2… the Peter/Gwen dynamic was the best thing about the movies, and by killing off the only real positive thing by trying to mirror the comics(and repeat the mistake that GC made; it was a huge mistake then, and it is a huge mistake now), Sony screwed over the future for ASM3. I’m really hoping that when Marvel do cinematic Spidey, they remain true to the actual comics and maybe even decide not to kill off Gwen. I want to see Gwen and MJ fighting over Peter while having Harry and Flash as friends, and Spidey being neurotic but also like a proud lion sticking to what he believes in and being relate-able, rather than the “annoying brat” that everyone hates. The Spider-Gwen comics look just like a cash grab, but I’ll still grab them. =)

    TLDR: Read ASM#31-90 to understand the real Spider-Man and what you’re missing out on.

      • When you watch superhero movie, the best ones are where you are amazed by the character, and you respect them and want to be them. While ASM2 had some good scenes, it was a flop overall; it was shallow(look how lame campy Electro/Kafka/Rhino/GG were… and they were also all different from the comics). The Max Dillon character was like Dwayne Dibley from Red Dwarf… except not funny like him, just a sad caricature of someone with mental health issues(as opposed to mature/warped badass mental health issues like the Joker) and probably aimed at children? I’m not even sure what they were doing, but the Rhino and GG were also similar, plus with low screen time. With comic books, the two main factors are the art and the story. The art(look) of the heroes and villains and scenery is something that a movie needs to embrace fully. While the Spider-Man suit is mostly okay(fix the back symbol already), it is like they afraid to do the villains properly. When they actually do it, it looks awesome; Spidey/Iron Man/Hulk/Black Widow… but half assing or omitting it is a no-no. The Avengers look mostly cool together; the CapA and Thor costumes are a bit off but are mostly fine, and they dropped the ball completely with Hawkeye. The X-Men movies were trying to be cool with black leather… but actually were less cool by doing so(the X-Men are discriminated/persecuted and come from different countries and backgrounds and have interesting looks by themselves which look awesome together like the Avengers). The Spider-Man villains were half-assed and it’s even worse since they didn’t have the acting/script to back them up. Electro should have the yellow/gold lightning star mask and have his standard motivation of robbing banks or acquiring power. It should be on the same level as Days of Future Past/Winter Soldier. If it’s done right, you should be able to believe the movie like the comics; like J.K. Simmons as JJJ in the Raimi films, or the Helicarrier in Avengers. Peter is a genius in the comics; like Iron Man, but he coasts on his father’s work in the ASM movies, and you also don’t appreciate how neurotic/relate-able/funny he is from the movies; he’s not Peter Parker.

        While there were a lot of good elements(I really liked the bridge webbing, Peter/Gwen dynamic, and changing seasons), another major problem was the foreshadowing and death. Pretty much everyone going to watch the film was wondering whether she was going to die. So they weren’t true to the comics for a lot of things, but they were true to the comics for that. If you think about how popular/awesome the “Seinfeld” tv show was… it’s kind of like that; you love watching the dynamic, and it’s not the last episode which makes the show. So yeah they kind of missed the ball… and also Spidey needed to be more heroic and suffer adversity like being trapped under tonnes of machinery or better fight scenes.

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