An iconic storyline in Marvel Comics' The Amazing Spider-Man series, spanning issues #121-122 (June-July, 1973). It was written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Gil Kane, and inked by John Romita & Tony Mortellaro. The two issues have two separate titles: The Night Gwen Stacy Died, (#121) and The Green Goblin's Last Stand (#122) but it's known by the title of the first issue, which is famous for killing off Spider-Man's girlfriend Gwen Stacy.
The year was 1973. For ten years, Spider-Man had been one of Marvel's most popular characters. The patterns of Peter Parker's life were pretty well established. He attended Empire State University, fought creeps like Doc Ock, the Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and the Green Goblin, made money by selling pictures of himself in action to The Daily Bugle and its cantankerous publisher J. Jonah Jameson, and was deeply in love with Gwen Stacy. For the most part, superheroics had been a game to Parker. The closest he'd personally come to dying was pinned down under a ton of machinery in Doctor Octopus' lair, and he nearly always came out on top in the end. Tragedy had struck when Gwen's father (a retired police captain) died while he was fighting a battle, but that was written as a Heroic Sacrifice after he was revealed to have found out Peter's secret identity in 1970. It would be his secret identity being exposed again that would set into motion another series of tragic events. The Green Goblin managed to stalk Spider-Man (whose spider-sense had been numbed) and discover that his greatest foe note was no older than 19 or 20. He successfully captured Parker and in his arrogance revealed his identity as Norman Osborn, the father of Peter's college classmate (and future roommate) Harry. Taking advantage of Osborn's inability to shut up, Spidey eventually broke free of his restraints and battled the Goblin. During the fight, an accident induced Laser-Guided Amnesia in Osborn, making him forget that he'd ever been the Green Goblin. Peter thought that he'd seen the last of the Goblin, until Amnesiac Dissonance caught up with Osborn and he started remembering his former identity in short spurts. The second time this happened, it resulted in the also famous storyline The Goblin Returns, which challenged The Comics Code Authority's guidelines on portraying drug use.
After this little relapse, things didn't go so well for Osborn. Harry's drug use had taken its toll on his relationship with Mary Jane Watson, and she broke up with him. Devastated, he had a little relapse of his own, overdosing on LSD. Norman's business wasn't doing so hot either, and the coupled stress of his shattered home life and business life drove him back into insanity. He took up the Goblin mantle again and kidnapped Gwen Stacy, knowing that Spider-Man would surely follow. Just to make sure Spider-Man knew it was him, he left one of his pumpkin bombs sitting on Gwen's purse. Spider-Man tracked the Goblin and an unconscious Gwen down to the George Washington Bridgenote , where he was given a Sadistic Choice: surrender or Gwen shall die. Spider-Man and the Goblin began to fight, and in the midst of the battle, the Goblin threw Gwen off the bridge. Acting quickly, Spider-Man shot out a webline to save her, only to find her dead when he brought her up.
The editors decided that the Goblin could not go unpunished for this, and so he died in the next issue, impaled by his own glider. From this point onward, Spider-Man's world had become considerably darker, forever haunted by the uncertainty of what had actually killed Gwen. Had the Goblin already killed her, or had Peter Parker killed the woman he loved with his webline? note
The story was adapted into a No Budget 1992 fan film called The Green Goblin's Last Stand. The film initially saw little attention, but became further recognized towards the turn of the century, peeking when the film's creator made a "making of" documentary on its production in 2002. Both the original film and documentary were well-received at small film festivals, even garnering some praise from Stan Lee. On the official side of things, the story line has never seen a full adaptation into television or film, though the iconic death itself has been referenced in both the Sam Raimi trilogy (Spider-Man, which had Mary Jane thrown off the bridge, but she survives) and Webb Marc duology (The Amazing Spider Man 2, which does kill Gwen Stacy off, though Harry Osborn is the one to do the deed), as well as episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series (titled "Turning Point" the tagline on the magazine cover) and Ultimate Spider-Man.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died provides examples of the following tropes:
- Author Avatar: Gerry Conway puts his own real-life opinions about Gwen (namely that she was a bland character who was more interesting dead than alive) right into the Goblin's mouth, when he calls her a "paltry useless female who never did anything more than occupy space", as a way to trigger Spider-Man (as the Audience Surrogate) to vent his guilt at the author stand-in and allow catharsis.
- Ambiguous Situation:
- Was Gwen already dead when the Goblin threw her off the bridge, or just unconscious? And even if she was alive when he threw her, was it "the shock of the fall" that killed her, or the whiplash from Spider-Man's webline catching her? Though the writers originally stated it to be the latter, there's contextual evidence pointing to both, and Marvel has gone back-and-forth on the matter since the story's release.
- Another one is which bridge did Goblin use? Dialogue states George Washington bridge, art is based on the Brooklyn bridge, and later writers such as Christopher Priest (comics) say it was the Queensboro bridge. Some reprints tried to change the dialogue to Brooklyn for consistency but purists insists it's the George Washington bridge. Most notably, during The Wedding Annual, when Peter and MJ visit the Empire State Building for a private moment, Mary Jane spots the Brooklyn Bridge and stops when calling it the bridge at which Gwen died. Either case it was some bridge.
- Amnesiac Dissonance: The last time it happens to Norman Osborn actually. After this, he never forgets who he was.
- Backstab Backfire: Not played exactly straight, since Spidey didn't turn his back on the Goblin at the end. But the Goblin's attack did come from behind, courtesy of his remote-controlled glider.
- Bittersweet Ending: While Gwen died, her killer was put down for the count (for a long while, anyway). While this hit Peter really hard, the last scene proved that he's not alone and that he will still find love again.
- Character Development: This storyline marks the beginning of Mary Jane's transition from shallow party girl, to valuable support and love interest for Peter. It also marks Harry Osborn's descent into villainy, and in the long-term sense it's the end of Norman and Goblin having a split personality, and when he comes Back from the Dead, there's no more "good guy Norman".
- Close on Title: The title doesn't appear until the last panel◊, in order to prevent readers from discovering too early which character would get killed off.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Spider-Man whacks the crap out of the Goblin, stopping just short of killing him. This is the beginning of what would become a common feature of Spider-Man stories in the future: genuinely pissing Spider-Man off is probably the single worst personal decision you can make in the Marvel Universe.
- Daylight Horror: Green Goblin kills Gwen on a bright blue morning with clear skies and in public view. This effect is ruined in The Amazing Spider-Man Series where Emma Stone's Gwen is killed at night in a dank clock tower, though they were probably misled by the title.
- Death Glare: Kane's art draws Peter in Issue #122 as he's tracking down Norman into a fixed stare of hatred with sunken cold eyes. It's genuinely upsetting to see on Peter's sweet boyish face, an expression that even Frank Castle (soon to be created few issues later) would have worries about.
- Death Is Cheap: Osborn eventually came back as the mastermind of The Clone Saga, but Gwen is a perennial example (and one of the few remaining ones, at that) of a character who stays dead. Although she was cloned at one point, said clone later died in the prelude to Spider-Island. An alternate reality Gwen with spider-powers does show up doing Spider-Verse before getting her own ongoing, but it wasn't until Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy—which brought back nearly every dead Spider-Man character—that the mainstream version of Gwen Stacy would return... but even then, it was still just a clone, albeit one with all her memories up until her death. The story mainly served to give closure for Peter regarding her and her father's deaths, and this Gwen managed to receive a more dignified death scene where she stood up to not just a Green Goblin clone, but a Hobgoblin one as well.
- Dropped Her Off a Bridge: As noted above, Gwen spends most of her final story unconscious before being dropped off a bridge.
- Drugs Are Bad: LSD makes Harry a nervous schizophrenic wreck who becomes afraid to be alone, and begins wondering whether he even exists.
- End of an Age: This story brought the end of The Silver Age of Comic Books as we know it. See Innocence Lost below. In the overall sense of Spider-Man's story, this is often seen as marking the real end of the classic Spider-Man era and his original setting towards a more mature and adult world. The cover announcing "Turning Point" wasn't kidding around.
- Foreshadowing: There are a number of visual clues on the cover hinting that Gwen will be the one to die, not the least of which is the fact that the smaller Spider-Man is standing on her portrait. Also, close inspection of the position of his feet, shoulders and head indicate that he is not actually facing forward, but rather, looking at Gwen. Additionally, she's the only one whose face is not covered by any part of the larger Spider-Man's body.
- From Bad to Worse: Like you wouldn't believe. As if Spidey's life didn't suck enough now, this story's events were the direct cause of The Clone Saga (both of them), Harry becoming the next Green Goblin, contracts being put out on Spider-Man that Luke Cage and The Punisher tried to fulfill, and indirectly allowing for the Hobgoblin to exist. A later retcon in JMS' Spider-Man would go on to have Norman be revealed to have fathered children with Gwen Stacy while she was in Europe before her death. And it got worse from there—as revealed by Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy, it turns out that Gwen was conscious for a few moments before her death, and learned that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Given that she blamed Spider-Man for the death of her father, she died hating the man she loved.
- Get Out!: What a broken and grieving Peter venomously tells MJ at the end of the story. She refuses.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: Spider-Man stops giving a damn about this after he brings Gwen's body back to solid ground. The cops accuse him of killing her, he in his guilt says yes, and the cops try to take him in but he fights them back and swings away as they fire at him. Spider-Man at one point even bitterly admits that he's a menace when the crowd calls him one.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The Goblin attempts to kill Spider-Man by impaling him with his hovercraft, but Spidey ducks to avoid it and it hits Osborn instead.
- Hope Spot: It initially appears as though Peter saved Gwen. It's not until he sees her lifeless body that we realize that he failed.
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: What stops Spidey from offing Osborn in the end. Osborn ends up doing the job himself, in a failed Taking You with Me move.
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Obviously.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Osborn's fate, which lasted for 20 years until 1996.
- Innocence Lost: For comics as a whole. This was the first instance of a main character's on-screen death since The Golden Age of Comic Books, and is often marked as either the definitive end of The Silver Age of Comic Books and the start of The Bronze Age of Comic Books, or the effective Knight of Cerebus that would herald the next 12 years of a much more mature and darker Silver Age that would ultimately culminate with the publications of Watchmen and Crisis on Infinite Earths.
- Kick the Dog: As if he hadn't already damned himself with causing Gwen's death, the Green Goblin rubbed salt on the wound by calling her a waste of space. You can probably guess how that ended.
- While he's grieving for Gwen, Peter lashes out cruelly at MJ, accusing her of not really caring about any of them and telling her to Get Out! That she stayed with him regardless, refusing to let him suffer alone, is considered the pivotal turning point in both their relationship and her Character Development.Peter: <with his head bowed and his face in his hands> Don't make me laugh, Mary Jane. You wouldn't be sorry if your own mother died.note What do you care about straights like me and Gwen? Go on— get out of here. I know how you hate sick beds. And believe me— I wouldn't want to spoil your fun.
- While he's grieving for Gwen, Peter lashes out cruelly at MJ, accusing her of not really caring about any of them and telling her to Get Out! That she stayed with him regardless, refusing to let him suffer alone, is considered the pivotal turning point in both their relationship and her Character Development.
- Killed Off for Real: Gwen. She remains one of the few significant comic book characters who died and stayed dead (aside from temporarily returning for Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy). Originally the plan with Osborn as well; they eventually brought him back, but it took 23 years - an immense passage of time in comics.
- Love Epiphany: The drawing and artwork confirm it non-verbally and later titles back it up, but the moment MJ chooses to stay with Peter after he lashed out at her in grief, making her cry in anger and sadness before firmly closing the door shut and staying with Peter, is generally considered the moment MJ realized that she was in love with Peter and not merely attracted and flirting with him.
- Moral Myopia:
Spider-Man: Mister, are we living in the same universe? You killed my woman, Goblin, and you're raging about a blasted bargain-basement toy?
- Spider-Man calls the Goblin out on this when he throws a hissy fit for Spider-Man wrecking his glider.
Spider-Man: "Maybe you've forgotten...but you killed Gwen Stacy! She didn't just die — you killed her."
- Earlier when Goblin says his girlfriend is dead, Peter gets enraged at his use of words:
- Morality Pet: After Gwen's death, Spider-Man basically swings and walks around in a state of rage, coldly leaving Harry Osborn to suffer in LSD withdrawal and lashing out at Mary Jane (who at that point he wasn't close to) but the only one he is still kind to is Robbie Robertson who helps him find information on Norman Osborn's whereabouts. Peter in gratitude even lapses to his quippy self in a brief moment and says he will buy Robbie a cup of Java next time.
- My Greatest Failure: Some might say it is Spider-Man's second-greatest failure, after the death of Uncle Ben, but in an important way it can be seen as worse. In the words of Gerry Conway: "Uncle Ben died because Peter didn't use his power. Gwen dies as a consequence of Peter using his power."note
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: Gwen died before Peter could tell her that he's Spider-Man and sharing more of his life with her.
- Never Trust a Title: It's called "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" but the confrontation between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin happens in daytime and in the morning.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: If you go by the explanation that Peter's webs snapped Gwen Stacy then yes Peter broke her. Even if you don't, Peter not telling Gwen his identity and his friends about the danger Norman Osborn posed to them, and likewise allowing Norman to worm his way back after a bout of Easy Amnesia ultimately counted for nothing since the Goblin spat on his mercy.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Peter let Norman go after unmasking him in Issue 40 when he suffered Easy Amnesia and gave him another chance after he relapsed during the Drug issues by reminding him that his son needs him. This issue has Norman out of grief and worry for his son lapse back into the Goblin and out of insanity, cruelty, Misplaced Retribution, attack Spider-Man by killing the woman he loves, spewing poison on Peter's mercy.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Spider-Man gives one to the Goblin.
- Nothing Is The Same Any More: The Spider-Man comics claimed this all the time, but this was one story that definitely lived up to the boast. Gwen died, Norman apparently died for more than 20 years, Harry began to completely go off the deep end, and Peter and MJ began to grow closer together.
- Not the Fall That Kills You: Subverted - Gwen either died of the whiplash or from shock. The Green Goblin states that a fall from that height would have killed anyone.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Spidey is known for his constant wisecracking during fights. In this story, he doesn't make any jokes while fighting with the Goblin because he's murderously angry.
- While looking for Norman, Peter finds Harry in his room tripping on a drug overdose. Harry begs Peter to stay but Peter's so focused on Revenge on Norman he disregards his best friend when he needs him the most. It's heavily implied Peter abandoning Harry during this scene contributed to Harry becoming the second Green Goblin.
- Please Don't Leave Me: Harry says this when Peter abandons him while he's tripping on an overdose. Peter is so mad with grief and rage, as well as disgusted with Harry's dependency that he leaves.
- Purple Prose: The narration of Osborn's death.So do the proud men die: Crucified. Not on a cross of gold, but on a stake of humble tin.
- Reality Ensues: Perhaps one of the cruelest examples in comic book history. In any normal Spidey story from the past, a quick webline would probably save anyone from a fall. Here? The sudden stop snaps Gwen's neck. Even if it didn't, the water below would have done the job.
- Sadistic Choice: Partial trope namer, as the exact same scenario is where it was named.Green Goblin: It's quite simple, web-spinner. Your presence in this world has been a source of constant agony to me. I wish you to leave it permanently. Or else... Gwen Stacy dies!
- Shocking Defeat Legacy: For Spider-Man, this is the definitive example of his failure as a hero.
- Spoiler Title: No kidding. In fact, the staff took pains not to reveal it until the end of the issue.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Gwen Stacy barely has few lines of dialogue, and is killed for reasons she never understood (since she didn't know about Peter's double life) and her death largely serves the Character Development of Norman, Harry, Peter, and especially Mary Jane.
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: Gwen Stacy dies without any last words, without consciousness even, without any awareness that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Goblin almost makes Spider-Man break his no-kill rule. After Spidey sees that Gwen is dead, he vows to kill Osborn. However, in their final fight, after nearly beating the Goblin to death, he feels disgusted by himself and backs off, albeit Goblin becomes (for a while) a Self-Disposing Villain.
- Tonight, Someone Dies: See the cover.
- Unbuilt Trope: This is the one comic that started the entire Woman In Refrigerators trend, predating the Trope Namer by a good two decades. The motivations for it behind-the-scenes were identical to the general trope, using the girl's death to add to the hero's Angst and provide him something to feel badly about. But it stands apart from the countless later examples in two important ways. Unlike other examples, Gwen's death had meaningful consequences to Spider-Man's character and mythos, and Conway and later writers treated the death as Spider-Man's Shocking Defeat Legacy, inspiring him to be a better and more heroic character and elevating Gwen to respectfully become The Lost Lenore even as MJ became his Second Love. The trope it inspired is I Let Gwen Stacy Die and not "Dropped From A Bridge" for a reason.
- Unstoppable Rage/Shut Up, Hannibal!: The Goblin's response to the Skewed Priorities example above, where he calls Gwen "a simpering, pointless girl who never did more than occupy space" pushes Spidey into one.
- Vengeance Feels Empty: After the Goblin's skewered by his own Glider, Spidey admits that his death should have meant more.Spider-man: I thought seeing the Goblin die would make me feel better about Gwen. Instead, it just makes me feel empty...washed out...and maybe a little bit more alone.
- Wham Episode: A comic book hero never failed so spectacularly before. This storyline is considered one of the signs of the shift from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age. The death of a main supporting character (excluding those killed off at the beginning), let alone the love interest, was unheard of at the time.
- What If?: What if #24 deals with what would happen if Spider-Man successfully managed to save Gwen Stacy during the comic. In it, Spider-Man reveals his identity to and marries Gwen Stacy, only to have the ceremony be interrupted by the police trying to arrest him due to J. Jonah Jameson learning his secret identity thanks to the Green Goblin.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Peter initially speaks with a superheroic bravado when he webs Gwen to keep her from falling off of a bridge. Then, moments later, he finds out that she's broken her neck.
- You Are Not Alone: In the epilogue, Peter tells Mary Jane that she doesn't need to commiserate with him. In fact, let's not mince words, he tells her to Get Out!. She considers doing this, but ultimately refuses, effectively invoking this trope.