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YMMV / The Night Gwen Stacy Died

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  • Alas, Poor Scrappy: Gwen's death invoked this reaction to the extent that people have forgotten that she was a Base-Breaking Character before her death. Many fans didn't like her for hating Spider-Man, or unfairly blaming him for her father's death out of prejudice, and how that bizarre situation made Peter feel guilty. For reference, check out the letter by a female fan in Amazing Spider-Man #125 who commends the writers for whacking a very annoying character. But even then the shock of her death and the cold and almost perfunctory manner in which it happened as well as Peter's horror and grief at his loss and failure quickly enlarged and exponentially increased Gwen's fanbase overnight.
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  • Fair for Its Day: While modern takes criticize this story for its use of the Stuffed into the Fridge trope, others give the story a Grandfather Clause treatment. The story is often cited as one of the earliest and most famous instances of "fridging", predating the Trope Namer by 21 years. It embodies many of the misogynistic hallmarks of the trope: Gwen has no agency of her own, barely has any lines before she dies, her plotline gets completely unresolved, she's not even the most important female character of the titular story (that's Mary Jane), it was done by Green Goblin to spite Spider-Man, and Spidey even (rather uncomfortably for modern audiences) refers to her as "my woman" even after she dies. However, unlike the many, many derided examples it inspired, this one in particular stands out positively and is seen as a good story even still for two primary reasons. The first is that Gwen's death has meaningful consequences for Spider-Man, both the mythos and the character, becoming a Shocking Defeat Legacy that aspired Spidey to be a better hero. Gwen herself is treated as The Lost Lenore and not a Disposable Love Interest, as it took years for Spidey to fully accept her death, and even after Mary Jane became his Second Love, he will always mourn Gwen with the utmost respect, compared to the usual example of a fridged character being mostly forgotten and replaced. There's a very, very good reason why the story named I Let Gwen Stacy Die, instead of the incident being known as "Dropped From a Bridge".
  • Franchise Original Sin: In retrospect, this story anticipated many problems that would plague Spider-Man in later issues.
    • The original impetus for the story, at least according to writer Gerry Conway, was to resolve the Gwen Stacy romance since she had become too close to Peter and realistically, as an Official Couple, they would eventually marry. This bleeds into the larger idea of whether Spider-Man should grow up past Comic-Book Time, or remain young and hip and relatable; Conway firmly believed in the latter, hence this story. note  Conway was a decent writer and the storyline worked out pretty well in the short-term, becoming a stunning Wham Episode that was considered one of the best Spidey stories for decades. However, this just set the precedent for future writers who shared Conway's mindset to create increasingly convoluted ways of maintaining that status quo, since replacing Gwen with Mary Jane caused the same problem to resurface, only now love interest Mary Jane had Popularity Power which led to them getting married in the following years (much to Conway's dismay). The most well-known examples of this are the various retcons within The Clone Saga and the universally reviled Deal with the Devil in One More Day. As a later writer, Howard Mackie pointed out:
      "Now many people would say that the biggest mistake of the Spider-Man continuity was the marriage. I would argue that things went askew earlier on with the Death of Gwen Stacy. One of the best stories ever written, but I think from that moment on Mary Jane and Peter were destined to get married. We had the perfect triangle between Gwen, Peter and Mary Jane. One which could have been exploited for years to come. No death = no marriage = no baby = no clones."
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    • Likewise, by having Peter fail to save his Love Interest, the writers set up such a Shocking Defeat Legacy for Peter that they couldn't add on to it without making him too much of a Failure Hero. Conway's idea of killing Gwen was merely a one-time solution to the problem of whether or not Peter should age. Later writers tried to mimic it, with the death of at least one would-be love-interest ("The Death of Jean DeWolff") whose connection to Peter and circumstances of her actual death added to Survivor's Guilt for Peter but not the same sense of failure. Likewise, after Peter and MJ got married, they tried to spin a story that Mary Jane had actually been killed in an aircraft accident, albeit in a Never Found the Body manner that added to Peter's frustration and his failure, making him such a sad-sack that it made his books cross into Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.
    • The storyline also becomes a problem for adaptation due to Gwen Stacy herself. The main reason it happened was because the writer and Marvel's editorial team considered Gwen bland and uninteresting, and thus expendable. Later writers would treat her as Peter's The Lost Lenore, giving her more characterization posthumously, but it doesn't stop the fact that her very appearance in any piece of Spider-Man media has the audience just wondering when she's going to be killed off, to the point where one of Spider-Gwen's major worries is whether or not she's equally doomed to that fate like so many other Gwens across the multiverse. Spider-Man: The Animated Series writers said they had no plans to use Gwen as she would be "fated to die," only having an AU version of her in the final episodes. When The Amazing Spider-Man Series made Peter and Gwen's romance a centerpiece of the films, her death in the second film was criticized for both being predictable and as a standard status quo shake-up. Meanwhile, Greg Weisman had no plans to kill Gwen Stacy in The Spectacular Spider-Man, while Ultimate Spider-Man did kill off their Gwen Stacy before later bringing her back as a clone-but-not-really that was treated as the real Gwen.
  • Fan-Disliked Explanation: The idea that Peter caused Gwen's death by himself which was floated by later editors and columns, and which outright contradicts the dialogue (Norman saying that the fall killed her from that height) and is liked by some fans for its daring Reality Ensues is not one popular among others. They point out that this effectively makes Gwen's death not as a result of actual tragic decisions and circumstances (Goblin knowing Spider-Man's identity, Peter sparing him and giving him a second chance, Gwen not knowing about the double life and the danger she was in) that led up to it, but an accident of incompetence on Peter's part. It outright contradicts a number of moments in earlier comics where superhero physics were played straight, and it also means that the righteous fury and anger Peter falls into in Issue 122 is not merited. Conway himself says that the "snap" sound-effect is meant for readers only and that on a narrative level Goblin did kill her and there was no way Spider-Man could ever have saved her by doing anything different.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • When, at the end of ASM #122, Mary Jane attempts to console the grief-stricken Peter and mentions how she herself is wrought up by Gwen's death, he tries to brush her off by saying she would not even care if her own mother died. About ten years later, she would reveal that her mother had already died prior to their first meeting.
    • The fact that Flash Thompson is on the cover art of this issue becomes this when the 2018 story line Go Down Swinging ends with the character dying at the hands of Norman Osborn's Red Goblin avatar.
  • Hype Backlash: On account of its status as "the best Spider-Man" story and so on. By the 2010s, Spidey fans began seeing it less as a daring Reality Ensues moment, and more as the first of Marvel's Writer on Board attempts to keep Peter from maturing and growing up; not to mention a classic example of the Stuffed into the Fridge trope. Between the popularity of Spider-Gwen and Emma Stone's performance in The Amazing Spider-Man Series, some have called for the mainline universe Gwen Stacy to be resurrected for good.
  • It Was His Sled: Gwen Stacy's death, though it was not as well-known by general audiences as other parts of the Spider-Man mythos until The Amazing Spider-Man films. This isn't helped by the spoiler being the title itself. While the title isn't shown until the end of the issue in which she dies, any trade paperback collection that includes the plotline will definitely have it listed as such.
  • Like You Would Really Do It:
    • The writers made it absolutely clear that Gwen Stacy was dead for good. The same applied to Norman Osborn until he was resurrected over twenty years later. Dampening the effect is that Gwen had become a Designated Love Interest at that point, and the Green Goblin had made more appearances as the amnesiac Norman Osborn than as a villain for the entire John Romita Sr. era and was a rarely used villain at that point. What made it shocking was that the Spider-Man comics in general, and superhero comics on the whole, were usually not so violent at the time.
      Gerry Conway: "While Gwen was his official girlfriend, for those of us who had followed the character from the very start, she didn't feel like she was that integral to the character...But to people who had been reading the book for the last five years, she was Lois Lane."
    • On a meta-level, fans on seeing the cover of the comic with the portraits of different members of Spider-Man's supporting cast would have scoffed at seeing J. Jonah Jameson and Flash Thompson as the list of people whose death could upset Spider-Man since obviously killing off these Sitcom Archnemesis would erode tension and impact from the stories going forward and the loss of neither would grieve Spider-Man greatly except in the token sense.
  • Moral Event Horizon: The Goblin's murder of Gwen is perhaps the best known example for a Moral Event Horizon in the history of comic books. Not only because of the act itself, but because of his utter dismissal and even contempt for the value of Gwen's life.
  • Never Live It Down:
    • Some fans define the character of Norman Osborn by the crime he committed in this story, and less-informed fans define Gwen Stacy by this moment/her characterization during this moment. She's almost always remembered with the Girl Next Door type characterization that she had at the time and is remembered as the "one who died", with many forgetting or being unaware of other aspects such as the fact that she hated Spider-Man but loved Peter (and was known for quoting Jameson positively), that she blamed Spider-Man for her father's death, that originally she was a high school beauty queen socialite who was in Peter's classmate. At least in Gwen's case, The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon and The Amazing Spider-Man films reemphasized these forgotten character traits, while Spider-Gwen carved out a completely different personality for the Gwen of that universe.
    • For a long time, this became one for Peter, cementing his Failure Hero status. In Civil War, Iron Man even refers to this instance as something that could have been avoided had Peter been registered and given training when he was young and inexperienced, while Alex Ross' Marvels elevates Spider-Man's failure to save Gwen as the ultimate End of an Age.
  • Older Than They Think: According to Blake Bell's biography of Steve Ditko (Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko), Ditko proposed to Lee a plotline to kill off Betty Brant for shock value and melodrama. Lee turned down Ditko, and Ditko later admitted that Lee was right about this, that such a move would make the stories too dark and add more emotional baggage on top of Uncle Ben's death. Ditko said that his idea would have had Betty die in an accident and not in a criminal situation.
  • Popularity Polynomial: The story's popularity changes as per trends:
    • The story's reception at the time it was made was divided. The fans flooded Marvel with letters, some praising the creators for taking such a bold move, others calling them murderers. It was regarded later as a bold step for a company to kill-off a prominent supporting character and make the hero genuinely fail. Alex Ross saw it as the end of the Silver Age of Comics and made it the climax of Marvels.
    • Since The Oughties-onwards however, the story has been regarded less kindly for codifying Stuffed into the Fridge (although "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny is in play here), and in the wake of the popular revisions of Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd, the idea of Killed Off for Real within comic books is no longer considered desirable. The popularity of Spider-Gwen has also diminished the appeal of the story, since it proves the character can exist without being either Love Interest or Stuffed into the Fridge. Likewise, the shoehorning of retcons in JMS' Spider-Man and Dan Slott's Spider-Man to either milk mileage from the story or pile on misery and guilt on Peter make a contingent of readers wish for Marvel to bring her Back from the Dead already.
  • Protagonist Title Fallacy: Gwen Stacy is not the protagonist of the story of her death. She's not even the most significant female character (Mary Jane is).
  • Scapegoat Creator:
    • According to Gerry Conway, he, at the age of around 19 when he wrote this story, became this for killing Gwen Stacy where Marvel received a bunch of comments, and vitriol, and Stan Lee passed the buck by saying that he wasn't involved and that it was Conway who came up with the story... which is true. However, Conway insists that while Stan Lee wasn't involved with the actual story, he was fully aware of the idea and approved it from the start.
    • Conway also pointed out in a 2016 Podcast for Spider-Man Crawlspace that there were plans well underway before he came in to kill of a major supporting character (something which needed the approval of not only the writer but the artist, lead art director, EIC and others), and that he didn't necessarily set out to kill Gwen. He merely tossed her name into the debate and everyone agreed that she was the best choice in being simultaneously emotionally significant to both Peter and audience while also being expendable. He stated that had there been no plans for Character Death he would have merely broken Peter and Gwen up and have her Put on a Bus and make way for Peter and MJ, leaving later writers to come in and develop Gwen and built the Love Triangle if they wished.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny:
    • At the time the story was released, The Hero failing to save the Love Interest and said love interest getting killed for shock value was considered an unprecedented and bold move, especially since the Amazing Spider-Man comics at the time were known mainly for its low-stakes stories where there wasn't so much violence and death.note  It introduced real stakes and consequences, giving a sense that Anyone Can Die, and this was a good decade before Frank Miller's Daredevil, The Killing Joke, and A Death in the Family.
    • Peter dealing with the grief and moving on with his life is considered a hallmark for his Character Development to this day, as well as Mary Jane Watson and the other supporting cast, who were changed by this single event. Since then, killing love interests solely for the sake of giving the protagonist a hard time has become so cliché that an entire trope is dedicated to it, and this story can come across as somewhat bland and even insulting for modern readers.
    • Gwen's death itself became so famous and influential that it spawned many more stories of superheroes' wives or girlfriends getting Killed Off for Real, leading to the Stuffed into the Fridge trope that's so polarizing now to many readers, especially female ones. With the shock value now gone forever, and with all the imitations since then, it can be hard for newer readers to understand what was so great about this story in the first place, as it serves as a textbook example of the trope: Gwen's barely in the issue that kills her off, the emotional drama of the story is centered around Peter, MJ, and Harry Osborn rather than Gwen's death, and the revived Green Goblin kills her just to hurt Peter Parker. It doesn't help that most people read this story as a standalone (as it's so often reprinted) divorced from the context of the prior five years worth of Spider-Man issues, thus finding it hard to see why Gwen was so important and special to Peter aside from being the Designated Love Interest.
  • Signature Scene: The comic has three well-known scenes:
    • The first is of course the bridge scene leading to Gwen falling down and Spider-Man trying to catch her with his webs, and the infamous "Snap" panel.
    • The second is Green Goblin's death scene, being impaled by his own glider, recreated in the Spider-Man Trilogy.
    • The third one is the final panels with MJ and Peter, with MJ staying by Peter's side even after he lashes at her out of grief.
  • Tear Jerker: Gwen's death and everyone's reaction to it.
    Spider-Man: I saved you, honey... don't you see? *quietly* I saved you...
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Even those who like Gwen Stacy's death and want her to stay dead point out that the tragedy of her passing feels hollow by the fact that she died both without knowing Peter is Spider-Man and lacking catharsis for her father's death. Later storylines such as the first Clone Saga and Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy try to provide this Catharsis Factor, but these instances are more for Peter's benefit rather than her own character.
  • Values Dissonance: Peter repeatedly refers to Gwen as "my woman," even in death, which wouldn't fly with modern sensibilities.


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