Your spider-sense is tingling! This article contains spoilers for some of Marvel’s most renowned comics.
With Amazing Spider-Man due out in cinemas at beginning of July, and the cinematic return of Gwen Stacy, now is a good time to consider some of the important women in Peter Parker’s comic book past.
Peter Parker is not a typical superhero: not rich, well-connected nor stylish. He’s a geek who was at the wrong place at the wrong time – or right time, depending on however he’s feeling on any given day – and ended up with some crazy powers. Although not one of his acknowledged abilities, the Parker luck is a strong driving factor of Spider-Man’s story, and especially his trouble with the ladies.
In recent years, the controversial dissolution of Parker’s marriage to cool model Mary Jane was enacted by what could be Marvel’s closest approximation to the Devil himself. Then there’s Peter’s on/off relationship with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, a woman who is not interested in the man behind Spidey’s mask. It doesn’t help that Black Cat is a meta-human whose power increases our hero’s bad luck.
The iconic representation of Spider-Man’s bad luck though is the relationship he had with college sweetheart Gwendolyn Stacy, one which put the break in thems the breaks.
While Gwen was not Peter’s first girlfriend in many ways she seemed like the perfect match for New York’s most-wanted superhero. Gwen was smart, sweet and she really liked him. First appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #31, Gwen spent several years exchanging longing looks with Peter and the two grew closer, before they finally hooked up. Their relationship continued to blossom despite the input of a mischievous redhead we all know, with her constant “Hey tiger” flirting.
Unfortunately, Gwen and Peter were not meant to last. ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’ was one of comics’ most shocking moments, back in the days before a death in a comic book was simply an excuse for an astonishing resurrection a few years down the line.
It wasn’t just parting from Gwen that shattered Spider-Man’s world – it was the way she died. In Amazing Spider-Man #121-122. The pair share a goodbye, and Peter gets into a chase with his arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin. After a hint from the Goblin that he may have involved someone close to Peter, Spidey realises that the mad villain must have taken Gwen.
Spider-Man catches up to the Goblin, who has left an unconscious Gwen at the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. Sound familiar? Unlike Sam Raimi’s Green Goblin, however, there is no choice in this scenario. Gwen tumbles from the top of the bridge and the Goblin escapes.
In Spidey’s desperation to save his girlfriend he catches her by the ankle with his webbing. For the briefest of moments you think he’s saved her! Then, it suddenly dawns on the hopeful hero that she’s gone. It’s worth picking this storyline up in trade to read for yourself.
The death of Gwen Stacy is one of the few moments in comic history where biology and physics are taken into account. While it is never stated that Gwen was alive when Peter found her on top of the bridge, a fall like that and the sudden jerk of being caught by the webbing may well have been the very things that killed Gwen. Just like the highly-personal deaths of Peter’s Uncle Ben and Gwen’s father George, the guilt from this event plagued Spider-Man for many many years.
Gwen’s death helped push Peter and Mary Jane together. It was MJ’s comfort of a grieving Peter that helped him continue acting as Spider-Man. An excellent retelling of the Peter-MJ-Gwen love triangle is told in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Spider-Man: Blue.
As their relationship endured throughout the years, MJ appeared to be confirmed by Marvel as Peter Parker’s one true love when they were married in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. Many fans, particularly those brought into Spider-Man readership – or at least fandom – by the films of the last decade, would cite when MJ appeared dangling from the Queensboro Bridge at the hands of the Goblin in Raimi’s Spider-Man to support the partnership of the most basic version of Spidey’s character arc.
Just as Peter was starting to feel ready to move along with his life, Gwen began to haunt him once again. In Amazing Spider-Man #144, someone who looked a lot like Gwen appeared. It was eventually revealed that Gwen had been cloned by the supervillainous geneticist known as Jackal, who was obsessed with her. If you’re confused or intrigued then check out our look back at the epic Clone Saga here. The original cloning storyline that involved Gwen was dealth with hastily, but it showed that Peter Parker will never be able to forget his first love.
Even as a married man the Parker luck never left Peter. During the mid-noughties his marriage to Mary Jane was erased by Mephisto in J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada’s Brand New Day event. This sudden change freed Peter up for mishaps and dalliances with other ladies of the Marvel universe, from Black Cat to Ms. Marvel.
There had already been some precedent for serious changes to Spider-Man’s romantic status quo thanks to Straczynski’s bizarre revelation in the Sins Past arc of Gwen’s secret pregnancy by the Green Goblin, and Peter’s attraction to their daughter! This cast Gwen’s death in a whole new light and many people familiar with the original story were left dumbfounded.
The return of Gwen Stacy
Amazing Spider-Man faces a challenge to differentiate itself from Raimi’s popular interpretation of the friendly neighbourhood webslinger, which is still fairly fresh. Just let’s not mention Gwen’s strange and unnecessary appearance in Spider-Man 3!
While Peter’s history with MJ has been put aside for now, the new movie is a gateway to reinstate Gwen Stacy as the true love of Peter Parker, if that was necessary. From the footage revealed so far, Emma Stone seems to have the confidence and looks to pull off such an instantly recognisable character as Gwen. It also seems clear that although the Gwen of the comics never knew Peter Parker’s alter ego this cinematic incarnation of Gwen does.
Luckily for her, Gwen is about as likely to die at the hands of the Lizard in Amazing Spider-Man as Mary Jane was to be thrown from a bridge by the Green Goblin. Oh well! With the impressive gallery of rogues always raging after Spider-Man’s radioactive blood, Gwen would be an obvious choice for a recurring, and maybe ill-fated, love interest in any subsequent films.