Given that there’s a new movie out, I thought it was the right time to talk about a key moment in the Spider-Man mythos: the death of Gwen Stacy.

If you’ve watched The Amazing Spider-Man, you would know that Gwen is Peter Parker a.k.a Spider-Man’s girlfriend. But if you aren’t a rabid comic fan, you might be unaware of the tragic fate that eventually befalls her. To put it very simply: Gwen, the first true love of Peter’s life, gets caught in the crossfire between Spider-Man and his greatest enemy Norman Osborn a.k.a Green Goblin, and ultimately perishes in The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973).

©Marvel Comics

I still remember the way Gwen’s death made me feel when I read it for the first time, aged 15: shocked, stunned, almost depressed. This wasn’t the way comics were supposed to be. The hero was supposed to get the girl and live happily ever after, not cradle her in his arms, choking back tears. How could  Gwen die, when she was so young and so beautiful? In some ways, that was my introduction to the real world: the people you love could actually die.

But it is not so much the matter of Gwen’s death as the manner of her passing, that left an impact in popular culture that is still felt today.  If it feels like I’m talking about a real person, it is a testament to the work of writer Gerry Conway and artist John Romita, the creative duo who plotted Gwen’s demise. As Romita wrote in the afterword to the trade paperback, The Death Of Gwen Stacy (1999): “I think these characters took on a life of their own and we couldn’t control their destiny (a fact I’m very proud of since I think this shows what good characters they are!).”

So why does Gwen’s death matter? Firstly, she was probably the first major comics character to be killed off without warning. Back in the 1970s, popularly known as the Silver Age of comics, such a thing was unheard of. Of course, she has since been ‘resurrected’ (somewhat) via lame clone story lines and alternate universes. But Gwen has stayed dead, unlike many a comic character (I’m looking at you, Jean Grey). For its impact and significance, I daresay it is a literary death that ranks right up there with the likes of Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and Achilles.

Secondly, it was not a simple matter of the pretty girl getting killed by the villain. Like the best literary deaths, Gwen’s passing was shrouded in mystery, doubt and one of the recurring themes in Spider-Man: guilt. Having been kidnapped by the Green Goblin, she is left unconscious at the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the ensuing struggle between Spider-Man and the Goblin, Gwen gets knocked off the bridge.

©Marvel Comics

Luckily, Spidey uses his webbing to catch her just in time…or does he?

©Marvel Comics

Was it the fall that killed Gwen…or did the impact of getting caught by the webbing break her neck? As senior Marvel Comics editor Ralph Macchio was later to write: “No one seems to know who added the telltale ‘snap’ sound effect in that critical panel which pointed an inadvertent finger of blame at her would-be rescuer.” It was subsequently confirmed by later writers and editors that it was indeed the webbing that killed Gwen, but it was a mystery that should really have been allowed to endure.

Thirdly, it was a key moment in Peter Parker’s development. At the time, Mary Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst in the original Spider-Man movies) was a somewhat peripheral figure in Peter’s life. But Peter’s bitter words to MJ (“Don’t make me laugh, Mary Jane. You wouldn’t be sorry if your own mother died.”) at the end of issue #122 foreshadow their eventual romance and marriage. Of course, Peter and MJ’s marriage and almost three decades of continuity have since been wiped out by the events of Brand New Day and One More Day, but that’s a story for another  blog post.

So: will the celluloid Gwen suffer the same fate? This may sound terribly morbid, but I certainly hope so. It would be an awful cop-out and a betrayal of Conway and Romita’s vision,  if they kept her alive simply for commercial reasons. Even Emma Stone has said as much.

©Columbia Pictures

When I think about Gwen now, I still get a lump in my throat. She didn’t deserve her fate, and she and Peter should have had their shot at happiness. I wish I had a better conclusion for this post, but Ralph Macchio said it perfectly: “We miss you, Gwen. Always.”

So: would you like to see Gwen kick the bucket, or live happily ever after with Peter? If the former, should she die in the second or third movie? Tell me!