Friday, December 9, 2011

What If: Gwen Stacy Hadn't Died?

Karen: We've seen a lot of Gwen Stacy the last few weeks, at least in our Brackets. Since her death seems to have been arguably the most significant event in the Bronze Age, let's roll it back and ask: what if she hadn't died? How would this have affected Spidey/Peter, and also, how would it have changed comics in the Bronze Age?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Well, I guess no death of the Norman Osborn Goblin either, so no sea change in Spidey? I think not. After the drugs issues and the death of Gwen’s dad, you can see there was a change going on. Gwen’s death was a result, not a cause. I still think Shooter would have insisted on killing Jean at the other end of the Bronze Age because his reasons were different. Gwen was killed actually because she was a bit bland and they didn’t know what to do with her....she never, as far as I know, turned out to have a whole seamy Laura Palmer underbelly going on behind the scenes. Jean was basically capital punishment.

Also, MJ grows up a lot after Gwen dies and becomes more three-dimensional than she had been in her ‘face it, tiger...’ days. I guess that wouldn’t happen and she’d stay a kooky chick to counter-balance more serious Gwen.

There actually is a What If Gwen didn’t die, isn’t there? But it’s all just badly written and inconclusive as I remember.

BTW....while we’re here ....Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Emma Stone are more like an MJ than a Gwen. What do you reckon, group?


david_b said...

If she didn't die.., where oh where would the Marvel Universe be without the entire 'Clone Saga', and what about Gwen's children with Norman Osborne.., one of Karin's favorite storylines..?

(Sorry, Karen, couldn't resist..)

In thinking about it, we've all pondered a few months back on the death of Lady Dorma preceding Gwen with narry a ripple caused.

William said...

I suppose the biggest change is that most likely Peter would now be magically "un-married" to Gwen instead of MJ.

Doug said...

I guess a great question is whether or not Gwen's death is a result of the Bronze Age blossoming, or a catalyst for future events. I wouldn't doubt that her death (and that of the Goblin, as Richard mentioned) are watershed events. But do you see them as initiating to the new era, the zenith of said era, or more foundational to the latter 1970's and on into the so-called "Dark Age" of comics?


Edo Bosnar said...

To respond to Doug's question first, I'm not sure the death of Gwen and then Green Goblin immediately after were really that much of a watershed at the time - in the sense that there was not this big shift into more "serious" or "dark" comics for quite some time afterward. Personally, I think the death of Phoenix story and Frank Miller's first run on Daredevil were much more instrumental to that shift.
As for the original question, if the whole death of Gwen story had never happened, something similar would have, because as someone noted above, Gwen was always kind of bland, and only seemed to function as Peter's generic love interest (basically, she was kind of cipher). So there would have been a big, decisive break-up (with either Gwen or Peter cheating or something like that), or Gwen would get some kind of rare disease, or get drugged or otherwise f***ed by some villain, and get complete amnesia, or something like that. Because let's face it, the only other option would have been having Gwen and Peter get married, and that wouldn't have lasted long, because Marvel writers and a bunch of the fan-base couldn't even handle Peter being married to someone interesting like Mary Jane.
As for the What If? issue that explored this, it's been a while since I read it, but I remember thinking it was a pretty good story...

Lemnoc said...

...Mephisto would be having kittens.

Karen said...

I didn't realize there was an actual What If story on Gwen's death but that's not surprising. I tend to think of her death as the point when comics became less predictable, less 'happy ending' oriented. Was it a loss of innocence? That had already begun, what with the drug issues and the soon to come Secret Empire/Watergate story over in Captain America.

But her death had an impact on the readership. Death was still unusual back then, and seeing as how she seemed so undeserving of it -she wasn't a super-hero, just a girl! - it was really shocking. It opened up the idea that anything could happen. I think that's truly the significance of it.

If it hadn't happened though, I am sure something similar would have come along to shake things up. I'm just not sure how strong the impact would have been. To answer Doug's question, I suppose her death was more foundational to things to come.

Dougie said...

If the Gwen/ Peter romance carried on into the early 70s something would have to happen, just to disturb the status quo and create drama. Logically, discovering his identity seems the most likely option.Then, either the Kingpin or Gobby or Doc Ock uses that secret against the couple. So, either Gwen has to be sent off-stage for her own safety; or loses her memory; or Spidey "abandons" his Peter Parker identity; or Gwen dies.
Hey! That's about two years of Conway/Wein/Andru gold right there!

david_b said...

It's really hard to sum up the constructs of her death and it's resonance of ushering in the Bronze, more than what's already been said.

As my comparison of Dorma's death before speaks volumes on, Gwen's death simply impacted and rippled at the precise right time, in the right comic and readership, with the worst, raw/unforgiving circumstances. A simple tragic death of a girlfriend, a weakly-developed yet visible supporting character at best.

"Why did it seem like time stopped when we first read it..?"

We've seen Galactus come and go, but why did innocence seem to plummet off that bridge, like hearing McLean's 'American Pie'..?

Dunno, but it sure did.

Anonymous said...

I think we've all overlooked the obvious here. Something Karen alluded to in her first sentence.

What If: Gwen Stacy Hadn't Died?...then Doug would commit hara-kiri because that would mean he'd have to completely re-do the brackets.


Doug said...

Oh, Tom -- just wait until the weekend. You all will have the opportunity to chew up those brackets!


Lemnoc said...

Gwen had quite a bit of ROWR and sizzle under Ditko, when she was an early love interest for Peter. In those days it was Betty Brandt who was the boring support mechanism.

Then all that got tranferred down the line, and MJ became the va-va-voom girl while Gwen burst into tears at least once an issue. I guess the reliable girl can't also be the one with fire and sizzle at Bronze Age Marvel.

One reason why Gwen's death was so shocking was she was sort of the vicarious girlfriend we young readers of comic books thought we'd like to have, sweet and pretty and appealing, desperately in love with her hero.

"I never had much going, 'til I met you," Parker's soul and inspiration song went. And it was one of those few things that let us know he was probably a pretty lucky guy after all.

The other thing was that awful *SNAP* of her neck when Spidey's effusive webs hit her—so terrible they retconned the sound effect right out of existence. Her heart stopped of fright, the Bullpen told us a few issues later on. Yeah, that's it; sure.

Fred W. Hill said...

Regarding Lady Dorma, I think her death didn't have as much impact as Gwen's mainly because Subby wasn't nearly as popular as Spidey. Despite his powers and intelligence, Peter Parker was the superhero alterego most fans could most easily identify with and his relatinship with Gwen, while not nearly as well-known to the non-comics reading public as Superman and Lois Lane, was certainly one of the great romances of superhero set in the late '60s/early '70s, although one of the few at Marvel by the dawn of the Bronze Age in which the girlfriend/wife had no idea that the love of her life was also a superhero. And Stan had already set things up so that Gwen hated Spider-Man, complicating things for Peter if he was to admit his biggest secret to her.
In the What If? story, as I recall, Spidey saves Gwen and winds up revealing his identity to her and they later are about to marry when J. Jonah Jameson also discovers that Pete is Spidey and, of course, much trouble ensues, with the indication that Pete's life has been completely ruined. Actually, the ending struck me as a bit silly and the situation no worse than say that of Captain America when he was framed for the murder of the Tumbler in the Secret Empire story.
I sort of agree with Richard's gist, that Gwen's death seemed pretty much inevitable in hindsight as the status quo was becoming stagnant and they'd already tried splitting up Peter & Gwen but they wound up back together again (unlike, say, Matt & Karen, Thor & Jane, or Johnny & Crystal). Lee & Romita had essentially set things up so that killing off Gwen made the most sense for the ongoing serial with routine touches of tragedy that was the Amazing Spider-Man.
A bigger what if is how would Gwen had turned out if Ditko had stayed on the book longer -- his Gwen wasn't quite as sweet and dull as Romita's would become. On the other hand, Ditko's Pete seemed to be increasingly turning into a misanthrope, alienating nearly everyone around him outside of Aunt May (was that a reflection of Ditko's own private life?).

William said...

Remember, there are no bad characters, just bad writers.

Personally, I always liked Gwen. She was... sweet. But if some fans and/or writers found her to be too boring or generic, there would have been another option besides killing her... it's called good writing. The writer or writers could have just started punching some keys on their typewriting machines and made her character more interesting. Simple as that. There are only about a million ways they could have done this, so I won't go into detail.

Though I will site one example of how NOT to go about making Gwen more "interesting". DON'T retcon her history and have her consensually knock boots with (gack) Norman freaking Osborn. That was possibly the worst thing ever written. Not only did it make my flesh crawl, but it was so out of character and far-fetched that the likelihood of it happening would be about the same as Flash Thompson getting it on with Aunt May.

lemnoc said...

Or, William, Aunt May getting it on with Doc Ock. Gack indeed sir.

Fred W. Hill said...

I totally agree, William. It would have taken a better writer than Gerry Conway or even Stan Lee, but Gwen's character could have been salvaged and kept within character. The Gwen who made out with Norman Osborne wasn't part of the same universe I was hooked on in the late silver and the bronze ages. However the post-Bronze Age is defined, it seems a lot of our old favorite heroes & villains and supporting cast started behaving entirely out of character, as if they'd been replaced by aliens!

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