Saturday, May 3, 2014

An Obscure Gwen Stacy Story - Amazing Spider-Man 365

Amazing Spider-Man #365 (August 1992)
"I Remember Gwen"
Stan Lee/Tom DeFalco-John Romita, Sr.

Doug: As I write this, it's a little less than two weeks until the American premier of Amazing Spider-Man 2. As it's been hinted in the weeks leading up to release that Gwen Stacy will not make it through the film alive, I thought it might be appropriate to run this review today. Of course, those of you who have seen the film can attest to the truth of those rumors -- later. Let's keep all of our comments today to the story at hand; tomorrow Karen has set up a "first impressions" post for our readers to voice non-spoiled opinions of the movie. As is our practice, we'll give everyone a chance to speak openly on the film after it's been out in the States for around 10 days. As you can tell above, I'll be reading from my copy of the hardcover, Marvel Visionaries: John Romita, Sr.  I also have the comic, but it's just easier to get to the book.

Doug: You'll notice from the creator credits that our major players are Stan Lee and John Romita. Tom DeFalco is credited with the plot, but it was a nice touch to hand this back-up story to the main chroniclers of the love affair of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Of course, by the time this saw print, Gwen had been dead for many years (both in real time and in Marvel time). Peter had moved on, and was by "now" married to Mary Jane Watson. So what's the premise of this story? At first blush I'm sure many of you thought it would be Peter who would narrate the tale. No. It's MJ. She's home alone at night -- again. And as she tries to busy herself her mind keeps wandering to the past, worrying that Peter won't come home one night. And that takes her further back, to Gwen. MJ reflects on their relationship as friends and as romantic rivals for Peter's affections. We learn how much MJ envied Gwen -- of her looks, her brains, her father, and of course her relationship with Peter. MJ spent her teen years trying not to show her envy; instead she played a persona of a party girl, playing the field, trying to make everyone happy. She flirted with Flash Thompson, and went steady with Harry Osborn. But it was always a facade to hide her longing for what Gwen Stacy had.

Doug: Mary Jane then detailed the day their lives changed -- for Gwen, for Peter, for everyone. Peter sat alone when a bulletin came over the radio that Dr. Octopus was on the loose downtown. Fearlessly swinging toward the threat, Peter soon engaged his foe. But as they battled wildly on the rooftops, one of Ock's tentacles smashed a short chimney and sent it plummeting over the building's edge and toward the street. Captain Stacy was on that very street, and saw the tableau unfold. A small boy, mesmerized at what was taking place in the sky above him, froze as the rubble tumbled his way. Selflessly, George Stacy dove toward the lad and shoved him to safety -- as the entire load fell on and crushed him. Spider-Man swung immediately to the street, gathered Stacy's broken body and spirited him away, only to hear the Captain's final words -- he called him "Peter". At the funeral, Gwen remarked at how she hated Spider-Man and blamed him for her father's death. Peter tried to defend the Wall-Crawler, but Gwen interpreted that hostilely. It was Mary Jane, later that same day, that smoothed things over for Gwen and Peter -- Mary Jane, who saw her opening to take Peter for herself. Instead, she pushed her rival back toward the man she secretly loved.

Doug: And then MJ's mind went to that night. Which night? That night. The night Gwen Stacy died. MJ honestly felt good about herself, that she'd pushed Gwen and Peter back together -- but only for a short time. And as she reflected on that night, her own vulnerability came to the fore. As she worried about Peter's safety each night, she knew that her own safety was always in question. But she thought to herself that she wouldn't trade their marriage for anything. Suddenly Peter came home, and asked what was for dinner! But MJ said dinner could wait -- the night was young, and she wanted to cuddle. Peter said he wouldn't complain, but asked what brought on all the affection? MJ just shrugged it off, and said she just felt like they needed to make every moment count.

Doug: What a neat little story! I have to toss a big kudo to Stan Lee. Looking at the publication date, Stan would have been around 70 years old. And despite still writing the newspaper strip at that time, he hadn't written a full Spider-Man story in some years. But he was so reserved, and so dedicated to the spirit of this plot. There's no hyperbole here, none of Stan's bluster. This is a tender story, and Stan really honors that. And doesn't Johnny Romita honor the two beautiful women in Peter Parker's life? Again, as you might notice from the credits, the Jazzy One inked himself on this one, and the results are near-perfect. It's really a great looking book -- and while he shows that he still had it in regard to "his" Mary Jane, we also see that he could do the MJ popularized during the Todd McFarlane run on Amazing Spider-Man. This was just a nice homage to the Silver and Bronze Age stories that made Spider-Man Marvel's flagship character.


Fred W. Hill said...

I haven't read this particular story but I've read pretty much all of the issues of Amazing Spider-Man in which Gwen was still a living character, although most of those I read after she was killed. The earliest I recall reading in which Gwen was prominently featured was the conclusion of the Green Goblin/Harry on Drugs trilogy, in which Gwen returns from England and Peter gets a rare happy ending in a comic. Then, a little over two years later, at age 11, I read issues 121 & 122. To be honest, I can't even remember what my reaction was when I got to the end of ish 121 and Gwen was shown to be clearly and irrevocably dead (this being an era when in Marvel Comics if any character was shown to have died and the dead body was shown, with rare exceptions they usually stayed dead). I'm sure I was shocked and eager to get that next issue to see what would happen next, but I don't recall any deep emotional reaction. A few years ago, however, I re-read the stories, and dang it, even without any element of surprise being present this time around, tears started welling up in my eyes as I read all over again Peter's realization that Gwen, the woman he loved, was truly dead. And that was before I'd really experienced such a loss in my own life, but have a little over two months ago when my mother died as I held her hand and my eyes kept flitting from her face to that monitor showing her heartrate had dropped down to zero.
The first time I finished reading ish. 122, I do recall being perplexed as to what was going on in those final two panels as Mary Jane, having been lambasted by Peter, stood by the door, tears in her eyes, but then shut the door. Of course, I did figure it out in subsequent re-readings.
In reading those issues from 1967 or so, there was a bit of romantic comedy to the series, with Gwen & Mary Jane being like Veronica & Betty over in the Archie mags, but beginning with the death of Captain Stacy the comedy transformed into tragedy. In one early story, Peter was depicted comparing Gwen to Mary Jane and making the decision that much as he liked Mary Jane, Gwen was the one for him. But ultimately, Romita and Conway steered a different fate for all of them.

Dr. Oyola said...

I love these kinds of stories from the POV of other characters and/or that look back and flesh out a particular aspect of the canon.

There is a series from the 2000s called Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale that has nice art, but I don't recall liking the story that much - but haven't given it another try since it came out - that basically does the same thing.

It is kind of unfortunate that Gwen became a more important and fleshed out character after she died - but at least it has happened (sometimes well, sometimes not so well. . .).

I also love how Mary Jane was developed later on in a way that allowed her earlier party-girl/devil-may-care attitude to make sense with her maturation and change. I wrote a little about it here.

Edo Bosnar said...

Haven't read the story, except the pages you've posted here, but I like what I've seen. Like Osvaldo, I tend to enjoy these POV vignettes.
Also, this particular piece seems a bit reminiscent of the Earth 2 Batman & Catwoman story you reviewed quite recently. It kind of has the same vibe...

Anonymous said...

I agree, this was a cool story. Of the four hologram-cover editions released in 1992 (for Spidey's 30th anniversary...and that was twenty years ago? Damn, I'm getting old!), I have this one and Web #90. I always liked these "character" stories as backups.

Mike W.

Sean Budde said...

John Romita art is like Curt Swan art on Superman, in that it's very good and the defining standard that all Spider-Man artists should look to when referencing how the characters should look (despite Romita's totally unrealistic world where every young gal is gorgeous).

Redartz said...

This story was, to me, the highlight of that anniversary issue. It is always heartwarming, journeying back to this classic period in the
lives of Peter Parker and his cast. Especially when we have the likes of Lee, DeFalco and Romita as escorts.

There was another such story a few years ago. It appeared in a Sensational Spider-Man Annual, not long before the notorious "One More Day" storyline. It basically featured Mary Jane telling anecdotes of the relationships between her, Peter, Gwen and Harry. If you enjoyed today's subject story, you should check this one out as well...

B McMolo said...

Redartz - so right about that Mary Jane story you reference. I haven't thought about that (or the subject of this BAB post) in years.

Such a nice little tribute. And the Curt Swan comparison is very spot-on, Sean Budde.

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