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"The Night Gwen Stacy Died"
I honestly don't know where to begin with
this review. I know I have used the word "classic" to describe many issues of
Amazing Spider-Man, but that word cannot begin to describe Amazing Spider-Man
#121. This is the one single most talked about, argued about, and loved
issue in the countless Spider-Man stories that spanned his life, besides his
Fantasy #15. The events that have led up to this 2 part story seem very
innocent looking back, and the blurb on the last page of
#120, did very little to alert readers to what they were about to see on the
newsstand and drugstores in a month or so. The bright yellow cover with pictures
of all those close to Peter Parker grabs the attention to those with even a
remote interest in the character, with it's mysterious appeal as to who is going
to die. Back then, it wasn't an every other issue occurrence of a vital cast
member or villain dying. It was a true shock, not the "processed shock" readers
received all too much beginning in the 1990's. It was believable realism, not
the shock-value, over-done, so-called grim and gritty badly written material
many readers were exposed to, also beginning in the same time period.
The story came out of nowhere. No advance previews, no internet message boards, very little leaking of creators planned stories, and boy did it shock! Years later, it is still perceived as a shock, even to those who just began to read the older back issues. This is the story EVERY creator of present and future Spider-Man stories are measured up against, but there has never been an issue or story that has come close to the drama, excitement, anger, and sadness, that this issue stirred up. There probably never will. Possibly the most requested and most often reprinted Spider-Man story, besides (again) Amazing Fantasy #15, this issue has been the object of much controversy as well. How did the supporting character really die? Why was a sound effect made so much of in the "killing panel"? What creator had the idea to kill the character off? Who had final say (or blame) in killing the character off? There has even been some question as to what bridge is used in the most dramatic scene in the life of Peter Parker? They will all be answered later, but don't look until you know the story. I am sure many of you already know the story, but lets just go through it one more time!
Top blurb on the splash page of this issue: "There are quite a few things we can say about this issue -- but we won't." "As for it's title: That's something we'd like to conceal for a while. But we promise you this, pilgrim -- It's not a title you'll soon forget!"
The story begins with a possible "tease" as to who may be the lucky winner (or loser!) from the cover, as Harry Osborn lays in bed after he has begun taking drugs (LSD) again. Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy are there to console him. Peter is looking in a window at them as Spider-Man, then he returns to see Harry as Peter Parker soon after. Before he can arrive to see his friend, a hand reaches out of nowhere to stop him: It's Norman Osborn. "I told you not to go near my son!" announces Norman, and then he blames Peter for Harry's current condition. Peter then has flashbacks to his last meeting with Norman's alter ego: The Green Goblin, in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. Gwen and Mary Jane soon meet Peter just outside Harry's bedroom, and they all decide to go for a coke. Osborn is going mad once again at this point, as he is just informed that his stocks are down 13%, and if the drop continues, he will be "wiped out". Harry comes out of his bedroom all shaken to console his father, and collapses. Norman then calls the Doctor.
A couple hours later, Spider-Man swings over to the offices of the Daily Bugle to deliver some pictures to Joe Robertson. After he leaves, he suits up as Spider-Man once again, and decides that he would like to have a nice long talk with Gwen. Back to the Osborn residence, the Doctor gives the opinion that Harry should be in the hospital, but Norman wants to keep his son's illness a secret. After the Doctor leaves, Norman starts to whack-out, blaming Harry's friends for corrupting his son. He begins to see hallucinations of Spider-Man, and this awakens his memory of being the Green Goblin once again. Norman rushes to one of his secret hideouts to retrieve his "goblin gear": costume, glider, and bag of tricks. He now vows to kill Peter Parker, racing like a mad man through the city on his goblin glider, polluting the city air with vast amounts of smoke coming from it. The Goblin glides by Harry and Peter's apartment minutes later with Gwen Stacy by the window waiting for Peter to come back. Peter eventually arrives back in his apartment as Spider-Man, only to find Gwen's handbag with a pumpkin bomb on top of it.
Now onto the hunt for the woman he loves: Peter's spider-sense takes him to the Brooklyn Bridge (Called the Washington bridge in error in the original) where a horrible sight soon comes into focus: The Green Goblin holds Gwen Stacy hostage atop one of the bridge's towers. "Your presence in this world has been a source of constant agony to me. I wish you to leave it -- Permanently. Or else -- Gwen Stacy dies!" exclaims the Goblin. The Goblin then glides ferociously towards Spider-Man off the top of the tower, throwing a pumpkin bomb that barely misses the webslinger. Spider-Man then shoots a web at the Goblin, pulls him in close, and lands a tremendous punch. With the Goblin falling into the river below, Spider-Man makes his way towards the love of his life. When he reaches the top of the tower with an unconscious Gwen laying there in a state of shock. Unknown to Spider-Man, the Goblin has recovered, and is now on top of him. "You cursed interloper! You'll never take that girl anywhere!" "She's doomed, do you hear me?" "Doomed -- And so are you!" curses the Goblin, who knocks the unconscious Gwen Stacy off the top of the tower. Quickly plummeting to her death, Spider-Man reacts as quick as he possibly can. He shoots a web at her, managing to catch her at about her right knee area. He the pulls her up to what he thinks is safety, but it turns out to be too late. She has died. "I saved you -- You can't be--No! oh, no, no -- Don't be dead, Gwen -- I don't want you to be dead!" cries Peter, but he interrupted by the Goblin's taunt of "Romantic idiot! She was dead before your webbing reached her!". Peter vows to the Goblin: "You killed the woman I love -- And for that, you're going to die!"
And then we see the title of this story: "The night Gwen Stacy died", and the creators are right: It's not a title that we will EVER forget!
The Goblin's fate will be revealed the very next issue, but there are many that have been analyzed here in this very issue, over and over again since it's publication. The absolute best source of information regarding this issue can be found in Comic Book Marketplace #67 from 1999. In this magazine, they try and "solve" the murder of Gwen Stacy. A number of interviews with many creators that had input into the storyline were cited, shedding much light on the legend of Amazing Spider-Man #121.
The "Snap" that ended the age of innocence in comics created a huge stir. and it was explained 4 months later in the letters page that Spider-Man's webbing created a whiplash effect thereby killing Gwen while attempting to save her. There was also an explanation that part of the reason for killing her, was that there was "nowhere else" to go for her and Peter's relationship, unless they were married. Creators Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Stan Lee debated the issue, and only a handful of people know for certain who made the final "call" to go ahead with the storyline.
The bridge has been in question as well. In the original non-reprint, it was called the Washington Bridge. In reprints after that, it was changed and corrected to the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is much closer to the area where the story takes place, in lower Manhattan, and the Washington Bridge is much more North near the Bronx.
The story doesn't end here. Next issue turns out to be yet another landmark issue, but the effect only lasted about 25 years for reasons that you will see. These two issues HAVE to be a must when suggesting a Spider-Man story to pick up. There are many reprints of this 2 issue story arc with a great deal in Marvel Tales #192 reprinting both in one nice package. New reader, or older reader: You must get them!
Marvel Tales #98
Marvel Tales #192
100 Greatest Marvels Of All Time #5
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