The Importance of Gwen Stacy and Why She Is Peter Parker’s True Love
No matter what you think and no matter whether you accept it, of the many women in Peter Parker’s life, none can duplicate the importance of Gwen Stacy.
Full disclosure, I love Gwen Stacy.
More than being Peter’s first true love interest, she transcended the comic book medium in a way that very few characters can or ever will. I mean, in her short time she solidified herself as Peter’s love, was devastated by the loss of her father, successfully beat out the more popular Mary Jane Watson, and ushered in a new age of comics. Gwen is, for all intents and purposes, one of the most important characters in Spider-Man’s world.
But before we talk about why…
Gwen Stacy first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #31 back in December of 1965. 1965 was a landmark year for Marvel. Not only did it introduce Gwen Stacy, but it also introduced characters like the Inhumans, Juggernaut, the Sentinels, the Skrull homeworld, the Frightful Four, and more.
Aside from introducing Gwen Stacy, Issue #31, titled “If This Be My Destiny”, followed Peter Parker as he came to terms with his sick and dying Aunt and finally introduced Harry Osborn. Yes, that Harry Osborn.
The relationship between Peter and Gwen, however, was anything but love at first site.
Because of everything he was going through, Peter initially came across as snobbish and selfish. Luckily, their initial meeting didn’t set the stage for what was to come. Different from many other women in his life, Gwen Stacy was a brilliant scientist…a trait highlighted in the much-maligned Amazing Spider-Man movies. Their shared love of science actually caused Gwen’s initial attraction to Peter. Above being a scientist, Gwen was short-tempered and unafraid to say exactly what she was thinking…both traits that Peter desperately needed in his life.
When drawing her, one of her creators (Steve Ditko) did a masterful job of creating the perfect match
The larger that Marvel grew, the more Ditko and Lee were unable to see eye to eye. The friction between the two was so much that eventually
With Ditko out of the picture, John Romita Sr. took over The Amazing Spider-Man. Under Ditko, Peter was a dorky high schooler incapable of carrying on a conversation with anyone, let alone a woman. Under Romita, however, Peter was aged. Instead of being a high school dork, he stood tall as a confident college student.
But he wasn’t alone.
As Peter aged, so too did Gwen.
Even though Gwen was still brilliant, she began dressing and acting more like the era she was apart of. This means that in lieu of wearing a lab coat, she wore mini skirts, high-legged boots, and began attending parties. Romita changed Gwen into a sex symbol destined to attract the attention of men all over the world.
The introduction of Mary Jane Watson changed the history of Peter Parker. Although the writers wanted the readers to believe that Mary Jane was the unseen troll next door, when she finally appeared, she was anything but. To say that she was beautiful doesn’t do her justice.
Mary Jane’s introduction did what nobody expected…it pushed Peter and Gwen’s relationship forward. Amazing Spider-Man issues #47-49 really explored this idea. The issues, which were loosely adapted in 2002’s Spider-Man Blue mini-series (I’ll get to that), saw both Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy compete for Peter’s affection. The battle between the two was reminiscent of the same battle that Betty and Veronica had over Archie. Little did Peter know but the once dorky high schooler had become caught up in a love triangle…one that Gwen walked away as the victor.
It’s tough to talk about the importance of Gwen Stacy without talking about death.
Issue #90 of The Amazing Spider-Man put the first cracks in the armor that was Peter and Gwen’s relationship. The issue saw Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus battle atop a building. The battle was long, reckless, and caused debris to fall to the ground below. Of course, this meant that anyone on the ground was in danger.
As the battle raged on, one large rock fell from the building. As the rock fell, it looked like it was going to crush a small boy on the ground. This, however, wasn’t meant to be. Without thinking, Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy, pushed the child out of the way, thereby saving his life. Unfortunately, with no time to get himself out from danger, Captain Stacy was killed by the rock. With his final breath, he revealed to Spider-Man that he knew he was Peter Parker and that his only wish was for Peter to look after his daughter.
As tragic as his death was, it was only a small portion of the real tragedy. The real tragedy was that as a result of her father’s death, Gwen blamed and now hated Spider-Man. Worse yet, because Peter was so busy as Spider-Man, he could not be there when she needed him most. As a result, Gwen left to live with her relatives in London.
You must understand that Gwen did not know that Peter Parker and Spider-Man were one and the same. All she understood was that Spider-Man, whether accidental or not, help facilitate the death of her father.
This moment caused the once inseparable couple to stall. Try as they may, writers couldn’t bring interest to the relationship. Not only did Gwen not pose an interesting enough dynamic to Peter, but she had also become kind of boring. She wasn’t the free spirit that the increasingly popular Mary Jane was.
Which leads us to…
Gwen Stacy’s death is one of the most talked about and analyzed deaths in all of comic books. Her death singlehandedly changed the medium…a moment I’ve talked about time and again. However, if Stan Lee knew that it was going to happen, her death may never have happened.
As an interesting side note, the initial thought wasn’t to kill Gwen. Instead, Aunt May was meant to be the one that died. After thinking about it, it became obvious to those responsible that May’s death wouldn’t have had the effect that Gwen’s death would. If May had died, most readers wouldn’t think twice about it. After all, she was an elderly woman who had lived her life.
But it was about more than that.
The writers felt, and justifiably so, that having May die would harm the Spider-Man/Peter Parker dynamic.
Think about it.
With May out of the equation, Peter wouldn’t have to constantly worry about her, thereby sacrificing his personal life. With May out of the equation, Peter wouldn’t have to put up with J.J. Jameson in order to help with the bills. And with May gone, he wouldn’t need to be at the beckoning call of his elderly aunt. From a storytelling standpoint, May added an irreplaceable dimension to the Spider-Man character.
Let me explain.
At the end of the day, the Spider-Man character was built on personal tragedy. If Gwen lived, Peter would have found the perfect girl, inevitably settled down, and broke free of the chains that defined him. So…it had to be Gwen.
As the story goes, Stan Lee was getting ready to head over to Europe for a business trip. Writer Gerry Conway, Editor Roy Thomas, and Inker John Romita Sr. approach him with the idea to kill off Gwen Stacy. In a hurry, wanting to leave, and unaware of what they were asking, Lee said “sure”.
When back on U.S. soil, Lee was surprised to find out that they had done it. After a series of questions as to why he was reminded that he ok’d her death. (Gwen’s death did a number of things for comics and you can read all about them here).
So, what am I getting at?
The importance of Gwen Stacy is that she is Peter’s true love and I’ll show you why.
In the early 2000s, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (yes, the same team that gave the world The Long Halloween) came together to explore the impact and importance of Gwen Stacy on Peter Parker. Their book, Spider-Man: Blue, while not a traditional superhero book, is one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written.
It perfectly summarizes why Gwen is Peter’s true love.
Spider-Man: Blue is designed to take the reader on a memorable trip through Peter Parker’s past. The story sees Peter recount his life as a teenager, his first few years as Spider-Man, and both love gained and love lost.
The book opens with Peter dropping a rose on the very bridge that claimed Gwen’s life so many years ago. It follows him as he recounts his feelings for Gwen during their early days. He explains that although he had caught her eye, he was too busy to realize what was happening. Peter goes on to retell Mary Jane’s first appearance and how, unbeknownst to him, her introduction caused a love triangle between the three.
The story revisits the many enemies Spider-Man encountered during this time and the precise moment that Gwen confessed her feelings for him. More importantly, it confirms what we already knew…as much as he had her, it was actually her that had him long ago. He explains that although he was far too busy as Spider-Man, she was truly his first love.
As Blue draws to a close, the reader learns that Peter had been recording his thoughts into a tape recorder the entire time…the same recorder that he uses every year. In the final few panels, his wife Mary Jane, who fully understands what Gwen meant to him, walks in and asks him to do her a favor.
And what was the favor?
She asks that he tells her that she says hi and that she misses Gwen too. Of all the heart-wrenching panels in Blue, and there are a lot, none are more touching than this.
In a single moment, Mary Jane acknowledges that Peter did/does love Gwen and that he will never be able to let her go.
And that’s exactly my point.
The importance of Gwen Stacy is that she is his true love…a love that, try as he may, will never forget. Gwen is the “what might have been” in Peter’s life. She is the unanswered question.
So there you go. The importance of Gwen Stacy to Spider-Man. If you’re interested in seeing me completely contradict myself, check out why I think Mary Jane is his true love.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering…
I didn’t talk about the night she had an affair with Norman Osborn nor the Gwen Stacy clone because I’ve done my best to erase those from my memory.