Every person in their lives has a turning point, whether it’s the death of a loved one, a new job, a new city or even a new friend. It’s a constant fact of life that things will happen which will change everything you knew before. The same thing happens in our stories, Frodo finds the ring, Luke loses his aunt and uncle and Bruce loses his parents, these moments affected these characters deeply and set them on a new path and Spider-Man is no different. Peter Parker is a character that has never been unfamiliar with tragedy, his very origin story involves his uncle dying while trying to stop a mugger, later he would witness the death of Captain Stacy and his best friend’s struggle with Drugs but it wasn’t until Amazing Spider-Man #121-#122 when he and comics would truly change forever.
In 1972, Gerry Conway started writing for Amazing Spider-Man, his run on the comic was truly phenomenal and only got better as it went on and it has to be stated that he started writing it while he was only 20 years old which is insane to think of all that he was doing. He began to craft a story that was very personal, his Peter struggled constantly in the same way that he did during Stan Lee’s run but he never stopped being who he was. He had everyday problems like the rest of us and that struggle which made him even more of a relatable character. His love life had almost always been in flux until he got to Gwen, Gwen Stacy was the love of his life and she was perfect for him. She was sweet and kind and everyone who knew her loved her. She was never a big fan of Spider-Man though and even less so after her father died during one of Spider-Man’s fights with Doctor Octopus. Peter was going to explain everything to her and reveal his identity to her when the tragedy struck.
Norman Osborn had returned as the Green Goblin and found out that Peter Parker and Spider-Man were the same person. He kidnapped Gwen to draw Peter out and took to the top of the George Washington Bridge. A battle ensues where Gwen is pushed off the edge of the bridge, Spider-Man has seconds to act and he spins a web to catch her and it grabs her ankle but the whiplash causes her neck to snap. Peter doesn’t realize what he’s done until he pulls her up and resuscitate her.
This moment shook the character and the world of comics as a whole, it’s ramifications are still felt today in the issues of Spider-Man’s various comics. This turning point caused us to realize that our heroes can fail. Up until this point every hero was always able to save the day…until Spider-Man. Now, I can hear people already : “So, you hate Spider-Man?” or “So you think he’s a bad hero?” Nope. Spider-Man will always be one of the world’s greatest even after everything that happened and it’s how they wrote it that makes it that way. Peter is devastated after Gwen’s death and his entire career after that is working to avoid that situation but when it ultimately comes down to it : it was no one’s fault. It was a tragic accident that no one could’ve helped. It was a moment where we truly felt connected with Spider-Man because we’ve all felt helpless before where no matter how hard we try to fix something it never seems to get any better. But what do we do when that happens? Do we give up? No, we carry on like Peter does. His choices following this moment all have immensely more weight to them due to this and are even felt today.
It has to be spoken of how great of a job they did with the Peter and Gwen relationship in The Amazing Spider-Man films. I know, they may not be the best movies but the two of are done incredibly well in them and I loved that they handled her death in a very personal way that really focused on Peter’s love for her.
Gwen Stacy has since become an even more important character in the comics now due to where she stands as a figure of Peter’s past and his constant reminder of how to carry on. Different stories have referenced her in the years since she’s been gone and some of them have been awful but stories like Marvels, Spider-Man : Blue and The Clone Conspiracy have handled her incredibly well and made her character much more than just a girlfriend who died. Gwen was his life and he lost her that night.