By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
A recent addition to my pool of comic news has been the onslaught of pressers Marvel Comics provides the Washington Square News. While I could never cover them all—and I feel focusing exclusively on them would turn me from a column to more of a marketer—one caught my eye.
“The Unbelievable Gwen-pions” is an upcoming comic event centered around Gwen-Pool, an alternate reality version of Deadpool where Gwen Stacy took up the mantel instead of Wade Wilson. Yes, Gwen Stacy, famous for being Spider-man’s fallen girlfriend.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. The character once left untouched for decades, treated as sacred, has been brought back from the dead a lot recently. When the Marvel released its Spider-Verse event back in 2014, the bombshell reveal was “Spider-Gwen,” an alternate reality where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider and Peter Parker died shortly after. The reception to her limited appearance was so strong, she was given her own comic line, making her the permanent “Spider-Woman.” This wouldn’t be the only use of the Stacy brand, as they would make a series of “Gwen” covers, reimagining heroes as Gwen Stacy (that is actually where Gwen-pool came from).
Combined with Emma Stone’s successful portrayal in the otherwise mixed Amazing Spider-man series, Gwen Stacy has become the female Spider-man character, overtaking MaryJane as the long held owner of that title.
But all of this comes as weird given that for over three decades, Gwen Stacy was the one character all comic’s writers agreed to not touch. When she died at the hands of the Green Goblin in 1973, that was it for her in the mainstream Marvel continuity. While she would eventually get a steady appearance in the Ultimate Universe, no serious attempt was made to bring her back.
This is insane. No other character has been given such a solemn, dignified treatment. When every other character death is met with a timer on when they’ll make their triumphant return, Stacy has remained untouched.
Which is why her return makes me feel mixed. Yes, it’s cool to have her be a household name in the Spider-man world again, but her death meant something. A testament to Peter’s growth and a tragic reminder that his responsibility will always keep those he cares about in danger. Having her running around on whimsical adventures weakens that. And with the final monument to an era where characters could die returning, death in comics really is meaningless.
But at the same time, isn’t it a bit off putting that one of Spider-Man’s signature female characters is exclusively known for having her neck broken? Yes, it’s dramatic and emotional and shocking, but it has made a character’s entire existence mute save for their ending. In fact, one of the biggest weaknesses of the Amazing movies; making Gwen the main love interest simply meant that an invisible timer hung over the two films, counting down to the big emotional moment. That’s just a little depressing, and weird considering we don’t treat other characters like this. If death is going to be meaningless, why is Gwen the only one held to such standards? Not only has this recent turn allowed her to become a popular character again, she has grown into a definite, exciting character. She’s broken out of the chains of martyrdom and is no longer Spider-man’s girlfriend, but Gwen Stacy: hero.
This entire matter is a microcosm of what’s happening across the industry: history and tradition being shrugged for progress and originality. New, fresh ideas are being realized in the superhero genre, bringing in a plethora of new creators and readers. And perhaps in one of the most symbolic moves yet, the one golden rule has finally been broken.