The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a famous story arc of the Marvel Comics comic Spider-Man, featured in 1973. It comprises the issues Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 1) #121 and 122 and features Spider-Man's fight against his arch-enemy Green Goblin, who has abducted his girlfriend Gwen Stacy and lured him to George Washington Bridge.
The aftermath of this fight is widely considered as one of the defining Spider-Man moments.
Prior to this arc, Norman Osborn had been the Green Goblin, but came down with amnesia, suspending his identity as the supervillain and most notably forgetting that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person. Also, Harry Osborn, Peter's best friend and Norman's son, became addicted to drugs and was sent to a clinic for detoxification.
Peter, his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and acquaintance Mary Jane Watson visit Harry, who is in a sorry state. His father Norman is livid about Harry's condition, blames Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane for Harry's drug abuse, and throws them out. When Norman hears that he is facing financial ruin, he suffers a breakdown, and suddenly remembers everything. Norman again becomes the Green Goblin and makes it his goal to kill Peter/Spider-Man for all the misery he imagines Spider-Man has caused him and his family.
The Green Goblin abducts Gwen and lures Spider-Man to the George Washington Bridge. He gloats at Peter, holding an unconscious Gwen. The two fight, and just when Spider-Man seems to get hold of Gwen, Norman hurls her off the bridge. Spider-Man shoots a web strand at her legs, and catches her. As he pulls her up, he thinks he has saved her. However, he soon realizes she is already dead. Peter is unsure whether the whiplash from her sudden stop broke her neck or if Osborn had broken it previously, but he blames himself for her death regardless. The Green Goblin escapes, and Peter cries over Gwen's corpse and swears deadly revenge.
Spider-Man tracks Green Goblin down to a warehouse where an apoplectic Peter beats Norman to a pulp. But he cannot bring himself to kill him and freezes. Norman uses the opportunity to send his glider to impale Spider-Man from behind. Warned by his spider-sense, Peter jumps away just in time, and the glider instead impales the Green Goblin and seemingly kills him.
Peter goes home, feeling washed-out, hurt, and deeply empty. When he meets Mary Jane, her sympathy is lost on him. He only sees MJ as a carefree party girl; unable to feel his pain. But then, Mary Jane also cries, and for the first time, the two characters relate.
- The death of Gwen Stacy shocked the comic book community. Previously, it had been unthinkable to kill off such an important character - the girlfriend of the main character and a character with a large fanbase. This story arc is considered one of the markers of the end of the Silver Age of Comic Books, and the beginning of the darker, grittier Bronze Age.
- A fan poll conducted by Marvel Comics for their series The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time voted The Amazing Spider-Man #121 and 122 to be the 6th and 19th greatest, respectively. .
- The 36th (2006) edition of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide lists the values of Amazing Spider-Man #121 and #122 with a grade of NM- (CGC grade 9.2) or better as starting at $300. Prices decline sharply for lower-graded copies (common for books of that age), but can be much higher for pristine copies.
- The story arc galvanized the personality of Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man's future wife. She played a strong role in supporting Peter after the death of his girlfriend and changed from a carefree party girl into a much deeper and more responsible character.
- In the following story arc, an important Marvel Comics character, the Punisher, is introduced. He is hired by the Jackal to hunt down Spider-Man. The Jackal convinces him that Spider-Man actually killed Gwen.
- Gwen's death is one of the few comic book deaths that stuck. Excluding the Gwen Stacy clone that the Jackal created, she has stayed dead, joining Uncle Ben in a very exclusive club of characters who were never resurrected.
Behind the Scenes
The question arises why exactly Gwen was killed off in the first place. Gwen was a popular character on a popular comic: killing her could have easily damaged the sales and reputation of the Spider-Man comic. In a nutshell, Gwen Stacy had to die because the creators wanted her to die.
According to Comic Buyer's Guide, it was a decision made jointly by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and editor Roy Thomas. They killed Gwen because they did not know what to do with her anymore. Gwen and Peter had grown so close that they were bound to get married, but nobody at Marvel wanted a married Spider-Man: it would have drastically aged him and would have made plotting difficult. At the time, he was still a college student in his late teens. Furthermore, a breakup would have appeared unrealistic. 
In the comic book collection The 100 Greatest Marvels Of All Time: #9-6 (Amazing Spider-Man #121 was the #6 comic), Conway explained that Gwen and Peter were a "perfect couple", but taking that relationship to the next level (i.e. marriage or at least Peter revealing his secret identity to her) would "betray everything that Spider-Man was about", i.e. personal tragedy and anguish as root of Peter's life as Spider-Man. Killing Gwen Stacy was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: breaking up the "unfitting" relationship and reinforcing the element of personal tragedy which was, in his opinion, the essence of Spider-Man.
In 1987, Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson. Most of the points which led to the death of Gwen Stacy apply to MJ, too. But unlike Gwen, MJ was allowed to marry Peter, and the marriage is very popular in fandom and has heightened Spider-Man's appeal rather than destroying it. While Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada stated in an interview with Wizard Magazine that he felt MJ's presence does lessen Spider-Man's appeal with young readers, past attempts to write out the character have been unpopular and short-lasting. While Gwen was popular, fans seemed to prefer the more vivacious Mary Jane, and when Spider-Man and Mary Jane were married in 1987, he was no longer in college and therefore seemed older anyway, at least in his early twenties.
Gwen is considered the first victim of the perceived misogynist trend in comics called Women in Refrigerators, a term coined by Gail Simone. In theory, female characters are made to suffer more than their male counterparts. Women close to heroes suffer in order to increase dramatic tension for the heroes themselves, and unlike male characters they are not allowed to return to their former status quo (a trend John Bartol called "Dead Men Defrosting").
It is unclear from which bridge Gwen fell. The bridge in the original issue of Amazing Spider-Man #121 was stated in the text to be the George Washington Bridge. The Pulse #4 (September 2004) also states the bridge to be the George Washington Bridge. The same is true in the Spider-Man The Animated Series adaptation of the story.
However, the art of Amazing Spider-Man #121 depicts the Brooklyn Bridge. Some reprints of the issue have had the text amended and now state the bridge to be the Brooklyn Bridge rather than the George Washington Bridge. Also, Amazing Spider-Man # 147-148 (1975) and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987) imply that Gwen fell off the Brooklyn Bridge. In a television interview for the Travel Channel's "Marvel Superheroes Guide to New York City" (2004), Stan Lee said that the artist for the issue had drawn the Brooklyn Bridge, but that he (as editor) mistakenly labeled it the George Washington Bridge.
Cause of death
The greatest source of controversy is Gwen's cause of death, which is hotly debated among fans. There are two possibilities: Gwen could have died from the shock of the fall itself, or she could have died from the sudden stop.
If it was the shock of the fall, then there was nothing Spider-Man could have done once the Green Goblin pushed her off the bridge. She would have been dead before Spider-Man reached her.
Spider-Man himself worries that it was the sudden stop, and he torments himself with the what-if question that if he had not stopped her fall, she might have survived hitting the water below (though a realistic assessment indicates that hitting the water from that height would have probably killed her anyway). Indeed, in What If? #24, Spider-Man saves Gwen not by letting her fall, but by being able to leap down in time to catch her.
The original comic featured a "snap" sound effect next to her head in the panel in which Spider-Man's webbing catches her. Some fans believe this indicates that her neck was broken by being caught by Spider-Man's web. Other fans do not think this sound effect implies this. Further confusing the issue, some reprints of the story take out the "snap" sound effect altogether.
Writer Gerry Conway has admitted in recent years that he added the "snap" into the story to torture readers with the distinct possibility that Spider-Man himself may have inadvertently killed Gwen, a "snap" that neither Spider-Man nor the Green Goblin heard (hence the Goblin's assumption in The Amazing Spider-Man #121 that the shock of the fall killed Gwen--"Romantic idiot! She was dead before your webbing reached her! A fall from that height would kill anyone—before they struck the ground!")
In The Amazing Spider-Man #125 (October 1973), Roy Thomas wrote in the letters column that "it saddens us to have to say that the whiplash effect she underwent when Spidey's webbing stopped her so suddenly was, in fact, what killed her. In short, it was impossible for Peter to save her. He couldn't have swung down in time; the action he did take resulted in her death; if he had done nothing, she still would certainly have perished. There was no way out." They also explained that Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Stan Lee had decided that she had to die because Peter Parker was not ready for marriage, and the relationship was too often off and on again.
Several subsequent issues have contained echoes of Gwen's death when others have fallen great heights during Spider-Man's battles. On most occasions he has saved them by jumping after them and working with their momentum, rather than trying to stop them with his webbing.
This also follows with what physicist and comic collector James Kakalios has written in his book The Physics of Superheroes, which states that physically it was the whiplash effect which killed her. In a later storyline, the Green Goblin once again replayed the scenario, this time with Spider-Man's present day wife Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As with Gwen, Mary Jane plummeted toward her death, (this time from the recoil from her gun when she shot at the Green Goblin). However, learning from his previous error, Spider-Man used multiple weblines and caught every major joint, thereby saving Mary Jane from suffering the same whiplash effect that killed Gwen. (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12.)
Gwen's death in Ultimate Spider-Man has provided similar controversy, as she was, perhaps, a more developed character than her classic counterpart, and is generally seen as the most controversial move of the series. She was killed by the Carnage creature.
Why didn't the Goblin kill Mary Jane, Aunt May, Harry, or somebody else? In a controversial story arc by J. Michael Straczynski called "Sins Past" (The Amazing Spider-Man #509-515), it was revealed that Gwen Stacy had a one-night stand with Norman Osborn, and seven months later gave birth to twin children, Gabriel and Sarah. Norman's Goblin-formula enhanced blood had given them increased stamina, strength, and intelligence, and they grew at an accelerated rate. Gwen kept their birth a secret, but planned to tell Peter, who she was sure would forgive her and help her raise them.
When Harry Osborn was sick after a drug overdose, Norman refused to take him to a hospital for fear of scandal. Having become more familiar with Norman's cruel personality, Gwen refused to allow him to have anything to do with the children, saying she would rather die. Norman killed Gwen—instead of another of Spider-Man's friends or family—because he wanted the children under his control.
Norman had the children raised by housekeepers and nannies in Paris, and Norman told them that Peter was their father and had abandoned them and murdered their mother. The twins grew to adulthood in only a few years, and tried to kill Spider-Man. Spider-Man saved Sarah's life after she was shot and convinced her of the truth, but Gabriel briefly became a Goblin and nearly killed Spider-man.
Different versions of the "bridge scene"
The "bridge scene", in which the Green Goblin hurls Gwen Stacy to her death, has remained one of the most iconic scenes in Marvel Comics and has been redone several times. Striking is the fact that in many re-imaginings, Mary Jane Watson - Spidey's future wife - plays the role of the victim, and in contrast to Gwen, always survives.
Gwen's death has been repeatedly revisited by many writers and artists:
- Marvels #4: Gwen's death is seen from the point of view of the protagonist, Phil Sheldon, a photographer. He had been researching Spider-Man's involvement in Gwen's father's death, and had become quite close to Gwen herself. Her death disillusioned him and prompted him to enter semi-retirement.
- The Spider-Man movie: Mary Jane Watson in the role of Gwen Stacy. The situation is especially tricky, as the Green Goblin also sends a cable car loaded with passengers falling to the ground at the same time. But Spider-Man manages to save both MJ and the cable car passengers.
- Spider-Man: India: again with MJ in the role as the victim. However, this version of the bridge scene has much more magical look-and-feel to it.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series: the episode "Turning Point" also has Mary Jane Watson in Gwen's role. Due to standards and practices issues, neither MJ nor the Goblin could be killed. Instead, both were sent to the Negative Zone upon falling off the bridge, where they stayed for the rest of the series, although similar to Gwen Stacy in the comics a clone of Mary Jane was later made.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: again MJ is thrown down. Peter shoots webbing to her legs, and the violent deceleration causes her to pass out. MJ survives, but suffers from a deep trauma after that.
- The Clone Saga, a Spider-Man storyline published twenty years later, explains away the Goblin's death as a ruse so that the character can be used as the deus ex machina manipulating everyone involved.
- On the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #121, Spider-Man swings frantically in front of a yellow background, shouting: "Someone close to me is going to die! Someone I cannot save! My spider-sense is never wrong! But who, WHO?". The background shows the whole supporting cast of Spider-Man.
- The splash page and the title "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" actually come at the end of the comic, so that the main event isn't spoiled.
- ↑ 
- ↑ *Kakalios, James (2005). The Physics of Superheroes Gotham Books: New York. ISBN 1-592-40146-5.