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Comic Book Noise 774: The Failure of Diversity

Host Derek Coward talks about Mass Effect Andromeda, Rick and Morty, Legion, Dark Matter, and why Marvel’s push for diversity has failed.

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Gwen Stacy’s Dead

Gwen Stacy

Image via Wikipedia

I have been reading Spider-Man for a long time. I don’t have an uninterrupted run dating back to the 70s like some people, but I have a more than passing understanding of the character. There are some characters in the Spider-verse that aren’t easy to “get”. Aunt May, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson are all easy to understand just by looking at them (mother figure, high school bully, best friend, cantankerous boss and wise old black mentor), so they aren’t the ones that I am talking about. I’m talking about the ones like Uncle Ben, Liz Allan, Betty Brant, Mary Jane Watson and of course, Gwen Stacy.

Like everyone I know his origin, but I guess I really didn’t get the significance of Uncle Ben in his life until the Ultimate Spider-Man version of the character. Prior to Bendis fleshing out the character, Uncle Ben was just some old dude who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or if he was as he was portrayed in the What If story where Aunt May died instead of him, a complete and utter tool. I just didn’t know because for the longest time, nobody really knew anything about Ben Parker beyond his death.

Unlike a lot of my friends at the time, I read the first 18 issues or so of Amazing Spider-Man in digest reprint version, so I understood his crushes on Liz Allan and Betty Brant. After all, I think most of us remember that girl from high school who was way out of our league, or the exciting older woman from our first job who smiled when she talked to us (OK, maybe that second one was just me, but you get the point). There are some people I know who don’t get the significance of those characters beyond whatever current storyline they get shoehorned into, but there is a history there a lot of people are unaware of.

Mary Jane Watson-Parker-Watson is a really unique case because for the longest time she was the unseen niece of Aunt May’s best friend Anna (the lady who took care of Aunt May every time she came down with consumption or whatever it was she came down with). I remember they took at times ridiculous lengths to not show her face, hinting that maybe she was so hideously homely that no one would want to be seen with her. Of course she turned out to be good looking. So good looking in fact that Peter and Harry (and maybe Flash, I don’t remember) dated her and of course Peter eventually married her until the world’s most evil annulment took place. MJ was never one of my favorite characters and when they got married, I assumed it was because they didn’t want to do a Gwen Stacy on her, which made sense at the time.

Now this brings us to Gwen Stacy. Most of my Spider-Man reading took place shortly before the character was introduced or a long time after the character was dead. However, like most people I am familiar with The Death of Gwen Stacy. It is a story that I have read multiple times in multiple reprinted issues. There have been plenty of times where I have seen that familiar image of Spider-Man trying to save her but snapping her neck instead. However, to me,  it looked like she was dead before Green Goblin even threw her off of the George Washington Bridge, but that’s a different subject for a different day. I have read the What If story where she survives (although Aunt May dies again. I guess she is Peter’s karmic sacrifice in order to keep someone else in his life) and of course, she pops up in Age of Apocalypse as a freedom fighter and House of M as Peter’s wife.

But I never “got” the character. There was an issue of Spider-Man: Blue that revolved around Peter mourning for Gwen while married to MJ and I just thought “Dude, your wife is right there. Why are you crying over some other chick?” He just seemed rude to me.  When it was revealed that Miles Warren was obsessed with her to the point of cloning a bunch of people to get revenge for her death, I thought it was more a testament to his insanity than any appeal she might have had. Her role in The Evolutionary War was just “Oh, she’s back huh?” Even the JMS reveal that Norman Osborn got her pregnant didn’t elicit howls of indignant outrage from me, I just thought it was JMS’ weakest storyline ever and I am a big JMS fan (although not big enough to learn how to spell his name from memory). I wasn’t a fan of the Ultimate version of the character either.

The only thing that Gwen was good for was as a reminder to Peter that with great power comes great responsibility (and if Stan Lee ever gave us any better advice than that, I don’t know what it is).

Then I read The Essential Spider-Man Volume Six (Available at Amazon.com)  and I think I get her now. I haven’t read any of the other Essential volumes, so I don’t know the complete history of Gwen Stacy, but this volume features the storylines leading up to her death, her death at the hands of either Peter or Norman and the storylines directly following her death (including her funeral). Leading up to her death was a fairly typical and melodramatic story about how Gwen said something to Aunt May which caused the older woman to leave her home and go work for Doctor Octopus as a housekeeper (or gun moll, they never were really specific about that) while Peter was in Montreal trying to hunt down some French-Canadian dude who had a secret to tell Aunt May and ended up fighting The Hulk before rushing home because Harry was sick. Then she died.

I knew it was going to happen, but it still felt like a punch to the throat. Not only was it pretty much out of nowhere, but her last thoughts shared with the reader was of concern for a friend. Nothing that I read in that volume has said that she was anything other than a genuinely good person who tried to do good thing and wasn’t acting out of a sense of contrition like Peter, misguided fanaticism like Jameson (or Thunderbolt Ross who was in the Hulk story) or some weird rebellion like Aunt May and her defense of Otto Octavius. She was just nice.  And even thought I knew it was going to happen and I had seen it happen more than once, it was pretty sad when she died.

Like Uncle Ben, Thomas and Martha Wayne or John and Mary Grayson, Gwen has always seemed to be one of those characters that was created just to die. Or was one of those characters like Captain Mar-Vell, Bucky Barnes or Barry Allen who seemed to be more important dead. I’m glad to say that I was wrong.  She was important and there were still stories that could have been told with her. I think it is a shame that she has been replaced as Peter’s great love because I prefer to MJ.

I plan on reading the prior Essential stories with her, I am even going to give that Spider-Man: Blue issue another read and I think I can even work up a little belated indignant outrage at the Sins Past storyline. So after all this time, I think I finally get Gwen Stacy.

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Comic Book Noise Presents… Driving With The Prices 1

Intro episode already in progress.

City of Crime is the book we’re referencing.
Touch on Batman: Gotham Knight.
List of Killing Joke recolored sites:
Bolland hasn’t drawn a sequential story WRITTEN by anyone else since this.

Spider-Man segment is a little more animated.  I suppose the heat was getting to us.
Talked about Gwen, how corny and weak Spider-Man is (in his pajamas), how much cooler Batman is, and Renee’s dislike of One More Day.
Other topics touched on are my perception of myself and how others see me and the type of guy Renee is attracted to.

This was recorded while driving north on Route 9 and 9D through Putnam County and into Dutchess County.  The Spider-Man segment was recorded driving south on Route 9, east on 301, south on Dennytown Road, and in our driveway.  Naturally, attention was directed toward the road, so pauses or errant thoughts are due to my driving.  All on Friday, July 4th, 2008.

Music by Darrius Willrich (The Waiting Is Over), Andreas Weise (Now She’s Gone), and Yamasaki (A New Day)

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