While reading Peter David and Will Sliney's Spider-Man 2099 recently, I found myself wondering something. Could there ever be another "Gwen Stacy" moment in modern superhero comics?
The collection of Spider-Man 2099 called "Smack to the Future," which takes at the beginning of the All-New, All-Different Marvel reboot, has a scene wherein this Spider-Man's girlfriend, a woman named Tempest, appears to die a horrific death in a bombing while on a date with him at a café.
When Miguel O'Hara, the Spider-Man of the year 2099, learns of the apparent death of his girlfriend, it's a very intense and heart-wrenching scene. He verges on a mental breakdown. He vows to kill those responsible. It's structured and executed very well.
Of course, this is somewhat undercut by the fact that Tempest is not dead, and this was a lie told to Miguel by her mother because she does not like him.
Now, the characters involved and the permanence of Tempest's death aren't really relevant. You're probably not going to get the same impact of the Gwen Stacy moment with a character like Spider-Man 2099. I like him a lot, but he's not a mainline character like his Peter Parker counterpart.
However, the question is still worth asking: could there be another Gwen Stacy moment? Could an emotional, shocking, watershed moment like that be executed again in modern comic books?
"The Night Gwen Stacy Died" was a cathartic moment in the adolescent years of the Marvel Age of Comics. It was long, long before my time, but it's something that has stuck with comic book fandom throughout the years. Almost everyone who's ever picked up a comic book knows who Gwen Stacy is, what she meant to Spider-Man, and what happened to her. They know of the shock and heartbreak of readers when they saw her die at the hands of the Green Goblin all those years ago.
There was nothing like it before in mainstream superhero comics. There's been little like it sense, with the exceptions being Death in the Family, The Killing Joke, The Death of Superman, The Death of Captain America, and, arguably The Death of Captain Marvel. At least two of those stories have had their impacts lessened by the reversal of death.
That's not been so much the case with Gwen Stacy, despite the creation of characters like Spider-Gwen and Gwenpool (she's still functionally Gwen Stacy, I don't care that her last name is Poole).
The question remains, though: could this happen again in the modern era?
Short answer, no. It really couldn't happen again.
Now, there are a number of reasons for this.
The first and most obvious one is comic news media, like us fine folks here at Bleeding Cool. We'd let you know a week to a month beforehand. Information slips, spoilers come out, and we let you know about it. Facts are facts there. You wouldn't get that virginal shock of seeing Gwen Stacy die in the comic with no warning.
Secondly, death hadn't been killed yet when Gwen Stacy died. We touched on this earlier, but death has become such an impermanent thing in mainstream superhero comic books that it's really silly. If Gwen Stacy died in a newer comic, the immediate response would be "she'll be back within a year." Superman, Captain America, Thor, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Wasp, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and so many others have been skipping rope with the mortal thread that it would not be as nearly as heavy an impact.
Thirdly, we hadn't had the girlfriend in the refrigerator yet.
For those who don't know, though this is a pretty infamous comic book moment, too: a Green Lantern comic was published in the 1990's wherein the villain, Major Force, figured out Kyle Rayner's secret identity, busted into his apartment, found Kyle's girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, killed her, and stuffed her into a fridge for the hero to find later.
Now, while Gwen Stacy was a more established character whose death was far less tacky than the death of Alexandra DeWitt, there's really nothing functionally different about these two instances.
Don't get me wrong, the "The Night Gwen Stacy" died is a classic for a reason, and I'm not going to defame the quality of the comic in terms of writing and art. However, they do the same thing to the girl.
Gwen Stacy had been around for a while, but she really had no personality or role beyond being Spider-Man's girlfriend. She was brought in, hung on Parker's arm, then was killed by his worst enemy to spur him on to fight him and consider killing him. Hell, I'd even argue the popularity of "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" inspired that Green Lantern story. Again, the two instances are almost functionally identical.
The cat's out of the bag on this one; the genie is out of the bottle. This kind of story would seem pretty tacky these days. Quality of writing has helped similar stories to be better. The aforementioned Tempest is a really unique character with a life all her own. If she had been outright killed, she would have still had a more definable footprint in comics than Gwen did way back then.
I know that one is going to ruffle some feathers, but it's the truth.
So, no, there really couldn't be another Gwen Stacy moment like there was.
There is one more reason it couldn't happen, but it's going to wait for the next part of this discussion. The reason for this is that I don't think it's a bad thing that there can't be another Gwen Stacy moment, and we're going to talk more about that in Part 2 of this discussion. Look out for it here on Bleeding Cool!