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Monday, May 05, 2014 

No mention of Spidey's deal with Mephisto in history article about Gwen Stacy

The San Angelo Standard Times wrote a sugary article about the history of Gwen Stacy and her demise in 1973, never bothering to mention certain related facts. First, they say:
...while Stacy was supposed to be a blonde bombshell, many readers only knew that because of the reactions of the other characters.

Because, while original Spider-Man artist and co-creator Steve Ditko was the perfect man to draw Spider-Man, his retro and gritty style didn't lend itself to drawing gorgeous women. In fact, Gwen — with her hair pulled back by berets and her Rubensesque (or Ditkoesque) extra-wide hips — could have passed for Parker's mother!
Oh for heaven's sake. Ditko may have been behind Romita Sr. in terms of talent for drawing the female physique, but his character design still wasn't that bad. I sometimes get the feeling some mainstream writers have it in for Ditko because he read Ayn Rand, and they sure don't help matters by putting him down whenever they do. Hey, if Betty Brant's initial hairstyle wasn't good enough, that's why a couple issues after her debut, Ditko gave her a much better one. And to say Gwen could've passed for Peter's mother sounds insulting.
"Johnny and I had always planned for Peter to be in love with gorgeous Gwen," Lee said in his autobiography, "and one day end up marrying her. But somehow, Mary Jane was the one who seemed to come alive on the page. She crackled with energy, excitement, sex appeal. Much as we tried, we couldn't make Gwen as appealing as MJ."

So Gwen had to go. According to numerous accounts, it was Romita who suggested knocking her off. (He was inking the book at the time; Gil Kane was the penciller. But Romita also had a say as art director.) At that point Gerry Conway was the writer on "Amazing Spider-Man," and he took the idea to his editor, Roy Thomas, who then took it to Lee for approval. Once everyone signed off — although Lee says he doesn't remember doing so — Stacy's fate was sealed.
Someone sure didn't bother to read Sean Howe's history book. Howe confirmed that Lee did approve of Gerry Conway's story, and much as I admire Lee, I do think he supported an all too easy path to take, even if Gwen's death by the Green Goblin wasn't exploitive like many of today's character deaths are. And they didn't have to kill off Gwen to start a relationship with Mary Jane Watson. Stan, as Howe told, met with harsh criticism at a university convention he visited, and chickened out, defending himself by saying it must've been done while he was out of town, and "I would never have done that", even though he did approve. It was much to the embarrassment of Conway, who wasn't up to attending conventions for several years.

At the end, they write up a very superficial, unclear description of what came later:
So endeth the Gwen Stacy story — at least in comics. For most Spider-fans, Peter Parker's most famous and enduring girlfriend is MJ Watson, the girl he eventually married (at least for a little while) in 1987. But for fans of a certain age (cough, cough), Stacy is a fond, wistful Spider-memory, of Things That Might Have Been.
Gee, I wonder why no mention of the deal with Mephisto, with MJ set up to look bad? And why no mention of Sins Past, which tarnished the whole Gwen Stacy affair, making her look like a brainless cheater on Peter? J. Michael Stracynski's sordid little roach of a tale bordered on the perverse, and they let him off the hook for that. "Little while" doesn't describe anything, and thanks to Joe Quesada's mandate, Mary Jane hasn't endured well, if at all. The series has been bleeding audience for several years now, and so long as Quesada and Axel Alonso are in charge, it's not bound to improve.

Yet that part of Spidey's history is glossed over by people uninterested in looking for help to turn things around. It's the same as several years ago - Sins Past and One More Day got a lot of press coverage (which soon wore off), but few opined that it's a shame some of the best stories of the past were being thrown out the window for the sake of a handful of staffer's ideas for what makes entertainment.

While we're on the subject, NY's Vulture has some history of how the decision to kill off Gwen came about, and they published a scan of the letters from ASM #125, which I've decided to comment on:
As I said before, I don't think Gwen's death was exploitive like the atrocities coming out of mainstream comics today. But I still find it galling how two of the three who had letters published exhibited such dislike for Gwen as if she were a real person, and the most chilling thing of all is that one of those kooks was a woman. "Prize twerp"? And she calls Gwen somebody "whose brain was constructed entirely out of old Pepsi bottles, and whose personality had the exact color, consistency and flavor of a loaf of Wonder Bread"! What is the matter with some people? No matter how much I respect Stan Lee, he's the one who was responsible for most of her characterization, yet the idiot who wrote that letter acts like he never existed. The sheer irony is that she asks for developing Mary Jane's personality, even as she says MJ's "immature", as though that were her fault. Well then why not develop Gwen? Why does MJ get the opportunity to be proven worthy but not Gwen?

Let us be clear. No matter how badly written Gwen may or may not have been, that's no excuse for the crazy favoratism on display. If the romance between Peter and Gwen wasn't working out, they could always have dropped her from the cast for a while, just like Liz Allan was, and didn't have to go to such extremes. I'm learning a lot from this historical stuff, here being how these juvenile opinions by readers could date back a long way, and even women can be very nearsighted. Even if you're disappointed with the characterization, that doesn't warrant instant wipeout, and it's not wrong to critique the writers for failing expectations. It's a real shame some people won't go to see the forest for the trees.

Update: I found an article about Steve Ditko on the Ocala Star-Banner that tells an interesting fact about him:
“When I was researching my book,” says Sean Howe, author of “Marvel comics: the Untold Story,” “I talked to quite a few people who knew him. They all remembered him as intelligent, hard-working, friendly, principled. He had conservative politics, but he didn’t press them on people. I really didn’t hear anything about the cranky ideologue that had grown to be his image.”
That's flattering. To be sure, he was a lot more respectable than some modern leftists who've been stuffing their own politics down everyone's throats in the books they write. Ditko may have some flaws, but in terms of his personal politics, he clearly handled them pretty well.

Update 2: Conway brought up how he decided to kill off Gwen in an interview with Yahoo Movies.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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