There's a phrase you've probably heard dozens (if not hundreds) of times in today's hype-saturated comic book market.
"Nothing Will Ever
Be the Same Again!"
You'd think we'd learn after hearing it so many times. After all, how many "nothing will ever be the same again" stories have actually delivered on that promise?
Well, one comic book story that actually did change things forever was The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973). The Death of Gwen Stacy not only changed the status quo of Spider-Man forever, but (arguably) of the entire superhero genre as well.
Crazy talk? Well, I'm not the first one to note how the story seemed to herald (or perhaps spark) a darker form of storytelling. In fact, a similar sentiment was explored in Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross's MARVELS (1993), a brilliant metatextual "history" of Marvel's superheroes from the vantage point of average, everyday people.
Up until then girlfriends were saved, not killed....and supervillains either went to jail or (at worst) ambiguously "died" only to return a few years later. These issues of Spider-Man threw all of that out the window, signalling from that time onward that all bets were off. Everyone was vulnerable, and nothing (no matter how horrible) was truly "off the table"....not even the death of a prominent cast member or arch-villain!
It's from the final few pages of this earthquake of a story that I've selected my scene for the Highlight Reel. Set-Up: Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy was abducted and killed by the Green Goblin. Later on, as Spider-Man, Parker explodes into the Goblin's warehouse lair, bent on revenge. Written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Gil Kane and inked by John Romita, experience a true comic book classic (click on the top and lower halves for larger views):
Man, that last line still gives me chills!
As intense as this scene remains after all these years, you can imagine what effect it had on me as a kid. A jumble of triumph, relief, irony and, yes, even pity and horror....but permeating it all, a brutal sense of justice. Heady stuff for a superhero comic book...especially for the early 70's!
The scene may look familiar to those who've seen the first Spider-Man movie, since its climactic final battle also involved a bat-glider piercing Norman Osborn (though, inexplicably, in the groin instead of the chest), but for sheer emotional impact, it can't touch the comic book version. Though I appreciate director Sam Raimi's effort to bring it to life, it seemed to lose something in the translation to film. It's only when you knew the long comic book history between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn, with its cat-and-mouse games of madness and blood, that you felt the true emotional impact of that bat-glider slamming Osborn to the wall.
Of course, as will happen in comics, Marvel foolishly undid the Green Goblin's death some twenty years later, thereby diminshing some of the scene's original power. However, despite the retroactive tomfoolery, it remains one of the most dramatic scenes I've ever encountered in my three-plus decades of reading comics.
That is, despite my somewhat less-than-serious 30-Second Recap of the scene a few months back.