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Gwen Stacy, we hardly knew you…

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For those of your who haven’t been reading Spider-Man comics for the past 50+ years (as has this writer), and haven’t as of yet seen the Amazing Spider-Man 2 film (as did this writer) there very well might be some spoilers here. Still, as (for us) the events we are discussing took place some 41 years ago, sorry, this really is something we’ve been waiting four decades to say.

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As we are now into the second week of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the film is still #1 at the box office, with it grossing nearly $350 million worldwide. So by now pretty much every one and their uncle knows about the tragedy that occurs in this installment of the film (we’re not so much going to say it, but those of us who read Amazing Spider-Man #121 saw this coming from essentially a light year away — so yeah, guys, thanks for throwing us back to having that same kind of emptiness and feeling of abject loss that we experienced when we were 18 and suffered through this the first time around, and no, 41 years later, we still haven’t quite gotten over it). Still, we read the comics, go to the movies, buy the toys, and totally love this genre.

One of the things that we really enjoyed about the 2012 reboot of Spidey was the re-introduction of Gwen Stacy as Peter’s girlfriend. When we first met Gwen back in issue #31 of The Amazing Spider-Man (by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko) she looked not at all like what John Rometa, Sr. morphed her into in later years. Ditko had her looking good, to be sure, but Romita, with his years of illustrating romance comics transformed her into a beauty of mythic proportions. Ditko’s style was more angular in approach, while Romita gave her the body of a classic beauty. This helped re-nforce the lure of the character of Spider-Man (who Ditko illustrated as a scrawny teen, and Romita added meat and muscle to in order to bulk him up).

So now you had the bookworm Parker dating this drop dead gorgeous female, something gave hope to all of us wallflowers. (Note: “Bookworm” & “Wallflower” are pre-tech terms describing “Nerds” & “Geeks”) Yep, somehow brains and sensitivity were sexy in comicbooks back then, and it was Gwen Stacy (and later the flame-haired Mary Jane Watson with her signature come-on line “Face it Tiger, you hit the jackpot.” quote) that helped catapult Spider-Man to the top of this young fan’s reading list. For those of us who weren’t football jocks, or super-smooth with the ladies, to know that (even if only in fiction), there was the chance for us to find love in a beautiful gal, that helped us through adolecessence. And yet there was that moment when it all changed.

That solitary defining moment of the comicbook that made it into this film, is the solitary defining moment of the early days of Spider-Man in the comics, as well as a singular hyper-critical moment of our own young life. For those of us then and there at that moment in time, the events of that comic (and the one that immediately followed it), were completely unprecedented in comics back in those days, hence its profound and lasting effect upon us. So profound, in fact that the events leading up to it — sitting in the dark, facing forward in that theater — caused a fugue-like trance state to set in, and then when the unthinkable happened (once again), we went numb, and all of a sudden, we were 18 again, and the pain of it all came back to us.

Yes, we (once again), experienced a visceral reaction to an event that (for us) occurred some four decades earlier. There was no escaping it. We couldn’t run, we couldn’t hide under our seat. We couldn’t cover our eyes. And yes, it hurt at that moment it occurred just as much now as it did then. So, yes, contrary to what you may have heard, this is a very good Spider-Man film — or, more specifically — it is a really good film about bravery, passion, love, loss, heroics, duty, obligation, and propriety, that happened to star the costumed superhero named Spider-Man. Does that make it a bad “comicbook” movie? Perhaps; but only if you are using the word “comicbook” as a pejorative (sort of like only using the term “soap opera” to describe bad, overwrought drama).

People who still dismiss comicbooks (or comicbook movies) as kiddie fare, have no understanding of the powerful works that have populated this field for the better part of the past 30+ years, and truly need to “level up.” Sure, sure there are badly written comics, just like there are badly written TV shows, movies, and books, but those sub-standard examples simply don’t define the entire genre or classification. Needless to say, neither this film, nor the comics upon which the core story was based can be counted among those that were “badly-written.” As odd as it may sound for a grown man to say these things, Gwen Stacy was a bright shining light of our youth, and we still feel the pain of her loss. Goodbye Gwen, we hardly knew you at all.

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Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing comicbooks for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular comicbook articles and reviews.

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