The Oversaturation of Miss Gwen Stacy

It was a simple question posed by Joss Whedon during his run on Astonishing X-Men: “Why does nothing ever stay buried?”.  Although it was meant as a humorous reference to the oft-resurrected mutants, it’s a question that can be posed to mainstream comics at large.  Across seemingly every major title, both villains and heroes are killed and later resurrected with the same frequency that most people go to the bathroom.  Part of it is just the nature of the industry. Why would a publisher permanently kill off a major draw of theirs thus depriving themselves of future revenue from future stories.

Despite this however, there was always a select few characters that have had the good taste to stay dead.  The death of characters like Uncle Ben and Thomas and Martha Wayne are central to the mythos and creation of Spider-Man and Batman, and can therefore never be undone.[1]  Thunderbird meanwhile is the only mutant to ever stay dead.  Even Karen Page, who suffered a most ignoble death, has still remained dead for over 15 years now.  Death in comics is as temporary a condition as half of all marriages in the country.  For all his personal insanity, Frank Miller’s outrage over Elektra’s re-introduction into the Marvel Universe becomes sort of justified as it sullies the impact of not only the character’s original death, but also what they meant to our hero and their story.

Because of her impact to the Spider-Man mythology and to the character himself, Gwen Stacy has remained consistently dead since her death over 40 years ago.  Her death has been symbolic of the power of comics, and through her death Gwen has achieved a sort of veneration, and become an icon for great storytelling.  Her death, her shining moment in comics, has never been sullied or blemished by needless resurrections.  She’s dead, and she’s never coming back into Peter Parker’s life no matter how badly people may want it. Her death has become her greatest, and arguably one of the greatest contributions in all of North American comics because she’s stayed dead.[2]

So why has Marvel been so intent on bringing back Gwen Stacy in any capacity?  Why would they be so focused on destroying the very fabric of one of their most iconic stories?  Whatever the reason is, Marvel’s been trying to figure out a way to bring back Gwen Stacy ever since the “The Clone Saga”.  After that, Joe Quesada originally wanted to resurrect Gwen Stacy during the “One More Day” storyline, until literally everyone at Marvel begged him not to.  Now, in the wake of the multiverse altering Secret Wars, Marvel has finally found a way to bring back Gwen Stacy without the ignominy of resurrecting her.  Instead of undoing her death, the powers that be introduced Spider-Gwen, the Spider-totem of Earth-65, into the mainstream Marvel universe.  Why ruin a classic story with a pointless comic book resurrection when you can just force an alternate version of that same character from another dimension into continuity?

On her Earth, Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider and Peter Parker was subsequently killed instead.  When first introduced during the Spider-Verse storyline, her inclusion was a neat treat, but the way in which the character has been aggressively marketed and propped around betrays the real agenda that Marvel’s had for 20 years now.  They’ve been looking for a way to bring the character back into the comics, and they finally found the means to do so without actually bringing Gwen back from the dead.  In all honesty, Spider-Gwen really didn’t have that big of a role in Spider-Verse, nor was she the most intriguing character introduced.  Spider-UK, Spider-Punk, and Mayday Parker (the Spider-Girl of the MC2 universe) were way more compelling and integral to the story than the basic and predictable Spider-Gwen.  Her inclusion in the story was obvious and shallow as she’s everything readers would suspect her to be.  And the prolonged exposure of the character into the new mainstream Marvel universe is a blatant attempt by Marvel to push Gwen Stacy into the continuity after a meaningful 40-year exile.

Spider-Gwen now has her own ongoing series in which she will shortly team up with some of the Spider-Women from the mainstream Earth.  It really seems like Marvel is doing everything it possible can to implement Gwen Stacy back into the continuity without actually doing so.  It’s a passive-aggressive attempt to satisfy Joe Quesada’s demands without upsetting the fans.  Parading Gwen Stacy, especially an alternate version, is a thinly veiled attempt to retcon the classic “Death of Gwen Stacy” without undoing the story.  This love affair with Gwen Stacy is only a fad that will fade before the series reaches issue #40.

The proliferation of Gwenpool is enough to support this theory as it proves that the only way Gwen Stacy can be marketed is as alternate versions of pre-existing characters.  She becomes nothing more than a gimmick, where instead of doing something meaningful with the character, it just becomes a “see Gwen Stacy as your favorite characters” trope that makes alternate timeline stories so derivative now.  First we get the Spider-Man version of Gwen Stacy, now we have the Deadpool Gwen Stacy.  What’s next?  Are we going to see Iron-Stacy, or Phoenix Gwen Stacy, or even Gwen-Carnage?  By forcing a Gwen Stacy into these interchangeable roles, Marvel is trouncing on the original’s death and everything that made her matter in the first place.  By dressing her up as pre-existing characters, they’ve basically sequestered her as the Barbie of the Marvel multiverse.  Gwen Stacy deserves the dignity of just being Gwen Stacy. But beyond that, she deserved the comfort of resting in peace.

When the importance is placed on just making the character visible, that character runs the risk of being turned into a silly promotion like we’re seeing with Gwen Stacy.  It’s not about creating an interesting character, but instead creating shock value by re-introducing an alternate version of a character who had the rare privilege of actually having a meaningful death in comics.  It’s Gwen Stacy, but not really.  On top of that, as is the case with Gwenpool, now Marvel wants to re-introduce Gwen Stacy as other characters signifying the lack of originality or foresight in handling her re-emergence into any continuity.

When it comes to the topic of Gwen Stacy’s re-emergence, it’s imperative to ask the following question: “Why does she have to come back?”.  Her death was iconic and radically changed the face of the Spider-Man mythos.  In short, her death mattered.  And even though this isn’t Earth-616 Gwen Stacy coming back, by proliferating her and bringing in an alternate version of Gwen, it makes readers forget the absence caused by her death and in turn lessens the impact and revered nature of her death.  Although Gwen Stacy of Earth-616 is dead, the character has now been resurrected in another cheap comic book ploy.  Even though she’s been dead for over 40 years, she hasn’t stayed buried.  At least we still have Uncle Ben though.  Here’s hoping he’s buried a little bit deeper.


 

[1] Although based on recent solicitations, Marvel may be planning on bringing back Uncle Ben…. shit.

[2] As most people in real life tend to do.




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