THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121
"The Night Gwen Stacy Died"
We open this issue with Spider-Man peering into Harry Osborn's window from outside with Harry in bad shape on the bed inside the room. Inside, Harry's doctor reflects that he's done what he can but Harry should be in a hospital. Apparently, Harry is taking drugs again and a bad batch of LSD has caused him to suffer from total clinical psychosis - schizophrenia. Peter swiftly changes out of his costume and enters the Osborn residence. As he approaches Harry's room, an obviously feverish Norman Osborn confronts him. Norman, blaming Peter for Harry's illness, kicks Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane out of the house. As the three of them leave, Peter worries that Norman's repressed memories of being the Green Goblin and of Peter's dual identity might be returning, and Gwen wonders what could have driven Harry to such desperate measures.
However, if Harry's friends could switch scenes like we can, they'd learn very quickly the source of the Osborn's distressed. As Norman talks on the phone, we find that his stock holdings have taken a deep dive, and he is on the verge of being wiped out. A weak and shivering Harry overhears this as well, and asks if his dad is OK. As Norman reassures Harry that it's nothing to worry about, Harry collapses prompting Norman to call the doctor again.
Let's switch attention to a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man some two hours later, heading uptown to the offices of a certain metropolitan newspaper where Peter Parker, staff photographer, has a late-day appointment. Apparently, EVERYONE is catching ill this issue as Peter is queasy from a virus he apparently caught fighting the Hulk in Canada. Peter, coughing and obviously ill, turns over pictures of the Hulk and Spider-Man he snapped in Canada. Jonah steps in to kick Peter out of the offices before the whole staff gets sick, and on his way out, he tells Robbie to just mail the check to him. Back on the street, Peter changes into costume, and starts swinging home.
Back as the Osborn residence, a Doctor Ray is just leaving. He tells Norman that Harry should be in the hospital because there is nothing the doctor can do for him. Norman sees Ray out, and as he ponders his ailing son, the depths of his delusions and paranoia are made clear. He worries that his and Harry's enemies are everywhere and even Harry's friends are out to corrupt Harry and ruin Norman. At that moment, he hallucinates that Spider-Man is there, gloating, mocking the wreckage of Norman's life, his hopes, and his dreams. "All at once, Norman Osborn's memories collapse, and a flood of images, past and present, rush through his pressured brain, reminding him, tormenting him, until he can stand it no longer! Like a man ridden by some demon hag, he races from his son's room -- runs out into a night moist with the hint of tomorrow's rain. His footsteps make a drumbeat on the cracked pavement of Manhattan's Lower East Side -- but he seems literally unaware of the sound -- aware only of an inner sound, a long trailing moan -- the first beginnings of his ultimate nightmare!"
Inside a place he had almost forgotten, Norman changes into a familiar green and purple outfit. "Spider-Man is my enemy -- my mortal foe!" Norman, dressed to kill, flies off on his glider vowing Parker's death!
Minutes later, in the apartment Peter shares with Harry Osborn, we find Gwen Stacy waiting for Peter to return. As she worries about Harry and Peter, we see the ominous image of the Green Goblin approaching in the background.
But, for our web-swinging hero, still several blocks south of his Upper East-Side pad, that's one dramatic revelation momentarily delayed. Spider-Man is having a rough time making it home. His throbbing head is affecting his balance and focus, making it hard for him to swing home. Without regard to who might be waiting for him in his apartment, he hops in through the window and is greeting with a grim omen. Gwen's handbag, the one Peter gave her for Christmas, and a goblin's lantern. Spider-Man takes off hoping to find Osborn fast before the Goblin has a chance to hurt the woman Peter loves!
Now it begins: what will soon become the most tormented quest of this young man's adventurous life, and a turning point in a certain costumed hero's tempestuous career! Following his Spider-Sense, Spider-Man's instincts lead him towards the George Washington Bridge (later changed to the Brooklyn Bridge in future retellings). He spots Osborn and an unconscious Gwen waiting for him up on the bridge. As Spider-Man charges up the bridge, the Goblin flies down to meet him. Dodging pumpkin bombs and the Goblin's glider, Peter reflects that his cold is making him so dizzy he can hardly keep his balance. His objective is to rescue Gwen fast and continue the fight with the Goblin later. Snagging the Green Goblin with a quick web line, Peter gets in a good shot and knocks the Goblin off his glider. As the Green Goblin recovers, Spider-Man races up the bridge hoping to grab Gwen and run. Just as he gets to the unconscious Miss Stacy, the Goblin catches up and knocks her off the bridge.
Acting fast, Spider-Man fires off a web line. Tragically, he snags Gwen's foot and the whiplash causes her death. Not realizes what happens, Spider-Man reflects on how dashing and versatile his spider-powers make him. Who else could save a falling girl from her death? As Peter is shocked to find Gwen dead from the fall, the Goblin hovers nearby gloating that Spider-Man's death will come much more quickly. "Wrong, Goblin!" an anguished Spider-Man replies, "YOU'RE THE CREEP WHO'S GOING TO PAY! YOU KILLED THE WOMAN I LOVE, AND FOR THAT, YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!"
Wow, what an epic issue. I think this is the best (and the most tragic) issue of Spider-Man that I've ever read. To be honest, I've never read this issue before. I mean, every Spider-Man fan knows the story because it's such an important part of the Spider-Man mythos. I won't get into it too much here, but after reading this issue and #122, I feel even more upset that they cheapened these stories by bring Norman Osborn back to life. Anyways, if you're curious, I picked up this issue, the second-part of this issue, and also the first appearance of the Punisher at Wizard World in Chicago last month. I paid $100 apiece for them and considering the beautiful shape they are all in, I think I got a hell of a steal. Once I'm done reviewing #121 and #122, I'm planning on sealing them up and framing them in a side-by-side display. If and when I get that done, I'll scan in an image and share it. I think it will look pretty nice behind some UV protective glass of course.
You know, to be honest, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable knocking such an epic issue. I mean, I can't even put myself in the mindset of the times to find out what a shocker this was. As I saw someone else mention in another online review of this issue, this was before days of Internet, regular 'In this issue, someone dies!' covers, and previews. No one saw this coming, and even the last "Next Issue" blurb revealed nothing about what a huge story was coming up. Instead of ripping on this issue, I think instead, I'd like to share some of the other thoughts and response to this event that I could find. I'll reprint some of the fan letters that were published regarding this issue as well as share some of the other reviews and thoughts I could find online.
From the letter page in issue #124
If memory serves, Spider-Man was the one of the first mainstream comics to risk the wrath of the Comic Code Authority and print a story involving drugs. I can't say for certain if it was Harry that took a center role in those issues (mostly because I haven't collected back that far), but here we see the results of Harry's experiments with LSD. Having never tried LSD myself, I can only take for granted that such a bad trip: feverish, delusional, weak, etc. can result from LSD usage. What I thought was very well portrayed those was the way Harry's friends rallied around at his time of need. We see Mary Jane, Gwen, and Peter all obviously concerned about their friend. I thought their emotions were portrayed very well and very true to life as well as the conversations they had.
Something else that was developed extremely well was the conversations, actions, and thoughts that all showed the depth of Norman's paranoia, delusions, and mental illness. There is no question when you read this issue that this man is not well. From the feverish sweating, to the paranoia rambling, to his hallucinations, and finally his ultimate breakdown, Norman is portrayed as insane in every sense of the word throughout the issue. This is a man who is sick and capable of anything.
I'm not sure how I feel about Peter being sick this issue. I guess I'll reserve judgment until next issue to see what role Peter's illness plays in this story. So far though, it appears that it's there as a cop-out. I mean, it's like Marvel couldn't allow Peter to fail simply on his own merits. I mean, logically, he's been in enough fights against the Green Goblin that you'd think he couldn't win ALL the time. But having Peter suffering from the flu, particularly in this issue, makes it seem like their trying to provide a ready-made excuse for why Peter failed this issue. I've seen other stories where he's been sick, and usually it provides either some comic relief or adds to the story somehow. This time, it is more of a distraction that, in my opinion, detracts from the overall tale.
Dear Roy, Gerry, Gil, et al.
Part of the reasons I've read for Marvel's decision to kill off Gwen Stacy was that the staff decided that they had no place else to go with Peter's and Gwen's relationship. Frankly, in this issue, Spider-Man is so sick; he swings into his apartment without regard for who might be waiting for him. Moments before, when she was abducted, Gwen was waiting for Peter in his apartment. Frankly, that might have been an interesting direction to take their relationship. I can only assume that having Gwen discover Peter's dual identity might have been too progressive or too groundbreaking, or perhaps even too predictable though. And later, Marvel does write some good stories development Peter and MJ's relationship after she discovers that he's really Spider-Man.
To whoever had the idea of killing off Gwen Stacy,
Ok, big climatic fight scene against the Green Goblin. Perhaps the reason that they needed Peter to be sick is that Peter is much more powerful than the Goblin. Supposedly, Peter's slightly stronger, and he seems to be a better fighter. The Goblin relies too much on his pumpkin bombs and other gadgets and less upon physically outclassing Spider-Man. This contrasts with how the present-day Goblin is written. Today, he seems to be Spider-Man's equal in strength and fighting prowess and isn't afraid to throw down man-to-man with the web-slinger. Anyways, in this issue, even an obvious ill and disoriented Spider-Man fends the Goblin off for awhile. If it wasn't for being distracted by Miss Stacy, there appears to be no reason why he shouldn't have easily defeated the Goblin in this issue.
Dear Marvel Bullpen,
Finally, Gwen's tragic death. I thought it was very interesting that Gwen's specific cause of death was partially due to Spider-Man. I mean, not that she wouldn't have died had Spider-Man not try to save her, but simply, Spider-Man's rescue is what caused the whiplash and broken neck. The death scene itself was very well played. Very subtle, very well-done, not gory at all. Also, the ominous feeling of dread from that one little "snap" in the rescue scene was played out very well. Spider-Man's assumption that he's managed to save the day again. His elation at having saved Gwen from certain doom, and then his feelings of shock and horror as the reality of the situation set in. Of course, the Goblin's blathering about "a fall from that height will kill anyone before they struck the ground" seems a little silly. I mean, if that were the case, sky-diving wouldn't be a very popular sport. And that, is about the only criticism I have for this exceptionally well-written and poignant issue.
Dear Bullpen Gang-sters,
The art in this issue was beautiful. So many times, I've seen otherwise epic stories completely ruined by bad art, but that certainly wasn't the case here. Gil Kane's art is great to look at. His faces and expression were the best part. Everyone in this issue has a very distinct look, and no two faces look the same. His expressions captured the emotions of each scene: from the gang's concern about Harry's, Norman's anger at Peter, Robbie's concern over Peter's flu, etc.
The other thing I really liked about Gil Kane's art is his backgrounds. His backgrounds are very detailed yet they aren't cluttered, and they don't distract the reader's eye from the story at all. In all the street scenes, you feel the daily bustle of New York from crowds of people wandering the sidewalks down to the trash cluttering the gutter, Robbie's office has pictures on the desk, frames on the walls, books around, and all the accessories you'd expect to see in an editor's office.
Well, this is round one of the fight scene to end all fight scenes. To be honest, there isn't a lot of action in this issue, but that definitely isn't a bad thing. The build-up to that final fight was well worth the wait. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin don't face off until page 19. The action mostly consists of Spider-Man dodging pumpkin bombs and the Goblin's glider trying to get to the top of the bridge. Spider-Man does get in one really nice shot on the Green Goblin on page 22, but other than that, there isn't a lot of explicit action to speak of.
Spider-Villain lessons 101:
©2002 Samuel Smith
Spider-Man and all images © 2002 Marvel Characters, Inc.