It is Valentine’s Day, so does anyone want to take a wild guess what I’m going to blog about? Of course I’m going to tackle the greatest couple (or should’ve been) in the history of superhero comics: Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy!
It’s been almost three years since I published my epic Gwen Stacy post, wherein I juxtaposed the Pete-Gwen relationship with the classic Superman-Lois Lane pairing. As I noted then:
What makes the Gwen/Lois contrast even more stark is that Spider-Man wears a full-body costume, which means there’s nothing recognizable about him in his civilian identity. So when you see Peter Parker run away from danger, it’s perfectly logical and reasonable to conclude he’s a coward—unlike Clark Kent, who looks an awful lot like Superman, there’s no immediate reason to suspect that Peter ran off to change into Spider-Man. But Gwen ain’t no Lois Lane. In fact, she’s kinda the anti-Lois Lane (or maybe the Bizarro Lois Lane, if one wants to stick with the Superman motif). Because despite all the superficial evidence to the contrary, she can’t help but recognize Pete’s true nature. Clearly, Gwen’s got a lot on the ball. She’s very perceptive and a great judge of character.
I also discussed some of the more neglected aspects of the Gwen character, particularly her scientific background:
This is the one aspect of Gwen’s background that was criminally underserved. Even today, you don’t see a lot of female scientists in entertainment media—had they played up this aspect of Gwen’s character more, it would have been extraordinarily forward thinking. Plus, if she’s the girlfriend of Peter Parker, who’s also majoring in science and a genius, then Gwen’s got to be a pretty smart cookie just to hold up her end of the scientific conversation, right? Maybe she’s even smarter than Pete. We don’t really know, because aside from a few panels where it’s briefly mentioned, we never really see Gwen exploring her interests in the sciences.
This all contributes to my fascination with the character and the missed opportunities she represents.
Another reason Gwen springs to mind this time of year is the 2002 limited series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Spider-Man: Blue. This six-issue series covers (most) of the events of ASM 40-49, filling in a lot of background material regarding the Pete-Gwen relationship, with the final issue ending on Valentine’s Day and Pete and Gwen making it official.
This was a fun series; one that served as a terrific love letter to the classic Lee-Romita Spidey years. Unlike some of the other Loeb-Sale collaborations, this one also had some more meat to it—as opposed to, say, Long Halloween, which had many issues that could be read in under three minutes, this effort offers a bit more for the reader to chew on. Unfortunately, its one fatal flaw is that none of that meat is devoted to the development of Gwen herself. There’s just one scene that hints at her knowledge and passion for science, in the second issue.
Outside of this, nothing new is explored with Gwen’s character. It’s something of a mystery to me how no creator has attempted to dive into these waters in the decades since the character was killed off. Ditto Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy, who makes no appearance of any kind in this series.
Speaking of whom… a couple of years prior to Blue, there was another limited series titled Spider-Man: Death & Destiny by Lee Weeks. This one had a similar flashback premise, taking us to the aftermath of Captain Stacy’s death in ASM #90. Again, an entertaining series… but yet again, it steers clear of exploring Gwen in any real depth. Pete actually plays the heel in the first two issues, ducking Gwen because the guilt he feels over Captain Stacy’s death is too unbearable. In fact, the two exchange words in just two panels in the first two issues. Finally, by the third (and last) issue of the series, they have a slightly more extended conversation, but it doesn’t amount to very much before Pete ditches her again (this time to play superhero).
It’s almost as if no one knows what to do with Gwen. Perhaps all that unexplored territory, and the vast potential the character holds, is intimidating. Or maybe the fact that she’s become such an iconic figure of Spidey lore in the wake of her death is what makes her too intimidating for writers to approach.
And maybe it’s better this way; I don’t know. Maybe it’s better she remain untouched than to be messed with. This way all that potential remains, and with it the hope that someday it may all still be realized. It’s the same kind of hope that love offers.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all.