Friday, August 18, 2017

Take A Number, Gentlemen--Gwen Stacy Is On The Prowl!

To this day, the character of Gwen Stacy remains a fixture in classic comics lore, while also becoming familiar to new fans of Spider-Man through the revolving door of film reboots for the web-spinner. I shook my head sadly at seeing how Gwen had fared in Marvel's current line of inexplicable comics titles; I imagine some day she'll show up as the new Thor, or the new Galactus, or the new Dr. Doom.

I've been giving Gwen some thought ever since I recently pulled out and dusted off my copy of the issue of Amazing Spider-Man where the character met her end in 1973, a story that I hadn't re-read in its entirety for decades--and it occurred to me that, after all this time, I had never looked at the story featuring Gwen's first appearance. With Gwen having undergone a steady change in character once she began competing for Peter Parker's attention with Mary Jane Watson, her beginnings are quite an eye-opener.

As originally presented by artist Steve Ditko, Gwen comes across as a more sophisticated character than the daughter of a police captain who later becomes the perfect girlfriend for Peter and began worrying about this or that while shedding her share of tears. In this earlier story, she's practically the center of attention, shoving the wide-eyed antics of Betty Brant and Liz Allen off to the side for the time being while becoming the focus of just about every scene.

But she's not the center of everyone's attention, a development that both infuriates and intrigues her. The story is a new direction for the character of Peter Parker--his first day of college, as he begins his life as a scholarship student at Empire State University; and there are other tidbits that were interesting for me to stumble across as someone reading these events for the first time. This story would also mark the first appearance of Harry Osborn, who attended high school with Gwen (Standard High, which is as generic sounding as Peter's own Midtown High)--and the two immediately meet and become friends with fellow new student Flash Thompson. It's a bit disappointing to see another trinity of annoyance for Peter in this new venue of academia. We know that Harry and Peter would later become friends and even roommates, but at this point in time Harry takes an instant dislike to Peter and proceeds to join with Flash in mutual disdain of him, pulling pranks on Peter and instigating trouble for him; while Gwen takes Liz's place as a part of their little group and goes along with their shenanigans while having a measure of sympathy and slight attraction to Peter.  "The more things change...", etc.

As for Peter, Lee has him becoming persona non grata almost overnight with the other students at ESU, since he's preoccupied with his Aunt May's failing health and is constantly (albeit unintentionally) ignorant of anyone's attempts to socialize with him. Gwen, who Lee has already made it clear enjoyed high status at her former school*, is definitely put off by Peter's apparent disinterest in her, despite her best efforts to get to know him, so it's no surprise to see her fall in with Harry and Flash. At first, though, she's clearly drawn to him.

*No doubt college demanded something of a similar adjustment for many ex-high schoolers who suddenly found that, despite their former popularity, they were now a small fish in a much bigger pond. Flash Thompson, whose ego was sustained by his new status as a college football player, may have been the exception.

Gwen may at times come off as being a little "on the prowl" in this story, though thus far that aspect of her personality has been kept in check by the challenge she sees Peter to be, as well as her willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt. But she walks a fine line in that respect as long as she keeps company with Harry and his growing circle of enablers who have misinterpreted Peter's attitude.

To Gwen's credit, she gives her first impression of Peter every chance to pan out, when others might have dropped him as a lost cause:

...but finally, her true colors are revealed in full regalia when she's shot down once again (or so it seems to her)--and the difference between the Gwen Stacy of 1965 and the young woman whose life ended in 1973 seems like night and day.

The outraged woman we see here has a reputation to protect--furious over an insult to her vanity that cannot be allowed to stand. Meet the love of Peter Parker's life, ladies and gentlemen.


(Though given what we've just seen, it's probably Peter who should watch his back!)


Jared said...

It is amazing that all this happens in the background of the greatest Spider-Man story of all time. The Master Planner Saga is Ditko's greatest moment in my mind. I have always found it odd that this arc introduced Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy right before Ditko left the book.

Even here, Gwen always stands out as the strongest 60s Marvel female character. She definitely rises above contemporary supporting characters like Betty Banner, Karen Page, and Pepper Potts. I also think she is generally better written than the 60s versions of Jean Grey and Sue Storm.

Comicsfan said...

Jared, I definitely think Doc Ock's little foray as the Master Planner, which Miss Stacy did her best to elbow to the side, deserves a little more attention. It should find its way into a PPoC review in the near future. (If a certain blonde doesn't mind, that is!)

Warren JB said...

"To this day, the character of Gwen Stacy remains a fixture in classic comics lore, while also becoming familiar to new fans of Spider-Man through the revolving door of film reboots for the web-spinner."

I've thought about this a few times, recently. Not to cast aspersions on the age of anyone's childhood media (especially since I notice how creaky mine is becoming, more and more) but Peter Parker was off to college in 1965, three years after his debut, and Gwen Stacey died in 1973. Yet the main achievement of the 21st century film reboots seems to be to keep Peter as a perpetual 15-16 year old kid - and resurrect some facsimile of Gwen in a way that grumpy professor in the featured issue would envy.

I mean, sure, he's been a perpetual twenty-something married to Mary-Jane for longer; but that's kind of my point. I might be overlooking the sheer iconic...ness of early, Ditko-era Spidey (I've been reading some fairly heavy interpretations and opinions of it, here and elsewhere) and the Romita years after, but in the cinema, I kind of miss the Spider-Man that I'm more used to.

Talking about Steve Ditko and John Romita, that's quite a different Gwen Stacey to the one I've caught glimpses of, being thrown from bridges! I wonder how abrupt the change of drawing styles was.

Comicsfan said...

Warren, at first, when Maguire was playing the part of Spider-Man, it seemed as if they were planning on having Peter Parker grow into his adulthood and develop the life that eventually evolved for him in the comic. My guess is that they came to the same conclusion as those behind the "Brand New Day" reset--that the character of Spider-Man would leave behind the more youthful fans who identified with/idolized him as this kid who got these great powers and thought they were the coolest thing in the world. In addition, the problem I think they're running into is that, unlike stage actress Margo Channing, for whom Lloyd Richards wrote parts that were too young for her to keep playing and confidently assured her that "Margo, you haven't got any age!", actors, unlike the teenagers they play in a continuing series, aren't frozen in time like their characters can be in a script. We're on, what, our third Spider-Man actor? Will he be retained until he no longer looks or sounds realistic to play the cool kid who still thinks his powers rock--or will the character's life evolve over the span of his films? For an actor, who probably likes a steady paying gig but wants to move on after a few years in the same part, the part of Spider-Man must be ideal--which no doubt works out for Sony/Disney's apparent wish to keep the character fresh and in school ad infinitum.

As for Gwen, if memory serves, her facial look and overall style took a bit of a turn following Flash's going-away party, when she and Peter started dating. Thank goodness she never strayed far from those hairbands, though (he said sarcastically).

Iain said...

Peter's the only boy she's met that hasn't given her a tumble? Does that mean she's already slept with Flash and Harry and most of the eligible males in college or am I reading too much into that tumble line. If so my respect for Gwen just plummeted.

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