Welcome to the four hundred and sixty-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and sixty-eight. This week, it’s a special theme week! All legends revolving around the classic Spider-Man story “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”! Was a DIFFERENT Spider-Man cast member originally going to take Gwen’s place and be killed? Was Gwen killed off behind Stan Lee’s back while he was on a trip to Europe? Did Stan Lee make the famous George Washington Bridge/Brooklyn Bridge mistake?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Aunt May was the original victim of the Green Goblin’s rampage.
STATUS: Basically True
Amazing Spider-Man #121 came out at a very interesting point in Marvel history. Stan Lee had given up the Editor-in-Chief position to Roy Thomas in 1972 and had become the publisher of Marvel Comics. At the same time, Lee had pulled back on the writing reins on the last two titles that he tried to avoid dropping – Marvel’s spotlight titles, Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man (he had taken breaks on the books very recently, but then had returned). The assignment of writing Amazing Spider-Man passed to Gerry Conway, who was not even 20 years old at the time (Roy Thomas had written the book during Lee’s first temporary break). By the time #121 came around, Conway was 20 years old and all alone as the writer of one of Marvel’s most popular titles.
Conway was clearly a disciple of Stan Lee and just like how Lee valued the input of his artists when it came to plotting the comics, so, too, did Conway. So John Romita was a big part of Conway’s early Spider-Man run, even if time constraints often prevented ROmita from actually penciling the finished comic after he plotted it. Romita joked to Tom Spurgeon in an amazing interview Spurgeon did with him back in 2002 (check it out here – it’s great. Tom Spurgeon is so awesome) that Gil Kane always ended up with the plum assignments because Romita would be needed all over the rest of Marvel (when Lee became publisher, Thomas inherited Lee’s Editor-in-Chief job but Romita inherited Lee’s Art Director job) and so Kane would step in an pencil a story that Romita has plotted with the book’s writer.
So Lee had now officially left Amazing Spider-Man. It is now all Gerry Conway’s to work with. This is a time when you want to let readers know that they should stick around, so coming up with a major plot twist would be a good idea. Roy Thomas then came up with the idea (I am not sure if he came up with it WITH Conway or by himself) of having Spider-Man’s nemesis the Green Goblin return and kill a beloved member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast…
Originally, it was Aunt May!
After a discussion between Conway and John Romita, though, they determined that it would be Gwen Stacy that would be killed instead.
And so it was Gwen Stacy who was Green Goblin’s victim in Amazing Spider-Man #121, an issue whose title was hidden until the very end of the book…
By the way, I feel out of place doing a “Death of Gwen Stacy” themed Comic Book Legends Revealed without pointing to one of my earliest Comic Book Legends Revealeds, which was about who, exactly, added the “Snap” to Gwen Stacy’s death.
You can read that one here.
Thanks to Conway, Romita and Dan Johnson for the information!
Check out the latest TV Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Fox nearly adapt The Da Vinci Code for the third season of 24?
On the next page, was Gwen Stacy killed off without Stan Lee’s knowledge?
COMIC LEGEND: Gwen Stacy was killed off without Stan Lee’s knowledge.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
As noted, by 1972 Stan Lee was now the publisher of Marvel Comics and as a result, he had very little day-to-day involvement in the production of Marvel Comics. However, for years he continued to play a general role in the production of Marvel Comics. I’ve written twice, for instance, of examples of Marvel staffers misinterpreting Stan Lee “edicts” about Iron Man’s nose and about Marvel covers not being green. However, while those stories revolve around the notion that people misinterpreted Lee, they still point to the fact that he was still connected with the running of Marvel Comcis well into the late 1970s. He just had other main priorities.
So this brings us to the death of Gwen Stacy. In an interview with Leonard Pitts Jr. at some time in the 1980s (it is credited in Stan Lee Conversations as being in 1981, but that’s clearly not the case as it cites comics that came out after 1981 in it, like Roger Stern’s “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” from 1983):
I never would have killed Gwen Stacy in the first place. When I gave up the strip, he (Gerry Conway) said, “How should I write it?” I said, “You’re the writer now, do whatever you want.” I don’t feel it’s right to try to control something if I’m not there anymore. I had to go Europe for a while. When I came back, I found out that she had been killed. I said, “Sheesh! I didn’t mean kill off all of my characters.” But it was done. It was irrevocable.
This echoes Lee’s statements to fans during the 1970s, as well, when Gwen’s death set off quite a fan outrage.
Both Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, though, are adamant that Lee was informed of Gwen’s death before it happened.
In Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Conway recalls:
He was okay with it to the extent that Stan paid attention to anything. At that time he was primarily interested in expanding the line, asserting his authority as publisher to the higher-ups that owned Marvel, and promoting his own brand and his own career. Once he stopped wtiting a given comic he stopped thinking about it. And so when he stopped writing Spider-Man, even though he had a propriety interest in it, really, it was “Yeah, whatever you want to do.”
And Thomas notes:
The idea that the three of us together [Thomas, Conway and Romita – BC], or even separately, would have tried to sneak in the death of Gwen Stacy without Stan approving it is just so absurd. Besides, he was never out of town that long.
Conway followed by also mentioning that he was very traumatized by the lack of support he felt he got from Lee when the fans went nuts over the story.
Romita has also commented on the matter, just making a general comment about Lee’s memory not being great.
I think it is pretty reasonable to believe that Thomas and Conway are correct and that Lee did approve of the story. However, it is also very possible that Lee honestly did not care that much and possibly legitimately didn’t recall approving it, as he didn’t think it would become as big of a deal as it did.
Thanks to Sean Howe, Leonard Pitts, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas for the information!
On the next page, did Stan Lee mix up the Brooklyn Bridge with the George Washington Bridge in Amazing Spider-Man #121?
COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee made the mistake of mixing up the George Washington Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge in Amazing Spider-Man #121.
One of the most amusing things about the death of Gwen Stacy is that the bridge she is killed on is the following…
Which is, of course, this bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge…
and not this bridge, the George Washington Bridge…
In the COMIC, though, it is said…
In a 2004 interview with the Travel Channel, Lee admitted that it was his mistake and that he wrote the wrong caption. Obviously, this is a mistake on a variety of levels, as you can see from the above panel, the bridge is specifically referenced in the dialogue, not just an errant caption. But, more importantly, Lee was not the editor on the issue, Roy Thomas was.
At least Lee is consistent in his bad memory, though, as he’s taking credit for MISTAKES he didn’t make even!