Welcome to the five hundred and thirty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to update it in a while). This week, just who decided to kill Gwen Stacy, anyways? Plus, did Gene Day sell a Star Wars portfolio of prints before getting permission from Lucasfilm? And how did Green Arrow become Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves?
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: Gerry Conway came up with the idea to kill Gwen Stacy.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Last year, I wrote about Amazing Spider-Man #121 and how Roy Thomas (presumably working with Gerry Conway) came up with the idea to kill off a member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast in Amazing Spider-Man #121…
And how the original person to be killed was Aunt May, but after a talk between John Romita and Gerry Conway, the target shifted to Gwen Stacy.
Longtime blog pal Keith Alan Morgan wrote in to ask which one actually made the call – was it Romita or was it Conway? Keith always thought it was Romita, but he noted that a friend had told him that Conway was now taking the credit/blame for it. A couple of years ago, in a CBR SDCC spotlight on Conway by Travis Fischer, the writer noted:
“When I first came onto ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ I was about 19 years old and John Romita was the artist on the book and had been for about six years. John was the old pro that we looked to for guidance and John wanted to kill off a major character to create some interest,” Conway said. “John’s first thought was ‘Let’s kill off Aunt May,’ and my reaction to that was, ‘Aunt May has been dying for ten years and her dying would probably not be that much of a surprise.'”
Conway, who saw an opportunity to pair Peter up with Mary Jane Watson, which he saw as a better match, suggested that Gwen be killed off instead.
Romita, for his part, has always said the opposite, that it was HE who suggested Gwen.
These ones are tough, when you’re basically having to choose between two opposing takes. However, I am willing to go with Romita’s for two reasons.
He’s been consistent for decades saying it was his idea. Conway has not always claimed that it was HIS idea.
More importantly, they were interviewed together by Dan Johnson in Back Issue #18:
Dan Johnson: Before we discuss the death of the Green Goblin, I think we have to first touch on the death of Gwen Stacy. How did the decision come about to kill these characters off?
Gerry Conway: [Killing Gwen and then the Green Goblin] were two separate decisions. As I remember, John, I think it was originally your idea to kill Gwen Stacy…
John Romita: Well, we had decided we were going to kill somebody. The original thought that was brought to us was that Aunt May would die. I remember telling Gerry that Aunt May was too important to Peter’s secret identity for us to kill her. I know she was a pain in the neck to a lot of readers, but she was a good foil and as long as Aunt May was around, Peter was going to be a kid. I suggested that if we were going to kill somebody, it should be Gwen or Mary Jane. [This was] based on Milton Caniff’s trick. Caniff used to take very important female characters in Terry and the Pirates and knock them off regularly every four or five years. As a young kid, I was very much into Terry and the Pirates and I remember when Pat Ryan, who was the main hero, lost his girlfriend, there were people on the street the next day talking about how Raven Sherman had died. I thought, “This can’t be! I thought I was the only guy who thought of these characters as real people!” It stuck in my mind that if you’re going to kill somebody, kill somebody very important, make it a real shock.
CONWAY: Make it count.
ROMITA: That was the only suggestion I made to Gerry when we were plotting this. I thought if somebody was going to die, it should be Gwen. I thought she was so important, [the readers] imagined she would never die. I think it bears out, because 35 years later we’re still talking about it!
With that in mind, I feel fairly safe going with Romita, although obviously only the people who were there will know for absolute certain.
Thanks to Keith for the question and thanks to Travis Fischer, Dan Johnson, John Romita and Gerry Conway for the information!
Check out some entertainment and sports legends from this week at Legends Revealed:
What Rule Change Kept Famed Pulp Novelist Zane Grey From Ever Playing Professional Baseball?
On the next page, how was Green Arrow turned into Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves?
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