Aug 10, 2020

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #121

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Every Monday and Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

by Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Romita, and Jim Mooney

The Green Goblin returns, and wait, does something big happen in this issue?


BEN: Villain appearance count:

  • Doctor Octopus: 15
  • The Kingpin: 12
  • Green Goblin: 12
  • Kraven the Hunter: 8
  • The Vulture: 7
  • The Lizard: 7
  • Mysterio: 6
  • Professor Smythe/Spider Slayer: 6
  • Sandman: 4
  • Hammerhead: 3
  • Electro: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • The Rhino: 3
  • Man Mountain Marko: 3
  • Silvermane: 3
  • The Chameleon: 3
  • The Schemer/Richard Fisk: 3
  • The Ringmaster: 2
  • Scorpion: 2
  • Molten Man: 2
  • Shocker: 2
  • The Beetle: 2
  • Morbius: 2
  • The Gibbon: 2

DUY: This comic is considered by many to be the end of the “Silver Age” of comics. That's a designator assigned to an era of comics beginning with Showcase #4 and the recreation of The Flash as Barry Allen. DC went on to revamp many of their old characters, followed by the creation of the Marvel universe by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. It was a time period of great creativity, in terms of story content and character creation.

BEN: By the time of Amazing Spider-Man #121, Marvel was fully in the hands of its second generation of writers and editors. Stan was focused on Marvel television and movie projects, so the last of the big creative names of the Silver Age of Marvel had moved on. What happens here provides a clear delineation point for the Silver Age. A more poetic person might call it the death of innocence in comics, heralding a darker era to come.

DUY: Wait, what happens here?

BEN: Fun fact: this is my favorite comic book of all time.


BEN: Let’s get right into it with one of the most famous comic pages ever created.

DUY: I want to point out I rag on Kane a lot, but this issue and the next look great. Maybe because Romita was inking?

BEN: Thankfully I think Romita assumed these would be important issues and put his touch all over them.

DUY: There's no way to read all these in one go and think this was mostly Kane.


BEN:  In this day and age most people wouldn’t label Harry as weak for his mental illness. Some people still would, so maybe it’s aged well. Regardless, it’s a lot less annoying than whining about the whereabouts of your aunt all day every day.

DUY: I dunno, that still sounds like something Peter Parker would say. He's not particularly sensitive.

BEN: Gwen and Peter’s last interaction:

DUY: Gwen is clearly the patient zero of Women in Refrigerators.

BEN: Gwen's last thoughts, worrying about her friends:

DUY: Are you saying Gwen deserved a better sendoff?

BEN: That is exactly what I'm saying.


BEN: There was some controversy over the exact bridge they were on:

DUY: There are reprints that change the wording to "The Brooklyn Bridge." It's drawn as The Brooklyn Bridge, but it's called The George Washington Bridge. This is not a problem for anyone who's never been to New York.


BEN: The last three pages are the real answer, so I’m just going to highlight this single panel of art:

DUY: I have always liked this, and thought that this deserved more space on the page than it got:


BEN: Without question, the Green Goblin.

DUY: Or Gerry Conway.

BEN: An argument could be made for Gwen Stacy's forever unassailable memory, but no. It's the Green Goblin. He went from a fading contender for Spider-Man’s top villain, to the most notorious villain in comics.


BEN: Gerry Conway (taken from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe):
“She was a nonentity, a pretty face,” he said. “She brought nothing to the mix. It made no sense to me that Peter Parker would end up with a babe like that who had no problems. Only a damaged person would end up with a damaged guy like Peter Parker. And Gwen Stacy was perfect! It was basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy. Stan married a woman who was pretty much a babe—Joan Lee was a very attractive blond who was obviously Stan’s ideal female. And I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife, just like Sue Storm was a replication of his wife. And that’s where his blind spot was. The amazing thing was that he created a character like Mary Jane Watson, who was probably the most interesting female character in comics, and he never used her to the extent that he could have. Instead of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, he made her Peter Parker’s best friend’s girlfriend. Which is so wrong, and so stupid, and such a waste. So killing Gwen was a totally logical if not inevitable choice.”
DUY: He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but I seriously don't see where he's coming from. Gwen had a lot of flaws. We spent a whole streak of her appearances counting down how much she cried, sometimes over nothing. Her first appearances under Ditko had more of a bite and more of an edge than Mary Jane did. And I don't know where "Mary Jane was probably the most interesting female character in comics" when her entire role had been to come in and out and not give you enough to really latch onto. What exactly was interesting about Mary Jane at this point? Gwen was smarter than her, Gwen out-danced her, Peter clearly preferred her. I've seen the argument that all that was an agenda by Stan to get us to accept Gwen. But with that logic, wasn't all this an agenda by Gerry to get us to love the character he preferred? Not to mention, MJ will change, almost immediately, under Gerry Conway, that she will no longer even be the character she was in the previous 70 issues.

BEN: The only thing I can say is that Gwen seemed like a drag because of the crying and Mary Jane was comparatively problem and worry free. But wouldn’t that make Mary Jane the more perfect character? Regardless, I’m giving Gerry a pass. He was 20 years old when he wrote this, and by all accounts was hated by the fans as a result. Combine that with 40 years of being asked the same questions, and I can understand why he might hate Gwen at this point.

DUY: I'm willing to give Stan a pass, because I'm willing to bet at that point he had too much on his plate.

BEN: Because of the backlash, there’s been a lot of denial about who exactly decided what when it comes to the death. But by most accounts Gerry originally pitched May to die, Romita argued against it, they decided on Gwen, and got the okay from Stan. Stan immediately denied it after.

DUY: Let's all be fair. Any woman would go nuts if they were dating Peter Parker without knowing he's Spider-Man.

BEN: Gwen’s hatred of Spider-Man is considered a character flaw by her detractors, and often used as evidence that she never would have accepted Peter’s double-life even if she knew the truth. This is an instance where the tendency of fans to treat fictional characters as if they were real people doesn’t work. It was necessary for Gwen to hate Spider-Man because otherwise it had gotten to the point that Peter would tell her his secret, and Stan wasn’t going to break secret identity conventions at that time. So it’s not a character flaw, she was a victim of the storytelling conventions of the time. Besides, What If #24 is an indication that she would have been able to accept it, had she known. So, considering that her father has recently died, her boyfriend is constantly lying to her and disappearing, and she’s frequently caught in the middle of superhuman conflicts for no reason she can determine, to criticize Gwen for not being the “most stable” is not only unfair it’s a bit sexist.  You know who isn’t stable? Peter Parker!

DUY: Peter Parker is the worst. I love him. But he's the worst.

BEN: This places Gerry Conway high on the list of all-time Spider-Man writers though.

DUY: Should we hold a draft for that, the same way we did with the Top 12 Spider-Man Artists?

BEN: On the new The Comics Cube YouTube channel that people should totally subscribe to?

DUY: Yeah, how about tomorrow?

BEN: Great, 8AM Eastern time.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama today.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. And be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel! Did you catch our 10 Greatest Spider-Man Artists of All Time? Go watch it! See you back here on Wednesday!

1 comment:

Arthur S. said...

Gwen's early characterization under Ditko was interesting (in a proto-Emma Frost way, Grant Morrison's Emma Frost that is) but that characterization had no potential for a relationship even if she maintained it under Lee-Romita's run. In the entire run of Stan Lee, there was never any reality to the romance with Gwen. She and Peter aren't shown going on dates. They aren't shown having the romantic banter and dynamic you see with Peter and Mary Jane, and later Peter and Felicia. She also came off multiple times as a class snob. Her flirtation with extreme right wing politics in the two part Bullitt issue did no favors, nor did her bullying of Aunt May. So she indeed came off as very unlikable.

Gerry Conway said in a 2016 Podcast Interview At Spider-Man Crawlspace (near the very end, last 10 minutes) that had there been no plan to kill off a character, or Gwen had been rejected...he would have found some way to break up Peter and Gwen anyway. I think that might have been better because that relationship was a dead end. If Peter and Gwen broke up, Gwen left the titles until returning later under another writer's pen to fix her up better, that might work. On the other hand considering what happened to Karen Page, another blonde Silver Age girlfriend who was written out of Daredevil only to appear later in Frank Miller's Born Again in a totally different manner...that might not be for the best either.

To be honest, I think ASM#121 is not a very good issue. The plot is too sudden and random, and Gwen's death has no real tragedy to it. Goblin kills her because he just ran into her. And the denouement of the climax is clunky and stupid. Conway said when he wrote the story he intended the fall to kill her but then added a sound effect when he got back the art to do the dialogue and other effects (because even if Conway gave a detailed script, much more than Lee did, it was still done Marvel style). Spider-Man's webbings caught many falling before and after this story and no necks were snapped. And obviously the story still treats Goblin as Gwen's killer. It's comics' equivalent of "Deckard is Replicant" in that sense.

But ASM#122 though is a masterpiece. And Peter Parker is legitimately scary there, and his rampage in that anticipates Frank Castle (soon to be created issues later).

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