RETRO REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man #144

The Amazing Spider-Man #144
Written by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru
Inks by Frank Giacoia, Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Published by Marvel Comics

Sadly, there could arrive a point in time when somebody who’s extremely close to you, someone who you love so deeply and care about, is lost. You can never truly be prepared for the unfortunate passing of a loved one…a person who means the world to you. It’s just something you don’t even want to think about or experience. You make every effort to put away such thoughts into the furthest part of your mind, simply because you cannot picture, or even consider, the possibility of living out the rest of your days unless that special person, who you love unconditionally, is a part of it.

The mid-1970’s was a very tumultuous era for the Amazing Spider-Man. In 1973, he had suffered one of the greatest losses of his life – the death of Gwen Stacy. Gwen’s demise, which resulted from a battle between Spider-Man and the original Green Goblin, sparked massive changes within the Amazing Spider-Man comic books.

After Gwen’s fatal fall in issue #121 of the Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker became inconsolable and emotionally unstable. He had a very difficult time trying to adjust being around his closest friends, even though they constantly tried to offer Peter some solace. Peter felt very much alone and he couldn’t stop thinking about Gwen and everything that she meant to him. How could Peter Parker explain to anyone that he was present for Gwen’s final moments? That she was a casualty of a clash between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin? He couldn’t. Nevertheless, he continued his life as a crime fighter while grieving for Gwen. His rage after her loss caused him to be reckless and he posed a danger to not only his enemies, but to himself.

Peter wasn’t the only character that changed. Mary Jane Watson, who shared a deep friendship with Gwen, turned from being a wild party girl into a much more mature and sympathetic woman. Harry Osborn, Peter’s closest friend, began a journey into insanity, eventually following in his father’s footsteps by becoming the second Green Goblin. The Jackal, whom we later learn was Peter’s college professor, Miles Warren, embarked on a mission to destroy Spider-Man by whatever means necessary.

The Jackal proved himself to be a very formidable opponent. He learned that Spider-Man was Peter Parker in disguise and despised him for it because he held the web-slinger accountable for the death of Gwen Stacy, whom he was secretly enamored with. The Jackal’s intentions were purely wicked and it had no limit. He toiled night and day, seeking a form of revenge against Spider-Man that would leave him utterly satisfied. The Jackal was a conniving opponent, attacking Peter on several occasions through the careful manipulation of several of Spider-Man’s enemies.

Let’s explore one example of Professor Miles Warren’s handiwork shall we?

In the Amazing Spider-Man #142, twenty-one issues after the death of Gwen Stacy, Peter is bewildered when he sees what appears to be his girlfriend, alive and well.

Peter doubts his own sanity, but he chalks up this situation as a residual effect from his recent battle with his longtime enemy, Mysterio. What he can’t deny is the fact that he still cannot accept Gwen’s death. Her passing is proving to be a battle that he’s desperately trying to win, a battle the he knows he can’t possibly overcome.

In Amazing Spider-Man #144, Spidey is in Paris, tracking down the villain Cyclone who had kidnapped Daily Bugle Publisher, J. Jonah Jameson, and his City Editor, Joe Robertson. While the wall-crawler was in France looking for his employers, back home in New York City, Anna Watson and May Parker discuss how happy they are that Peter and Mary Jane seem to finally be “putting things together” and taking a step in the right direction since Gwen’s death. Life goes on so they say, but no sooner than they recall and discuss Gwen’s death, poor Aunt May is shocked and collapses right after we are shown this image…

Spider-Man finds Cyclone and defeats him, successfully rescuing J. Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson. When Peter returns to NYC, he learns from Anna Watson that his aunt has been hospitalized. Anna tries to explain to Peter the circumstances that led to Aunt May’s condition, but she can’t find the right words, so instead, she urges Peter to go to his apartment for what would turn out to be a visual explanation…

Ironically, the writer who scripted the Night Gwen Stacy Died story in ASM #121, Gerry Conway, who was in favor of getting rid of Gwen Stacy, was the same writer who re-introduced the Gwen Stacy character to comic book fans just a couple of years after her death. With ASM #144, it was like pouring salt over an open wound, not only for Peter Parker, but for readership as well. It wasn’t until later on in the Spidey mythos that we would learn that the Jackal was able to create a near perfect duplicate, or clone of Gwen, with the intent of using her as bait to annihilate Spider-Man.

Gwen’s death in ASM #121 initiated a ripple effect that transcended the comic book pages, impacting pop culture in a new and different way. Readers at the time were not accustomed to observing characters of importance, especially one with a large fan base, meeting such a dire and sudden end. Seeing Spider-Man, one of the most popular characters of all-time, fail in such a miserable way, was a very tough pill to swallow. Peter Parker’s relationship with Gwen was certainly strong enough to carry them all the way to the altar. However, Marvel felt that any further progression between Peter and Gwen, would make the Spider-Man stories less dramatic, mature the characters too quickly and diminish the appeal for a younger audience. So, a solution was devised. Kill Gwen. The idea to eliminate Gwen was not solely Gerry Conway’s idea. John Romita, Sr. first suggested the idea and Roy Thomas ok’d it.

So, that in a nutshell, that covers the “why” Gwen was killed, as well as the “who” killed her. Then there’s the “what if” question. What if the original Gwen had returned? What if she had survived that Spider-Man/Green Goblin battle? An early attempt at answering the question, would be to read What If? Vol. 1 #24 – What if Gwen Stacy had lived? GREAT story, which was written by Tony Isabella and beautifully drawn by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia.

That’s just one example of how ASM #144 would not be the first, nor the last time, readers would experience a dramatic re-introduction or appearance of a Gwen Stacy clone, or a Gwen Stacy from an alternate reality. ASM#144 helped pave the way for more “Gwen’s” in future storylines.

How many more Gwen’s will we see exactly? Who knows? Maybe that could be the grounds for another What If? one-shot or multi-issue crossover event titled “The Crisis of Multiple Gwen’s”.

Until next time Crusaders!

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