I must declare that the issue of Marvel UK's Super Spider-Man that reprinted The Amazing Spider-Man #121 failed to be stocked by my local newsagent.
Was he trying to spare his readership the soul-shattering horror of it all? Or was it just the delivery van having broken down?
Perhaps we shall never know but it does mean I only joined the two-parter for its second half, reprinted from The Amazing Spider-Man #122.
Fortunately, the world sometimes being a wonderful place, years later I finally got to read the first part of the tale.
So, with The Amazing Spider-Man hitting our cinema screens even as I speak and the internet abuzz with talk of Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy, it's time to do the decent thing and gawp at her death.
I do of course mean Gwen Stacy's death, not Emma Stone's. Emma Stone is alive and well and will no doubt be back to play both Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson in future instalments.
Gwen Stacy's death happens in Amazing Spider-Man #121 and it all kicks off with Norman Osborn fretting over the illness of his son Harry who's back on the drugs. Not only that but Norman's business is threatening to fail and he has a doctor who looks exactly like Bullit from Amazing Spider-Man #91.
Faced with such dilemmas, Osborn reacts as anyone normal would. He dresses up as a goblin and flies around on a metal bat, out to kill his son's best friend.
Arriving at Peter Parker's apartment, he finds not Spider-Man but Gwen Stacy and kidnaps her, setting up a confrontation with our hero on a George Washington bridge that looks remarkably like the Hudson Bridge.
In the ensuing fight, the Goblin knocks Gwen from the top of the bridge and, despite Spider-Man thinking he's saved her from guaranteed death, it turns out he hasn't.
Its certainly not a tale short of incident. Nor is it short of intensity, as we get the drama of Harry's drug relapse followed by Osborn's breakdown before topping it all with the shocking climax. Gil Kane's story-telling's as masterful as ever and Jazzy John Romita's inks help maintain the look the strip's had since Steve Ditko left way back in issue #38. We even have time for a little J Jonah Jameson amidst it all.
But, whatever else goes on in the tale, the talking point's inevitably its climax.
And it's here the tale's at its best and at its most frustrating. It's impossible to ignore the power and shock value of it all as Spider-Man thinks he's triumphantly saved Gwen, only to realise he's done nothing of the sort.
On the downside, it does get bizarrely ambiguous about how exactly she's died, suggesting no clear consensus between, writer, editor, letterer and artists as to how it's actually happened.
Gil Kane and John Romita's depiction of Gwen lying totally motionless throughout the fight suggests they may have intended her to be dead all along, killed by the Goblin before Spidey even reached the scene.
|Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy - alive and well.|
Then again, just one page later, writer Gerry Conway has the Goblin bafflingly declare, “Romantic idiot! She was dead before your webbing reached her! A fall from that height would kill anyone before they struck the ground!”
Leaving aside the fact that a fall from that height clearly wouldn't kill someone before they hit the ground, the declaration leaves the waters disappointingly muddy.
Personally I take the view that Gwen should've been revealed to have been dead all along; with the, “snap,” and the Goblin's bizarre claim being left out. I suspect though that others may disagree.
Whatever the truth of it, the death of Gwen Stacy sent a shock-wave through the world of comics and may have signalled the end of the Silver Age and the start of a grimmer Bronze Age.
In all honesty, despite this issue's many merits, I do prefer the second part of the tale - for its sheer intensity and Peter Parker's seething anger - but issue #121's certainly a more-than-capable set-up for that classic issue.