According to some comic book historians, Gwen’s death marked the end of the Silver Age and the first time that a hero had so dramatically failed outside of their origin story. Gwen’s death hung over Spider-Man for years before Peter Parker eventually moved on with his life alongside his new love, Mary Jane Watson.
Although the original Gwen we first knew has actually stayed dead for decades — a comics rarity — she has rarely been entirely gone from Peter’s life for very long, either as a clone or a doppelganger from an alternate world. And in recent years, in an odd quirk of fate, Spider-Gwen, a heroic variant from Earth-65, has proven to be far more popular than the original Gwen ever was. Now, thanks to Spider-Gwen’s starring role in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and its sequels, she’s become even more iconic.
With Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse here, we’re taking a look back at how Gwen Stacy went from one of the comic book industry’s most famous corpses to one of its most beloved heroines.
Considering the way that the films and animated series have depicted either Mary Jane or Gwen as Peter’s first love (or at least as a longtime school friend), it may be somewhat surprising to casual fans that, in the source material, neither of them actually knew Peter while he was in high school. Instead, Peter didn’t meet Gwen until Amazing Spider-Man #31 when he was already in college. Mary Jane actually made a cameo appearance a few issues earlier in #25, before she made her official first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #42.
With their hero maturing, Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko clearly set up Gwen to be Peter’s first real girlfriend following his pursuit of Betty Brant and Liz Allen when he was in high school. Unlike Betty or Liz, Gwen was also a science major and she was more of a kindred spirit for Peter. Gwen and Peter had a slow burn relationship, but ultimately they were together for a relatively long time at this point in their young lives. Gwen even became close friends with Mary Jane, while Gwen’s father, police captain George Stacy, treated Peter like a surrogate son.
George Stacy was fatally injured during a battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. Before he died, Captain Stacy told Peter that he knew he was Spider-Man and asked him to look after Gwen. Unfortunately for Peter, Gwen blamed Spider-Man for her father’s death and she had no idea that he was secretly her boyfriend. This created a major rift between them, and Gwen left for Europe to grieve. But it wasn’t long before Gwen reunited with Peter, and she even shared an adventure with him in the Savage Land while their relationship progressed.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Peter and Gwen were such an unshakable couple that it would have been almost impossible to break them up forever. Instead, writer Gerry Conway, and artists Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., and Tony Mortellaro came up with an even more unthinkable outcome: the death of Gwen at the hands of Peter’s nemesis, Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin.
In the landmark two-part story that unfolded in 1973’s Amazing Spider-Man #121–122, Norman’s son, Harry Osborn, relapsed into drug addiction and sent his father into an emotional spiral. Years earlier, Norman had forgotten that he was the Green Goblin, and aside from some occasional Goblin flare ups, he was essentially cured of being a villain. This time, Osborn really lost it and he became the Green Goblin once more. Osborn subsequently kidnapped Gwen from Peter’s apartment and lured Spider-Man into a fateful confrontation on top of the George Washington Bridge.
During the battle with Spider-Man, Green Goblin threw Gwen off of the bridge. Spidey successfully kept Gwen from falling into the water, but the sudden stop from her fall killed Gwen almost instantly. In his grief, Peter came very close to murdering Osborn before pulling himself back from the edge. Instead, Osborn accidentally impaled himself on his Goblin Glider and he was believed to be dead for several years.
In the aftermath of Gwen’s death, Peter and Mary Jane’s shared grief led them to eventually have a romance of their own. But Gwen’s fate loomed over them, especially when Gwen seemingly lived on after her demise.
Just over a year after Gwen’s death (in the real world at least), Peter caught a glimpse of Gwen’s clone in Amazing Spider-Man #141. But it wasn’t until #149 that Peter learned that this Gwen duplicate wasn’t a hallucination. Instead, it was revealed that Peter and Gwen’s college professor, Miles Warren, was secretly in love with and obsessed with Gwen. When Gwen died, Warren went crazy and adopted a super villain persona that he called the Jackal. He also cloned both Gwen and Peter.
After that initial battle, Peter believed that only Gwen’s clone had survived. She reappeared during The Evolutionary War storyline that attempted to retcon the specifics of the Gwen clone. At the time, it was believed that Warren hadn’t successfully cloned anyone. Instead, the Gwen Stacy clone was actually a young woman named Joyce Delaney who had been mutated into looking like Gwen, while sharing the mind and memories of a dead woman.
To no one’s surprise, this retcon was retconned yet again during the ‘90s Spider-Man Clone Saga storyline, which revealed that there was no Joyce Delaney and that the Gwen clone was exactly what she appeared to be and that Peter’s clone from the Jackal’s first attacks years before had also survived. For a while, Marvel even tried to convince readers that Peter’s clone, who had assumed the name Ben Reilly (another character now appearing in Across the Spider-Verse), was the real Spider-Man all along.
The Gwen Stacy clone emerged from seclusion and helped Peter and Ben defeat the Jackal before she once again retreated to a quiet life overseas. Yet in a cruel twist, the Gwen Stacy clone was murdered by Abby-L, who turned out to be the first actual clone of Gwen created by Warren – yes, there were a lot of clones at this point. Abby-L perished soon after, but she wasn’t the last clone of Gwen to ever appear.
Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man series reworked the classic stories in a modern setting starting in 2000. Just over a year later, they introduced the Ultimate Universe’s Gwen Stacy as the opposite of her previous good girl persona. Ultimate Gwen was a rebellious punk who even pulled a knife on a guy for daring to bully Peter. About the only thing that was the same was Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy, who tragically died and left Gwen without anyone to take care of her.
That’s why Peter and his Aunt May welcomed Gwen into their home, and he developed a more sister-like relationship with Gwen even after she learned he was Spider-Man. Like her mainstream counterpart, Gwen also became friendly with Mary Jane. Unfortunately for Mary Jane, that led to a front row seat for Gwen’s death at the hands of the Carnage symbiote, which seemingly drained the life from her body.
But this is comics, and death is rarely final in the realm of superheroes. In the case of Ultimate Gwen, she reappeared as a Carnage clone that had all of Gwen’s memories. And when the Carnage symbiote was separated from Gwen’s body, she was essentially alive again. The resurrected Gwen went on to have a brief romance with Peter before he died and inspired Miles Morales to become the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate Peter was eventually revived, but he resumed his romance with Mary Jane, not Gwen.
Long-time fans were keenly aware that Gwen was left out of the first three Spider-Man animated series in the 1960s and 1980s. And even the long-running Spider-Man: The Animated Seriesin the 90s gave the pivotal adaptation of Gwen’s death to Mary Jane, while making it explicitly clear that MJ survived her fall off of the bridge. Gwen didn’t actually make her animated debut until the final episode of the series. In this context, Gwen was engaged to be married to a Peter Parker from an alternate world, and she helped Spider-Man defeat his evil counterpart, Spider-Carnage.
Gwen had a much larger role in The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series that began in 2008, as a friend and classmate of Peter’s. She was even prominently featured in the opening credits. The show resisted the idea of pairing up Peter and Gwen as a couple while making sure the viewers knew that they had feelings for each other. However, Gwen ended up dating Harry Osborn while Peter was seeing Liz Allen, and the series came to a conclusion before Peter and Gwen could fully act on their feelings for each other. Regardless, this show was the first Spider-Man adaptation to fully give Gwen her due as a major character in Peter’s life, setting the stage for further adaptations to come.
Heart of Stone
Much like her animated counterpart, Gwen’s story was largely given to Mary Jane in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. That includes MJ’s nearly fatal encounter with the Green Goblin in the first film. Gwen didn’t make her live-action debut until Spider-Man 3 in 2007, with Bryce Dallas Howard portraying her as the lab partner of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). Gwen only briefly dated Peter in the film when he was influenced by the alien symbiote, and she felt regret for the way that she was used to make Peter’s ex, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), jealous.
When director Marc Webb rebooted the franchise in 2012, The Amazing Spider-Man cast Emma Stone as Gwen and Andrew Garfield as Peter, finally making Gwen a major part of the Spider-Man story in live-action. Stone and Garfield’s onscreen chemistry played into the burgeoning romance between Gwen and Peter, which was easily a highlight of the film. This version of Gwen wasn’t in the dark about Peter’s secret identity for long, and she was a scientific genius in her own right. That’s why Gwen was able to create the antidote for the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and she risked her life to make sure that it was completed.
Stone and Garfield returned for the sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which dealt with the emotional fallout from the death of Gwen’s father, George Stacy (Denis Leary), in the previous film. Despite Peter’s attempt to honor George’s wishes that he stay away from Gwen, he kept finding his way back to her. Gwen and Peter’s love was so strong that even her impending move to England couldn’t break them up. She even proved to be an invaluable ally to Peter in the fight against Electro (Jamie Foxx).
But like her comic book counterpart before her, Gwen perished during Peter’s battle with Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) when she fell from a great height and Spider-Man was unable to save her. As revealed in Spider-Man: No Way Home, this loss haunted Garfield’s version of Peter for years, adding extra emotion to the moment when he was able to save his counterpart’s girlfriend, Michelle Jones-Watson (Zendaya), from a similar fate.
The Amazing Spider-Gwen
Before there was a Spider-Verse movie, Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott conceived of a Spider-Verse comic book crossover that would unite several previously established Spider-Men and Spider-Women from across the multiverse with brand new incarnations as well. Slott also came up with the concept of Gwen Stacy as a Spider-Woman, which was more fully fleshed out and created by writer Jason Latour and artist Robbi Rodriguez in Edge of Spider-Verse #2 in 2014.
As envisioned by Latour and Rodriguez, Spider-Gwen came from a world where she was the one who was bitten by a radioactive spider. In turn, Gwen’s friend, Peter Parker, became the Lizard and she failed to save his life during their confrontation. That led Gwen to becoming the Spider-Woman of her world.
During the actual Spider-Verse crossover, Gwen learned that she was an outlier among Gwens, since most of the Spider-Men were Peter Parker and she was seemingly the only Gwen Stacy in the multiverse who had a heroic destiny. Gwen’s appearance in this story led to a major resurgence in popularity for the character, and even an ongoing Spider-Gwen series. Over the next few years, Gwen spent more and more time in the primary Marvel Universe and she adopted a new codename: Ghost-Spider. But it’s not as catchy as Spider-Gwen, which is still the name that fans use for her.
The Clone Conspiracy
Despite its divisive history, The Clone Saga is never really over for Spider-Man, and it resurfaced in a big way during a storyline called Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. In this storyline, the Jackal reemerged, turning out to be resurrected Ben Reilly in the role, not Miles Warren, with an audacious plan in place to resurrect almost everyone that Peter had ever lost since he became Spider-Man. That included the Gwen Stacy, whom the Jackal argued was more than a mere clone this time out. This new Gwen clone not only remembered her death, she also revealed that she learned that Peter was Spider-Man during his battle with the Green Goblin… and she felt betrayed by the revelation.
Gwen agreed to work with Ben and further his agenda, especially after he also returned her father, George Stacy, to life. To prevent Peter from making a similar deal, Spider-Gwen incapacitated her counterpart and briefly posed as the Gwen clone to undermine Ben’s plans. Unfortunately for this new Gwen clone and the other resurrected clones, their new lease on life was too good to be true. The clones were all vulnerable to the Carrion virus, which would eat away at them until they withered away into dust.
Before she succumbed to the virus, this Gwen reconciled with the real Peter and bravely fought clones of the Green Goblin, Hobgoblin, and Jack O’Lantern to give Spider-Man more time to find a cure for the other clones. This gave her a chance to go out fighting on her own terms, and earn a bit of redemption for siding with the Jackal in the first place.
Prior to appearing on the big screen, Spider-Gwen made her animated debut in Ultimate Spider-Man with Dove Cameron providing her voice. She appeared in the conclusion of the “Return to Spider-Verse” storyline which established that she lived in the same world that Miles Morales came from. This Gwen was also friends with the Peter Parker/Spider-Man of her world before he died, and she discovered Miles’ secret identity after he took up the mantle as the new Spider-Man. While Miles was trapped on Peter’s Earth, Gwen used technology to recreate Spider-Man’s powers, including a digital spider-sense, which allowed her to become the Spider-Woman of her world.
Spider-Gwen subsequently had a larger role in Marvel’s Spider-Man, with Laura Bailey taking over as Gwen’s voice for this animated series. In this continuity, Gwen was a brilliant student at Horizon High who was friends with Peter and a valuable ally to Spider-Man. One of the biggest changes for the show was Gwen’s uncle, Raymond Warren, who was secretly the Jackal. During one of Jackal’s attacks, Gwen and several other students were exposed to radioactive spiders which gave them powers. And while Gwen’s stint as a spider-powered heroine was short, she did briefly bond with a symbiote that mimicked her previous abilities and costume.
Cameron reprised her role as Spider-Gwen for Marvel Rising, a series of shorts that put the spotlight on female heroines and ultimately brought them together as a team called the Secret Warriors. But these shorts were unconnected to Cameron’s previous take on Spider-Gwen.
Big Screen Stardom
However, those two appearances were only a prelude for Spider-Gwen’s starring role in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Hailee Steinfeld provided Gwen’s voice, and her character was very close to her comic book counterpart in terms of her appearance and personality. Within this story, Gwen was drawn into the world of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) by a Super-Collider experiment that literally threw her into “last week,” which explained how she met Miles before the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) took his experiments to the next level.
Into the Spider-Verse made Gwen and Miles even more popular with the general public, and the two seemed to form a burgeoning relationship in the film. The final scene in the movie hinted at their reunion, which set the stage for the sequels Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.
Following the success of Into the Spider-Verse, the kid-friendly animated series Spidey and his Amazing Friends debuted, featuring Spider-Gwen/Ghost-Spider (Lily Sanfelippo) as a main character alongside Peter Parker (Benjamin Valic) and Miles Morales (Jakari Fraser). Together, that trio is winning over a new generation of fans and further cementing Gwen’s popularity across multiple mediums.
Although Spider-Gwen has no live-action counterpart at the moment, it’s likely just a matter of time before that changes. Spider-Gwen is also expected to headline a female-oriented Spider-Verse spinoff film, which doesn’t currently have a release date. Regardless, fans will get to see Gwen’s next adventure later this week when Across the Spider-Verse finally hits theaters.