In 1973, the Spider-Man creators did the unthinkable and stunned the comic book world. In what is now considered to be one of the pivotal issues that transitioned the comic book industry from the optimistic heroism of the Silver Age to the darker, more violent Bronze Age – the powers-that-be killed off a character that was popular with the fans, Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.
The webslinger first showed up in the 1960’s and established himself as a different sort of hero. He was young, but was not a sidekick to anyone. He lived a life that any awkward adolescent would live. As a result, young readers who easily identified with him flocked to the comic stores and sales of Spider-Man books soared. Today, he is a cultural phenomenon with a box-office movie trilogy (and another one in the works), video games, tons of merchandise, and still showing no signs of losing steam with the international public.
Flashback to about four decades ago: the Silver Age was a more idyllic time, given to fantastic adventures where superheroes almost always emerged triumphant. When Amazing Spider-Man #121 was published on June 1973, there was little warning about how this would rock everything in the comic reader’s world.
The cover itself seems tame in comparison to the hyped-up character death issues that comics are apt to trumpet these days. The hero is in mid-swing on a yellow background which showed portraits of the people he knew. Even when it’s proclaimed that someone is about to die, readers shrugged it off as another gimmick, perhaps a minor character that’s about to bite the dust.
In the issue, the Green Goblin kidnaps Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and sets the stage for a showdown on a bridge tower. The villain throws her off the bridge and Spider-Man shoots a web in an attempt to save her. Then there is that heart-breaking panel where Gwen is indeed caught (“Did it! Spidey crows, “Spider-powers, I love you!”). But a small sound effect pops out near her head: “Snap”. The whiplash has broken her neck. It was a sound that sent chills thru everyone who picked up the book expecting the hero to save the day once again.
Things would never be the same. Everyone caught a whiff of the change that was to be the end of an era for comic books everywhere and the beginning of a grimmer, more realistic age where superheroes (and their loved ones) could not expect to face danger and remain unscathed.
Amazing Spider-Man #121 was penned by Gerry Conway and penciled by artist Gil Kane. In a poll created by the Marvel group for The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time, this issue was voted as the 6th. Comic collectors have since realized the value of this issue, and a near-mint copy can range from $350 to $450.