Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: The Night Gwen Stacy....Well, You Know

So I went to see Amazing Spider-man 2 this weekend.  I've been a bit on the fence about this reboot. Unlike the major save that Chris Nolan gave the Batman franchise, I did not necessarily see the Spider-Man movies needing a from the top down re-do, even considering the somewhat... messy production that was Spider-Man 3. I was perfectly happy with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker; in many ways, he looked like a John Romita or Ross Andru comic come to life.  

On the other hand, Andrew Garfield's edgier take on our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler had its own charms. My daughter was certainly taken more with Garfield's Spider-Man than Maguire's and since she's a teen-age girl and I... am not, well, guess who wins that demographic battle.   

Nonetheless, I found Amazing Spider-Man was a spiffier coat of paint on something that Spider-Man had accomplished just as well. So how would the two film's 2nd outings match up, mano-a-mano? 

On one hand, Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is starting to grow on me. Even as we witness Peter's compassion, humor and humanity, there's a coiled spring inside that's waiting to release. Peter's got a lot of crap going on his life and he's not in control of most of it and Garfield delivers on that wonderfully. 

On the other hand, Amazing Spider-Man 2 structurally is a bit of a mess compared to the much tighter Spider-Man 2.  Spidey's battle with Doctor Octopus in the first sequel was far more engaging than the mish-mash of Electro and (I guess) Green Goblin in the 2nd film of this series.  

Of course, I think Amazing Spider-Man 2 has only one goal in mind... and spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen this movie yet. 

That goal? Kill Gwen Stacy. 

The cover art at the beginning of this post is from Amazing Spider-Man#121, a major milestone in super hero comics. A major villain puts a damsel in distress... and the hero does NOT save the day. What writer Gerry Conway did was brash and reckless but also re-set the terms, for better AND for worse, on how comic book super heroes could be presented.  And over the years, Gwen Stacy became even more famous as a dead character than a live one. Gwen Stacy biggest claim to notoriety was dying. 

So imagine the eyebrows that went up when the Spider-Man film reboot was announced and that the female lead was not going to be Mary Jane Watson but Gwen Stacy.  

Immediately, the clock starts ticking. Sooner or later, Gwen Stacy's going to die. 

But did she really need to? 

There is a very articulate rumination on this subject that can be found here which expresses my feelings on this matter better than I can. But ultimately when so much stuff gets tossed out when making super hero movies, why did THIS plot point have to stay in? 

Back in Amazing Spider-Man#121, the death of Gwen Stacy was shocking, ground breaking. Of course, this was the early 1970's. What made her death so significant is that she was the damsel in distress who did not get saved from distress. Before that, Superman always got Lois Lane out of danger just in time. Tarzan always saved Jane. Gwen was just another frightened woman needing someone to save her; she stood out in that her luck ran out. 

But a lot of water has passed under that bridge Green Goblin tossed Gwen off of so many years ago and unfortunately, that particular well was been drawn from so many times since then. Too many women characters sacrificed at the altar of dramatic death to motivate the hero. If the last second save of the damsel is a cliche, so too is the failure to save the damsel. Here was a chance to do something different and meaningful with a strong, inspiring female character. 

And damn it, if Emma Stone did not make us care about Gwen Stacy. Emma's Gwen was smart and sweet, wise beyond her years. So better that we liked Gwen so we'll miss her even more when she's dead, right? Still, Emma brought to life a Gwen Stacy that deserved a better outcome than the rigid adherence to a comic book over 40 years gone. 

The Gwen Stacy of the comics was a victim, a brutal reminder that those closest to a super hero may find themselves in jeopardy and no way out. This Gwen rushed headlong into trouble to help Peter and her city. She's no victim, she saves the day as much as Spider-Man, perhaps more so. And she winds up just a dead for her trouble. Because we reached the point of the story where Green Goblins drops Gwen Stacy from a dangerous height and Spider-Man can't save her. Gwen's death is a plot point that needs to be crossed off. 

My wife and daughter, less familiar with the Spider-Man mythos than I, were genuinely shocked by the death of Gwen Stacy. Shocked not because they didn't know it was coming but shocked because....well, why? Why in this story did Gwen need to die? 

Maybe we expect too much from these diversions. After all, life doesn't work that well does it? People don't die because it advances the plot; people die at the most inconvenient and unexpected times. But that's real life. The whole point of drama is to write a larger narrative to the otherwise messy randomness of life. In short, if Gwen Stacy has to die at the end of the movie, we demand a damn good answer for it. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You 

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