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The Tragic History Of Marvel's Gwen Stacy

Gwen Stacy has been a part of Spider-Man history for well over 50 years. Beginning as a romantic subplot for Peter Parker, Gwen quickly became a prominent character in the "Amazing Spider-Man" series. She and Peter dated for years, until the Green Goblin swooped into the picture and ruined their chance for a happy ending.

But even since her untimely death in 1972, Gwen has continued to be an important figure in Peter Parker's life; in recent years, she's also become an important figure in the larger Marvel multiverse. In 2014, Gwen Stacy from Earth-65 became the amazing Spider-Woman, and she helped save the multiverse while getting to know some of Marvel's biggest heroes. The MCU is still getting ready for Miles Morales, but Gwen has been hanging out with him for a long time now.

Anyone who gets close to spider powers in the Marvel universe is sure to have tragedy befall them at one point or another. Whether Gwen is Spider-Man's girlfriend or a wall-crawler herself, she's constantly dealing with disaster, but there has been at least a few times where she's come out on top. With Spider-Gwen swinging into "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," here's a breakdown of the intricate web of tragedy that has marked her life in the comics.

She and Peter Parker had a rocky relationship

Despite what movies like "The Amazing Spider-Man" would have you believe, according to the comics Gwen Stacy first met Peter Parker in college. 

In "The Amazing Spider-Man" issue 31, Peter enrolls at Empire State University and gets introduced to classmates like Gwen and Harry Osborne. In the issue, Peter is preoccupied because Aunt May is in the hospital and villains are on the loose, but the other students attribute his aloof behavior do a dislike for them.

Peter manages to recover from his awful first impression, but his relationship with Gwen is rarely smooth sailing. More often than not, it's Peter's secret life as Spider-Man that pulls the two of them apart. Their first-ever date is at a science symposium hosted by their professor Miles Warren, but when Doc Ock attacks, Peter goes MIA, so Spider-Man can save the day. The two of them manage to patch things up, and they keep seeing each other.

Over time, Peter gets closer not just to Gwen, but also her father Captain George Stacy. But dating a police captain's daughter makes hiding his secret identity harder than ever. At one point, Peter decides to come clean about his side-hustle as Spider-Man, but he later blames his confession on being confused and feverish. Peter and Gwen's relationship would have gone a lot smoother if he'd really told her his secret, but by the time anyone in the Stacy family knew Peter's real identity, it was too late.

Her dad died because of Spider-Man

True death is a rarity in comic books. Most of the time, when a character dies, they're brought back to life later through magic, science, or simple retconning; the "Amazing Spider-Man" comics, however, have had a handful of permanent character deaths that would have a huge impact on the series. Midway through her relationship with Peter Parker, Gwen loses her father, and it's Spider-Man's fault.

At the beginning of "The Amazing Spider-Man" issue 90, Peter faces the typical struggle of hiding his identity from the people closest to him. He begins to suspect that Gwen's father has uncovered his secret, but because Captain Stacy hasn't said anything about it yet, Peter decides it's best not to worry.

Later, Spider-Man and Doc Ock get into yet another epic rooftop battle. Spider-Man uses his webs to gum up Doc Ock's mechanical arms, and as the villain begins flailing his four extra limbs around, he knocks a ton of bricks onto unsuspecting people below. Captain Stacy happens to be on the scene, and he rushes to push a young boy out of the way of the debris. He is subsequently crushed by the bricks, and Spider-Man pulls him from the rubble. Moments before his death, Captain Stacy tells Peter that he knows his secret, and he asks Peter to keep Gwen safe. Gwen blames Spider-Man for her father's death, and her relationship with Peter becomes more strained than ever.

She was killed by the Green Goblin

Not long after that death, Gwen's uncle Arthur invites her to come live with their family in England. She asks Peter if he wants her to stay in New York, but he's so nervous about what will happen when she finds out his secret identity that he refuses to answer. Gwen leaves, but her absence is short-lived. Eventually she realizes that she misses Peter so badly that she wants to come home, and the two of them get back together.

For a while, it seems like things might actually work out, but then tragedy once again strikes. The ensuing "Amazing Spider-Man" issue 121 might be the most consequential in the entire series, with Norman Osborne reverting to his Green Goblin persona (now knowing that Peter Parker is Spider-Man), kidnapping Gwen Stacy battling Spider-Man atop the George Washington bridge.

The Goblin throws Gwen, and Peter tries to save his love by catching her with his webs, but it's too late. If he hadn't tried, she would have slammed into the ground; as it is, the forceful stop from his webbing snaps her neck. Enraged, Peter is ready to kill the Green Goblin in issue 122, and during their fight Norman Osborne accidentally impales himself with his own glider. The Green Goblin's death is only temporary, but Gwen is gone for good.

Her college professor cloned her

The real Gwen Stacy never returns, but her presence haunts the pages of "The Amazing Spider-Man" in more ways than one. In issue 142, Peter thinks he sees Gwen walking outside his apartment building, but he ends up writing the vision off as a grief-driven hallucination. In reality, he saw a clone of Gwen Stacy.

Remember Miles Warren, the professor who hosted the science symposium where Peter and Gwen had their first date? In "The Amazing Spider-Man" issue 149 he reveals himself as the supervillain Jackal. Professor Warren was in love with Gwen, and after she died he vowed vengeance on Spider-Man. Warren cloned Gwen, hoping to use her as a means of tormenting Spider-Man. Peter puts a stop to Warren's evil plan, and Gwen's clone decides to leave the city to make a new life for herself.

Gwen's clone goes on to call herself Joyce Delaney. While Spider-Man has had no shortage of clone-related conflicts over the years, this particular clone only gets involved in his life again during the so-called "Clone Conspiracy." She tries to live a normal life and mostly succeeds in doing that, until she's unceremoniously murdered by a different Gwen Stacy clone in "Spider-Island: Deadly Foes" issue 1.

Jackal cloned her for a second time

Years after the creation of Joyce Delaney, this "Clone Conspiracy" brings Jackal back with a new plan to torment the Web Head. This time around, the Jackal identity would be employed by Ben Reilly, who is himself a clone of Peter Parker. Jackal created a company called New U Technologies, which claimed to have developed a process capable of bringing the dead back to life.

To support these claims, New U brought back Gwen Stacy. As long as she took a daily pill created by New U, Gwen could seemingly lead a long and happy life. Eventually, Peter and his friends revealed New U as nothing more than a front for another supervillain scheme. The "resurrected" people were all clones designed to disintegrate within 24 hours without the pill Jackal had created. Jackal wanted to use the clones to infect all of humanity with a zombie-like virus, and he cloned several of Spider-Man's greatest villains to assist in these efforts. With help from the clone of Gwen, Spider-Man puts a stop to Jackal's plan in "Clone Conspiracy" issue 5, but the clone Gwen doesn't live to see the end of the story.

Harry Osborne stole her DNA

Jackal isn't the only Spider-Man villain who used Gwen Stacy's DNA for his own evil purposes. Harry Osborne decided to get in on all the clone action himself. His evil plan is by far the most complicated clone conspiracy in Spider-Man history, and it's also one of the creepiest.

Harry combined Gwen's DNA with that of his father, using their combined genetics to create a set of twins: Sarah and Gabriel Stacy. Harry's plan involved convincing the world that Norman Osborne and Gwen Stacy had a secret affair, and it was almost successful. In a 2004 storyline called "Sins Past," the twins confront Spider-Man, and by the end everyone believes that Norman raised them to be his supervillain successors. It's not until 2021's "The Amazing Spider-Man" volume 5 issue 73 that Harry's full scheme is revealed.

That should have been the end of all the trouble, but another Marvel villain took interest in the Stacy twins. Mephisto saw potential in using them to disrupt Peter's life. Worried that a future daughter of Spider-Man would destroy his evil empire, Mephisto tried to use the twins to tear Peter and Mary Jane apart. Doctor Strange steps in to help, thereby thwarting Mephisto's devilish plan.

A Spidey villain robbed her grave

As all the drama with the Stacy twins was unfolding, a new villain wandered into Spider-Man's life. Kindred is one of the most terrifying baddies that the Web Head has ever had to confront. Part of what sets Kindred apart from the rest of Spider-Man's rogues gallery is a willingness to engage in some truly disgusting emotional manipulation.

Horror is the name of Kindred's game, and in "The Amazing Spider-Man" volume 5 issue 50, the villain really steps over the line. Kindred digs up the bodies of Gwen and George Stacy and poses their corpses at a nightmare-inducing dinner table. What adds extra spookiness to this tableau is that Kindred is actually a secret identity used by both Sarah and Gabriel Stacy. The twins were manipulated into becoming supervillains by a combination of Mephisto and an AI recreation of Norman Osborn in his Green Goblin persona, but that's a story for another time.

She once was actually resurrected

It's been 50 years since Gwen Stacy died in "The Amazing Spider-Man" issue 121. Her death has haunted Peter for decades. even though there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. In all this time, the comics have played around with her DNA, created multiple clones of her, and subtly changed small details from the original issue, but things have always stopped short of actually bringing Gwen back to life. Until 2022.

In "The Amazing Spider-Man" volume 6 issue 10, Peter is facing a brand new threat. A Celestial known as the Progenitor came back to life long after its death helped create life on Earth. The Progenitor went to work on judging humanity right away, with dire consequences befalling anyone deemed unworthy of existence. Spider-Man just happens to be one of the few people on the planet who really does have a heart of gold, and after the Progenitor decides he is worthy, it gives Peter an incredible gift.

Gwen Stacy is brought back to life, but her resurrection isn't permanent. She and Peter get to spend just a brief moment together. Gwen gets to see what Peter has become in the years since she died, and the two of them get to express how much they've always loved each other. Then Gwen disappears — whisked away back to the Marvel universe's version of the afterlife.

In another universe, Gwen got powers

The tragic story of Gwen Stacy on Earth-616 is over, but there are countless alternate universes out there, and at least one of them is home to a Gwen who Marvel fans have come to love. "Edge of Spider-Verse" issue 2 introduced the world to the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65. In that reality, it was Gwen, not Peter, who was bitten by a radioactive spider. She began working as New York City's hometown superhero under the mantle Spider-Woman, but most people know her as Spider-Gwen.

Earth-616 and Earth-65 exist in different universes, but both come with a boatload of misery for anyone who gets spider powers. Spider-Gwen started out fighting street thugs and the occasional super villain, but much like Peter Parker in the main Marvel universe, Spider-Gwen's greatest enemies all have a personal tie to her.

While Gwen was finding her feet as Spider-Woman, her reality's Peter Parker was finding a way to transform himself into a giant Lizard. Peter wanted a way to get back at his high school bullies, but his plan went horribly wrong. In the end, Peter died, and his death spurred Gwen into becoming a hero, much the same way Uncle Ben's death inspired the Peter Parker of Earth-616.

Spider-Gwen got her dad arrested...

Spider-Gwen's life doesn't get any easier after Peter dies. Trying to balance life as a highschooler with the responsibilities of being a superhero is hard enough, but Spider-Gwen also has to deal with being a fugitive. She takes the blame for Peter's death, and in "Spider-Gwen" issue 11 her biggest threat is part of the legal system.

Frank Castle, Earth-65's version of the Punisher, is hunting Spider-Gwen down for her alleged crimes. The only person standing between the Punisher and Spider-Gwen is her partner in "crime," George Stacy. He knows that his daughter is working as a masked superhero, and as an NYPD officer himself, George does everything in his power to help Spider-Gwen avoid being caught.

As one might imagine, that doesn't work out very well for George Stacy. By issue 12 he's been arrested, and Spider-Gwen finds herself up against a wall. Her superhero identity is not only destroying her personal life, it's also ruining the lives of those closest to her. Spider-Gwen gets her father out of this tough situation by making a deal with Matt Murdock, who happens to be working as Earth-65's version of the Kingpin. One disaster may have been averted, but Spider-Gwen has plenty of trouble ahead.

...then she got arrested herself

As Earth-65's Gwen Stacy continued her Spider-Woman career, she ran into another multiversal constant: Venom. Just like Peter Parker on Earth-616, Spider-Gwen became infected with the Venom symbiote. It increased her powers and made her stronger than ever, but it also drove her to extreme violence. In "Spider-Gwen" issue 26, Gwen nearly kills the relatively harmless Bodega Bandit when she catches him trying to rob a grocery store.

Spider-Gwen was falsely blamed for Peter Parker's death, but with the Venom symbiote, she ends up committing some very real crimes. After a bit of time (and one multiversal adventure) with the symbiote, Gwen decides that she needs to turn things around. She goes to her universe's J. Jonah Jameson to come clean and unmask herself as Spider-Woman. In "Spider-Gwen" issue 32, Gwen gains full control over the symbiote, but she still decides to turn herself in. Her father's partner, Detective Jean DeWolff, takes Gwen into custody.

It doesn't take long for Gwen to be convicted of her crimes. She's sent to a maximum security prison owned and operated by S.H.I.E.L.D., because it's one of the few facilities on her Earth equipped to hold a prisoner with such powers. Fortunately, Gwen doesn't have to stay in prison forever. She's released after one year, and then she starts working to get back into the swing of things.