‘Amazing Spider-Man’ No. 121: Brutal 1973 bombshell echoes anew
“The Amazing Spider-Man” arrives July 3 with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, a character that moviegoers barely know. Gwen was also in “Spider-Man 3” (the role then belonged to Bryce Dallas Howard, later Stone’s co-star in “The Help”) but her screen time was limited. In the world of comics, however, Gwen is a major figure and connected to a traumatic milestone: It was “Amazing Spider-Man” No. 121, a bombshell issue that landed 39 years ago this month. Avi Arad, coproducer of the new film and a pivotal figure in Marvel’s Hollywood history, talks about that 1973 flashpoint in the final answer of the Q&A below — but if you’re unfamiliar with the classic story you might want to leave that secret on the shelf for now.
HC: Spider-Man brought so many unprecedented things to comics — the sense of ongoing melodrama, the hard-luck outsider ethos, the idea of a very young hero with age-specific motivations, etc. What do you think about when you reflect on that?
AA: Spider-Man is really a story about Peter Parker. A young man living with his aunt and uncle and searching for identity and trying to understand the loss of his parents. Peter brings to comics an everyday kid with extreme intelligence and goodness in his heart. He is an outsider, probably by choice, and extremely devoted to his aunt and uncle. His choice to use his newly found powers to protect citizens makes him a hero, which is more powerful than a superhero. We need heroes. We love heroes and that’s what makes this boy so important. You would want him to be your best friend and you hope he is on the ledge on a dark night.
HC: With great power comes responsibility — but sacrifice as well, right?
AA: He has to give up a lot. His social life is totally interrupted by now-you-see-him-and-now-you-don’t, and living with secrets is an emotional burden. There is a Peter Parker in all of us and, therefore, we all relate to him. There is a hidden hero in all of us, but sacrifice is a more difficult task. Peter is the embodiment of dealing with adversity and handling power, which is the most dangerous quality one may have.
HC: Steve Ditko and Stan Lee brought such different energies to the creation of this hero back in 1962. What would you point to as one of their key decisions?
AA: I think one of the great achievements of Lee and Ditko was choosing a spider. On the surface, most of us shy away from spiders. We don’t really like them. They represent edge, danger and an ability to live a life under cover. Yet without Peter inside the suit, and readers, television viewers and movie audiences falling in love with Peter, a spider figure may have been the wrong choice. They both have a duality that make us trust a man in a mask and cheer for him. Spider-Man is a dichotomy of living alone and being just a simple boy; and the bravado of the superhero. Spider-Man in a suit represents the ultimate wish fulfillment: the ability to leap, climb and maintain a great sense of humor. In spite of these amazing abilities, he chooses to do good. Just imagine these powers in the wrong hands.
HC: Is there a Spider-Man cover, story or era that is particularly special to you?
AA: My favorite cover is “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” This is a classic story where our hero is doing all the right things, willing to jeopardize himself, and give his life for justice, yet, inevitably, creates a complication and danger to people around him. He’s just a boy. He cannot anticipate all the dangers that come with the territory. Peter and Spider-Man have to learn that the hard way. The loss of the most beloved girl in his life will take away his ability to become comfortable with relationships, always thinking about the death of Uncle Ben and the night Gwen Stacy died.
— Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED