Now and Gwen
(Soundtrack: Frank Black —Black Letter Days)
Okay. Back to Spider-Man. And historiographic reading–specifically J.M. Dematteis’ rather facile resolution of the Peter-Gwen-MJ dilemma, which has been reprinted as the epilogue to the Death of Gwen Stacy trade paperback.
I’m not a fan of this story (entitled “The Kiss”) at all, but it’s extremely pertinent to my discussion of the Conway Amazing Spider-Man run (which began here, and left off here).
I interpret the entire clone saga as an inspired exploration of Peter Parker’s guilt complex. The story assesses the costs of identity-formation through narrative-building.
Time and again, Gwen Stacy had been identified as “the only girl Peter had ever truly loved.” And, like a lot of alienated teens, the young man’s ideas about romantic love are lifted straight outta Schlegel’s Lucinde (i.e. a “pefect love” can make up for the loss of a perfect God). However, it was also becoming dreadfully apparent, as Stan Lee’s tenure on the title wound down, that the Peter-Gwen relationship was in neutral. Neither Peter nor the readers were prepared to deal with this fact, and the lettercols pleaded for a way out of the dilemma. Gwen dies so that the relationship doesn’t have to. It was really the only way. A perfect love, by definition, cannot disappoint–but it can be “stolen”! Enter the Green Goblin.
This is standard melodrama fodder, and it’s always powerful. The tree of “spiritual growth” is watered by the (metaphoric) blood of those we’ve loved–and super hero comic books, as Marc Singer has argued, get a lot of mileage out of the literalization of certain ideas that, in life and in more realistic stories, must be dealt with metaphorically. In this, again, they show their kinship with romance narratives like Moby Dick–in which “evil” becomes not merely a bedeviling concept, but an actual thing that can blow your ship to smithereens.
And so it is with Gwen Stacy–doomed to become “the past” incarnate. Until the Jackal brings her back–as a different person. The original Gwen–the one that Peter has spent a couple of years erecting his new, adult identity upon–is still dead. But the new Gwen isn’t aware of any of this, and she’s ready to slide back into the old routine. This threatens to drive Peter mad, because he had just settled into a nice little routine of his own, which permitted him to wallow in the memory of this particular “water under the bridge” without drowning in it.
And now, all of a sudden, he is pressed into service as a lifeguard–to rescue “Gwen-in-herself” from the quagmire of his own romantic appropriation of her memory! Amazingly, he is able to do so–and, in Conway’s last issue, the reborn woman sets out to make a life for herself outside the confines of the series. It’s an impressive non-resolution to the problem. “The past” as it was remains buried in Gwen Stacy’s grave, but “the past” as it is lives on, free of Peter’s tendency to romanticize.
I’ve gone on too long now, and I’ve hardly said a thing about DeMatteis’ story, in which Peter reflects upon his life as a series of stills in a photo album, thinking to himself: “as time passes, I see that the greatest gift Gwen gave me in her short time on this Earth, was the courage to love…” No way! The only gift a person can give to anyone else is themselves. The rest is appropriation. “Emotional growth” is a crock of shit. People are more than fertilizer.
Good Afternoon Friends!