Okay–so Straczynski has gone and implied–apparently in a flashback sequence narrated by MJ–that Gwen Stacy once had sex with Norman Osborne, y’now, back before he killed her… Matt Rossi has also posted a few thoughts on this subject, and I’ve been keeping up with some of the reader-response (like this and this), but of course I’m not going to buy the issue…
Where to begin? The biggest problem–and it’s one that others have mentioned–is the way this affects MJ’s characterization… Concealing her knowledge of Peter’s dual ID is one thing, but bottling this up just makes her seem like a person who gets off on keeping secrets! But forget about that–I don’t have any clue what they’ve been doing with Mary Jane Watson lately, and I’m sure they’re not writing her the way they did in Gerry Conway’s heyday (or Roger Stern’s…or Tom DeFalco’s…), so I have nothing to contribute on this subject.
But let’s get back to Gwen. One of the things I hated about Spider-Man: Blue is the way it casts Gwen as merely a symbol of innocence/purity/what-have-you… This problem, a recurrent one in Spider-historiography, has become genuinely pathological in post-Marvels Marvel as a whole, and in super-hero comics in general these days, from what I’ve seen… Yes my friends, nostalgia is the disease, not the cure!
Neurotic obsession with the unrecoverable past has been at the thematic core of many, many great works of art over the years–but only when this emotion (which all of us can understand!) is carefully scrutinized, certainly not when it is merely exhibited, and especially not when it provides the occasion for creators and readers alike to make exhibitions of themselves.
We’re back in “lost innocence of the Silver Age” territory here, and Gwen Stacy’s grave is probably the most prominent landmark in this wasteland of impotent yearning… Kurt Busiek is the ultimate high priest of this necrophiliac religion, and Marvels is its Holy Book. But no matter what Busiek, or ADD, or Seth, or Doc Nebula tell you, the Silver Age at Marvel was not some “green world” of inspired adventure untouched by (corporate?) sin. Think about the books for a second! They’re filled with alienated teens, monsters, wholesale destruction, and very hip self-knowing, and conversational narration/editorial content. This was never “storytime for baby”, it was dialogic melodrama! And perhaps the greatest thrill of all was that, no matter how many years passed, or how few academic credits Peter Parker seemed to amass, the story was eternally ongoing. When I started reading these stories in the mid-eighties, the Marvel Universe was a going concern. Everything that had ever happened in the comics was on the record in the various Gruenwald/Sanderson projects, and there was no sense of a chasm between the books that were on the stands and the issues in the bins. That’s how I wound up getting so absorbed in the whole thing! I wanted it all, because it all seemed relevant.
But something went wrong somewhere. Maybe it’s because the people who took over the authorial reins were too young, when they started reading the early Marvels, to recognize the real sophistication that characterizes Lee’s negotiations with the readers. They just loved the pretty pictures, which they eventually came to worship as Henri Rousseau-style naif masterworks, little realizing that it’s their own youthful naivete that they long for back there in the past.
And that brings us back to Gwen Stacy, who has suffered far more grievously, in the years since her death, from the machinations of the twelve-year old boys who cried when she fell, than she ever did at the hands of the Green Goblin. Until now, that is. Yes, my friends, those boys and her killer have now joined hands to wreak the most childish revenge ever perpetrated upon an immature symbol of “purity”. It’s the old cynicism/idealism tag-team. If you spy a crack in your Idol, cover it up with shit!
Kevin Smith must be delighted.
I agree that the “myth of Gwen Stacy’s purity” had to be dispelled. But not this way. Not by forcing her into bed with a gross old psychopath and shrieking “ick!” The most galling thing about all this is that Gerry Conway had already negotiated a magnificent armistice with the problem of nostalgic obsession in 1975–and it just didn’t take! I’ve written a fair amount about this–how Conway actually outdid Hitchcock in maturity, if not artistry, by reworking Vertigo into a romantic comedy–here and here, among other places…and I’ll do more of it soon! For now, let’s just say that when an Object of Desire loses her iconicity, you don’t throw her off of a bridge (or a bell tower) and then work on curing yourself of your lingering obsession by retroactively imputing a “dirty” sexual past to her! Moreover, if you do take that route, and you happen to be living in a world in which cloning is possible, you’d better bring her back right away and let her get on with her life! And that’s what Conway did–he thwarted Parker’s desire to destroy the fading symbol of purity (the better to preserve it for his own alternately worshipful and sacreligious pleasure) and forced him to watch that symbol walk away to begin a life on her own terms, in a storyline that has nothing to do with Peter Parker and his problems.
Which is just a long-winded way of arguing that, as a storyteller/narrator-of-your-own-life, you don’t “de-idealize/de-objectify” a character (or a real-life person) by making her (or him) an Object of Derision, a negative cypher fornicating with the Devil (unless you do this in order to make a real point–and here I’m thinking of the moral lesson taught by Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”); you have to make the leap into her/his subjective position.
Good Night Friends!