Saturday, October 31, 2009

What if Spiderman had rescued Gwen Stacy?


What If 24

Originally posted July 8, 2009

Just for a moment lets travel back in time to December of 1980 when What If? 24 came out. In real time it was 6 ½ years since the death of Gwen Stacy. This issue was on the stands with Amazing Spider-Man 211 and Spectacular Spider-Man 49, and Marvel Team Up 100 (Quite a month!).

What If’s were such memorable comics because they took the questions that comic fans would debate in schoolyard, or think of late at night just before falling asleep and put them in print. These are the stories that could never be told in continuity because the very nature of the question contradicts canon (What if someone else had been bitten by the radioactive spider?) or greatly alters the status quo (What if the Invisible Girl married the Sub-Mariner?).

In this way What If were the great playground for Marvel’s most creative stories. Sometimes they are brilliant, such as, What if Uncle Ben had lived? (a personal favorite) And some times they are ridiculous (see, What if the Original Marvel Bullpen had become the Fantastic Four?).

To me, the best part about these stories is that the writers were allowed to not pull their punches as far as the endings. For instance, it seemed that in every dimension where Sue Storm left Reed Richards, he was always left heavily bearded and an utterly defeated man in body and soul. They had a way of turning stories around to show that even though it seems like the hero would be better off if such and such happened, here’s why he’d actually be even worse off.

This story seems to be an example of that kind of ending. In this issue, Gwen lives after the fall from the bridge but learns Peter’s secret identity. At first she is horrified and wants nothing to do with Peter because she still blames Spider-Man for her father’s death, but in a turnaround worthy of Richard the Third (Extra credit for all you Shakespeare fans that get that reference) Peter convinces her he’s not a bad guy, proposes marriage to her, and she accepts.

I know it all sounds like wine and roses, but there is still the problem of the Green Goblin, who knows about Peter’s dual life. After being defeated in a brawl with Spider-man the Goblin mails information about Spider-man identity to “Spider-man’s other worst enemy.”

Spider-Man goes to the Osborn residence and ends up fighting Norman and Harry, but eventually the father and son are weeping in each others arms and it is clear that the days of the Green Goblin are over. Of course Norman is so wrapped up in the moment he never mentions sending that package.

Cut to Gwen and Peter’s wedding. Flash Thompson is the best man, Aunt May is crying tears of joy in the first row. In walks J. Jonah Jameson…(You were expecting Dr. Octopus perhaps? I know I was). He’s published Spider-man’s identity and is there with a warrant for Peter’s arrest. Aunt May collapses in shock, and Peter is forced to jump out the window to escape.

The last scene is Peter still in his tuxedo standing on a rooftop near his apartment. The police have it surrounded. He thinks to himself that he’ll never be able to get his costume or his web shooters from his apartment. He also wonders how Aunt May is, but is afraid to risk even a phone call, and he doesn’t know how he can take care of Gwen now that his identity is out. He fears that Spider-man may actually become the menace JJJ claims he is, but he hopes not.

Now I’m sorry to go over all that because either you’ve already read this issue or would rather read it for yourself, but it was necessary because the point I really wanted to make is that this issue is symptomatic of Marvel’s inability to imagine Spider-man with his identity public. Here we are in a What If story, Tony Isabella could have written any ending he wanted and he stops with Peter on a roof top going “Gee I wonder what’s gonna happen?”

The story also seems a little lacking because in the last year or so, we just got done with a storyline where Peter’s identity was revealed for several months, but we won’t get into that.

At the time I’m sure it was a great story, I just wish it had been a two-parter that delved into what happened next: Which villains did Peter face? Did Aunt May accept her nephew’s dual identity? Was Peter able to protect his family and friends?

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