Stacy and Scarlet Shamed

Thoughts on Marvel’s belittling of Gwen Stacy and the Scarlet Witch

July 18, 2005

By Avi Green

I’ve written more than enough arguments already on why Identity Crisis is bad, but not really enough on why Avengers Disassembled and Amazing Spider-Man’s Sins Past story arcs are too. I know that the reasons why I did so is because Marvel’s own mistakes may have had a more clearer majority in some circles, and thus felt that DC's atrocity should be a main focus, but that doesn’t mean that just DC’s own disastrous “event” should be my main focus. Even Marvel’s should be too.

So put another way, it’s time to write about them as well now.

Last year, when looked at under a microscope, was truly no biggie for either Marvel or DC. Just more and more overhyped “events” that in the end, were not worth the paper they were printed on, whether it be Avengers Disassembled, Identity Crisis, Batman: War Games, or Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past. Just a whole lot of baloney that people simply don’t and won’t want to be bothered with.

In discussion here will be Marvel’s needless little duds, namely the ones that defamed Gwen Stacy and Wanda Maximoff, alias the Scarlet Witch. Gwen gets defamed out of political correctness, and Wanda for the purpose being used as a plot device in another needless crossover called House of M. (Which stands for what? Even now, the exact answer escapes me.)

When Gwen bit the bullet back in 1973, her life taken from her by the Green Goblin, who knocked her off the George Washington Bridge in New York City, it may not have been the wisest move made by then writer Gerry Conway, since maybe he or another write could have developed her past the sad personality she had when first introduced in 1965, but it did at least establish an impact on Spider-Man, and it’s one of the very few stories of its sort in comics that’s proven effective, here, in providing a significant change in the characters in Spidey’s world.

If anything, the audience was able to appreciate Gwen for how innocent she was, even in death. Mind you, by saying she’s innocent, I don’t mean say, that she was ever a virgin, and even in the comics back then, it’s not as if it were never truly implied that she and Peter didn’t ever have sex together, but that she was a very honest, and very sincere young lady, who was certainly admirable for being that way, and her death helped to reinforce that image of herself.

So why go along and tarnish her image years after her death by claiming that she never had sex with Peter, but did have sex with Norman Osborn, and implying that her clone (from 1975) gave birth to a pair of twins?

Sadly, that was the whole insulting premise of J. Michael Straczynski’s story arc in Amazing Spider-Man in late 2004, and I shouldn’t have to point out that it was by far one of the stupidest, most atrocious ideas that Marvel, even post-Jemas, could have come up with. Maybe not as bad as Identity Crisis ever was, but it still left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. We find out that Gwen wasn’t the good, young innocent girl she was thought to be up until then, but that she supposedly took pity on Norman Osborn, whom experts on Spider-history know was not exactly the most hospitable to outsiders, and was usually distrustful of women, and ended up having a tryst with him. And this ends up making her pregnant just shortly before her death, and as a result, the aforementioned clone, gave birth to twins, whom Norman then exploits years later to use as weapons against Spidey.

Shock value premise aside, what’s implausible about that premise is that Straczynski claims in it that Gwen never had sex with Peter, which only makes it all the more hard to believe that she would actually have “taken pity” upon a man whom even she didn’t think much of, and only serves to tarnish her image even more.

Furthermore, as it so happens, while it may not have been overtly implied that Gwen and Peter were having sex, the posibilities were still there, and you could tell that it was always likely that they did have sexual relations, whether they were many or just a few. So what’s Straczynski getting at anyway?

This is in simple terms, just another of Marvel’s own attempts at sales-through-controversy. And to answer the question of why they would tarnish Gwen’s image more throughly, it’s also because of the sad staple of disrespect for classic stories and characters of yore that’s been going around, possibly ever since the turn of the century.

Add to that the additional smearing of Mary Jane Watson-Parker by making her look like a liar or as if she were hiding something from Peter when she tells him about what she supposedly knew took place back then, and this really ends up becoming one of Marvel’s worst fiascos in recent memory. And this is exactly why, no matter what the level of writing turns out to be in Spidey, or even in Fantastic Four, which Strazcynski was assigned to write recently, from here onwards, JMS has got to go.

I sure hope that Peter David, who’s been assigned to write a new Spidey spinoff, will make his book worth the trip, and the money.

Then, we have Disassembled’s defamation of Scarlet Witch, one of the most appealing anti-heroines Stan Lee created back in the mid-60s, courtesy of Brian Michael Bendis, whose popularity seems high with certain audiences, but whose own understanding and affection for the MCU and its protagonists is iffy. It seems however, that he may not have made it any secret that he disliked some of the popular characters, including Hawkeye, whom he ostensibly has Wanda kill off – are you ready for this? – because she’s insane. Just like Jean Loring! And to make matters worse, Bendis even said that he was “inspired” by one of John Byrne’s worst storylines from the time that he was writing West Coast Avengers in 1990, in which Wanda went insane after her children of the time turned out to be products of her own ability to warp reality, and turned to the bad side for a time.

Naturally, whatever Bendis is trying to say, there are more than enough inconsistencies for the sake of “big events” and especially sales, including the way that the heroes act as incompetently and out-of-character as the ones in Identity Crisis, and the script at one point even makes an insulting reference to that infamous storyline from 1981, when Hank Pym smacked Janet Van Dyne, and his act there became embarrassingly inflated over the years in progressing stories. (Tony Stark, pointlessly drunk, says to Hank, “don’t you got a wife to beat?”) And even if Wanda was sad about not having been able to bear real children then, she got over it, and she most certainly isn’t desperate to be a mother at any cost. And she’s learned how to hone her skills to perfection over the years, so it’s not like she would become dangerous all of a sudden and lose control over them.

Most importantly of all though is that, like Jean Loring and Mary Jane Watson, she’s also been a girl who knows, and certainly learned, how to think for herself, and always knew what she wanted. Which perfectly explains why the premise Bendis wrote for the story is, as Silver Bullet Comics pointed out – sexist.

And, come to think of it, that’s exactly what even Straczynski’s take on Gwen Stacy – and even Mary Jane Watson – is too.

So anyway, whatever appeal Straczynski and Bendis may have to some, it does not extend to me. Basically, they’re both overrated writers, doing it for little more than their own personal vanity and what they consider art, and little more. And that’s one more reason why I won’t be reading their stuff.

Did we really need the Phoenix story?

Say I'm a sell-out if you will, but I have a position on the Phoenix story in Uncanny X-Men from 1979 far different than most: I dislike it.

The reason for that isn't neccasarily due to the fact that Marvel did something not usually seen back in those days, by killing off a leading character. No, it's because of the fact that they turned Jean Grey into a stereotype before doing it.

Peter Sanderson once opined that he thought that it was a great story. But that's one thing where I'll have to disagree with him, and point out that the problem with the story is that it reeks far too much of something he mentions in another column of his: the stereotypical idea that "women can't cope with power."

Simply put, that's the problem I personally find in the whole Phoenix saga, and it overwhelms the premise that Chris Claremont and John Byrne were supposedly using back in the late 1970s, which was "power corrupts".

Now don't get me wrong here. Of course there are plenty of women who've falled victim to the influence of power corrupting their minds over the years. But the fact is that Jean Grey was seemingly overcome by science-fiction forces, that being cosmic energy, and that's way different. Not to mention that the whole lurid notion of a beautiful woman being turned into a planet killer is something that owes more than a bit to the Brothers Grimm, and that's not something I need cluttering up my favorite literature.

To make matters worse, as Sanderson points out in his 58th column at IGN:

"One important exception is the (first) death of Phoenix. Chris Claremont and John Byrne did not intend to kill Jean Grey, but editor in chief Jim Shooter decreed that she must pay for her crimes as the insane Dark Phoenix. Claremont and Byrne keep the focus on Jean in her death scene, as she heroically commits suicide rather than revert to Dark Phoenix and endanger the universe once more. It is Jean who is most important in this story, not her lover Cyclops, and her death became genuinely tragic. In contrast, as a friend of mine pointed out, when Grant Morrison (temporarily) killed off Jean a second time, she was merely a victim. And a man's victim."

I may not agree with his opinion of the original Phoenix story, but at least he and his colleagues have one thing right: Mr. Morrison's only achievement in rehashing the whole hogwash of yore in New X-Men was that he killed Jean off without genuine feeling. Because it had to be done, didn't it? Rather than to try and work out some real purpose and development for Jean Grey, he kills her off, proving that he never came on board the book out of genuine devotion or affection for the characters to begin with. And if he doesn't have any genuine love for the characters any more than Bendis does, then why bother to write their books and adventures?

As bad as Avengers: Disassembled was, the whole degradation of women as being unable to cope with power is something that's been excercised long beforehand. Anyone put off by Wanda's degradation should take a good look at the Phoenix saga as well to see what it's like for girl characters to end up being cheaply degraded.

The backhand smack in the face?

I don’t know if this has ever crossed anyone else’s mind, but, did anyone else who's familiar with the horrors of Identity Crisis get the feeling that Brad Meltzer was indirectly insulting Janet Van Dyne, the Wonderous Wasp, when he writes Jean Loring as inviting Ray Palmer to hit her in the seventh and last issue of IC?

Thinking back on that part now, it does almost seem that way to me, as I was reminded very chillingly of that time in 1981 when Hank Pym, so determined to redeem himself, smacked his then wife Jan hard enough to knock her over.

And what really makes that scene in IC so distasteful is that it legitimizes exactly what was wrong of Hank Pym to have done then, by hitting his lovely wife Jan. And worst of all, it gives a very bad image to DC and Marvel alike, by making them look as if they’re willing to go all the way for the cheap, by resorting to legitimizing wrongful violence against women in comics.

With that in mind, is it any wonder so few women actually read comics these days?

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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