gwen19Oh Ditko’s Gwen. You sure were a feisty one weren’t you? We are going to hit the ground running by looking at all of Gwen’s appearances in the Steve Ditko run. It’s amazing (no pun intended) how we go from who we see above, to who we see eventually fall off that bridge. How did it happen? Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The era: Silver Age.

The writing team: The classic original Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

We are at the start of the infamous “Master Planner” storyline which began in issue 31 of Issue 33 of “Amazing Spider-Man”. Among the highlights of this classic storyline (aside from the overused lifting scene) is we see Peter Parker’s first day at Empire State University. We also get the first appearance of three very important characters….

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This is the first time we meet Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn. Peter is distracted because Aunt May is in the hospital dying. No, this isn’t “One More Day” or “Back In Black”! This is back when Aunt May being in the hospital had only been done once or twice and it wasn’t overdone. People actually cared a little more about it back then! Now I see posts by people saying “Let the bitch die”. Gwen followed Flash’s career in high school? That would indicate that she either has way too much time on her hands or that she is a sports fan. We never see any evidence in later issues of Gwen having the SLIGHTEST interest in sports, so my conclusion is, she is stroking Flash’s ego because she is flirting with him. It’s established that Harry and her have a history too. They went too high school together, but the extent of their “history” isn’t explored or established until much later. Harry obviously has his own designs on Gwen as well. Once she notices Peter and seems interested, Harry can’t wait to say he looks like “any other frosh”. Come to think of it, Flash seems pretty ticked as well. He’s got a hottie flirting with him and once Peter arrives it’s “Oh he must be so smart”, so Harry feels the need to take Pete down a peg in Gwen’s eyes.

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Don’t worry Peter, you can always make a deal with Mephisto. Oh wait, he doesn’t have a marriage to bargain with yet.


Note Gwen is already finding herself drawn to Peter Parker. She finds him attractive, as she admits in thought balloons (remember those?). This makes sense to me. We will learn many issues later that Gwen is a science major as well so perhaps she is attracted to the scientific and studious type. If Harry Osborn is right about her being a beauty queen (or just sucking up to flatter Gwen but I doubt it) during high school, she is probably used to getting any guy she wants. Here is Peter who is walking by her like she doesn’t exist. Nobody is too good for the beauty queen. However, apparently this guy thinks he is. I know SOME girls like this kind of challenge. I’ve dated them. They enjoy that type of conquest. Another theory is Gwen is tired of dating the people a beauty queen is “suppose to”. College is a new start for her and she may want to break out of the mold and date a guy she is on the same level of intelligence with. Food for thought. Remember, Gwen is a fictional character. The statement I am making is about the character herself and not about women in general.

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Harry Osborn hates stuck up people? That is interesting because early Harry Osborn is coming off as a big stuck up jerk here. The original Steve Ditko Harry was just another Flash Thompson in the guise of a rich snob. Still, it seems to me that this is just Harry trying to be the dominant male since Gwen went gaga about Peter’s brain when she first saw him.

Peter ignoring the hot babe to glare at the test tube? Reed Richards would be very proud indeed.

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I know Aunt May is sick and everything, but Peter’s fixation on her is just disturbing through all of this! “Too good for the human race” eh Gwen? She is covering for her hurt feelings. After all, if a guy isn’t falling all over her, it MUST be because he is too good for the human race…right? I said we had three very important first appearances. We saw Gwen and Harry. Who was my third? Why old Professor Warren, seen above. He becomes a very important player in Gwen’s story as well. For those who don’t know, Warren is in love with Gwen, so perhaps he saw Gwen glaring at Peter in a loving way. Maybe that is why he came down on him so hard for a simple mistake. Warren makes a habit of calling Peter out in front of Gwen as the series goes on. Harry and Flash doing it because they love Gwen is one thing, but Professor Warren should be more mature! We are only in her first issue and we have three men who all love her!

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Just stay awake till classes are over. There is something we can all relate to too!

Flash’s comment can be seen as a reference to Liz Allan. If you haven’t heard of Gwen and are reading the Spidey books from the start, Gwen comes off as Liz replacement. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was her original purpose. Liz was Flash’s girlfriend who had an eye for Peter. Like Gwen in this issue, she would discourage Flash and the gang from picking on Pete because she liked him (other times as you will see, Gwen initiates the teasing). Both girls were blonde, and part of the popular crowd. Sure the characters had some differences in their early roles. Liz would always try to calm Flash and defend Peter. Gwen encourages Flash and participates in teasing Peter. She also doesn’t throw herself at Peter as shamelessly Liz once did .But it feels like Gwen was written in to fill Liz’s void. When the gang graduated high school Liz left the strip. Just like in real life, friends come and go. She wouldn’t be seen again until after Gwen died.

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That above shot was my first look at Ditko’s Gwen. I remember being shocked. I was 11 years old and the only Gwen Stacy story I had read was, well, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”. I also saw all the Gwen flashbacks Peter had. This girl looked NOTHING like the sweet little angel Gwen I had seen. I was stunned. Then again, Harry also started out a lot more cross too. People blame it on Ditko. This is actually all we see of Peter’s college life in the Master Planner storyline. We don’t see Empire State University or Gwen again until issue 34.


Issue 34

By now Peter is out of his funk and ready to socialize, but unfortunately, any chance he had of starting a new reputation in college has been shot by his awful first impression.

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Looks like Gwen is resuming her beauty queen duties. Look at the second shot, she is REALLY enjoying herself. Then along comes Peter Parker to remind her that not EVERYONE worships her. It kills her and it makes the chase to get Peter all the more attractive to her. Still she is angry enough at being ignored to yell at him not to touch her book. She is letting her pride rule her there. Plus, Harry and Flash would never let her hear the end of it if they saw her flirting with Peter. Peer pressure. And once again, Ditko’s Harry is a jerk. We also see more evidence of his love for Gwen too. Notice how he APPEARED AS SOON AS PETER TRIED TO PICK UP THE BOOK? He isn’t about to let anyone else chat up his crush.

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Gwen looks downright evil. “Just you wait”. It’s like she is being set up to become a villain.

The challenge is intriguing Gwen more and more. Meanwhile Pete is finally noticing what a “knockout” Gwen is but quickly drops the thought. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance in her league. He has been “Bookworm Puny Parker” for years, so it would be hard for him to accept and believe a girl like Gwen Stacy is in his league. Later that issue we see Peter contemplating the current issues situation at school, guess who is glaring at him?

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It is also worth noting what is going on in Peter’s love life at the moment. He and Betty Brant, his first girlfriend, are in the process of breaking up. There is no one issue where the breakup clearly happens, it just kind of slowly dies. Betty, who gets mad when Peter talks to Liz but she is allowed to date Ned, tells Peter that Ned proposed to her. Peter almost proposes himself, but throws a jealous tantrum and tells her to marry Ned. Betty tries to talk to Peter and patch things up for a while but he shuts her out and tries to scare her off by showing up at the Bugle with scars and bruises. She leaves town and Peter assumes she and Ned eloped. Eventually, in the Romita issues, she returns after issues of Peter pining for her. He realizes the magic is gone and they part ways as friends. However, as of this point we aren’t that far yet. The issue scanned above is where Betty leaves town so that relationship isn’t resolved just yet. Issue 35 doesn’t feature the ESU gang so we don’t see anymore Gwen until…

Issue 36

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Gwen is really confused about this sudden change in Peter and although it isn’t said, we can tell she is frustrated and hurt that he responds this way to Sally but not to her. This probably cut her. Perhaps Peter wasn’t really too stuck up to notice her, he just didn’t find her attractive as Sally (not MY speculation, just what was going through Gwen’s head). Peter’s rejection of Sally must have made Gwen really happy. And Peter is an idiot. “Oh no! She likes me for my mind! I can’t have that!” Some old Marvel sourcebooks speculated if this was the same Sally from “Amazing Fantasy # 15″, but Kurt Busiek later made sure we had no question it wasn’t. Later that issue…

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Gwen must also be relieved that she is running into Peter outside of the ESU setting. She doesn’t have to go through the motions for Flash, Harry or any of the others. She could talk to Peter and perhaps even be herself without worrying about her reputation.

Gwen going to the space exhibit was just a plot device at the time, but it makes sense with what we learn later. We find out in Romita’s run that Gwen is also a science major. With all her admirers why didn’t she take any of them? Probably because none of them would have appreciated the exhibit and ruined the experience for her. Another reason why she is probably attracted to an “egghead” like Peter. Gwen can’t do things simply. She can’t just tap him on the shoulder or yell his name. Think how much quicker their romance would have gone. Nope. She is going to be difficult and let her pride make things go slowly. Oh Gwen.

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SIGH Gwen is way too stubborn to make the first move. After the fight ends…

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Gwen is turned off by yellow men. We later find out her dad is a cop, so she obviously holds brave men in high regard. This explains her reaction somewhat, but does leave poor Peter confused. She also might be mad at herself. If Peter was brave she might have been able to justify some of her attraction, but if he is a coward it makes her attraction for him even more confusing for her.

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Well for the first time Gwen is wearing an outfit that isn’t red. Gwen is just being weird in that scene. If that played out in real life, everyone would think the girl was Koo-koo for Cocoa  poofs. Flash actually seems to be trying to bond with Peter here, but Pete just shoots back with a comeback.
Issue 37

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Peter collects action figures of his friends!

We also get the first NAMED appearance of Norman Osborn (outside of his Goblin mask). Technically Harry appeared before Norman in the series. Now for a very unusual Peter/Gwen confrontation…

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Gwen tries to slap Peter??? The innocent Gwen from our flashbacks? The sweat headband girl? Did Peter really say the cliche “gorgous when you’re angry”? You can tell he hasn’t had much experience with women.

It is interesting that Peter acknowledges how Gwen had been drooling over him. We were given no indication that he was aware of it. Although if somebody has a crush on you, over time you do notice those little things. Perhaps Peter didn’t know what he was talking about. Either way it struck a nerve with Gwen. This meant, in her mind, that not only HAD he noticed her, but still chooses to spurn her feelings. Peter is probably just teasing or playing a bluff not realizing the severity of what he said.
Once again, the minute Peter has any interaction with Gwen, one of her admirers comes to mark his territory.

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Gwen is starting to get pretty defensive towards our boy Peter. Again, at the time, it reads like a repeat of the Liz Allan stories. At least for me. Gwen also knows Harry’s game and calls him out on it. I imagine she’s getting pretty annoyed with his attitude at this point. By the way, that foe is Professor Stromm, the guy who created the Goblin formula.

Issue 38
This is Steve Ditko’s last issue. I am not going to go over the debate of how and why he left because it would be endless speculation that would take forever, and it has been better documented elsewhere.

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I’m not sure if money works that way.

Flash things Norman’s a great guy? Wait until he loads you up with beer and cripples you and makes Ramos illustrate it all!

At this point Gwen is annoyed enough with Flash and Harry’s pestering of Peter to publicly comment on it. Nevermind the fact that she was doing it a few issues ago.

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Marvel’s stance on 60′s protesters. Why is Harry borrowing clothes from Jimmy Olsen?

Once again, Ditko’s Harry was a jerk. At least Gwen has calmed down in her attitude towards Peter. Okay, it’s a small step away from her beauty queen with pride phase, but a step all the same. Now she and Peter are one step closer towards being together. She is also quiet when the others make fun of him where as a few issues ago she would have joined in or be “too busy laughing”.

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Now Gwen has gone from hate to feeling sympathy towards Peter. She see’s that there is more to him than meets the eye and that perplexes her. She also can’t stop staring at him, although it could be because he is walking oddly in that second panel.
Peter can’t seem to figure out who Harry’s dad is eh? Years later it was retconned that Norman Osborn was a big scientific inspiration for Peter as a kid. It’s also been retconned that the Osborns were celebrities on the Paris Hilton level with cameras following them everywhere. Doesn’t seem to be the case.
That is the last we of Gwen in Ditko’s run and in the short time we’ve met her she has already started to evolve and change her beauty queen ways. Gwen’s evolution is just starting though. Before the issue ends, we get a peak at a character who will do alot to shape the way Gwen evolves…

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Ditko gave MJ really big boobs….but not alot of hair.

Join us in a few days! Romita takes over and changes the entire tone of the Spider-strip! How does Gwen fare?

7 Responses to “Finding Gwen Stacy part 1: Ditko’s Gwen”

  1. #1 Miles_Warren says:

    Love these types of insightful articles. It makes you realise and appreciate things you never knew about certain characters. I wonder if Betone will counter JR’s comment about Gwen been turned into a spoilt Daddy’s Girl in her later appearances….

  2. #2 Shadow116 says:

    Great job so far, can’t wait for the rest.

  3. #3 Gamer7 says:

    yeah thanks heaps for posting these. really enjoyed it.

  4. #4 Michael Hop says:

    Now that you have whet our appetite on Ditko’s Gwen Stacy, do you have plans for Ditko’s Liz Allan or Betty Brant. Thanks bunches, you made it a great day.

    Michael Hop

  5. #5 Lenny says:

    Ditko’s hints at Peter Parker’s homosexuality were truly brave and innovative. A pity Lee fired him due to it.

  6. #6 Big Al says:

    @#5-His what now?

  7. #7 Jack Brooks says:

    5 — Yeah, it’s fun just to show up and spout nonsense, isn’t it?

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