What If? #24 classic comic re-read – what if Spider-Man has rescued Gwen Stacy?
This classic comic re-read of What If? #24 contains some spoilers.
For many, issues #121 and #122 of Spider-Man, spelled the end of a more innocent age in comic book history. When Gerry Conway decided that it would be a good idea to have The Green Goblin murder Gwen Stacy, comics would take a turn in the road, that many say paved the way for the gritty street-level drama that would usher in comics such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
So impactful was the two-issue story, that shocked readers started sending hateful letters to the Marvel Bullpen, and decades later, the story would be constantly revisited and retconned and rebooted, or whatever it is they do in comics these days.
Stan Lee even tried to distance himself from the stories, saying that had he known what was going on in their leading flagship title, he would have put the kibosh on it there and then, but then Stan, bless him, would have said that.
So by 1980, What If? #24 became the perfect place to address the situation in a story titled “What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?” by Tony Isabella and Gil Kane, with Frank Giacoia.
It starts with Peter on the bridge where the awful act occurred wondering what may have happened if he had saved Gwen, and then The Watcher allows a look into the way things might have played out had he succeeded in saving his one true love.
There is an accurate reproduction of the events of issue #121 but this time, instead of shooting his web to catch Gwen, and if you believe the source material snapping her neck in the process, Peter decides to jump from the bridge and catch Gwen himself. This pretty much answers the question of whether Peter killed Gwen by using his web, but I’m sure there will be people that still debate the issue. The star-struck lovers fall into the river, Peter brings them both to the surface and resuscitates Gwen, who awakens and sees Peter, no mask on, and Peter then proposes to Gwen who accepts.
With that out the way, Pete sets out to find The Goblin, who is with his son Harry. Harry does not want his father to attack Peter again, and the two fight. When Spider-Man gets the upper hand though, Harry attacks Peter to protect his father. Norman Osborne has a device rigged to blow the whole house to kingdom come, but when he sees his son stand up for him, he throws the device away. Peter allows the two men to leave to work things out, with Norman seemingly coming to his senses.
We then see the wedding of Peter and Gwen, and this moment for many fans must have been a dream come true. To see Peter and Gwen happy just for a moment is still enough to warm the hearts of many die-hard Spidey fans.
The moment is short-lived though, J Jonah Jameson crashes the wedding with evidence that Peter is Spider-Man. The congregation is shocked, Aunt May passes out and the best man, Flash Thompson, tells Peter to give himself up. Instead, he makes a run for it. Meanwhile, JJ has printed the front page story of Peter being Spidey in a scene almost foretelling the cliffhanger ending of the last Spiderman film. Just like the film, we are left with Peter brooding about his future and wondering if he was to become the villain JJ always said he was.
This downbeat ending is typical of Spider-Man tales, with our hero seemingly defeated and not allowed to enjoy any kind of happiness or peace. It is unfortunate that What If? was fine with leaving these tales open-ended, as the message is pretty much that no matter what Peter does, he will still be in an awful position.
Downbeat and depressing this may be, but for fans of this particular era of the comic, this issue of What If? is a must-read.