The password is Gerry Conway.
If you don't recognize the veteran comic book writer's name, and/or haven't already seen "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," then stop reading — now. Take you and your blissful ignorance to the movies. Say hello to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone for us — they're so cute together.
As for the rest of you geeks, you're probably wondering what the big secret is. How could someone, anyone be unaware of: (a) the résumé of Conway ("The Punisher," "Ms. Marvel," "The Amazing Spider-Man"); (b) the legend of the Conway-written "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 121; (c) the buzz that the 1973 tale was a jumping-off point for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"; and (d) the name of the story featured in the famous issue?
No, it wasn't called "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" for nothing.
"It's sort of like if you do 'Macbeth,'" says Conway, who was all of 20 when the comic hit the stands. "You know that the king is going to get killed — that's the point."
And so like the comic-book version before her, Stone's Gwen Stacy, imperiled by the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) and beyond the rescue of Spider-Man (Garfield), meets a tragic end in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."
"It's pretty weird," Stone told Yahoo Movies of watching herself die on the big screen. "They added that trail of blood in post [production]. So that was really strange to watch."
On the eve (more or less) of the release of the sequel, we talked to Conway about Gwen Stacy, Gwen Stacy's death, and why he feels for unsuspecting movie audiences who are, you know, going to watch Gwen Stacy perish.
Walk us back: How did Gwen Stacy get doomed?
G.C.: ["Amazing Spider-Man" artist John Romita] was the primary guy who thought it would be a good idea to change things up on "Spider-Man" by doing something dramatic. He felt that it would be good to kill off one of the main characters, and I agreed: This would be a good way to keep things real.
The character [Romita] had in mind to kill off was Aunt May [played by Sally Field in the Garfield-Stone reboot], and I thought that would be a mistake... Aunt May was Spidey's ongoing conscience, a reminder of his role in the death of his Uncle Ben.
[Looking elsewhere], I didn't feel Gwen brought anything to the storyline. She was kind of a bland, almost Barbie-esque-type figure, more of a wish-fulfillment object than a person. I didn't see anyway I could write her, and make her interesting. So I was [saying], "Well, let's kill off Gwen Stacy."
Lots of comic characters "die"; what made Gwen Stacy's demise famous-slash-infamous?
What we did there was a little bit more dramatic that anyone was intending. It wasn't just that she died; it was how she died.
You mean, that's she's thrown off a bridge?
Not so much the act of being thrown off. [In the comic], when Spider-Man tries to save her, he shoots his webbing out, and it catches her, but it swings her around and her neck snaps. So in effect in his effort to save her, he ends up contributing to her death. [Note: Though not a panel-for-panel recreation, that's essentially what occurs in the movie, too.] I mean, Gwen would've died anyway but — let's face it, you get thrown off a bridge, you're dead — the classic superhero mold up to that point was Lois Lane gets thrown off a building, Superman flies up and catches her. She's fine.
So, Gwen's death came out of the blue. There's no hint that this is coming. This is at a time when all of this was relatively new. [Note: The Spider-Man character, for instance, had only originated 11 years prior, in 1962.] These days a character gets killed off, it's no big deal. [But Gwen] became the iconic figure she is because she died, and because she stayed dead, and because of the impact it that it had on the life of [Spider-Man alter-ego] Peter Parker.
So, back in the day, comic fans took the development well, yes?
I had to stop going to conventions. [Laughs.]
I got a lot of hate mail, a lot of angry comments at conventions, so I just stopped reading mail and I stopped going to conventions. It was a lot easier to isolate yourself from this stuff back then.
The assumption was that because I was the writer and the sole person credited with writing the story that therefore it was all me.
But this [storyline] had to go through [Marvel Comics guru] Stan Lee, and Roy Thomas, who was the editor-in-chief, and both of them agreed with this.
But Stan basically washed his hands of it. He went to some college-speaking engagement, and got a lot of heat. His response was, oh, I didn't know they were doing that — I was out of town. It's like, come on, he's the head of the company!
When did you know the movie franchise was going to give its Gwen Stacy your Gwen Stacy treatment?
[When the series was rebooted in 2012], I figured that the reason they brought in Gwen Stacy as opposed to Mary Jane Watson [played by Kirsten Dunst in the Tobey Maguire "Spider-Man" movies of the aughts, and by Shailene Woodley in since-deleted scenes in "Amazing Spider-Man 2"] was because they were going to do that story.
When you look at the history of the Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy is a really small part of it. The only purpose she serves is to die. That sounds very brutal, but in terms of the mythology of the character, she is the dead girlfriend.
By introducing Gwen Stacy in the new "Spider-Man" movies, it was pretty clear to me that unless they were going to wildly veer away from the established material, her days were numbered. I was simply wondering if it was going to be the second movie or the third movie.
And when did you learn it was going to happen this time around — in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"?
It's kind of funny, the way that I knew for sure was from an Entertainment Weekly article that my daughter read about three or four weeks ago. There was a reference to it being partially inspired by "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 121, which is "The Night Gwen Stacy Died," so that's what made me pretty sure that that's what was going to happen — and it started me on my Twitter campaign to get invited to the film.
Director Marc Webb responded to your tweets, and got you into the premiere. What was it like watching Gwen Stacy die with an audience?
You could actually hear people being shocked, and that was kind of amazing. There were cries of, "Oh, my God! No!" And on one hand, I'm sitting there going [makes squirming sound] 'cause I'm feeling the pain that these people are feeling, but at the same time I'm going, "Boy, this is going to blow up when this comes out."
Loved Spider-Man 2, actually choked up at one particular scene. Brilliant work from all.— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) April 25, 2014
It's not quite as bad as "Game of Thrones" killing off Robb Stark and his pregnant wife — which by the way if you haven't seen it, that's what happens... But [Gwen Stacy] is a very innocent, loving young woman who is killed in an out-of-nowhere sort-of moment, which is comparable to what happened in the comic book, but may have an even bigger impact on an audience of filmgoers.
Oh, but movie fans will take the development well, yes?
The [filmmakers] are doing a very risky thing. As viewers of superhero movies we're just not used to the idea that the hero fails and can't save the damsel in distress.
In "The Dark Knight," Batman fails to save his girlfriend, but the relationship with the girlfriend there was not as intimate and personal and as innocent as the relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacy.
It's going to be fascinating to see what the audience response is going to be.
You've got your hardcore fans [who've read the comics], but that's a small percentage. Then you've got your Friday-night, let's-go-see-a-movie-this-will-be-exciting [crowd] — that's the audience that's going to be shocked. They're just going to be, "Holy crap!"
So, basically, you're going to ruin somebody's date-night this weekend?
Not me. Marc Webb.
—Kevin Polowy contributed to this report.