1. The Night Gwen Stacy Died (Amazing Spider-Man #121-122)
Creative Team: Gerry Conway (Writer), Gil Kane (Artist), John Romita, Tony Mortellard (Inkers), Artie Simek (Letterer), David Hunt (Colorist)
I doubt anyone's surprised by this story's presence on my list, or even appearing as Number 1. It's simply one of the best comic book stories ever, and I think it's slightly unfair that with this one story twenty year old Gerry Conway wrote something better than anything a lot of great writers (Stan Lee, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, etc) had ever written in their lifetimes (in my opinion of course.)
This is the Psycho of comic books, in that I don't think there's ever been anything more thrilling in the medium, even if you know how everything's going to end. Spider-Man has his best battles against the Green Goblin in both chapters of this issue, (although they may just be elevated by the quality of the rest of the issue.) There's so many brilliant scenes, like Gwen wondering what's wrong in Harry's life, while the Green Goblin's at the window, and of course, perhaps the most famous death in comic books. And there's still a controversy over what was responsible for the death, all because of a single sound effect that Gerry Conway didn't even realize that he left into the script.
And of course there's still the second issue, which more than maintains the quality of the first. You get to see a traumatized, pissed off Spider-Man getting shot at by a cop, while his partner yells "Shoot to Wound, blast it! Shoot to wound!," a really angry and inhuman looking Peter Parker, ably drawn by Gil Kane, Peter choosing between revenge and helping a friend (he doesn't pick the friend), Spider-Man VS. J. Jonah Jameson, an excellent battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, the best death scene of any villain, the set up to Harry Osborn becoming the second Green Goblin, and the set up to Peter's relationship to Mary Jane.
It's weird just how good this story is. I knew about what happened in it before I read it, but there's so much to appreciate. Even after thirty years, this story has remained timeless by not mentioning outdated science, or other stories (the preceding, and following stories had a subplot with Aunt May living in Doctor Octopus's house, which didn't have the best payoff, but that's mercifully ignored here). I don't know if it's even possible to write a Spider-Man story, although I hope the writers of the future try.
Danny Fingeroth: What are you proudest of that you've done in your Spider-Man runs?
Gerry Conway: Raising the bar for everyone who came after me with the Death of Gwen Stacy.
Danny Fingeroth: If you could meet Spider-Man, what would you like to ask or tell him?
Gerry Conway: Sorry about that.
JR Fettinger argued that it didn't belong in a top ten. Gwen Stacy is considered an example of the "Women in Refrigerators" trope. The death of Gwen Stacy is literally the end of an era, as many consider it the conclusion of the Silver Age.
It's astounding to think of this from the perspective of a reader who doesn't know anything heading into the story, and has to guess about who's going to die and who the villain's going to be. It's a hell of a start.
The character was pushed harder than ever before, and you can make the argument that no writer, artist or editor can ever push him this hard again. But it was incredible to see it happen this once. The result was the best Spider-Man story ever.
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