In the X-Men crossover event “Age of Apocalypse,” Gwen Stacy stepped up without spider-powers to become a hero in her own right.
In recent years, Gwen Stacy has been transformed from a lost love of Spider-Man’s into a powerful woman and hero in her own right. The change really started when Emma Stone’s performances as Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man film series brought renewed popularity to the character and continued with the subsequent introduction of Spider-Gwen, an alternate reality duplicate of Gwen who is herself a superhero, rather than the love interest of one. Spider-Gwen became a beloved addition to the Marvel Comics multiverse before her appearance in the acclaimed animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where she is voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, boosted her popularity even more. But decades before this renaissance Gwen’s involvement in the “Age of Apocalypse” comic book event displayed her heroic potential.
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The “Age of Apocalypse” version of Gwen was created by Scott Lobdell and Carlos Pacheco and first appeared in X-Universe #1 in 1995. In the “Age of Apocalypse” reality Gwen was an exchange student studying in Paris, which allowed her to avoid harm when Apocalypse took over America. After Dr. Donald Blake (who in this reality was not connected to Thor) saved her life she became his bodyguard and worked with him on famine relief in Africa. Her time in Apocalypse’s hellish world turned Gwen into a hardened soldier very different from the innocent girl from Earth-616. She was usually depicted armed with at least one gun.
Gwen and Donald’s work was cut short when the Marauders, Apocalypse’s human forces, attacked the village they were operating in. Gwen killed their leader, Wilson Fisk, but the village would have been overrun if not for the arrival of Tony Stark and Clint Barton. Gwen accompanied Donald when Stark recruited him for a mission vital to the human resistance. Gwen bravely fought against a Hulked-out Bruce Banner to try to prevent the bombing of the human leadership before Stark managed to convince Banner, who worked for Apocalypse, to change sides and help humanity. Gwen chastised Banner for betraying humanity which eventually led him to sacrifice himself by jumping in the way of a missile set to destroy a spaceship containing human survivors.
The “Age of Apocalypse” Gwen only made one more appearance after the event ended in X-Man #37 by Terry Kavanagh, ChrisCross, Bud LaRosa, Richard Starkings, Comicraft, Mike Thomas, and Mark Bernardo. When Spider-Man attempted to talk Nate Grey out of erasing memories of himself from the world Nate’s immense psychic powers made contact with a thought of Gwen in Peter’s mind and the Gwen from the Age of Apocalypse (from where Nate also hailed) appeared. Believing Peter and Nate to be servants of Apocalypse, Gwen prepared to fight them before all three were attacked, causing Gwen to fall from the George Washington Bridge, the same one from which 616-Gwen fell to her death years ago. Before Peter could catch her Nate was incapacitated, and as soon as he was Gwen vanished, leaving Peter heartbroken yet again.
The “Age of Apocalypse” was ahead of its time with the way it depicted Gwen as a hero, rather than a damsel in distress. It will likely be a while before an adaptation of the event is possible, given that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s plans for the X-Men are still unknown, but there is no lack of strong versions of Gwen in current media.
In the comics Spider-Gwen has made her way to Earth-616 and currently stars in the Ghost-Spider ongoing series. Steinfeld’s version will likely return for the upcoming Into the Spider-Verse sequel and recent rumors suggest that Stone may reprise her role in the next live-action Spider-Man film, either by reviving the Gwen from The Amazing Spider-Man films or introducing a live-action Spider-Gwen from a different world in the multiverse.
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