One of the best-known and most influential comic books of all time was The Amazing Spider-Man #121 from June 1973 by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita, Sr., and Tony Mortellaro. The Green Goblin, Spider-Man's arch-nemesis, kidnaps Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy and lures the Web-Slinger to New York City's George Washington Bridge. The Goblin throws Gwen off the top of the bridge, and Spidey desperately launches a strand of web after her. He manages to catch her by her legs, but the sudden stop snaps her neck and kills her. The story, titled "The Night Gwen Stacy Died," changed Spider-Man's life and is considered by many comics critics to be the official end of the Silver Age.
But there are other worlds where things turned out differently.
In 2014, Marvel Comics was in the preliminary stages of a crossover called "Spider-Verse," in which a cosmic supervillain would travel between universes in an attempt to destroy every version of Spider-Man. A miniseries was begun introducing readers to some of the Spider-Variants there were in the multiverse -- in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez told the story of the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65, a girl who was bitten by a radioactive spider when she was in high school and acquired a number of spider-like powers -- increased strength and agility, the ability to cling to walls, and a "Spider-Sense" that warned her of imminent danger. She begins a superhero career as Spider-Woman, and soon after, one of her classmates named Peter Parker goes all-in with the hero worship and tries to give himself superpowers. As a result, he turns himself into this universe's version of the Lizard. Unfortunately, Peter suffers an adverse reaction to the chemicals in his Lizard formula and dies, and Gwen is blamed for his death. She is pursued by the police, including her father, police captain George Stacy, and hounded in the media by J. Jonah Jameson.
The reaction to this new character -- a quiet, withdrawn loser in her private life, playing drums in a punk band called the Mary Janes, while secretly stirring up trouble as a wisecracking superhero -- was phenomenal. Her costume got a lot of praise -- instead of the familiar red and blue costume worn by Peter Parker, Gwen's spider-suit was predominantly black and white with turquoise-colored slippers on her feet and a pink and turquoise web pattern on her arms. She also wears a white pull-up hood with the pink and turquoise web pattern on the inside of the hood. Like most of Marvel's spider-themed heroes, she has large, upturned eye markings, but they are colored pink with a hard interior edge and soft, fuzzed exterior that resembles a line of spray paint. With Gwen's first appearance, fan art started appearing all over the Internet, with the first cosplay versions appearing at conventions soon afterwards.
An ongoing comic series was quickly greenlit by Marvel, with Latour writing and Rodriguez taking on the writing chores. The series brought in new members of Gwen's supporting cast, including her father; her bandmates in the Mary Janes, including prima donna lead singer Mary Jane Watson; Frank Castle, a unbalanced and violent police captain obsessed with destroying Spider-Woman; Matt Murdock, blind lawyer by day, kingpin of crime by night; Samantha Wilson, a.k.a. Captain America; Peggy Carter, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Ben Grimm, an unpowered police officer; and many others. She also gained a wristwatch that let her travel to our universe, because of course everyone wanted to see how Peter Parker handled learning that his dead girlfriend was a superhero in another dimension.
The character also inspired some new creations. Marvel published a batch of alternate covers of their comics featuring Gwen Stacy versions of other characters -- Gwen Stacy Wolverine, Gwen Stacy Magneto, full teams of Gwen Stacy X-Men and Avengers. The Gwen Stacy Deadpool variant ended up inspiring the new character Gwenpool, a good-natured, wisecracking assassin whose only power involves her being a comics fan from another universe, so she knows every superhero's real name. Additionally, a rock band called Married with Sea Monsters recorded their own take on "Face It Tiger," a song performed by the Mary Janes in Spider-Gwen's first appearance.
If there's a hard limit on Gwen's popularity, it's that, unlike Miles Morales, another Spider-hero from an alternate universe, it may not be possible to bring her to the main Marvel Universe on a permanent basis -- the death of the original Gwen Stacy has had such a vast impact on the world that it would be seen by many, even Gwen's fans, as an attempt to erase one of the most influential and powerful stories in comics history. And there's the name "Spider-Gwen" -- it's a nickname used by fans, where the actual character has preferred to use the more formal Spider-Woman. That makes the character feel like a novelty, something not to be taken seriously. But there are already several Spider-Women running around Marvel's main continuity, including the Jessica Drew version who already had a recent ongoing comics series. So in an effort to give Gwen a more distinct identity away from the other Spider-Women, Marvel has begun to transition toward calling her Ghost Spider -- although she'll probably always be known to fans as Spider-Gwen.
Spider-Gwen has appeared as an unlockable character in a number of video games. She's been voiced by Dove Cameron in the "Ultimate Spider-Man" TV cartoon and by Laura Bailey in the 2017 "Spider-Man" cartoon. Gwen will also make appearances in two animated films -- "Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors," again voiced by Cameron, and "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," voiced by Hailee Steinfeld.