Those of you who know me as a Spike fan, might be somewhat surprised that Spike is actually not my typical kind of character. I don't usually go for the bad boys. It's thus no shock that I didn't get really interested in Spike until he started on the path towards redemption. (cause I do love bad boys trying to redeem themselves, it's a thing.) I was the kid that preferred Luke Skywalker over Han Solo; who likes Cyclops better than Wolverine and who absolutely adores Spider-Man. I like heroes, pure and simple. It's why for the longest time Buffy was my favorite character in Buffy.
The problem is though, that for a very long time, heroes all had one thing in common, boring love interests.
I mean, who do you put with the 'hero' to keep the hero, heroic. With comics, during what was called the Silver Age, very often the girlfriend in question was only there to be a reward for the hero. There was some soap opera nonsense, but essentially the love interest was a safe sweet girl who was pretty and occasionally said to be intelligent (though rarely actually shown to be so) but who was mostly as boring as card board.
Cyclops got stuck with Jean Grey, Luke didn't even get a girlfriend and Spidey got stuck with that millstone of a character, Gwen Stacy.
Leaves time for fans of Gwen to get angry at me*g*.
I don't like Gwen, let me get that out of the way first. In fact, the char was basically so boring, that her most defining moment in the comics, was her death. Think about that for a second, a character who had so little actual personality, that most of what people remember about her, is that she was Peter's girlfriend and she died. That's it, that's the character, the dead horse that keeps getting pulled out of the ditch whenever people want Peter to angst a bit.
Now of course, most of this was the writer's fault. In fact, reading both 'Ultimate Spider-Man and 'Spider-Man loves Mary Jane' have shown me a Gwen who could be fun and interesting and someone I wouldn't mind reading about. Unfortunately, neither of those two Gwens have anything in common with the 616 version of Gwen, other than the fact that they're blond, knew Peter Parker and are the daughter of captain Stacy.
So what makes Mary Jane so much better a character than poor old Gwen...
For one thing, MJ was written in as the rival. She was never meant to end up with Peter. In fact, she was probably shown to make the reader see how great and wonderful and nice Gwen was. As such, MJ was given the greatest gift that any female comic book character could ever receive. She was given 'a personality'.
Sure she was an airhead at first, but she was fun, she had flaws and strenghts. She was never just the designated girlfriend.
See, there's nothing worse for a character, than to get stuck as the 'designated girl/boy-friend'. Examples of such are Kennedy, Riley Finn, Angel on Buffy s1-s3, Gwen Stacy, just about any girlfriend that's ever gotten stuck with Batman, (other than Talia and Catwoman...), Lois Lane (before the writers pulled off her blinders and finally let her become a character, you know, after she'd already existed for over 40 years), most if not all DC girlfriends..., Karen Page before she left and became interesting.
These people aren't characters in their own right, they're an ideal for the hero to strive for. And yes, I do count s1-s3 Angel under that. Sure, Angel became Angelus, but that just meant he went from 'perfect boyfriend' to 'most painfull enemy', and not even by something internal, but by an external plot element, aka the loophole in his curse. In my opinion, Angel didn't become an actual character in his own right until late s1 of his own series. Before that, he existed solely for the purpose of giving Buffy someone to have feelings for. I'm not even going to start on any of the DC girlfriends, now I'll admit that they have gotten somewhat better over time, but with most of them, I can hardly even remember their names, let out anything specific about them as characters. Aside of Lois, who's almost as much of an institute as Superman himself, none of the DC non-powered designated girlfriends, really stand out all that much.
But as said before, there are exceptions to this rule. And guess what, they have one thing in common with my girl MJ, none of them were actually designed to be the heroes girlfriend.
Selina and Talia were both designed as temptresses, rivals to the actual virtuous girlfriends/the cause. They were never meant to actually ever end up with the hero. Hence they were allowed to grow a personality.
And the fun part is that these characters, the ones not designed picture perfect as the ideal girlfriend for the hero, are much more interesting to read about when interacting with the hero, than the characters that were written specifically for the hero in question.
Now I might be biased, yep, little old me, but I'll much rather read Buffy with Spike, than I would read her with Angel... why? Because Spike was allowed to grow into a character before he got interested in her. As such, he's as much the rival, as Selina, Talia and MJ are. These are characters that are given a much broader playing field to work upon, because they have to exist even when the hero isn't getting together with them. They are given inherent flaws, inherent personality traits. They're problems are internal rather than external. Selina can't quite get herself straight, Talia can't get over her loyalty to her father, MJ likes to run away from commitment, Spike has deep insecurity issues that he hides between bravado and a badass attitude...
And it's those flaws that make them so likeable and so fun.
Gwen got stuck in the sweet submissive perfect girlfriend and the 616 version never got out of that. It's I think why so many Gwen fans are upset over Sins Past. It's because an iconic marble statue got besmirched.
Not that I'm a fan of Sins Past, far from it, the whole Goblin baby thing made no sense and would have better gone ignored. But... if you do have to write a story where the key point is that Gwen Stacy slept with Norman Osborn, shouldn't you then, I don't know, give us some focus on the actual character?
It's not that I can't believe that Norman is charismatic and that he lured sweet little Gwen to his bed. In fact, if it had been written well, it might have actually salvaged the character and finally made her a person, rather than a cardboard cut out. She could still have been sweet and naive, nothing wrong with that, but she would have been a sweet and naive person with a reason for existing other than because she's dating Peter Parker.
Instead the writer merely used her as a plot device to bring about the goblin babies and hurt Peter. In fact, the series almost makes it sound, like Gwen's death was less of a crime, than Norman luring her to his bed. She's not a person anywhere in the story. And for a character who's already a blank page as it is, that's just stabbing away at what little she had going for her in the first place.
Maybe it's just silly of me, I don't like Gwen, I only like Norman as a villain because he works great with Peter, but I would love to see a one shot, or a miniseries, devoted entirely to showing Norman seducing Gwen from Gwen's pov. I don't need to see a love story, because that wasn't what they were about, I mean a story dealing with Gwen as a character and who she was aside of Peter's ideal.
Unfortunately 616 writers seem to be even less likely to give us that, than that they are willing to admit the greatness of Peter being married.
And that's just sad.