I love these kinds of items.
In Utah’s Deseret News, brothers Bill and Rich Sones, authors of Can a Guy Get Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So- Everyday) Questions, tackle the question of Gwen Stacy’s death:
Question: If ever a physicist were needed to quiet a comic book controversy, it’s over what killed Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy on her fall off the George Washington Bridge after her abduction by the villainous Green Goblin. Was it the fall that killed her, or Spider-Man’s webbing that caught her before she hit the water?
Answer: When Spider-Man reeled Gwen back to the top of the bridge, he was shocked to discover she was dead, says James Kakalios in “The Physics of Superheroes.” “She was dead before your webbing reached her!” the Goblin taunted. “A fall from that height would kill anyone — before they struck the ground!”
But if this were true, how do paratroopers and sky divers survive? To determine the web forces acting on Gwen, assume she had fallen about 300 feet, speeding up due to gravity to nearly 95 mph. Once snagged by Spidey’s webbing, she quickly goes from 95 to 0 mph. Though the webbing is elastic, the time available to slow her descent is short. If she weighs 110 and her stopping time is 0.5 second, then the webbing applies 970 pounds to break her fall, or nearly 9 times her weight, or 9 g’s.
Traveling at that speed and stopping that fast, there is little difference between hitting the webbing and the water, says Kakalios. There have been cases of people surviving 9 g’s, but typically suicide victims who jump from bridges die not of drowning but from broken necks, Gwen’s likely not-too-comic fate.
May the controversy rest in peace.
James Kakalios, who’s quoted in their response, also addressed the physics of Gwen’s fall a few years ago.