CHAPTER 10: THE SPIDER PROJECT – WHY MARY JANE DOESN’T WORK

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I was really enraged over “One More Day”. Having been on the Ditko side of the argument for so long, I finally saw that Marvel was totally against letting Peter Parker age and develop new stories. I had planned on protesting the books. But, then they hooked me with the creative teams. Then, they brought back Norman Osborn. Plus, they were trying new stuff and it wasn’t terrible. What was going on here? Constant creative rotation to keep things fresh and lively? Villains being reintroduced as the classic threats we know them to be?!?

Then, we got to see Marcos Martin and Dan Slott on the book. Spider-Man had entered into a new Golden Age. But, what of Mary Jane? She was Peter’s wife and the mother of their disappeared baby. Would we ever get some sort of closure? Hell no. What was more surprising was how little it mattered. Does that say a lot for Mary Jane and her defined role in the Spider-Man universe. I venture to say that it did. But, why are now realizing the futile nature of Peter being married and its importance to Mary Jane?

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Mary Jane has always never made sense for Peter Parker or Spider-Man. It was wish fulfillment for a guy that went from puny nerd to crushing multiple samples of poon in a three year period. Gwen was his equal, Betty was the older woman and Mary Jane was the neighbor’s niece thrown upon him. Mary Jane doesn’t even show up until the classic final page of her debut issue. Sure, it’s one of the best entrances in comic history. However, Mary Jane already feels like a put on intruder into a world that she doesn’t understand.

She spends the next year dancing through the comic and pushing off the boys. Peter grows closer to Gwen until she eventually dies, then he’s forced back onto Mary Jane. Mary Jane rejects him, then he starts associating with related ESU students, Marvel Team-Up guest stars and the Black Cat. When all of those go into the crapper, Mary Jane shows up and he proposes. Parker gets rejected, then MJ accepts due to a pending marriage in the Spider-Man comic strip. That’s right, kids. Peter and Mary Jane only got married because Marvel wanted to tie it into an unrelated storyline in the national newspaper comic strip.

The key point of Peter and MJ’s relationship was based on editorial interference. Tom DeFalco had actually spent a storyline early explaining how MJ figured out Peter’s identity, but kept it to herself. Then, made a very reasonable argument for why she could like Peter as a friend. Cut to two years later, forced attacks and a second rejected marriage; then MJ is cool about dealing with Peter. Why was it such a big deal? Why did we loft MJ up to this status that doesn’t seem deserved?

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The marriage issue is so confusing. It happened in the first Amazing Spider-Man issue I ever read and most of the imagery has come to dominate my opinion of Spidey through the years. Whether it’s the marriage nightmare with the villains attacking the guests or the robbery with Electro; these images are what I see in my head when I see Spidey. Everything after that point was an excuse to force MJ into action, whether it was Venom attacking for the first time or the creepy landlord stalking her. For next decade, everything became about MJ’s pregnancy, habits and constant fears for Peter.

The comic was quickly becoming a relationship drama, when we weren’t dealing with fake robot parents, clones, the Superhuman Registration Act or Aunt May getting shot. Enough was enough, as the time came to re-evaluate what MJ brought to the team. The answer was that she is a party girl who worked better as an X Factor. The mystery created by Romita and Lee was long dead and that revealed something didn’t work. MJ isn’t meant to be understood by Peter, she’s out of his league.

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Ultimately, what matters is that Mary Jane stays a viable character in the Spider-Man universe. While she is a personality mis-match, she’s a life-long friend that knows a lot about the man behind the mask. That kind of grounding is absent outside of a direct family tie to Peter. When MJ makes Mephisto end their marriage during “One More Day”, she whispers something that we don’t find out until “One Moment in Time”. Unfortunately, this twist is negated by the fact that Peter forces MJ to remember their life together as it was, but the duo chooses to split and move on.

It’s a tricky setup, but it’s one that has led Spider-Man back to the promise of the early 1980s. There are multiple people in his life demanding certain things, but they all want to push him forward. Even Mary Jane has setup her own business and works as an outside factor in Peter’s life. The book is “The Amazing Spider-Man” for reason and not “Mary Jane Knows Best” for a reason. Supporting characters work when they have a defined role for our central figure. After a quarter century in the main book, MJ lost that focus and the story suffered.

While we have turned back the clock on that matter, something harsh remains. Why can’t a woman be on par with Spider-Man? Much has been made out of his MC2 counterpart Spider-Girl. Sure, it’s his daughter as a legacy character keeping the identity alive, but she manages to find time for her retired father in her book. But, her book keeps getting cancelled and the readership of that title is a tenth of what Amazing Spider-Man pulls down. Point rested.

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