The Infinite Mary Jane

A gentler variation of “the good writers argument” suggests that the writers did a good job with Peter Parker/ Spider‑Man, but should have focused more of their energy on making Mary Jane Watson into a more interesting character. She’s been a crucial part of the success of the comic strip, movies and the 90s cartoon, and has been established as a useful part of the supporting cast. She also has a pivotal role in many of the best and most popular Spider‑Man stories. As a result, Marvel has to be careful regarding their approach with the character.

Tom Beland is one of the many writers who wrote an excellent story about Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage. In this case, it was the Web of Romance one‑shot. He also writes and draws True Story, Swear to God, a lovely romantic comedy about his relationship with his wife.

A few years ago, Beland presented a variation of the good writers argument, He views Mary Jane as an essential part of the Spider‑Man books, the heart and soul of the series and the reason Peter Parker does what he does. He believes that there was a simple solution to the problem of making sure that the marriage doesn’t become stale. The writer has to make her more distinctive and three‑dimensional. He proposes giving her outside interests and controversial opinions.

Regarding Spidey/MJ:

People can talk about whether or not Peter and MJ should’ve been married all they want, but the fact is… they are. And they’ve been together for far too long to simply divorce and get rid of her. More than any other female character, aside from, say, Sue Storm… MJ has a significant role in the Marvel Universe as Spider-Man’s muse. She is the main reason he does what he does.

Get rid of MJ and you lose the heart and soul to Spider-Man. Period. You can bring up all the “What If” scenarios you want, it won’t change the fact that when you think of one, you instantly think of the other. They have been created to now fit together.

I think the main problem is, nobody wants to take MJ and create her own personality. In the years she’s been around, all she’s been used for has been nothing more than a hot chick in a nightie waking up to console Peter in the middle of the night… or a hot chick in a nightie waiting up for Peter to return from a fight. Or someone who has to be saved.\

pastclosebehind5a

Sean McKeever is the only writer trying to get to the actual heart of MJ.

My take on MJ is a simple one… she digs Peter and Spider-Man. She’s lived with this for most of her life and they are both like a drug to her. She rarely gets overly worried about him and, truth be told, she sort of gets off on seeing him in battle. When he returns, she asks him about what he did to defeat the bad guy… she’d even know all his favorite moves.

What are her outside interests?

To me, she’d be a bit of a chocoholic. She never lets anyone have the last piece of chocolate and if someone gets there before she does, it bugs her to no end.

She loves those Macy’s Day Parade balloons. She also loves morning cartoons on Saturday.

She’d take up cooking with Jarvis and find out she’s very good at it. The kitchen in the Avengers Tower is where the heroes hang out. I think it’s like that in everyone’s home.

She loves to embarrass men in line at the grocery store by holding up a box of tampons and saying “Mind if I go before you? I need to pay for these.” It makes her laugh to no end the way men are freaked out by a tiny box of hygene products. Which makes Peter roll his eyes when he sees her come home laughing.

She can’t lie to people. Nobody tells her about surprise parties.

In high school, she beat the crap out of Flash Thompson. They’ve never discussed it since… but each of them knows it happened.

Words about bodily function make her giggle like a child. “Crap” “Crappola” “Shit” “Pissed”…. all of them. And she can’t help it.

When she tells someone in the grocery store that you can use salt/pepper/garlic powder on some chicken legs (the cheapest, but best part of the chicken) pan fry skin side down in some olive oil and baked when turned for 40 minutes… and you’ll have the greatest first date meal of your lives… she feels like she’s Spider-Man.

She loves to carve her initials in wet cement. She’s done it all her life and, according to her log book, has 11,015 “MJW’s” and 7,342 “MJWP’s” across the streets of New York. It’s an obsession.

She’s afraid to get close to children… because they make her curious about parenthood. And those thoughts make her worry about what type of child you conceive with a man who has radioactive blood. So she stays back, keeping just enough distance to keep safe.

She thinks Bonds did it. He knew it. And she also knows that if steriods could win you a title… and they’re willing to do it… do it. Nobody is with her on that point of view.

She sponsors two children via mail. Nobody knows.

Soooooo, maybe some of those work for you, maybe they don’t. But I think the more you put into a character, the more endearing that character becomes to the reader. And let’s face it, though we don’t MIND seeing MJ in lingerie, it’s now like…. “okay, she’s in a nightie… get to the story.” You have to have more than the physical.

The more interesting MJ is, the more interesting Peter and MJ are. So, I’d love to focus on her side of the equation. She’d be the one of the few females in the Marvel Universe who can handle a crisis and not freak out. She’s lived with this shit for yeeeeeeears.

You may now bash me.

It’s difficult to think of anyone who writes relationships in comics better than Beland, but his argument is flawed, featuring some revisionist history. Let’s ignore that Mary Jane and Flash didn’t go to high school together. Spider‑Man did not need a muse for the first half of the character’s existence, and the absolute best stories of the character come from that period. Getting Peter and Mary Jane to fit together resulted in significant retcons, including the revelation that Mary Jane had always known that Peter Parker was Spider‑Man and a few flashbacks about ten year old Peter crushing on his nine year old neighbor, never mind that he had no idea who she was until her memorable introduction in Amazing Spider‑Man #42.

We buy autobiographical comics, romantic comedies and combinations of the two for completely reasons than we buy an action series and Peter’s private life, as important as it is to the character’s appeal, should compliment the superhero action, making the series exciting. In addition, the Spider-Man comics should not be coming to an end any time soon, so ensuring the longevity of the series is a paramount concern for Joe Quesada, Alex Alonso and company. While there are years of interesting stories you can get from fleshing out Mary Jane Watson Parker, I’m not sure there are decades of such stories available, which would be necessary for the marriage to be brought back. I do believe that there could be decades of interesting stories with a single Spider‑Man, where writers can explore love triangles, break‑ups, crushes, and the other stories you should not do with a married Spider‑Man.

I don’t see any reason to blame the character or how she is written for any problems in the comics, or potential problems in the future. Mary Jane’s a great character, and I hope she remains a part of the Spider‑man books. However, her previous role in the books was flawed as part of an action serial with no end in sight. Regardless of how well she’s written, as Spider-Man’s wife, MJ would continue to support her husband and often make his troubles seem less relevant. While she adds to Peter’s responsibilities and often suffers along with her husband whenever the status quo needs a shake-up, that experience will still add up with all the other things the couple has gone through, making them seem older.

There’s no reason to assume that undoing the marriage prevented anyone from writing Mary Jane well. The current status quo allows the writers to do other types of stories with her. Just as there are stories you can do with a single Peter Parker that you can’t do with a married Peter Parker, there are stories you can do with a single Mary Jane that you just can’t do with a married Mary Jane Watson Parker.

Peter MJ

The effort put into making Mary Jane memorable could also be used to make the next girl in Peter Parker’s life appealing, and since the writer can end the relationship between the two of them, it will make that break‑up more gut‑wrenching and memorable. And the writers are free to do something entirely different, but equally compelling with the next girl, without being constricted by MJ’s history. By making Mary Jane interesting when she’s seeing someone other than Peter Parker, it will make it more painful for Peter to remember what he once had with her.

Peter Parker wasn’t the only superhero to get married. While pondering whether this was a status quo that fit the Spider-Man franchise, it’s interesting to explore the effect of similar developments in other titles.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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