One of the most oft-mentioned arguments against the spider-marriage was that it was wrong to have Peter Parker be married to a supermodel. That usually results in all sorts of debates about whether or not Mary Jane can qualify as a supermodel.
To get that out of the way, I would suggest that Mary Jane was generally depicted as someone who would be described as a supermodel. While she is usually not shown to have the same amount of money as most supermodels, she did successfully work in the field for several years. At the very least, she’s a woman canonically unambiguously attractive enough to get a job as a supermodel, even if she chooses to do something else with her life.
A counterargument is that most women in comic books are knockouts. In The Amazing Spider-Man film, Gwen Stacy was played by an actress who often appears on lists of the most attractive women in the world. Within a work of fiction, there is still a difference between a woman who is attractive, and a woman who is so beautiful that movie stars fall for her. She was able to make a living as a supermodel and people are impressed by the guy who merely knows her. So the claim that she isn’t a supermodel is a distinction without any meaning.
This further limits writers, who need to come up with reasons Mary Jane isn’t making enough money for the Parkers to live comfortably. JMS had a good compromise, having Mary Jane become an off-Broadway actress. But she’s still a former supermodel. It’s a genie that is rather difficult to put back in the bottle.
Len Wein summed it up in a discussion on the February 12 2013 Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast.
Part of the problem, as Peter evolved, as he got married to Mary Jane, as parts of his life took off, this was after me—long after me, was people forgot “This is Hard Luck Harry.” This is a guy who nothing ever goes right for. The minute he married one of the most beautiful women in the world, a supermodel, every geeky fan who hadn’t ever had a date, or didn’t even know the concept of what a date was, couldn’t relate to him any more. “Your problem is what? You get to sleep with her, and you have a problem. Right, what are you nuts?” And they’ve lost that aspect of the character, and I don’t think they ever fully recovered, even after that stupid Mephisto storlyine where they rewrote history.
A potential counterargument is that her status as a supermodel was a development by later writers, so the focus of the effort should be undoing the mistakes of those writers, rather than splitting up Peter and MJ. But her beauty was lampshaded in her first appearances in the Spider-Man comics.
Amazing Spider-Man #25 was the first time she appeared. The readers didn’t see her, but Liz and Betty are astonished at how attractive she is. When Peter meets her in Amazing Spider-Man #42, the first time readers saw her face, he was astonished at how attractive she is. It may just be the best introduction any supporting character has ever gotten, but it meant that Mary Jane’s defining feature was her ability to make an impression. A few issues later, in Amazing Spider-Man #44, Harry, Flash & Gwen meet MJ, and they’re all astonished at how attractive she is.
The Lovable Loser
Recently, I’ve noticed more general references to Spider-Man’s “lovable loser” status in the non-comics media, with stuff like the comic book to help unemployed New Yorkers find resources for job hunts. And I think that has something to do with the removal of the marriage in the comics, which meant that the character was no longer fated to marry a supermodel. This is Spider-Man’s core: he’s the guy who struggles with everyday issues. This doesn’t mean that things will always go badly for him, but there should be the possibility. When the character was married, it meant that there was one less thing that was likely to go badly.
A character on Glee explained his nervousness about a girl, by saying that he’s like Peter Parker without the spider-powers.
The actor didn’t have any problems with Aaron Sorkin’s tongue-twisting dialogue, but something about the phrase ”inspiringly written” led him to stumble. Fortunately, Garfield played off his gaffe with adorable aplomb. Yay for New Spider-Man!
Perhaps after OMD, the media’s regained an understanding of what Spidey so likeable and unique. Or maybe they were making these types of comments earlier, and I wasn’t paying as much attention then.
The loveable loser aspect distinguished Spider-Man from all the other superheroes. The character’s marital status affects his ability to be endearingly awkward, because any errors Mr. Mary Jane Watson makes will be unlikely to cause him much romantic turmoil. If something else goes wrong because of “the parker luck” it is generally lessened by the fact that he’s married to a gorgeous, loving and understanding woman.
It seems to me the point of making MJ a supermodel is to establish that she is really attractive, even when compared to the likes of Gwen Stacy and the Black Cat. It’s a way to indicate that she’s out of Peter’s league. And that works differently if she’s his ex or a potential romantic interest than if she’s his wife or long-term girlfriend. The first two fit the Spider-Man brand better than the last two.
Should Spider‑Man’s Life Always Suck?
If I had to answer what Spider‑Man was “about” I’d say “hard luck superhero.” He’s sometimes successful and sometimes not. When he’s married to a loving and supportive supermodel, it’s difficult to show him as not being successful in his private life. The problem with giving Peter something good in his life that isn’t fleeting or transitory is that it’ll have to be something permanent, which goes against the serial format.
At this point, it’s worth clarifying one important and slightly misunderstood detail. Peter Parker shouldn’t always be miserable or need to face extreme conflicts. But it should happen every now and then in varying degrees. In addition, the periods in which things in Peter’s life is going well are simply more dramatic if the reader is aware that there could be a sudden reversal of fortune at the end of the next issue.
There is the assumption that a single Peter can’t catch a break. This is untrue as Peter dating a nice girl is a lucky break. Peter marrying Mary Jane is an eternal win, which resonates throughout the rest of the series. It’s permanent happiness which Peter Parker should not have unless the Marvel Universe is coming to an end.
The Illusion of Change requires the possibility of setbacks. It operates on either small wins or big wins that restore an earlier status quo. So that would be if a sick character is cured, or someone is able to repair their reputation. The marriage was a big win that resulted in the character being better off than he ever was before. And that just doesn’t work for this type of ongoing adventure.