(Guest article by infamous street skulker Michael “Scratch” Lapham. Enjoy! -C.)
June 21 of this year marked an important event in comics that should be celebrated by fans across the country, but won’t. It is a significant event that most fans still hold dear, but the powers that be want you to forget, for their own reasons. I talk of course about the marriage of the Spectacular Spider-Man (Peter Parker) and Mary Jane Watson-Parker. And no, I will never drop that “-Parker.”
It has been 10 years since marvel ended the marriage (God, I’m getting old), and to this day most polls show that 70-80 % of fans think it should be returned to the main continuity, and the other 20-30% being ambivalent, not outwardly opposed, by and large. [What about Rasmussen? Rasmussen loves me. – DT]
Why did this mean so much to fans? Why won’t we let it go? And why should even those who hate the marriage be angry about this? All that and more will come, but first, let’s talk about how this relationship took form.
Superman and Lois were always going to be together, it was a given. Even if the comics ended before the marriage happened, everyone knew that is what would happen. But Pete and M.J, they fought for it, the earned it, yet it was also somehow meant to be.
Stan Lee had only intended Mary Jane to be a hurdle for Gwen Stacy. He made her an opposing force to Gwen, simply to attract and distract Pete. There was only one problem… Gwen never had much of a personality, so her opposite would be overflowing with life.
Mary Jane was vibrant and fun, and got along great with Peter’s aunt May. She could even confound and befuddle the web-slinger’s alter-ego. she had to reasonably attract Peter after all. In contrast however, Gwen failed to move away from being “just the girlfriend.” And the attempts to make her more interesting painted her in a bad light: flirting with Flash Thompson, telling Aunt May to leave Peter alone, and running away to another country, are just a few examples that come to mind.
The fans spoke up, they wanted Peter Parker to end up with Mary Jane Watson. So Stan, who never wanted the fans angry at him (times sure have changed?), decreed that Gwen Stacy would die, and Peter Parker would start a relationship with the spunky red-head.
And damn, did that relationship start beautifully. on the last page of the second half of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” Peter Parker consumed by grief berates M.J. as she tries to console him. Despite this cruelty, she stands her ground and stays. Gwen fled when times got rough and Pete begged her not to, Mary Jane stayed when she was given every reason to go. Mary Jane was strong, she was who Spider-Man needed in his life.
The relationship slowly grew, first as friends, writer Gerry Conway was careful not to dance on Gwen’s memory. Finally with a relationship blooming, and eventually in the 140s of Amazing Spider-Man rejects a clone of Gwen for Mary Jane. Mr. Parker had made his decision.
The relationship grew, eventually ending after a proposal by Peter that MJ wasn’t ready for, she left. Of course she came back, and that is where things really get interesting.
It was made clear to Peter that Mary Jane did not want a romantic relationship, only friendship. For almost five years in three titles that is what they were. Eventually Mary Jane revealed that she had known Spider-man’s secret identity for years and the two got even closer. Mary Jane was the one person that could share both parts of his life with.
Eventually this ended with marriage in 1987. The real world reason is really interesting, but I’m going to get back to that later.
In reality, what really solidified the marriage with fans was he story that followed the marriage, the immortal “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” by J.M. Dematteis. Peter, now in a literal rave, used his love for Mary Jane as an anchor to life when all was lost. Mary Jane in turn saw Kraven dressed as Spider-man savagely beating a man, and in an instant knew it was not her husband. There is far more to it than that, in the end it showed a deep love between the two that (at least symbolically) transcended death
The two clicked. It made sense, it worked. Mary Jane had grown as a character since her party-girl days in her earliest appearances. She was sweet, caring, smart, strong, quick-witted, and willing to fight for her man.
MJ was the perfect mix of strong and sweet, even outside Peter Parker. She was warm, protective and compassionate with both her aunt, and Peter’s Aunt May, becoming a surrogate daughter to both. She was also incredibly strong. Saving lives in her own ways, like getting her cousin over an eating disorder, got a an orphan a dad, and tie to get a friend off of cocaine.
There were also a few times that MJ stared down super villains. In short, she may have found herself in peril, but she was no one’s damsel in distress.
Interestingly, she was also revealed to have a secret identity of her own. Coming from a “problematic home life” as a kid, well that is why she developed that fun loving attitude, to run away from the pain. It seems like there is some guy who climbs on walls with a similar way of doing things.
They were both reflective, and capable of deep empathy. Both balanced complex and somewhat divided personalities. Both were bold and fun-loving. However the contrasted in many ways as well. Peter lived in his head, and MJ lived out loud. Peter was a loner and MJ was comfortable in a crowd.
The two brought out the best in each other, they were different enough to offer a richer set of experiences. But they were similar in all the ways that counted. Most importantly, they were fiends first. They knew each other. They liked each other. They had great chemistry. They argued and still wanted to see each other. It was all of the elements of a real life love story… being a like story first.
The fact is, Harry Osborn isn’t Peter Parker’s best friend, and he never was. Mary Jane was, and possibly was his only friend.
I would even argue that she made Peter a better character. She cut down on the self-pity, and offered a sounding board from him at his lowest. She acted as his rock. His emotional center.
Now, many people would say that Spider-Man shouldn’t be married to a supermodel. You know what? I agree. The modeling career fell apart pretty so after the marriage began. She wound up on a 3rd rate soap opera, which they made clear didn’t pay great. She planned on being a stay at home wife at one point, and even went back to school to get a degree in psychology in the late 90s.
The fact is that it was only ever used to divide the two. Every time it came up it was to separate them.
Over the years, Marvel tried to end the marriage twice. Both spun out of the same back-to-basics logic that kicked Peter David off of the Hulk and rewrote spider-man’s early years in the much despised “Chapter One.”
Death couldn’t stop it. Mary Jane walking away couldn’t stop it. Fans always clambered for it back. Only one thing ever stuck. Under orders by Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, Peter Parker sold his marriage to a demon.
To this day it is considered one of the worst stories in the history of the character. To save an Aunt on death’s door he gave up his marriage. I would point out that he had already watched and come to terms with her death once before, but there is a more important point.
Aunt May loved Mary Jane. Peter’s wife was like a daughter to her, and she made her nephew incredibly happy, because of the genuine love between the two. Aunt May would never want that trade. In saving his aunt’s life, Peter paid her the ultimate disrespect.
Quesada has said that it was because it didn’t fit the character, that it aged him. What he meant was that it didn’t fit the Peter he knew from his youth. And to be fair, we all have our different interpolations of things. He probably thought he was doing what was right, it just wasn’t what fans wanted. To this day the question of the marriage returning is never far from being asked at a convention.
Here is the thing, fan’s have always wanted it. Remember when I talked about an interesting real world tale of how the marriage came to be? What do you mean, “no?” Well, I’m going to tell it anyway.
Stan Lee had been writing the Spider-Man newspaper strip for about 10 years in 1987. These stories focused more on soap opera fare than action. So he got the idea to marry the couple off, but with Stan being ever the showman, it didn’t end there.
He talked to then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter about doing the same in the comic books, while the two attended a comic convention together. Jim Shooter posed the question to a room full of fans, and the uproar was beyond belief.
The two were married in an annual, which came out the same day as the comic strip where they tied the knot, and they even had a ceremony at Shea Stadium, during a Mets’ Game. Like I said, Stan is a showman.
The marriage wasn’t JUST some gimmick, it was a joint decision by Spider-Man’s (co-) creator, who is often considered the greatest Editor in Chief in the company’s history, and the fans. The fans that embraced the marriage and came to love it.
They weren’t rejecting a concept, they were rejecting us… THE FANS. And that is why the outrage of at least how it all went down should be hated.
You may love the Spider-Marriage, you may love single Peter, or think Gwen is Peter’s one true love, or just hate the idea of women in any type of media or faction in life so much it fills you with seething rage. Okay, if it is the last one, you should probably seek a psychiatrist, it seems like you have some deeper problems. But any other one, if you are a comic fan at all, this should bug you.
In the past several years there have been a lot of decisions made at the top that fans didn’t like, that lasted for a long time, despite protest from the beginning. The New 52, pushing the X-Men to the side, getting rid of the Fantastic Four, replacing beloved characters with newer version en masse, and on, and on. It all started here. The big two comic companies making big decisions fans don’t like and still steamrolling ahead, despite the push-back.
The current writer of Spider-Man, for instance, loves to go on message unprovoked and insult and criticize those very fans. Well, it’s good to have hobbies. Lack of them can drive you nuts.
The truth is that the idea to undo it was based off of Quesada’s own nostalgia, which trumped fan sentiment.
The question now must be asked though, am I reacting because of MY nostalgia? Do I support the marriage only because of my nostalgia?
Maybe, but I am not a very nostalgic person so, according to me it’s unlikely. And, the polls of fans I mentioned show otherwise. The fact that Dan Slott’s miniseries about an alternate reality where Spider-Man and MJ were still married selling better than the few directly before and several directly after of his mainstream run speaks volumes as well.
Stan Lee even undid it. Much like when the marriage started, its ending sunk up between the comic book and comic strip. Lee, who is still credited, decided it was a bad idea (probably at least in part because of fan’s views) and made the whole un-marrying, a dream. I guess we all know at least one comic creator who was a fan of Dallas.
Many comic writers have stressed their hope it will return, they include Joe Casey, J.M. Dematteis, and. Michael Strczynski. Dematteis even said that he believed/hoped that it would come back, because in comics good ideas always come back.
But in the end, you have to wonder about the potential new fans. That is one of the excuses they keep using.
My friend, Mike Wagner, shops at our little comic store. He first became interested in comics after being told about Wolverine’s history after he watched Wolverine: Origins. He entered the world of comics and made his way to Spider-man, as he devoured back issues of most of the main Marvel books.
He has said that he also believes that Mary Jane and Peter belong married. Even once saying that it was one of a few things that could redeem current Amazing Spider-Man scribe, Dan Slott in his eyes. I’m not making a point about Slott, Wagner just has become disillusioned to a great degree.
Wagner started reading comics when in college, and single, and in 2008… After the marriage ended.
Now, just so Scott doesn’t beat me with a tire iron as he tells me this is a business website, not my personal journal, here are some comics that highlight the marriage that you may want to check out:
- The Amazing Spider-man annual #21 – This is where the whole thing began.
- Kraven’s Last Hunt – One of the most iconic Spider-man stories ever. Just when the two start their life together, one of the darkest points in the web-slinger’s life comes to pass. The only way that they get out of it is their love for each other.
- Amazing Spider-Man #365 – this back up story discusses the oft forgotten fact the MJ and Gwen were friends. Here MJ reflects on her view of their marriage.
- Amazing Spider-man #309 – Mary Jane Kidnapped, and escapes o her own, as Pete fights supervilians. Showing why she should be married to a superhero.
- Spectacular Spider-Man 241 – Pete and MJ deal with the loss of their child together. A really tender story.
- Spectacular Spider-Man #200 – Mary Jane tries to reason with now-Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, to leave Peter alone after he assures her it will only be between Spider-Man and Green Goblin, no families.
- Spectacular Spider-man #189 – MJ forced to face a Harry becoming the Goblin again.
- Spectacular Spider-Man # 173-175 – I don’t know, I just like it.
- Web of Spider-Man # 49 – Pete and MJ try and get MJ’s friend to kick a habit, demonstrating why they are a great team.
- Amazing Spider-Man #505 – Peter and MJ head to the airport, and can’t seem to say good-bye.
- Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 # 49-53 – The couple gets back together after the FIRST editorial mandated split, and acknowledge and do the work needed.
- Spider-man Parallel Lives: Graphic Novel – A look at how their lives grew and the similarities. I feel that one was obvious.
- Sensational Spider-man 2007 Annual – In the twilight of their marriage, Pete and M.J. reflect on their relationships early days, as they protect each other from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg, and not going into all the great stuff that led to the marriage.
You can also see the marriage still going strong (and a letter I wrote, in issue #3) in the ongoing alternate reality, “The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows,” out every month. Or the STILL going strong newspaper strip here: http://comicskingdom.com/amazing-spider-man/
You know, I’m pretty cynical when it comes to inter-human dealings, and while there is a whole ton of cynicism involving my personal life on the topic, I do believe that two people can make a life together as long as they like and care for each other enough, and are willing to put in the work needed. This comes from observing relationships that work, from my formative years to now. While most examples are real people, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are in there as well. And that is not a bad take-away.
And I will leave you with the words Gerry Conway (who started the whole relationship) wrote for me, when I asked him why Mary Jane was better than Gwen Stacy.
“Mary Jane – she saw the tiger in Peter, even before he did.”