Why Did it Have to be You, Mary Jane?

Part 2

Tragedy and Rebound

To quote the ever wise philosopher - Mr. Spock - in Star Trek VI - history is replete with turning points - and in the next 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, that's certainly true regarding Peter’s and Mary Jane’s relationship.

We left Part 1 with Gwen returning from England and back in Peter’s arms after leaving for awhile to chill out after her father’s death. Our hip happy honey Mary Jane Watson had given Harry Osborn the brush off, contributing to his drug overdose.

So, now it’s Amazing Spider-Man #100 and Peter is thinking about the M word - marriage. He mentions it in #100 when he talks to himself about how hard it will be to keep his i.d. secret from Gwen once they are married (this shows naïve and immature Peter is – and how ill-equipped he was for marriage at this time. The fact that he plans to continue to keep his double life a secret from his wife after they are married is a serious no-no. You think Gwen would have been upset and pissed at Peter if she found out while they were just dating – imagine how much more so after they were married!) In #103 when he tries to justify his accepting a Daily Bugle assignment to the Savage Land, he tells Gwen that they can use the extra money to get married. Now, why does he seem so eager to get married at this stage in his life? After all, Peter cannot be more than a junior in college at this time - probably 20 years old - so why is he thinking about marriage already?

Some of it is probably cultural, as in the late 1960's and early 1970's when these stories were written, people on average weren't postponing marriage as long as they are now. And, I think part of it has to do with the perspective of Stan Lee, his creator. Back in Stan’s day, people often went to work full-time straight out of high school (Stan himself started working for Marvel predecessor Timely Comics in 1939 at the age of 17), and often got married soon after. But, it’s also indicative of Peter’s own personality.

As we can clearly see in his contemplation of marriage to Gwen, and his own proposals to MJ later in the series, Peter Parker wants to be married. He likes the idea of having a wife and family - regardless of the recent bullshit in Amazing Spider-Man #546 in which he says, in the Brand New Day environment, that he is "too young to get married." I was married before I was 25 years old and still am - to the same woman. Once again, Marvel speaketh with disengenuous tongue. Anyway, for Peter, to want to be married is the most normal thing in the world, and with his life as Spidey, he craves normalcy as much or more so than many other people. Look, Peter is an ordinary guy - which has always been the key to his appeal. As much as Marvel would currently like for him to be a “swinger,” he’s not one, never was, and just because he’s Spider-Man doesn’t mean he would become one. Consider his relationships with Betty, Gwen, MJ, and later, Felicia Hardy. When he does fall in love, he falls hard. In Spectacular Spider-Man #87 he tells Felicia that he wants to spend his life with her. This is not the attitude of a playboy. He doesn’t think, gosh, I don’t want to get committed to one girl because I really want to screw around - he usually does want that “one girl” - the future Mrs. Parker. So, even if Marvel sets him loose on the women of New York again someday, that’s not going to change a personality that has been established for the last 45 years. Sure, he could be written as a happy go lucky stud boy who chucks his entire marriage without so much as a single sliver of guilt - hitting the singles scene again - but what would be the point? The “doomed to fail” syndrome would just start all over again. And frankly, that's a creatively bankrupt approach.

Before we go on - let’s talk about the “doomed to fail” syndrome. Basically, it means that every relationship that a hero gets involved in is doomed to fail. It has to be, because unless there is a walk down the aisle (or even sometimes when there is), there comes a point where either (1) the relationship just doesn’t work out or (2) the relationship is working out, but the hero can’t bring himself to admit to his girl about his double life, and so it ends. In the old days, it was either (1) or (2) because the girl never found out about the hero. It just didn’t happen. Modern writers have loosened up considerably on the old secret i.d. jazz (for example, under Stan, Peter would never told Felicia his real name, and MJ would never have known that he was Spider-Man). But then that gives us option (3), in which the girl is killed by the villain, or (4) she finds out, but the relationship doesn’t survive because she can’t live with the double life thing. And that’s it. Well, then there's (5) marriage is erased from continuity after a deal with the devil. Writing a marriage is boring? How can that be more boring that continually writing the “doomed to fail” scenario? Or reading it? Betty was a case of both (1) and (2), Gwen was (3), and Felicia was (4) in the reverse, since she couldn’t handle Spider-Man's civilian identity and responsibilities. MJ has been a victim of (4) & (5). And if you don’t want the character to have a marriage or a successful long-term relationship, then one of those four (or five) scenarios has to play out over and over and over again. That’s why I find it utterly ridiculous that some writers actually want to end the Superman/Lois Lane marriage, considering that those two are even larger figures in American popular culture than Spidey and Mary Jane. Everyone, even non-comic fans, knows who they are, and knows that Superman has always loved Lois Lane. Superman will never love anyone but Lois Lane - it's a modern mythology. It’s a cheat and a waste of time to try to convince the reader that he could love anyone else - so let’s stop screwing around with that dopey love triangle (where Lois isn't even smart enough to figure out that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same - how often and how long can THAT story be told with today's more demanding audiences?) and focus on telling some real stories.

But then, if you follow John Bryne's philosophy, comics readership should turn over every few years with new kids reading the stories so that the same plot points can be recycled over and over again, rather than aging fanboys reading the titles over decades.

On the other side of the coin, you know that in Batman, every relationship IS doomed to fail – but that’s an entirely different matter. Bruce Wayne ISN'T looking for Mrs. Right. The most important thing to him is his relentless war on crime. Everything else is secondary. His endless fascination with Selina Kyle and Talia Al Ghul notwithstanding, everyone else is a roll in the hay – partly because his obsession has effectively de-humanized everyone around him. Recently it was revealed in Daredevil that Matt Murdock married – but does anyone really expect it to last? It can’t, because ultimately, being Daredevil is more important to Matt Murdock than being a husband, and a woman will eventually figure that out (if she's smart). Peter Parker, on the other hand, is not obsessed with being Spider-Man. Yes, he has to be Spider-Man as it is the only way he can deal with his immense burden of guilt - but it isn't so important that literally nothing else in his life matters.

So, splitting up Peter and Mary Jane just creates more false drama in the “doomed to fail” style, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

For some time, probably since the issue 60 or so, Spidey had been at a creative standstill. Stan Lee was clearly running out of gas and had growing responsibilities as head of the burgeoning Marvel empire, but was reluctant to give up his most famous and popular character. He was still able to concoct the strong Green Goblin/drug storyline in issues #96-98, but then finally took a breather after reaching his goal of 100 straight issues. He probably should have left it right there, but he returned for a six month run from issues #105-110. After that, Gerry Conway took over the full time writing chores. Don't be fooled by what appears to be Stan coming back for a three-issue spin in #116-118 - this is really a rehashing of a story that first appeared in the original Spectacular Spider-Man, a magazine-sized comic that appeared briefly back in the late 1960’s, and was retooled by Conway. Maybe this was a gimmick to recycle a story that few saw when it was first released, but also likely served as a chance to fill up some issues while deciding where ultimately to take the series and the characters. After all, it isn’t long before the BIG ONE drops.

The fact that this three-parter is really a rehash indicates why, in Amazing Spider-Man #116, Harry and Mary Jane seem to be together again without much thought as to what has gone before. For all intents and purposes, that relationship was really kaput after issue #98 when she dumped him, but the genesis of this story actually predates that event, so, they’re together, but it’s clear that she’s not really into the relationship. In issue #117, swayed by the charismatic political candidate (and alas, also a super villain) Richard Raleigh, she mumbles aimlessly to no one in particular about the sound of "Mary Jane Raleigh." In #118 she tells a distracted Harry to pay attention to “his own girl,” which leads me to believe that Harry is not entirely focused on her, either. And as we all find out within the next three months, Harry is still doing drugs. So, why are they together then - other than this is essentially a reprint of an older story? Well, I think there is a wee bit more to it, and I'll go into that later.

And of course, we know what the BIG ONE is. Some people blamed Gwen’s death on Gerry Conway’s “pro-MJ” philosophy. When I first wrote this article, that seemed completely erroneous. Research for an article in Comic Buyers Guide indicated that Gerry Conway killed Gwen off because he didn’t know what to do with her, and the editorial offices at Marvel weren’t thrilled about a married superhero (sounds familiar). There were also suggestions that the staff wanted to shake the spider-titles up by killing someone period - and that Conway had toyed with the idea of sending Aunt May into the afterlife (either her or a genetically engineered actress, I suppose). Actually, all of the above was true. However, in a magazine interview coinciding with the release of Spider-Man 2 Gerry Conway flat out states that he killed Gwen off because he didn't like her, thought she was just an empty headed crybaby, thought MJ had the better personality, and believed that the way the series had been written up to that point in time, with the prolonged tease of what she looked like, among other things, that MJ was destined to be Peter Parker's life partner.

Oh. Now I know.

Anyway, while it's very easy to romanticize Stan's tenure on Spidey, taking a cold, hard look at it, we can see things had stagnated for some time. After the introduction of all of the major characters, development ground to a halt. That's why I had little to say about the first two years after issue #100 in this part, because nothing happens until - well, you know. As I made the point in the last part - Gwen had stopped being an interesting character in her own right, and Gerry Conway had nothing to do with that. Stan Lee is the one who wrote Gwen into the corner, and it would have taken another writer a major effort to completely overhaul her. She had been created for a simple purpose, as an object for Peter to pursue and fall in love with. As long as the “chase” was on, with the inherent drama of whether or not Peter would choose her or MJ, she was an interesting, elusive creature. Once the chase was over, and Peter and Gwen became an item - that was the end. There just wasn’t anything else to do with her. And killing off Gwen (and Norman Osborn - at least temporarily - because it was clear that his character wasn't going anywhere either at that time) did give the title a shot in the arm - energizing all of the other characters, and altering the landscape. Peter and MJ's relationship starts to become more interesting, while Harry Osborn goes off the deep end. Contrast this with Mary Jane's supposed "death" several years later per directive from then Marvel Editor in Chief Bob Harras. Rather than energizing the titles and redefining several key relationships - that event nearly smothered the titles with an atmosphere of gloom and depression that made them very difficult to read.

The end of #122 is a major turning point in the story of Peter and Mary Jane. I probably can't do the following panels justice in the narrative, because they speak for themselves. A devastated Peter comes back to his apartment where MJ is waiting, and he tries to shove her away with an ugly verbal barrage - but she stays - knowing that her friend desperately needs someone right now. Readers of Sensational Spider-Man #32 will also recognize this moment as when Mary Jane first realized that she was in love with Peter Parker.

His comment about MJ not even caring about her own mother dying is entirely understandable in light of the emotional trauma he has just suffered, but it is still a cruel, unprovoked statement (we also know now that MJ did suffer emotionally when her mother died - but that revelation is still several years away). It's also a reminder that as we examine Peter's relationships with all of the other characters - he's often as guilty as they are when it comes to problems. Since he's the hero of the series, and we always know what his thoughts are, and what is causing him to act the way he does, sometimes we tend to forget that from the perspective of others, he does appear self-centered, self-absorbed, distant, and unfriendly at times. Yes - he has problems almost impossible for ordinary people to comprehend - but his friends have problems that are just every bit as important and distracting to them as his are to him. The reason I mention this is that I've seen some comments about how nasty MJ or others have been to Peter as justification for what happens to them during the course of the series - but let's remember sometimes that Peter can be just as nasty and thoughtless to them as well.

The scene at Gwen's grave, where MJ and Robbie are the last to leave with Peter, is a touching one, and it seems to begin to mark the moment when MJ starts clinging to Peter awfully tight. In fact, over the next several issues, she almost never seems to leave his side. But just why is this - even if she is falling in love with him - does she have no respect for the dead that she would start making moves on the beau of her late friend? Hardly. It really isn’t difficult to see why Mary Jane is fighting so hard to keep Peter on an even keel, and the answer has little to do with her romantic interest in him.

For you see, the death of Gwen Stacy (and Norman Osborn) isn't just bringing Peter Parker’s and Harry Osborn’s world crashing down, it’s taking Mary Jane’s down as well. After all, her best friends in the world were Gwen, Flash, Harry, and Peter. These friends, and the college environment, kept her away from her problems at home. I do think she felt guilty that Harry overdosed immediately after their breakup, and maybe she wanted to give him another chance. Also, this is still her social circle, she wants to stay friends with Peter, Gwen and Flash, and that means taking Harry in the bargain. They might have even had an understanding at the time that getting back together was simply a means of keeping the social unit together, which would explain why both of them were distracted by members of the opposite sex during the Richard Raleigh storyline.

Now, Gwen is dead, and Harry is clearly going off the deep end to the point of being unsalvageable - although she valiantly tries. However, Harry and MJ's relationship was doomed when he became a drug addict. MJ was clearly not the airhead she played at times, but there are limits to how far one can go to try to rescue a dependent personality before that dependency destroys all of the parties in the relationship. On first glance it's easy to call MJ a heartless bitch because her calling off the relationship turned Harry into a druggie - but it's clear upon a closer look that's not what happened at all. He was a druggie before she dumped him. And later, she went beyond the call of duty to help Harry, until it became clear that the only person who could help Harry was Harry - and that didn't happen until after #137, when he was committed to an institution and underwent some serious psychotherapy, no doubt combined with some strong anti-psychotic drug treatment.

As for Flash, he is a troubled man after coming back from Vietnam. While the term "post traumatic stress disorder" wasn't in the standard lexicon back then - Flash is suffering from it. So, with Gwen dead, Harry going nuts, and Flash going through his own pain, who does MJ turn to? Peter Parker, of course, her only reliable anchor in this storm. However, he’s going through serious turmoil as well. If Peter, the most responsible, stable person she’s probably ever known, breaks down - then what does that say about anyone's ability to weather such an emotional trauma? And if MJ loses Peter as a friend for whatever reason - she would be truly alone. Who could she turn to that could relate to her? Anna and May? Not hardly. Not for a teenage girl during the post-Vietnam, post-hippie era. This is pretty heady stuff to dump on a 19 or 20 year old girl - which is why I think this explains why MJ is getting a bit clingy to Peter, even to his annoyance. She’s also the only person on the face of the earth who knows the hell that Peter is going through right now, since she knows that as Spider-Man, he was there when Gwen died. And not only that, knowing that the world has turned against Spider-Man due to the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn, if Spider-Man freaks out and in grief or retaliation becomes the monster that JJJ always claimed he was, then Peter Parker's life will be irrevocably destroyed as well.

So - MJ's a flighty airhead? No way. As we can see, she's carrying some mighty heavy burdens, is made of some strong stuff, and has a nearly unflagging loyalty and affection for her friends. It's more apparent now than ever before that the party girl image is a facade to keep the pain at bay.

But there was probably another event that sealed Mary Jane's affection for Peter Parker, and I don't think that's too hard to pinpoint.

In the two-part story beginning in Amazing Spider-Man #127, a college professor studying the incarcerated Vulture's suit and equipment goes on a power trip, (first this guy, then Miles Warren - trying to get tenure at ESU must really toss some guys off the deep end) and kills someone he mistakenly believes is his lab assistant and MJ witnesses the crime. At first she is too frightened to go the police, because the faux Vulture knows that she saw him, but eventually, Peter is able to persuade her to do the right thing (forgive me, Spike). During this story, Spider-Man saves her from the "Vulture," not once, but twice, and both times she was in the company of Peter Parker immediately before Spider-Man came to the rescue. Even assuming that she's somewhat stunned by the experience, she can't help but notice that in #127, Spider-Man, rescuing her from a fall, and having a flashback to Gwen being dropped from the sky, calls her "Gwendy." In other words, if she didn't believe by now that Peter was Spidey...

And even as "liberated" a woman that MJ has always been, I can't believe that the strength, courage, and heroism that Peter/Spider-Man displayed in protecting her during this story went unnoticed. Peter risked his life, not once, but twice, to save her - as he's done for so many people over the years. He's a bona fide hero. It’s the responsibility thing that always attracted her to Peter in the first place - and seeing first hand what kind of person Peter Parker really is, beyond the failing and often distant college student - is probably an irresistible combination to a woman. After all, in the next issue #129, MJ begins asking herself whether or not she really wants to begin a relationship with Peter. So, that supports my contention that the prior story was the impetus for her to begin considering a relationship.

She doesn't wait very long, because next month, in issue #130, she's clearly making overt moves on Peter by suggesting that they find some mistletoe at Betty Brant's Christmas Party, not once, but twice. Still in turmoil, and also concerned about Aunt May's relationship with Doc Ock (probably Conway's only serious misstep during his run), Peter puts down her advances. However, Betty notices a distinct change in MJ's approach to Peter, and calls her on it in issue #131 - but MJ takes the fifth as this scene demonstrates.

One of the comments I made in the last part was that part of the reason for the decline in the spider-titles was that Gwen and Harry were not properly replaced in Peter and MJ's social circle. Apparently, Conway must have been conscience of that need, because he brings back Liz Allan for the first time in over 100 issues in issue #132. She doesn't take Gwen's place with Peter, obviously, but she does fill the need to have another young person, a female, in the social circle. Anyway, upon her return, Liz is clearly distressed and has no where to go. So when Peter needs to find her a place to stay - the first person who comes to mind is - good old Mary Jane. He tells Liz that when the chips are down, despite the flighty personality, MJ is a real friend (Conway makes a continuity error by implying that Liz and MJ knew each other in high school, which they didn't since MJ didn't go to the same school). This clearly marks the softening in Peter’s defenses against a relationship with her. And folks, this is one reason why in my opinion, MJ is THE woman for Peter - because before they were even dating or married - they were best friends, even though they probably didn't even realize it at this time. The two begin dating soon after that, which is very clear in issue #136, where they express concern about whether or not Harry knows they are an item. This issue is the same one in which Harry begins his Green Goblin career, and starts by booby-trapping their apartment with a bomb, injuring MJ in the process. After realizing just how close he came to losing another woman he cared about to violence, in issue #137, Peter finally begins to realize how exactly much Mary Jane has done for him in the aftermath of Gwen’s death, and how her friendship kept him from becoming even more of a manic-depressive than he already was.

So when did MJ learn the truth about Harry Osborn's connections with the Green Goblin? Probably after Gwen's death - but I think she proves that she knows when she turns up the radio in the hospital and lets Peter hear a bulletin about a hijacking involving someone dressed in a green costume. Obviously, when this was first written, it was just a convenient plot point to get Peter to change to Spider-Man and go look for Harry. However, looking back (I mean, after all, why would she have even brought the subject up - why would she care about a truck hijacking so much that she had to bring Peter's attention to it?)I think MJ either knew, or has very strong reasons to suspect, that Harry had become the Green Goblin. And Peter's immediate bailing out probably confirmed it for her. As I said before, I don’t know if we ever really knew when MJ first found out - but for someone who was close to all parties concerned, Peter and Harry, she had to begin to suspect. We know from Spectacular Spider-Man #250 that she never trusted Norman Osborn in the first place. And since she already knew that Peter was Spider-Man, the fact that Norman Osborn’s body was at the scene of an alleged battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin had to raise some questions in her mind about what Norman was doing in his spare time. The fact that Gwen Stacy was kidnapped by the Green Goblin should have told MJ (as well as the rest of the world, but then, this is the comics) that the Goblin was not only aware of Spider-Man’s secret identity, but also knew what Gwen Stacy was to him, implying he had some sort of intimacy with both people. Maybe any supervillain who knew Spidey’s identity could have followed him around and found out all about him, but with Osborn’s death, the circumstantial evidence had to be piling high. Plus she had to at least suspect that it was Harry who had blown Peter’s apartment up due to his increasingly bizarre and irrational behavior. Also, Harry never showed up at the hospital to visit her. And the Green Goblin subsequently disappears from public view after Harry's institutionalilzation (until Dr. Hamilton briefly takes over the role).

After a few more months of fencing, the relationship finally starts to pick up some serious steam in issue #143 when Peter accompanies Joe Robertson to Paris to deliver a ransom to Cyclone’s gang, which has kidnapped J. Jonah Jameson (who had skipped overseas to escape some heat when Danny Berkhart, whose gig as Mysterio Jameson had funded, is arrested). Faced with their first significant separation since dating, something just...clicks.

At first glance, as slow as Marvel time moves, one has to wonder. Wait a minute - why is Peter getting hot and heavy with Mary Jane while Gwen’s corpse is still warm? Well, because for probably one of the very few times - Marvel time actually approximated real time. In issues #146 and #147, the Jackal makes reference to the fact that Gwen Stacy died “two years ago,” which were 24 and 25 months after the classic #122. So plenty of time had passed. Marvel time really slowed down from there as from #150 to #400, only five years elapsed.

Of course, we all know that right after that, the Gwen Stacy clone shows up and the seeds of the long Clone nightmare are first planted. However, in #145 when Gwen asks Peter if he still loves her, he vaporlocks, as for the first time he finds himself truly conflicted as he has started to feel very seriously about Mary Jane.

In #146, when Aunt May asks MJ how she and Peter are doing, she finds out from Mary Jane that since Gwen Stacy has returned, she hasn’t seen much of Peter. Of course, Peter isn’t going out with Gwen, but MJ doesn't know that. I liked this scene, particularly since May tells MJ to pursue Peter even though his old girlfriend seems to have come back! In my opinion, this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that MJ is, and always was, Aunt May’s favorite. Again, the point I made in Part 1 , was that if May for a minute believed that Mary Jane was simply a party girl sleaze, she would never have tried to get her and Peter together (it's interesting that in this scene Mary Jane is showing her tummy and dressed in tight pants - whereas Gwen was typically more conservatively dressed - but that doesn't seem to impact May's judgement at all - again, which proves that May saw through MJ right away). Had things not been completely upended by the Clone Saga and aftermath - May's match-making between Peter and MJ would have been one of the most indelible and touching moments of Spider history. As it turned out, Mary Jane was May’s life long gift to Peter, the ultimate expression of her love for him. She wanted to make sure that he was taken care of after she was gone. Although some bad writing took the “poor Peter, he’s such a sensitive/delicate boy” to extremes, it’s a fact that most parents want their children to be in good company when they depart, to have someone to take care of them. May did not want Peter to be alone, and knew what was best for him even before he did. It’s funny that one of the arguments for returning Aunt May just prior to the reboot was that she was needed to be the constant reminder of Peter’s failure to stop the Burglar that night. Of course, this was a completely bogus rationale because Peter's self-introspection would never have let him, nor the reader, ever forget that fact. And, there would have been a tremendous amount of poignancy if May had remained dead, and Peter's family situation would have continued to evolve. After all, with Mary Jane, and with a daughter named May, Aunt May’s spirit would have been a potent presence in that house forever. Talk about untapped drama. But, it seems that more than once, the editors at Marvel took the easy way out. Too bad, so sad.

At first glance though, May appears extremely callous and thoughtless. Why would she would complicate Peter's life further - by pushing Mary Jane to keep after him when he's probably already in knots over Gwen's return? Doesn't Pete have enough worries? Well, think about it for a minute. All May knows is that after two years Gwen is back, after convincing Peter and everyone else that she was dead. May knows nothing about the involvement of clones or anything like that - except that Gwen ripped Peter's heart out two years ago, and she's doing it again. She may have concluded that Gwen is no good for Peter as a result of this, which therefore makes it understandable why she would be so forceful in trying to talk Mary Jane into not giving up on him.

Gerry Conway leaves what remains one of the most eventful and controversial runs on Amazing Spider-Man after issue #149. Archie Goodwin penned the next issue, before Len Wein took over the writing chores with #151. Issue #150 is another milestone in the relationship because for the first time, Peter realizes that his feelings for Mary Jane have finally supplanted his feelings for Gwen. It was this realization that made all of us long time spider fans refuse to believe that Peter was the clone even after the events of the Clone Saga first played out. Reading it again, though, we should have saved our breath if we were using that to bolster our case - as it was pure psychobabble that could easily have been written around. Considering that in #149, the Jackal took a recent memory sample, Spider-Man’s rationale that the clone would have been exposed to outside stimuli from Warren that would have torn his emotions between Gwen and Mary Jane holds no water at all.

The end of issue #149 is unofficially accepted by some spider-fans as the first time that Peter and Mary Jane became - uh - intimate.

But during Conway’s run, we clearly are seeing the genesis of why it did, indeed, have to be Mary Jane. Their relationship was initially built on friendship, trust, and mutual dependence. She isn’t just “the girlfriend” plugged in because the hero needs one, as Betty originally was, and as Gwen eventually became. It’s an old story, but a good one - Peter spent months avoiding Mary Jane in the early going, and then distanced himself from her after that as he chased Gwen Stacy. But now, he’s finding out what a lot of people do - the best friend he ever had, that he was ever going to have, was right there all the time. Sadly, though, even for some people who are married for decades, this realization escapes them until one of the partners is gone.

Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship was built during Gerry Conway’s time, but Lein Wein’s 30-issue run on Amazing Spider-Man beginning with #151 did nothing for it, which I guess was better than what happened during Marv Wolfman’s stay! After being handed the relationship by Conway, it’s clear that Wein either really didn’t know what to do with it, or it just simply wasn’t a priority (after all, as much as many of us like that relationship, it isn’t what ultimately sells the books). Peter and MJ have their first nasty spat in issue #152 after Peter leaves her high at dry at Jonah’s party for impending marrieds Ned Leed and Betty Brant in order to go after the Shocker. They reconcile rather quickly in #153. This begins a high and low cycle of broken dates, Peter ditching MJ to go play superhero, a brief and dubious flirtation with Flash Thompson (by MJ, not Peter), but essentially, no growth. A lot of other things did happen during Wein’s run (the return of Harry Osborn, the introduction of Marla Madison, Harry and Liz Allan's engagement, and a major Green Goblin story), but further evolution of Peter and Mary Jane's relationship wasn't one of them.

Marv Wolfman began what remains one of my favorite Spider-Man runs with issue #182, and he opens it with a bang. After poor old Aunt May is recuperating from her heart attack suffered during the Green Goblin story, she mentions to Peter that it sure is nice to have a lifelong companion as she reflects on the late Ben Parker. Peter, who was already thinking about needing some stability in his life after recent events involving Harry and Liz and their engagement, and Flash getting cozy with Sha Shan, a girl he met in Vietnam who moved to the states, takes a big step with Mary Jane. Back in those days, the late 1970's, the following was a shocking event in comics.

The Proposal

The Rejection

Now, Mary Jane’s refusal to marry Peter after the first proposal really shouldn’t be that surprising. Of course, a lot of it has to do with her inability to commit, her own troubled background, Peter being Spider-Man, etc., all of which she later fessed up to. But really, she was too young at the time. She was a year younger than Peter (established later in Parallel Lives), and she had missed at least one semester of college if not longer as a result of the explosion in issue #136 in which she suffered serious injuries. That, and with her working part-time, it’s likely that she had fallen behind in her studies and at 20, she probably felt that she had to get her own life in order first before committing permanently to someone else. Plus, Peter hadn’t made it any easier on her as a result of the events of Amazing #176-180. MJ was left holding the bag at Aunt May's side while Peter was off fighting the Green Goblin. May went into another cardiac arrest and the hospital needed Peter's consent to operate. MJ finally got ahold of him by phone - and then he didn't show up because the Goblin took him prisoner while he was on his way to the hospital. Then, in #182, he barged in on Aunt May while dressed as Spider-Man because his spider-sense went off (the Rocket Racer was in the same room visiting his own mother in his civilian identity), which threw May into more convulsions. After these two events happen close together, MJ would have to seriously question not only Peter's reliability, but whether or not he had taken leave of his senses after the incident in #182. But no sooner is that over than he asks to her marry him! You'd have gulped loudly, too.

In other words, she shouldn’t be considered a skank because she turned him down, no matter what lame excuse she gave him about there being other men to find. She simply wasn’t ready - and frankly - he wasn’t either. For one, he hadn’t told her about his double life - and she knew that. Look - why would any woman with half a brain consider marrying a man who is asking her to commit to him when he is unwilling to confide his biggest secret to her? I hate to say this, but she had every reason and every right to turn him down.

As much as I would have liked to have seen him get married at that time (I was tired of the revolving door of dating), it would not have been the right move creatively at that time, nor would it have been honest for either character. And at that time, there was a heretofore never explored possibility before marrying Peter off - and that was for him to have a relationship as Spider-Man, rather than Peter Parker.

You know where this is going.

But the death knell to Peter and MJ's story (at least for the moment) hadn't happened just yet. It's clear that MJ truly did love Peter, she said as much to him in Spectacular Spider-Man #21 and to Betty Leeds a few months later, but she also admits to simply not being ready for marriage, as well as fearful of divorce (something that Ned and Betty's current problems, after seeming to be so much in love, compounds). The fact that she's worried sick about him when he's nowhere to be found after the first Carrion trashes his apartment demonstrates that she still cares.

Peter continues to try to talk her into going out again, and finally, in Amazing Spider-Man #191, she reluctantly agrees. But disaster strikes again as Spider-Man winds up shackled to a bomb with J. Jonah Jameson (courtesy of a dying Spencer Smythe) and Peter fails to meet her, leaving her alone on a street corner in a pouring rain. After he calls again to apologize in #193, she tells him to forget her phone number and hangs up. And that was that, at least for awhile. She's mad, and has every right to be, and decides she needs a break from Peter Parker. She angrily tells him to forget her phone number, and with the exception of two very brief cameo appearances eight months later (Spectacular Spider-Man #38 and Amazing Spider-Man #201), we don't see MJ in the spider titles for almost four years.

Now - since MJ knew Peter was Spider-Man, she certainly had to be aware, at least through news reports, that Spidey and Jameson were shackled together by a designer bomb bracelet. She also admitted to both Peter (in Spectacular Spider-Man #21) and Betty Leeds (#26) that she still loved him - so why didn't she give him the benefit of the doubt? Why did she deliver a knockout punch to the relationship? Was she just being a bitch - again?

Well, the Cro-Magnon area of my male brain that says us guys should be allowed to conduct ourselves any way we want without the slightest regard for our partner's feelings is saying - yeah - what a bitch. Pete's out saving lives (this time his own) - again - and she rewards the brave hero by dumping his ass? But the truth is - Mary Jane is actually wising up. She knows that Peter Parker has been lying to her for years, continues to lie to her, and frankly, has not given her the slightest indication that he is going to stop lying to her (god, I hate taking the female side even for the merest of moments. 19 years of marriage must have thoroughly screwed with my faculties. Like Sam Kinison once said in a routine where his character was figuratively emasculated again by his wife "Guys, if you drive by and see me out in the yard - kill me!"). As mentioned earlier, he frightened MJ half out of her mind by not showing up at the hospital during the last Green Goblin storyline when Aunt May desperately needed him, then nearly spooked May into another heart attack by barging into the hospital room dressed as Spider-Man, turned around and dropped a marriage proposal on her, and then after begging her for another date - left her high and dry! It literally had been a roller coaster ride with Peter Parker for the last four years (spider-time - he was a freshman in college when he met MJ in Amazing #41, graduating in #185), with Gwen's murder, Harry freaking out and trying to blow both her and Peter up, and all that comes with dating a costumed vigilante - and she needed a time out. Now, if Peter had been willing to confide in her and tell her all about his double life, and fill her in on the real stories behind his often-questionable actions, she might have been willing to tough it out with him. But that wasn't going to happen. And not only that, but as we found out years later, MJ was keeping her own secrets, and was not prepared to come clean with him about her background and her own emotional difficulties, including the fact that her hesitancy to commit to marriage was partially based on her own dysfunctional family life growing up. So, we have a situation with two young people, probably about 21 and 20, who are not willing to be completely honest with each other. Really, breaking up is the only logical solution at this time. And, it turned out to be good for Mary Jane, as it kept her from either getting killed off, or from becoming an irrelevant character since Marvel was not willing to commit Peter to marriage at this time. By cutting her loose this way, Wolfman aborts what surely would have been another “doomed to fail” relationship, helps her avoid the Gwen Stacy syndrome where the character becomes an irrelevant whiner, and essentially keeps her from self-destructing. This gives her a breather, and allows other talented writers (Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco) to come in several years later with a fresh perspective on the character. Without re-igniting that particular debate, back in 2001 I really was not opposed to MJ sitting out of the series for awhile and taking a breather, particularly after her experience of being kidnapped by a stalker. And ultimately that's what happened, with J. Michael Straczynski bringing her back when he had a direction to take her character planned out. But, her initial departure certainly should have been done a lot better than that piece of trash “Peter the Sex Fiend” story we got in the Amazing Spider-Man 2001 annual.

The month after MJ told Peter to kiss off was a major turning point in both the Spider-Man titles that were being published at the time. Amazing Spider-Man #194 featured the first appearance of Felicia Hardy, AKA, the Black Cat, of whom there will be more about later, but Spectacular Spider-Man #32 was also crucial because Peter began his graduate school studies and teaching assistant duties, thus introducing both him, and us, to several new supporting characters. It was also the first time that Spectacular began to find its own identity. For most of its run up to that time, it had clearly been the "other" Spider-Man title, with all of the major events happening in the lead title, although the recently completed Daredevil/Masked Marauder and Carrion storylines had given it a much needed jolt. Now, by focusing on Peter's graduate school world, and leaving Amazing to focus on his interaction with the Daily Globe and Bugle staffs, each title could find its own voice and tell entirely different stories. It didn't take long though, with Roger Stern writing Spectacular beginning with issue #43, and Denny O'Neill beginning his wretched run on Amazing with issue #207, for Spectacular to clearly become the stronger title.

So, for the first time since Spidey debuted (well, since he first put the moves on Betty Brant in Amazing Spider-Man #7 ), Peter Parker was a free agent, able to play the field, breaking hearts and taking names! Well, as much as Peter Parker could, anyway. So, let's now focus on the bevy of beauties that crossed Mr. Parker's path from MJ's departure to her return, and take a look at what the prospects would have been for a long-term romance had the various relationships panned out. I think we'll ultimately find that even after Peter has played the field, his one true love still has long red hair and a sassy personality. Either that, or I've called my series by the wrong name! There is one exception - readers of Marvel Team-Up saw Peter routinely date or refer to a Cissy Ironwood. However, she was only once referred to in the regular titles, and even then Peter denigrated the relationship, so I find no point in discussing her here.

Betty Brant-Leeds
Believe it or not, the first lady to cross Peter's path during this time period was actually the first girlfriend! Betty Brant-Leeds showed up in Peter’s apartment right after his proposal was rejected by MJ. Betty, fresh from having left her husband, Ned Leeds, whom she had married in Amazing #156, was eager to fill some of the emptiness she felt not only when she left Ned, but that existed during her marriage. Seems that Ned was a foreign correspondent for the Bugle at the time, based in Paris, which meant he travelled constantly, leaving Betty alone in a strange country where she didn't know the language and had no friends - truly a recipe for a troubled marriage.

And here Peter makes a moral misstep. When I first wrote this article, I stated that "although Peter is on the rebound as well, and he and Betty do go out a few times for mutual companionship, he is way too smart to get involved with a woman who is still married, particular one whose husband hasn’t caught up with her yet!" But then that pesky "Julio Barone" whom I mentioned in Part 1 told me to take a closer look at a couple of panels in issue #190. Betty and Peter are both looking a bit forlorne in the first - and then as Spidey is swinging away in the second, there is a reference to keeping what happened between the two panels private -remember - this was the 1970's and comics were still not as open about sexual issues as they are now. So, there's not much doubt about what happened. Two lonely people, who previously had a relationship (though not sexual at that time), and now devasted by recent failed relationships with other people, turn to each other one night.

This puts a later event in a much better context. In issue #193 Ned Leeds tracks both Peter and Betty down, and with Betty looking on, decks Peter, and Mr. Parker doesn't retaliate, but rather goes out looking for someone super powered to hit so he can fully unload. If I had been Peter, secret i.d. worries or no, I would have effectively dismembered Ned Leeds, but it could be possible that Peter just sucked up and took the punch because he felt guilty about sleeping with Betty. This also puts Ned's rage in a better context, since supposedly he and Peter were friends - or had been at one time. He probably confronted Betty and she admitted to the night with Peter, thus Ned reacted like many a husband would do in that situation. It doesn't encourage him to become a better husband, of course, because the same thing happened again with Flash Thompson years later! Also, in issue #289, where Ned was supposedly "discovered" to be the HobGoblin, he is thinking about his rebuilt relationship with Peter Parker, noting that he really is a decent guy, "settling scores that go way back." What scores - if all there had been was the first non-sexual relationship back in the Steve Ditko years in which Peter and Betty, while still teenagers, parted on amicable terms? Well, the fact that Peter slept with his wife. So, I guess Mr. Barone was onto something, wasn't he?

In issue #195, with his back to the wall having been confronted by both of the Leeds', Peter tells Betty to get lost in the harshest way possible to convince her that he's the rat in this triangle and to force her back to Ned. As we all now know, Leeds eventually became the psuedo-HobGoblin under the control of Roderick Kingsley, and was set up by Kingsley to be murdered in the famous Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot. Although later we found out that many of their subsequent marital problems and Ned's violent behavior were the result of the impact of Kingsley's repeated mental manipulation of him, there appears to have been something already inherent in his personality that made him more susceptible to this behavior (1) he had a temper and (2) frankly, he was a lousy husband. Betty went through a lot of turmoil over the years, including an affair with Flash Thompson and even joining the Cult of Love, but got her act together and is now one of the Daily Bugle's top investigative reporters. She and Peter remain friends to this day.

Prospects for long term relationship - none at the time. Peter and Betty's first relationship came to an end right after Peter entered college for all of the right reasons (which I discuss in Part 1), and the Betty Brant who jumped back into Peter's life in issue #183 was pretty much the same woman who wanted a comfy home and a husband who came home every night and made her the center of his life. As we all know, Peter Parker cannot provide this kind of stability. The Betty Brant of today is much different and a lot tougher than the old Betty and isn't a soccer mom in waiting. Still, there's simply too much baggage between the two of them. Their own mutual indiscretion, her subsequent relationship with Flash Thompson, another of Peter's friends, while she was still married to Ned and while Flash was in a relationship with Sha Shan - the girl from Vietnam (Betty's clearly had periods of moral ambiguity as well), Ned's brutal murder while Peter was with him in Europe (though Peter wasn't present in the room when it happened), all of that would get in the way. And, the relationship has pretty well been mined. Probably best to leave things alone.

April Maye
Marv Wolfman introduced Peter to April Maye, reporter extraordinaire for the Daily Globe, in Amazing Spider-Man #194, when she made a point of confronting Peter and telling him how "scrumptious" his pictures were and inviting him to lunch - but Mr. Parker was in a hurry to be somewhere else. We also saw April in Spectacular #38, but Peter, entranced by the bonus check that his new employer, Globe City Editor Barney Bushkin, wrote him, ignored April's greetings. Thus, when Buskin tells Peter he wants him to work with April, his best reporter, in Amazing Spider-Man #201, the tall blonde already has a chip on her shoulder, one which is only heightened when he ditches her later when they are supposed to be working together on a story. April played a major part in the conclusion to the two-part Punisher story (issue #202) as she posed as a drug courier, only to be recognized as a reporter by the drug lord. Spider-Man came to the rescue, and in what appeared to be an interesting plot thread, referred to April by name, not one, but twice, although she and Spidey had supposedly not met before. Interesting? Well, yes, particularly if April was supposed to be such a hot shot reporter. Fuel for romance? No idea. Whatever Wolfman had in mind for April stayed with him, because he was gone after issue #204, and except for a brief cameo in #208 we never saw April again. After Denny O'Neill took over as the regular writer for Amazing with issue #207, he quickly deep-sixed all of Wolfman's subplots, only following them long enough to force the Globe out of business in issue #210.

Prospects? Who knows? April wasn't really missed, perhaps because of the dopey name, perhaps because she was too undeveloped to miss, or as one reader put it, she came off as too much of a Lois Lane rip-off. Roger Stern actually referred to the character in an interview with Fred Hembeck when he jokingly stated that April’s real name was April Meirwitz, but that she changed it for professional reasons. He also stated that he did want to do a story with April, but that never materialized.

Marcy Kane
Next came fellow graduate student and teaching assistant Marcy Kane, introduced in Spectacular Spider-Man #32. Peter's entry into graduate school was apparently an attempt by the spider writers to do what Stan had done way back in the early days of Amazing when he had Peter leave high school for college - to introduce new supporting characters to the mythos, new situations, and perhaps, even new love interests. It only made sense to have a separate supporting cast in a second title as not to overexpose or burn out the secondary characters. This caution was tossed to the wind once the third title, Web of Spider-Man debuted, and then the fourth No Adjective Spider-Man.

Writer Bill Mantlo created Marcy Kane, and she started out frighteningly similar to a Gwen clone (no, not a clone clone, but as a similar character). She was clearly resentful of Peter's scholarship status, particularly since he had a reputation for not taking his studies very seriously (and Marcy was very serious). As Peter kept disappearing to play Spider-Man, she revived the old "Parker is a coward" harangue that we used to hear from Gwen and others during Peter's early college years. And, she was blond. It seemed that the two were heading for something, though, with Dr. Sloan noting that Marcy's concern about Peter appeared to be more than just worrying about a promising student not living up to his potential (Spectacular Annual #1), but Mantlo left the title in Spectacular #42, leaving no clues as to where he intended to take the relationship, only that it would be "nothing like had been seen before."

When Roger Stern took over the title, we found out that a big secret Marcy was harboring was - gasp! - she wasn’t really a natural blond! (Not even finding out that Norman Osborn had masterminded the entire Clone Saga was as stunning as this revelation.) When Stern went over to Amazing, Mantlo returned to Spectacular, but the relationship went nowhere. Peter’s kindness to her when she was humiliated by one of his co-workers softened Marcy up towards Peter a little, as well as him saving her life in #61. She actually agreed to mentor him in order to help him pass his tests and even had a fancy dinner with him prior to one session. The closest they ever came to a relationship was in #66 when Peter actually came onto Marcy (very directly in fact - by picking her up and sitting her on the couch next to him saying “Come here, Beautiful” - which seemed a little too forward for Peter). Marcy put down his advances, and the relationship disintegrated again when Peter rushed out on a session to fight Electro as Spider-Man. It came to a complete end when Peter quit grad school in Amazing Spider-Man #243. After the Deb Whitman storyline finished up in Spectacular #74 and Dr. Sloan signed off on Peter’s leave of absence from grad school in Amazing #244, we never saw any of these characters in the Spider-Man titles again, with the exception of fellow grad student Phillip Chang, who had already appeared in the titles due to his association with Chinese gangs. Peter’s grad school time, which lasted just short of four years is now one of those “forgotten” eras of spider history.

But that wasn’t the end of Marcy Kane. No - it was later revealed in a Jack of Hearts miniseries (Jack is one of those characters that failed to catch on with the public in his own title, so he was turned into yet another mediocre member of the Avengers) that Marcy was actually an alien from another planet. She left earth for home at the end of that series. I'm not making this up. And, the writer of this series? Bill Mantlo. Was that what he meant years earlier when he said the relationship would be like nothing seen before - that Marcy really had been an alien the whole time?

Long-term relationship prospect? Not much, well, none after the alien business. There really never were any sparks in Peter’s and Marcy’s scenes together anyway. Her creator, Bill Mantlo, left the title before her character was developed much the first time around, and Roger Stern was clearly more interested in exploring Deb Whitman than Marcy. The audience never seemed to warm up to Marcy as her and Peter’s relationship seemed headed toward one of those tired “start by arguing, end up as lovers” type of things. Although Mantlo later returned, Marcy’s character remained underdeveloped, and she was swept away along with other potential mates by the emergence of the Black Cat.

Deb Whitman
Deb Whitman was first introduced in Spectacular Spider-Man #36 as the rather absent-minded secretary of Graduate School Professor Morris Sloan. Debra was unique as far as Spidey femme fatales go, as she was the closest to truly being an ordinary young woman. Deb was cute and attractive, but not the bombshell that Gwen, Mary Jane, and Felicia were. She was also shy and withdrawn, and not the bombastic personality that MJ and Felicia definitely were, and Gwen could be on a good day when she wasn't crying. As it turned out, she had been previously married and physically abused by her scumbag husband who she is currently only separated from. She really was a good character, and frankly, remains one of my faves, although she did have a finite effective life span.

Peter's relationship with Deb was a classic study of how much Peter had changed since he became Spider-Man, and it wasn't always for the better. Being Spider-Man had given him more confidence and the ability to speak up and take care of himself, but it also made it a lot easier for him to run over and misuse a weaker personality. While he sympathized with Deb, it seemed like he had a hard time coming up with some true compassion. After relationships with Gwen and Mary Jane, who in addition to being strong independent women (before Gwen started crying on daddy's shoulder every issue), were able to keep him on his toes and threaten him with consequences if he didn't shape up, it was all too easy for him to cast Deb aside, dump on her, and blow her off. It was as if a woman with overt emotional needs was a drag on him. He never made time for her, and she didn't have enough self-confidence to force him to do so. It's clear that Deb saw flashes of that caring, nurturing, sensitive side that had attracted Betty Brant to him so many years earlier. But Peter's relationship with Betty dissolved largely as a direct result of his personality taking a harder edge, and Deb's and Peter's relationship essentially was a non-starter because he just couldn't bring himself to come down to her level. In fact, this was one of the few times I was truly aggravated with Peter Parker. Deb was literally throwing herself at him, and he kept deserting her - the most egregious time in issue #215, where beaten up after a battle as Spider-Man, he has the balls to show up on Deb’s door looking for a caring hand, and after he passes out, she bandages him up and cooks him a hot meal. When he comes to - he deserts her. Soon after, she starts seeing an old boyfriend from college, Biff Rifkin. Even though she thinks she loves Peter, at least the old boyfriend had time for her and was willing to do relatively mundane things like take her to movies and sit and watch TV with her (and as we later learn, the old boyfriend wasn’t such a bad guy after all, although he came across early on as an obnoxious preppie). I guess you could say that this time, rather than her not being good enough for Peter, it was the reverse.

But Deb deserved a better send off than she got, as she was turned from an emotionally troubled woman to a psychotic loon who talked to stuffed animals in a typical "all women are crazy" storyline. After Peter clubs Biff during a confrontation in Spectacular #68 Deb follows Peter to the roof and sees Spider-Man swing off, and makes the only reasonable deduction possible to a person of above average intelligence. After this is milked for a few months, it finally comes to a head when Debbie tells her shrink, and he confronts Peter (which should have cost him his license). Turns out that Debbie is mentally unstable and confuses reality with fantasy and she "knows" that Peter just can't be Spider-Man, and thus she's really crazy for thinking so and she has to be “shocked” (figuratively, not literally for those who remember former Senator and one time George McGovern running mate Thomas Eagleton - yes, I'm dating myself) back to reality. So - Peter does this by confessing to being Spider-Man to her, and since she "knows" he can't be, she rationalizes it by saying that he made it up merely to convince her that she wasn't crazy - oh what a wonderful thing to do - now years of depression, self-loathing, and mental illness are swept away and she hops on a bus to the land of forgotten supporting characters. Of course it doesn't make any damn sense. As mentioned earlier, the deck was being cleared for Felicia Hardy to take a prominent role in the titles, and as she was a far more interesting character to explore, Debbie and the other potential romantic red herrings had to go. Not a problem. Unfortunately, the writers took the cheap way out in sending Debbie packing. I would have let her keep the knowledge that Peter was Spider-Man, and I would have had Peter be the one to confront the abusive husband and convince Deb to finally divorce him. Debbie would have realized that as much as she liked Peter, frankly, she didn't want to be involved with a man like him, in other words, constantly on the go, constantly facing danger, and unwilling or unable to make enough time for her and her needs. She would have to be the most important thing in his life - bar none. And of course, since Peter could not possibly do this, it would have been the real trigger to drive him right into the arms of the Black Cat, the one person who did understand and even liked his lifestyle. Indirectly, that is exactly what happened.

Long term prospects for a relationship? None. If this was reality rather than the comic books, I'd say Debbie would have made Peter an excellent partner, giving him a considerable amount of support and affection, since it's clear that she had plenty of love she was just dying to share with someone. However, from the perspective of being a long-term dramatic character, Debbie would have been a poor choice. As needy and emotionally withdrawn as she was, she would have been an irritating character on a long-term basis, particularly with a younger audience. I've always believed that contrary to Marvel's opinion, young men can relate to a hero with a strong female partner because I personally believe that young men really do like such women, although they are also scared to death of them (thus the dramatic conundrum), since they don't seem to need a lot of TLC or maintenance, which not only young men, but not so young men, tend to have a hard time providing. However, young men would probably would have trouble relating to a hero with a needy female partner, because those partners would appear to require too much work and investment and would seem to threaten what is seen as the hero's primary duty - that of being the hero!

But I've always like Debbie because it was an interesting turn to events to have Peter date a truly ordinary woman - attractive, but not a supermodel - shy and sensitive, just like Peter had been when he was younger.

Amy Powell
Amy was the sexy girlfriend of Peter's chief rival on the Bugle, ace photographer Lance Bannon. She was first introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #233 when she bumped into Peter at the Bugle. Recognizing him as Lance's competition for news photos, and feeling slighted by Mr. Bannon, who at the time seemed to be prizing his photography more than her, she decided to make a play for Peter in order to enrage Lance. Although at the time Peter didn't know she was Lance's girlfriend, he was effective in dodging her because he didn't need any more complications in his life. She finally corralled him at his apartment in issue #242 and began laying it on real thick before a certain redhead showed up at the end. Lance and Amy made up in the next issue, and that subplot was over. Amy showed up again in the infamous "Who is FACADE" storyline in Web of Spider-Man #113-116, this time as Lance's fiancee, but there never were any nuptials as Lance was murdered by FACADE during that story in one of the most meaningless and wasteful deaths of a long-time supporting character. Lance died because he discovered FACADE's identity, which of course, was never revealed because FACADE never appeared again outside of this story, another bone-headed Marvel maneuver.

Prospects? None. She was clearly just trying to make Lance jealous. The whole point of her existence was to be a wedge in the increasingly tense relationship between Peter and Bannon. Very much a high society type, she would have gotten very bored with Peter Parker had she spent much time with him. She wasn't Peter's type anyway.

JeanDeWolffe
What a story that would have made.

When Captain Jean DeWolffe, a tough, hard-bitten chain smoking cop, was first introduced in Marvel Team-Up #48 back in 1976, one of the last things she would have appeared to be at the time was a likely romantic partner for Spider-Man. The most obvious problem would have been the disparity in their ages (although as time went on she seemed to mysteriously de-age like other women in the Marvel Universe, although not quite as drastically as some). While Jean's age was never revealed or implied that I know of, I would assume that a captain in a New York City precinct would at least have to be in their mid to late 30's - at least. Jean didn't become a semi-regular until several years later, when Roger Stern first implemented a system in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man of having Spidey routinely run into the same police chiefs depending on what police district he was in (in addition to Jean, others included Detective Sergeant Snyder, also sympathetic to Spider-Man, and hard-charging by the book Lt. Keating, who loathed the web-slinger, but whom Peter David years later turned into an identity used by the master assassin the Foreigner).

Jean was tolerant of the webslinger, largely because he had helped rescue her brother from the manipulation of their psychotic father. However his recklessness and hot-headedness conflicted with her by-the-book approach to law and order and more than once she barked at him and lectured him as if he were a dolt. But then, in Spectacular Spider-Man #83, when Spidey runs off to visit the Black Cat in the hospital, Captain DeWolffe has the thoughts in the picture included at the beginning of this discussion. Talk about "whooaaa." In issue #90, written by Al Milgrom, DeWolffe referred to having developed a "schoolgirl crush" on Spidey. Was it an unlikely development for the character? Well, Bill Mantlo was the writer who created Jean back in Team-Up and he was the writer on Spectacular at the time, so he apparently didn't think it was incongruous. It would have been interesting to learn how grudging respect eventually turned to romantic affection, but we were never given that opportunity.

We all know what happened to Jean. Peter David took over the writing chores on Spectacular beginning with issue #103. Four months later, Jean was dead, the first victim of the serial killer known as the "Sin-Eater." Jean's death was the result of another one of those directives to "shake the titles up."

Spidey never had a clue about Jean's interest, until one day, while rummaging through her apartment looking for clues in issue #108, he came upon her collection of articles and photos of himself, and then it occurred to him:

"The Death of Jean DeWolffe" is widely considered one of the top Spidey stories of all time due to the sheer intensity of the story and how it impacted our hero. It was also a major turning point in the relationship between Spidey and Daredevil (now since reversed), as each learned the other's secret identity in this tale. However, it is yet another reflection, much like the death of Lance Bannon, and others throughout the years, of a trend that eventually begins to do serious damage to a continuing series, the deaths of good supporting characters, and Jean was an excellent one with whom much more could have been done. Had she lived, a relationship between Jean and Spidey would have given us several more months of stories as well as another perspective on our wall-crawler. Spidey would be having his first romantic dalliance with a member of the police force, with which he has always had an uneasy relationship, and a much older woman to boot. It would have been a trying time for both of them, and a lot of fun for us to follow. It still has the makings of a good "What If?" story.

But what would have been the long-term prospects of a relationship? Well, not very good. Since Jean would have become initially involved with Spider-Man rather than Peter Parker, it would have been a relationship that would have had to have been kept under a tight lid. A member of the police's officer core could not afford to be seen having a relationship with a vigilante, who, although no longer a wanted man, was still one who was considered to operate outside the law. She would clearly have been compromised and probably forced to resign if such an affair became known and thus could not appear in public with Spider-Man in an intimate setting. Not only that, but she'd have had a huge target on her back for any of Spider-Man's enemies, and likely be more vulnerable than someone like Felicia Hardy, who has her own reputation as a pretty damn tough customer (something the Vulture found out to his dismay in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #4). But, then Jean did have guns...

And, as Felicia demonstrated, a woman who has a relationship with Spider-Man eventually has to have a relationship with Peter Parker. Although Jean would not have been as tactless about it as Felicia was, I'm not so sure that the ambitious, upwardly mobile, hard as nails police captain would have fallen in love with the somewhat directionless Peter Parker, either. It would have been an extremely awkward relationship, with the age difference a significant factor. Jean would have had a hard time fitting in with Peter’s friends, and it’s probably a given that since most of Jean’s friends would have been cops (she once had an affair with Stan Carter, who later became the Sin-Eater, and her murderer), Peter would really have had a hard time at any social gathering with her. After all, his photographer relationship with Spider-Man is well known, and he probably would have been hammered relentlessly about what he knew about the wall-crawler. Plus, given Spidey’s less than overwhelming popularity with the boys in blue, Peter simply would have persistently felt uncomfortable, thus forcing Jean to choose between him, and the only world she had really ever known (both her biological father and step father, as well as her brother, had been policemen, with the former a police commissioner at one time).

However, it would have been fun had this relationship been given a try. In fact, if there are relationships that have not been explored during Spider-Man’s lifetime, they are a romantic relationship between Spider-Man and a member of the law enforcement community, and also with an older woman - and Jean fit both quite nicely.

Years after Jean's death, a back-up story appeared in the 1995 Venom Super Special part of the Planet of the Symbiotes story (another wasteful exploitation of the puzzling symbiote popularity) that occurred in the midst of the Clone Saga. It was a flashback to the time that Spidey was still wearing the symbiote as a costume before he realized it was a living organism - and it was taking him out for nocturnal swings through the city while Peter Parker was still asleep! The symbiote encountered Jean DeWolffe in a standoff with some gun toting crooks, and after "Spidey" saved the day, Jean took him aside for what appeared to be a heart to heart conversation that the symbiote, who was the only conscience entity, took for a romantic gesture and responded accordingly. Jean said flat-out "I love you," but as "Spidey" moved in for a kiss, Jean stated that she didn't feel that way about Spidey, but more that she loved him as a big brother.

I don't buy it. I feel that if the writer who created her - Bill Mantlo - believed she was in love with Spider-Man, then she was. But, considering the analysis that I just went through, Jean probably reasoned that such a relationship would not have worked. Other than just plain sloppy writing (come one, "I love you," just means "as a brother"?), I interpret this to be a way for Jean, embarrassed at herself for pining like a schoolgirl for a superhero, in her bullheaded way decided to cut to the chase once and for all for and find if Spider-Man was interested in her romantically. She may have actually hoped that he would have said no, or at least had the decency to be stunned into inaction for a moment. However, when he appeared to reciprocate almost immediately, she retreated to the "like a brother," story as her way of telling not only Spidey, but herself, that such a thing would have been doomed before it started.

Still - sigh - what a missed opportunity.

And yes, I know that Dan Slott wrote that story.

Felicia Hardy
One avenue that had not been tried in the first 15 or so years of the spider-titles was a relationship between Spider-Man (not Peter Parker) and another female costumed character. And that's where the Black Cat comes in. While I suppose it would have been interesting for Spidey to have become involved with an existing female superhero in the Marvel Universe, the options were fairly limited. Most of the female players were not solo efforts, but were part of established teams. Spidey, not being much of a team player to begin with, would not have much reason to be routinely within the company of these heroines. They were usually already taken (Sue Richards), or not big fans of Spidey to begin with (Janet Van Dyne), or were probably either too different (Tigra), or would have intimidated our basically down to earth hero (She-Hulk). Since Spidey likes redheads (no surprise there, eh?), he has been known to flirt with Jean Gray a time or two (and Ben Reilly, Peter's clone, was attracted to the red-haired Firestar when the Scarlet Spider was a member of the New Warriors), but considering that Jean has always had plenty on her plate to begin with (when not married to Cyclops, or dead, seemingly always in the middle of love triangles on the X-Men anyway), she wouldn’t have time for Spidey. And, since superheroes always have their own villains and schedules to tangle with, getting together with an independent superheroine would have been next to impossible anyway. But a female costumed character created specifically to exist within the spider-titles would work (and I am aware that in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker did have a relationship with Kitty Pryde - however, in the regular Marvel Universe, Kitty was much too young for Peter when she was first introduced).

The Black Cat was originally conceived as an antagonist by Marv Wolfman for Jessica Drew's Spider-Woman, but he departed that title before the story was written and took the Black Cat with him. She makes her debut with a flare in Amazing Spider-Man #194, coming onto our web slinger and throwing him completely off balance. The Cat was notable anyway since Spidey had no recurring female antagonists (I still don’t think he does). Emotionally vulnerable at this time due to a series of gut-wrenching failures with members of the opposite sex MJ, Betty, and Dawn Starr (a student of his who was only coming onto him to get at his test answer keys), Spidey is attracted to the Cat - but, she's a criminal, inspired by her own father's cat-burglar career. At the end of this two-parter, she busts her dying father out of jail in order for him to live his last moments at home in the company of her mother. Emotionally conflicted, Spidey tries to take her in, but in resisting him she appears to fall to her death. Of course, Spidey was the only one who thought she was dead, since we all know that cats have more than one life.

We don't know what Marv Wolfman had in mind for the Black Cat during his run (and unfortunately, he no longer remembers, either). In another article, I originally cited an interview with Roger Stern in which Stern stated that Wolfman's notes had the Black Cat being murdered - but Wolfman himself stated that he would never have killed off Felicia and that Stern was likely given incorrect information. Anyway, Felicia’s story temporarily came to a rather abrupt and unsatisfying “end” in Amazing Spider-Man #205, the second of a two part story which was started by Wolfman, but finished by David Michelinie, in which she was revealed to be a childish goof who stole romantic objects because she was obsessed with Spider-Man as a father figure to replace her own late father. Better than being killed off, I suppose. This did leave wiggle room for Stern to bring her back a couple of years later in issues #225-226 and show that the end of the previous storyline had simply been a con on Felicia’s part to get herself committed to a mental hospital rather than prison.

Felicia proved to be an immensely popular character with the fans, so much so that Marvel was compelled to bring her onboard on a regular basis, which started in Spectacular Spider-Man #75. She primarily appeared in that magazine only, and all of the major developments in the relationship took place in Spectacular. Bill Mantlo and Al Milgrom (he of the infamous Earth X slam on Bob Harras) shepherded the relationship from its new beginning to its end in issue #100.

Remember the point I made at the beginning of this article - that Peter is the type of guy who wants to get married? Well, when his relationship with Felicia begins to seriously jell, guess what’s the first thing to cross his mind?

I'm particular fond of the Spider-Dog and the Spider-Baby.

But, although Felicia was brought onboard, Marvel sowed the seeds of the end of the relationship almost from the beginning. Basically, Felicia could not accept Spidey’s ordinary life and the restraints that it placed on their relationship. To her, Peter Parker was such a bore and a drag that she couldn't bear to look at him unless he was dressed as Spider-Man. Also, the “bad luck” super powers that the Kingpin later bestowed upon her (it's a long story - but eventually Dr. Strange got rid of her powers) would have eventually killed Spider-Man were she to continue to be intimate with him. Peter tired of the relationship because of Felicia's recklessness over his secret identity, her lack of acceptance of his normal life, and the fact that he no longer felt that he could trust her as a result of her initially keeping her new powers a secret from him.

Long-term relationship prospects? Well, unfortunately, the relationship with the Black Cat really was "doomed to fail" from the moment her identity became public knowledge. There is simply no way they could have had a normal relationship. All it would take would be for Peter Parker to be seen in public cozying up to Felicia and that would have effectively been the end of Spider-Man. Felicia also was way too public about her relationship with Spidey anyway, and a fairly decent “What If” story, which I profiled in Part 3 of my Alternate Spidey series, showed the difficulties inherent in the relationship had they really married. Also, it's doubtful that Felicia would have fully understood why Peter, the big time superhero, allowed Aunt May to treat him like a small, dullard of a child, or why he put up with JJJ's abuse in both of his identities. In fact, Felicia once nearly took Jonah's head off when he trashed Peter Parker (who was off on that stupid Secret Wars jaunt) - only to have Robbie intervene before she said something she shouldn't.

Unfortunately, in much the same way they dispatched Deb Whitman, the spider-writers chose to make Felicia act like a complete bubblehead, rather than honestly explore the differences in the two characters, that one was wild, reckless, and ultimately rather dangerous - and the other much more ordinary. Felicia could have legitimately been bored with Spidey’s Peter Parker identity without acting like such a child - but I honestly believe that Marvel felt that the Cat’s presence in the titles was something that was literally forced on them by her overwhelming popularity, so they deliberately sabotaged the character so that the readers would not only accept her departure, but would be ready to show her the door themselves. It was also easier from a writing perspective to show her as a dimwit unworthy of Spider-Man, rather than explore the more complex nature of the relationship.

Peter's romance with Felicia only lasted two years, but seemed a lot longer because after a sabbatical, she came back several times to bedevil Spidey, first as an acquaintance of the Foreigner, and then as the paramour of Flash Thompson, initially to get back at Peter through him, but in an ironic turn of events, Flash dumped her. After Maximum Waste of Time, er, Carnage and the Clone Saga storyline, Felicia seems to have settled in as one of the good guys - although she still seems to have a tendency to use more strong arm tactics to achieve her ends than Spidey would feel comfortable with. Also, she may be doing that fine dance once again with the other side of the law, as her recent job for the Owl in Marvel Knights Spider-Man demonstrates.

I really have not done Peter’s relationship with Felicia justice in this article, and I wanted to examine it some depth, but I realized early on that Felicia really deserves some articles of her own. The relationship was too complex with too much ground to cover, and I didn't want to turn this series into "Why wasn't it you, Felicia Hardy?"

So - as we can see, MJ still stands out as the logical choice for Peter to eventually marry, because all of the others clearly have had some kind of baggage that precluded them from having a permanent relationship with Mr. Parker. Either the characters were simply underdeveloped, incompatible, or the relationship would have been too impractical for either Peter, the woman, or both. And now guess what it's time for?

In Amazing Spider-Man #238, (which just happened to be the debut of the Hobgoblin), we see MJ for the first time since #201, as she is in Florida where Anna Watson is currently living. When Anna decides to come back to New York to visit her good friend May Parker, MJ decides to come with her, setting up the "oops" meeting in Peter’s apartment in issue #242 with Amy Powell.

When MJ returns, friends and family cannot help themselves but to try to match her and Peter together again. Liz and Harry, Ned and Betty, and even Anna and May plan dinners where each Peter and MJ thought they were the only ones invited, and then the other shows up. May in particular is not yet about to give up on her favorite girl and even gets in a line about how both Peter and MJ "have lost so very much." The two of them also attend a party where Harry and Liz formally announce Liz’s pregnancy, and afterwards she and Peter have this scene together:

Although both of them make statements that marriage between the two of them would not have worked, this is clearly two people trying to rationalize away the fact that they are still attracted to each other. But, MJ is not yet ready to tell Peter that she knows he is Spider-Man, and Peter, currently involved in a heavy relationship with the Black Cat, and being a proud guy, is not about to admit how emotionally devastating MJ’s rejection of his marriage proposal was. Sure, his wounded ego led him to think, such as in Amazing #187 “thank heavens she turned me down,” but the fact that this "but not enough to marry me" zinger comes out immediately after MJ says why she always liked him shows that it’s something that was never far from his thoughts, and still hurts him. It’s clear right now that MJ is not ready to resume the relationship, but she also does not want to forever slam the door on it. A tease? Without a doubt - MJ always was a tease - but in the time between her and Peter’s separation, she’s been playing the field too - and is finding out that for all of the baggage that Peter brings to a relationship, he’s still one very special person that she has found a hard time replacing - a person who in addition to being a lover, can also be a friend. Plus, I think this scene demonstrates just how comfortable the two of them are together, how well they mesh. We like seeing these people together.

Amazing Spider-Man #257 forever altered the landscape of Peter’s and Mary Jane’s relationship. Truly, this was the point of no return. Concerned about the well being of one of her best friends, and tipped off by Betty Brant that Peter has been troubled, MJ decides to drop in on him. However, bad luck arrives in the form of Puma, a mercenary hired by the Rose (the first one - the Kingpin’s son - not Sergeant Blume, not Blood Rose, nor Jacob Conover) to eliminate Spider-Man. Puma has tracked Spidey down through his smell (sigh) to Peter’s apartment, and bursts in while MJ is there. Peter is able to shove MJ into another room for the duration of the battle, but after Puma leaves, she breaks the lock on the door, and surveys the carnage (no pun intended). When Peter gears up to give her another weird story, she stops him dead in his tracks by dropping this little bomb:

And needless to say, here’s where things really get interesting.

NEXT TIME: The departure of the Black Cat reopens the possibility of a relationship between Peter and Mary Jane. But will they each have the courage to come to their senses? Do we already know how that ends? Of course we do - but getting there is most of the fun anyway, eh? And then - after the marriage - why did Marvel seem compelled to unravel it? It's Part 3 of "Why did it Have to be you, Mary Jane?"


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Copyright © 1998-2008 J.R. Fettinger. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment.