Why Did it Have to be You, Mary Jane?

Part 3

Happily Ever After?

In each of the previous parts, I've written how the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was inevitable, that it was destiny that these two souls found love in each other's arms. And - I've been right (hey - my column - I'm always right). However, as I continue my series on MJ, it seems that some of the forces that made their relationship and marriage inevitable could have made their separation, and - dare we say it - potential divorce, inevitable as well. And I'm not just talking about Mephisto walking in and snapping his magic red clawed fingers, either. Marriage is tough to begin with without one of the partners being a superhero.

As we left off in Part 2, Mary Jane had finally returned to the Spider-Man titles in Amazing Spider-Man #242, courtesy of Roger Stern, after an absence of nearly four years. Between then and MJ's breaking off the relationship in issue #193, a footloose and fancy free Peter Parker made the acquaintence of several attractive young women (ah, the glory days according to Marvel), but for various reasons, none of those relationships really stuck, save one. At the time of MJ's return, Peter's relationship with Felicia Hardy, the ethically challenged Black Cat, was red hot. MJ made some additional appearances as she and Peter gently flirted with each other over the course of the next few months, but nothing much happened as Stern's first priority was getting his classic HobGoblin story arc into high gear for its conclusion in ASM #251, and laying the groundwork for Spidey's eventual participation in the first Secret Wars. But, whatever Stern might have had in mind for MJ remains a mystery, as he left the title after #251, leaving lots of loose ends for his successor, Tom DeFalco, to follow up on. However, he failed to give DeFalco much if any help in wrapping them up - particularly where the HobGoblin's identity was concerned.

But although we don't know what Stern would have eventually done with Mary Jane - we know how he felt about the marriage - and it wasn't positive. Rather than paraphrase, here is the direct quote from Tom DeFalco's essential book for the Spider-Man fan Comic Creators on Spider-Man:

It all seemed to fall apart when he got married. I'm not sayin that I would never have married Peter off, but I wouldn't have paired him with Mary Jane. She worked best as a spoiler, an old girlfriend who would occassionally appear to mess up Peter's life...they were like oil and water...I never thought the marriage would work although he does agree that they cared about each other greatly.

Although Stern's comment is often trotted out by those who did not like Spidey's marriage to MJ, they just as often neglect to mention his little caveat that also he would not have entirely ruled out marrying him off - he just hadn't found the right woman (both Peter and Roger). It interesting that he says they were oil and water - because in a dramatic sense, that would actually make the best comic book marriage. Who wants to read a story where everything is all lovey dovey? Marvel often did that in the scenes between Peter and Mary Jane and the result more often than not was rather sickening because they had them talking in ways that most married people really don't talk to each other in, even if they remain deeply in love. In many ways, what shows true love in a marriage is not what you say to each other, it's what you do for each other. The disparate personalities would create conflict and drama without having to succumb to the plot device of constant fighting and turmoil. Mary Jane's social skills, in contrast to Peter's social ineptness, could have been the foundation of many a conflict and humorous moment.

But anyway, after settling in on the title, DeFalco decided to drop one of the biggest bombs in Spidey history. How many times have you heard the hype "...and Spidey's life will never be the same"? Too many times to count, probably. However, this one was for real, as Mary Jane, coming into Peter's apartment in the aftermath of a battle with furry hitman Puma, and faced with another one of his lies, tells him, frankly, what anyone who hung around Peter Parker for even a small amount of time should have figured out by now - that he and Spider-Man were one and the same. In #258, as Peter is still staggering from this revelation, the Black Cat swoops into his apartment, setting up the first meeting between her and Mary Jane, and initiating a competition that doesn't truly end until the Clone Saga gets underway several years later (will it be reignited again? Only time will tell.)

I had a faithful reader question why, if Mary Jane knew that Peter was Spider-Man from the very beginning (as established in the trade Parallel Lives), then why did she respond with such shock when the Black Cat came sailing through the window and mutter "it's true - it's all true"? Did she have some doubt before? How could she have had any doubts when she saw Spider-Man crawl up the side of the Parker house on the night Ben was murdered? And subsequently, why did she start agonizing over this knowledge after issue #257, when such things obviously didn't trouble her from her introduction in issue #42 to the time that Peter first proposed to her in issue #182?

The easiest way to answer these questions would be to just cop out and say, for example, that it hadn't been revealed that MJ knew, and that Parallel Lives hadn't been written. So, at the time of MJ's revelation, no one had quite figured out - just when she figured out. That is the truth, after all.

But - why take the easy approach when the long, bombastic, convoluted approach will do? I think human nature led her to tell herself that there was just a possibility, however slight, that Peter wasn't really Spider-Man, and that she would never have to face the reality of the situation. After all, Peter had conned everyone else though all of the years - even to the point of explaining that he and Spidey knew each other and had an agreement on the photo taking. Perhaps their relationship had originated even prior to Peter's photography career. And then there was the fever induced "revelation" in ASM #78 that Peter was eventually able to work out of by having Hobie Brown (aka the Prowler) pose as Spider-Man and confront Peter Parker - although that didn't fool George Stacy for a minute (and in retrospect, neither did it fool MJ). Of course it was all lies, but people often convince themselves of the lie when the truth is a little too much to handle. Plus, MJ's previous experiences with Spider-Man had typically been seeing the dashing hero coming "from nowhere" to the rescue - so there was a safe distance between Peter Parker and Spider-Man. After all, she had never really seen one change into the other, right? But this time it was a lot different - this time Peter's being Spider-Man came home to roost, and she was there listening to his apartment being trashed by a supervillain. And after the fight, as Peter tried to fumble for an explanation to the events that had just taken place - the Black Cat came flying in. So, whatever mental separation between Peter and Spider-Man MJ created in her mind in order to deal with it had just now been effectively demolished. There was no longer any clearly defined line between Peter Parker's life and Spider-Man's life. After years of pussy-footing around the truth (pun intended) to have it so suddenly slap you right in the face - well- that would be a bit numbing. Plus, face it, she still kind of liked the guy - and was startled to see some slinky sex kitten in black spandex barge in. Who wouldn't be? Whether or not she's ready to resume a relationship with Peter Parker - wouldn't a little part of her have hoped that he hadn't been able to live without her? And in flies evidence that such is not the case. As to why she finally told him after all of these years that she finally knew? Well, since the incident with Puma had literally thrown the whole problem in her face, she decided to toss it right back in his and catch him off guard.

Mary Jane haters will probably have plenty of fodder for their perspectives in the next several issues - because when you start looking for consistency in her attitudes towards Peter being Spider-Man, then you'll be frustrated - because they aren't consistent. In fact, her feelings are all over the map. Again, the easiest way to explain this would be to dismiss it as the logical outcome when you have three monthly titles written by several different people (Web of Spider-Man did not have a consistent creative team at this juncture, which made matters even worse). It's also quite likely that while DeFalco was the one who made the decision that MJ knew - he didn't know where he was going with it. But - can we chalk this up to plain old human nature again? Probably so.

For example, let's go back to when Peter and Mary Jane first started dating after the events of Amazing Spider-Man #129. Neither character was probably over 20 years old. Since it was stated in Parallel Lives that Peter is a year older than MJ, let's assume that she's 19 at the time. Well, at 20 & 19, it's rather unlikely that either one of them was thinking of marriage to each other at the beginning of their relationship. Yes, Peter had started thinking about marrying Gwen back in issue #100 - but he had had a long-standing relationship with her by that time. So, since marriage and even a serious long-term committment was not formally on the table, MJ could handle a relationship with Spider-Man. Heck, deep down, although it might have been a little scary, she probably considered it a kick, and even a little exciting. She's a young woman and she's got this secret no one else knows about - "I'm dating Spider-Man!" And since Peter, as Spider-Man, had saved her life twice from the faux Vulture in Amazing Spider-Man #127 & 128, he was a living, breathing knight in shining armor to her.

However, it probably didn't take too long for the thrill and excitement to wear off. I'd say it probably started when Harry tried to blow them both up at the beginning of Amazing #136. And as their relationship got more serious after Peter left for Paris in #144 and then in #149, when Peter realized it was MJ he loved, even though Gwen's clone had surfaced, he still did not share with her his greatest secret. And as more time passed, she realized that he wasn't going to, either. And then, as discussed in previous parts, with Peter off playing Spider-Man when Aunt May needed him, the whole idea of being in a relationship with a superhero continued to lose its luster. It took some time between issues #182 and #183 for MJ to think over Peter's proposal - and she probably analyzed their relationship at that time, and for reasons discussed in the previous parts, turned him down.

In issue #259, Peter and MJ go for a walk in the park, establishing the setting for the "Mary Jane Tells All" issue, and we finally learn about the tortured, unstable background and family difficulties that shaped her party girl personality and her aversion to marriage and commitment. She acknowledges what I noted in previous parts, that although she and Peter had been friends and lovers, not once did they apparently sit down and open up to each other about themselves, which demonstrates that neither was truly ready for marriage during Peter's first proposal. For a character that had been around since issue #42 (over 18 years at the time), these revelations were long overdue, and it's surprising that it took this long for anyone to actually sit down and psychoanalyze MJ. It's probably just as well. At the end, she tells Peter that while she has feelings for him, they are those of friendship, not romantic love, a prouncement which he more than readily accepts. Considering that he is involved in a passionate relationship with the Black Cat, romancing Mary Jane is not part of the picture.

But it's interesting that while this is the issue where they are supposed to be honest with each other - not once does Mary Jane ask him how he became Spider-Man. And he doesn't offer to tell her, either. Both are still distancing themselves from the uncomfortable reality that has been thrust upon them.

Unfortunately, the kick that this shocking revelation gives to the spider-titles dissipates rather quickly as in perhaps the worst of soap opera traditions - it just kind of hangs there. In succeeding issues, Peter and MJ dance around the issue - but either one or the other doesn't want to talk about it - or the impact on their relationship. Which means there's a lot of panels in which one character, typically MJ, is looking out the window contemplating just what it all means.

In Spectacular Spider-Man #96, the first of the window-gazing scenes, she tells herself that she can only be friends with him, nothing more as the result of him being Spider-Man. And at first, Peter is clearly uncomfortable with Mary Jane knowing that he is Spider-Man. But, then, a major roadblock in Peter and MJ's relationship, Peter's dalliance with the Black Cat, ends in Spectacular Spider-Man #100. Soon after, he tries to put his relationship with MJ on the front burner as he confronts her about it in Web of Spider-Man #3. However, as the panel demonstrates, she isn't ready to talk, leaving him more confused and frustrated. Although MJ claims that her cowardice is the problem, another likely reason is that she knows that Peter has ended a very intense affair with the Black Cat. Fearful that he may be coming to her on the rebound, she puts a halt to any discussion of the subject, which was probably wise on her part. Peter's subsequent anguish explains his quick rejection of the overtures put out by his neighbor, "Bambi," in Amazing Spider-Man #266. For the last several months, Peter had been dodging good-looking neighbors Candi, Randi, and Bambi for a couple of reasons (1) their overt flirtations made him nervous, and (2) they always seemed to be sunbathing on the rooftop of his apartment building whenever he wanted to slip in and out as Spider-Man. In a period of deep contemplation on the rooftop in #266, he realizes that Bambi has a little more substance than he realized, and she (unknown to her) helps him resolve a Spider-Man issue. Bambi asks him if he has a girlfriend ("No"), and then asks him if he's looking for one. Considering what he has been going through with Felicia and Mary Jane, Peter gives her a calm, firm "No." We later find out that Bambi has a child from a previous relationship. Although the timing was clearly bad - it might have been interesting to see Peter Parker become involved with a woman who had a child. Beyond the issues of marriage, it would have forced him to ask such questions as whether or not he was ready for the huge responsbility of parenthood. But then again, if Marvel thinks that being married to Mary Jane "ages" Peter in the minds of the fresh and fragile "target" audience, then one can only imagine how old they think a relationship with a single mother would make him. As it ultimately turned out, Candi, Randi and Bambi were merely teases tossed into the titles for humor and occassional titilation, and they vanished after Peter and MJ married and moved out of that apartment.

In Web of Spider-Man #6, we get our first hint that Mary Jane is growing tired of her party girl lifestyle, particularly since part of it is a front to keep the rest of the world at bay. MJ ponders what might have been had she wanted to settle down, and thinking that the pool of eligible men doesn't have any better than Peter Parker. She realizes that his sense of responsibility is what attracted her to him in the first place. She also admits that the fact that she worries about him being Spider-Man is partially a cover for her real issues, fear of a bad marriage. However, in Web #11, MJ is back to distancing herself from Peter as she clearly resents being Peter's confidant on Spider-Man issues, and becomes extremely uncomfortable when he plants a kiss on her, feeling again that he might be pushing for something she's not ready for yet (but you know - she seemed to spend an awful lot of time going over to his apartment, either to paint, or to buy him furniture, or cook him breakfast - hmmm). And if Peter's subtle hints aren't bad enough, in Spectacular Spider-Man #113, after MJ tells a prying Aunt Anna that she and Peter are just friends now, Anna bluntly tells her that they should be "better" friends. No mystery what Anna means there. So, it isn't just her fears about Peter being Spider-Man that's got her guard up - it's the fact that ever since she got back into town, people have been trying to hook her and Peter up again - and frankly, like anyone would be, she's simply just getting a little tired of it.

During this period we were forced to endure another of Peter's "I'm giving up being Spider-Man," routines which began in issue #275, even though it wasn't that long ago, in issue #200, that he stated he would never again toy with giving it up. Sigh. Short memories. Anyway, this little existential crisis of Peter's finally prompts MJ to ask him how he became Spider-Man, which Peter tells her in the context of a reprinting of Amazing Fantasy #15. After this talk, Mary Jane actually seems to have a change of heart about Peter's extra-cirricular activities as she begins to worry what Peter giving up Spider-Man would do to their relationship. But then, next issue, she's back to being mad again, not wanting to stick around and watch him destroy himself, and resentful when he calls asking her to pick up street clothes from his apartment and deliver them to a waiting Spider-Man in an alley. However, not long afterwards, when the HobGoblin takes a hostage and the event is broadcast live on television, Mary Jane talks him back into the costume and facing his responsibilities! Does any of this make sense?

Well, yes.

For one, until MJ finally heard the story in his own words of just why he became the web-slinging hero, as a result of his guilt over the death of Uncle Ben, she probably never realized just how much being Spider-Man meant to him - how much it was tied into his desperate need for redemption for one thoughtless, selfish act. Now, after all these years, she finally realizes that he's not doing it just for kicks - it's a mission. Plus, if she pushes Peter into giving up being Spider-Man, then does she go against the very will of God - or whatever forces (such as giant magic spiders, I suppose) - resulted in Peter getting his powers? Is he simply destined to be Spider-Man? Does she have any right to step in and interfere with that? And could Peter live with himself if he gave up? Would he feel guilt every time some tragedy happened that he felt he could prevent? And would he begin to blame her for giving up being Spider-Man? Clearly, MJ is seriously conflicted.

That - and well, she's a woman. I'm sorry if that sounds politically incorrect - but after 19 years of marriage, I think I know whereof I speak. MJ's ping ponging attitudes towards Peter and Spider-Man are not that unusual in the context of many male/female relationships. For example, my own wife wants me to do well in my chosen field, but gets demonstrably upset when that field takes me on the road, or requires extra hours at work. Many women like the idea of being married to a doctor, but aren't crazy about the hours and responsibilities that go with that, either. MJ shouldn't be villified because she can't seem to make up her mind. The man she thinks she's in love with dresses up in a silly costume and fights other garishly dressed men, most of whom have a very loose, if any, grip on sanity and are constantly trying to kill him. Imagine this phone call: "Mrs. Parker - this is Katie Couric from CBS from Fox News. Doctor Octopus just ripped your husband limb from limb and is on top of the Chrysler Building dangling each bloody piece for all to see. How do you feel about that?"

Although at the same time Peter isn't so sure how he feels about MJ, either, he sure gets jealous in Spectacular #116 when he sees Roddy Kingsley coming out of Mary Jane's apartment. It's all innocent, of course, as Roddy was just discussing jobs with her. And of course, Peter knows that Kingsley is a slimebag from Spider-Man's dealings with him (this was before it was revealed that Roddy was the true, first HobGoblin), but there seems to be a little bit more emotion coming from Peter than simply not wanting MJ to get involved in a business transaction with a shady character.

Then it becomes MJ's turn to act jealous as in Spectacular #119, when Sabretooth comes gunning for Spider-Man (he shows up outside Peter's apartment because, that's right, he tracked him down by smelling him - let's see - that makes Kraven, Puma, Wolverine, and now Sabretooth who can smell Spider-Man. Man, he must have some serious b.o.). But the Black Cat(possibly the only feline-associated character who doesn't smell Spidey) intervenes and thrashes the furry mutant before Spidey even has a chance to get off the roof. MJ wonders whether or not she would be willing to risk it all for Peter as Felicia seemed to do.

Remember Peter's agonizing that began back in Amazing Spider-Man #275 about giving up being Spider-Man? Well, he's still agonizing, and in issue #283, he tells MJ flat-out that he's going to quit. She is so happy to hear this, that ...well...you can see for yourself. Would she feel this deeply about his decision if she weren't feeling some pretty strong emotions for him? Don't think so.

But then Felicia's apartment gets blown up. Without a place to stay, she forces herself back into Peter's apartment and his life, where our hero begins one last, somewhat dubious fling with her. Of course, a certain redhead doesn't know about this, so when she shows up (again)at Peter's apartment in Spectacular #123 (this time it's her who wants to talk about their relationship), she runs right into Felicia. Enraged, she decides to get together with an old boyfriend herself. She freaks out again in Amazing Spider-Man #287 when after another confrontration with Felicia in Peter's apartment, the wily Cat refers to her as "Molly Jo."

Another key moment occurs during the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot - before Peter goes off to Europe on an assignment with Ned Leeds. Caught up in the moment during a visit to Mary Jane before his trip - he plants a kiss on her - and her stunned expression tells him that he crossed a line that he shouldn't have - at least for the moment - and temporarily forces him back with Felicia - a "sure thing" at that time.

What's interesting is that the writer of this tale, James Owlsey turned Christopher Priest, used this as an example of why he believed that Peter and MJ shouldn't marry (he was the editor of the spider titles at that time). As he stated in an article on his website, he was, and always has been, bitterly opposed to the marriage, indicating that any young man could relate to wanting "a roll in the hay" with MJ - but marriage? Obviously, I don't agree - but in the bigger picture, Owsley/Priest admitted that he was singularly unqualified to be editor of Marvel's flagship character (he was in his early 20's at that time) - a role that was given to him because literally no one else wanted it. Although Priest meant this scene to demonstrate that their relationship was wrong (considering how their true feelings for each other had been telegraphed for almost three years now - I'm surprised that he all of a suddent concluded that the pairing was "wrong.") - there's fortunately enough ambiguity that we can assume that MJ's stunned expression was due to Peter's making a bold move after several months of the two of them skirting the issue.

At the end of Amazing #289 Peter and Felicia make out like giddy school kids when he finds out that she has made him three new costumes to replaced the one that was trashed in the battle with the newly minted Jason Macendale HobGoblin. However, that relationship is clearly over once again after Spectacular Spider-Man #129. Just prior to that, it appeared that Felicia was selling out Spider-Man to the master assassin, the Foreigner. However, in her "Dear Pete" letter, Felicia reveals that she was playing both him and the Foreigner against each other, but doggone it, she admitted to still being in love with him. However, she felt it best to leave the country for awhile considering that master assassins don't take very kindly to being duped. It just so happens that MJ shows up about the same time as this letter, and Peter, in a serious funk after being screwed again by the Cat (both figuratively and literally), lets Mary Jane leave so that he can be alone.

And then it finally hits him what a dumb s.o.b. he's been - and he bolts out the door to stop MJ before she gets too far. At this time, Peter Parker realizes that what he has been looking for for so long is not "out there" somewhere. It's been right by him all along. He, like most people, failed to see it because it wasn't "perfect," because it came with baggage. But, everything in life comes with baggage of one kind or another - and there are times, particularly with love, you have to grab onto and hold tightly what you do have - something even the movie version of Doc Ock would agree with!

Looking back, it was entirely appropriate for Spidey to have had another fling with Felicia just before deciding to settle down with Mary Jane. As a result of the events of the preceeding months, it can't be demonstrated any more clearly who is the appropriate partner for him - the wild and free-spirited Felicia who still has a lot of growing up to do - or the stable, down-to-earth, faithful friend and companion Mary Jane. Which is kind of funny when you think about it. Back in the 60's and early 70's - MJ was the wild and free-spirited "bad girl" and Gwen was the stable, down to earth "good girl." And, unfortunately, this could be one of those signals of the potential "beginning of the end" of Peter and MJ's relationship. It is a fact of creative life and one that might explain why there was such a concerted effort to get rid of Mary Jane by some writers and editors - most creators simply find bad girls a lot more fun to write for (and draw) than good girls. Stan the Man himself admitted that while he originally wanted Peter to marry Gwen - Mary Jane simply became more fun to write for. Gerry Conway came to the same conclusion when he was involved in the decision to whack Gwen. Mary Jane's character progression over the course of the spider-titles was entirely logical and realistic as she matured from empty-headed party girl (some of which was an act) to steadfast and reliable companion. However, while this progression was realistic, it may have spelled death for her creatively. Now, with good writing that doesn't have to be the case - but that's getting into another subject matter beyond the scope of this series of articles. This scenario happens in soap operas all of the time. "Bad" characters (typically male - since the soap opera audience is primarily female) come on with a flourish, and depending on the skill of the writing and the appeal of the actor, get a lot of juicy lines and plot situations and become enormously popular. Inevitably, however, the "bad boy" begins to mellow as a result of that popularity (it's hard to justify the character's continued existence if he's a perpetual scumbag, hence the mellowing) and eventually becomes a "good boy" and sometimes even the series lead (Luke Spencer of General Hospital fame, anyone?). Ultimately, however, the character exhausts his story possibilities and a combination of lethargy sets in - either the writers get tired of writing for him, or the actor gets tired of playing him, (or simply grows too old to be a "hunk" anymore) or a combination. So, there is precedent for MJ's apparent fall from grace in the creative sense.

In Amazing Spider-Man #290, we open with a contemplative Peter Parker realizing that something is missing in his life. With the HobGoblin mystery solved (he thinks), the Black Cat permanently out of the picture as a romantic partner, and the resolution of his debate over whether or not to continue to be Spider-Man (at least until the next costume burning ritual), everything should be just ducky - but it's not. Through a convoluted turn of events, which includes a heart to heart talk with Mary Jane, he finally comes to the conclusion that what's missing is - having a family of his own.

Unfortunately, at just the same time that Peter comes to the conclusion that starting a family is the next logical move in his life - Mary Jane's old family issues resurface in that her sister has just been arrested for stealing a rare manuscript on the behest of their wayward father, who rather than trying to make an honest living, is now stealing literary artifacts and fencing them. Once again, while Peter's intentions are good, his sense of timing is awful, as he asks THE QUESTION again. And, again...he gets the same answer as before:

With Mary Jane's life in turmoil, Peter decides he has to help her confront it head on, and flies after her to Pittsburgh where her sister lives. It's amazing that when it's convenient for the storyline, Peter realizes that New York City has plenty of other superheroes and can survive a few days without him while he gets his own life in order. Why this hasn't occurred to him more often is a mystery and an example of the creative ruts the character often gets into. The guilt trip that begat Spider-Man is an entirely valid and meaningful motivation, but there are times that it is run into the ground to the detriment of the series.

Anyway, not only does Peter stand by MJ and help her resolve her family problems, but MJ actually comes to the rescue of Spider-Man during a confrontation with a giant robot (run by Alistar Smythe) by distracting it long enough to allow our hero to get his wits together and then crack it open like a peanut shell. Finally, in a calm moment on their way back to New York, our hero and heroine come to the conclusion that theirs is a mutually satisfying relationship, where each partner has much to contribute. And then MJ gives Peter the answer he's been wanting to hear for so long:

I don't think it's any coincidence that Mary Jane finally agrees to Peter's marriage proposals after she helps put her father behind bars, and apparently separates all ties with him. She also reconciles with her sister. As a result of these two acts, she jettisons a ton of emotional baggage. Giddy with this sudden freedom from a lifetime of pain and guilt, she literally jumps right into marriage with Peter. I know that some people have commented on how quickly Peter and MJ went from engagement to marriage, which happened literally the next month in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual. For example, my wife and I were engaged for a full year before we were married. For others, it can either be shorter or longer. While it came about as the result of an editorial mandate from then EIC Jim Shooter to match the events of the Spider-Man comic strip (Stan wanted to marry them in the strip, and Shooter, sensing a huge promotional opportunity, ordered them married in the regular series. It was a controversial decision even then and one that many writers have claimed they were opposed to at the time), it is also entirely consistent with the characters. Peter has been ready to be married, not only to Mary Jane, but simply to be married, for a very long time. He was thinking about marriage to Gwen as early as Amazing Spider-Man #100, proposed to Mary Jane first in issue #182, and then in issue #290, and thought about marriage to Felicia Hardy when their relationship started to catch fire as well. Peter's ready, and has been ready, so for him, there's no sense in a waiting period. With Mary Jane, she's on an emotional high right now due to several open wounds in her personal life finally healing. And considering that Aunts May and Anna have been pushing toward this very thing for the last several years (heck, knowing those two old women, they probably had all the planning done - it was just a matter of making the phone calls), it's very easy to see how it all falls together so quickly.

I don't want to get too deep into Freudian crap and stuff about women and their fathers, or their father figures, but it definitely impacts how Mary Jane feels about Peter Parker and her decision to marry him. After her family's abandonment by Phillip Watson when she was a child, MJ probably craved a paternal influence, and subconsciously found it in Peter Parker (women's groups would have a fit if you suggested that many women craved father figures. Tough.) For example, when you look at the potential suitors in MJ's social group, you have Harry Osborn, an emotionally weak person cowed by a domineering father. Flash Thompson is basically an overgrown kid still trying to relieve his high school glory days. MJ was a frequent participant in the party lifestyle, and while she met plenty of men and had lots of good times, it's unlikely that she was going to find a mature, father figure in that crowd. And then there's Peter, whose maturity and sense of responsibility needs no further exposition. So, it's a lock who possesses the masculine qualities that Mary Jane is seeking, even though to the world at large, Peter Parker is a dork. And this actually makes sense - why a hot piece of ass (well, o.k. that was a little much) like Mary Jane would be attracted to dorky old Peter Parker. He was the only man out there who emotionally completed her in the way she craved to be completed.

So - after her father's arrest, MJ arrives at the conclusion that she will never have the relationship with her father that she wanted - and then latches on to the next best thing. Of course, there are doubts - Peter still thinks about Gwen - MJ worries about giving up her lifestyle - but in the end - they both make the trip down the altar.

But if Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz had carried through with their original plans - that would not have happened. In their original plotting, MJ and Peter would have gone through an engagement period, but then the call would have come in from the sister offering a reconcilement, and MJ would jilt Peter, using the reconcilement as an excuse not to go through with the marriage. Harry Osborn would have met Peter on the steps of the church with the ring, and the last shot would have been Peter, all alone, once again.

Frankly, I'm glad it didn't happen that way, because it was too predictable. The real shocker was that they got married in the first place, because things like that didn't happen in comics. In fact, Peter's marriage to Mary Jane was VERY MUCH in the essence of the old Lee-Ditko, early Lee-Romita stories when you weren't sure what would happen because so many of the old Spidey stories were so ground breaking. And the marriage presented the opportunity for Spider-Man to once again be a ground breaking series, taking a superhero where no major superhero (I don't count DC's Elongated Man as a major hero, and Reed and Sue Richards were a different situation entirely since the whole concept of the Fantastic Four is that is is also a family) had gone before.

So What the Hell Happened???!!!??? After all of this buildup to what appeared to be a perfectly logical conclusion when you lay all of the facts together - why all of a sudden did Marvel do a 180 on Mary Jane - deciding that she was such an albatross that all sorts of elaborate schemes were devised in order to get rid of her - the Clone Saga being the most notorious?

Well, as it turns out, Marvel never really did do a 180, because now with One More Day and Brand New Day, everyone is coming out of the closet to testify that the marriage was never a good idea, and that there were forces at Marvel in the very beginning who wanted to undo it, which is probably true.

I think that in Mary Jane's case specifically, beyond the marriage question, there are a number of reasons:

And here's another thing. It isn't unrealistic for Peter's eye to rove, even when married to a babe like Mary Jane (again, or vice versa). Marriage brings baggage with it, and many affairs start not because the principals have lost feeling or attraction for each other, but because the baggage and responsibilities of marriage outweigh the romantic aspects after awhile, which is why successful marriages are always works in progress. Mary Jane knowing that Peter is Spider-Man is a huge burden for him to bear since he feels he must explain himself to her every time Spider-Man heads out on another mission. He probably woulnd't mind a little romance with a woman who was completely clueless about his alter ego.

And frankly, MJ is perfectly entitled to have had it with Spider-Man. Spouses, both male and female, often resent the other spouse's occupations when they interefere with the functioning of the marriage. Cops, doctors, and lawyers often leave behind a string of busted marriages in their wakes, as do many occupations that require extensive travel. So, why wouldn't one spouse being a superhero strain a marriage? Why does being fed up with Spider-Man make her a bitch and a nag?

What's sad is that there is plenty of dramatic tension right there that good writing can tap, without reverting to simplistic gimmicks. But, admittedly, it ain't easy.

I've always contended that if you wanted to look for a reason behind breaking up Peter and MJ, look no further than the original "father figure" void in MJ's life, which I think resulted her in marrying Peter when she did.

Flash forward to Spectacular Spider-Man #219 and we have a HUUUUGE turning point in Mary Jane's life - she actually reconciles with her father. Released from prison and eking out a meager living, Phillip Watson is a broken and humiliated man. As a result of his incarcertaion, he had the time to ponder the events of his life - and comes to the realization that it was his fault his marriage failed, his fault his wife met an early death, and his fault that his relationship with his children was ruined. This realization probably nearly killed him as it would any man with an ounce of sense or decency. But it was also the first step toward his redemption. Finally, after all these years, Mary Jane sees her father for what he truly is - not a horrible monster who wrecked her and her family's lives - but a tortured human being who has finally acknowledged responsibility for his actions. For the first time, he probably does become "Daddy."

Mary Jane had also grown up in recent years as well. By Peter's side, she withstood all kinds of troubles, and found a strength in herself that she didn't realize that she had. By staying with him during the entire Clone Saga debacle, and the apparent "loss" of their child (grrrrr) she proved to herself that she is not like her father or her former brother-in-law, who ran out on their families. Mary Jane Watson is indeed a better person than that. No longer did she have to "prove" to herself or anyone else that she is not an emotional coward.

And so, it's just possible, that having reached that conclusion, and beginning to have real relationships with her father and sister - that she could examine her relationship with Peter in an entirely different light. She may find out that she might just not love him or need him as much as she once thought she did as her original, family relationships begin to fill the void that her marriage to Peter once supplemented.

It isn't unreasonable to assume this. It isn't also unreasonable to assume that Peter loves MJ more than the reverse. Although MJ initiated their relationship in the early days, it is Peter who has always clearly wanted a permanent relationship, and Peter was the one who initiated the steps to make it permanent. MJ may have wondered at times where their relationship was going, and had idle thoughts about settling down, but there really isn't any indication that this was such a priority for her as it was for Peter Parker.

Now, do I believe it? Well - not really. Not at this point. After the marriage, MJ was never been portrayed as anything but as head over heels in love with Peter as he is with her, and it seems that JM DeMatteis was actually the last writer to remember that she does have family other than Anna Watson or Peter, so potential storylines were simply being wasted. But it is interesting to speculate. And it is entirely plausible that had this approach been taken by the right writer at the right time - it might have been entirely justifiable to split the marriage, and we would have accepted it. It certainly would have been tragic, but a lot more understandable than "oh - we're just too young!" which was the rationale behind MJ and Peter's problems after the reboot, or the stupid deal with the devil.

Conclusion
So boys and girls - what have we learned? Was it the right move for Peter Parker to get married? Regardless of the in unison chants from Marvel, without a doubt. In the 25 years of the character's existence before his marriage to MJ, he had been involved in a number of relationships with a number of different women - and this particular course of storytelling simply had played itself out. Any new relationships, perhaps with the exception of a couple mentioned earlier, such as one with a police officer, an older woman, or a single parent, would have simply been retreads of previous relationships. Not only that, but it perpetuates the "doomed to fail" scenario I discussed in another part, where the relationship is doomed to fail from the start because of creative unwillingness to take the final, permanent step (marriage). Anyway, to suggest that the former high school nerd who remains socially awkward and inept, apparently lacks ambition or direction in his career goals, who can't hold onto a regular job, has no money, quit graduate school, and has any number of other faults, can continue to attract the attention of a succession of attractive young women is even more science fiction than obtaining super powers from the bite of a radioactive spider. Whether or not the marriage was suggested by Stan Lee, or the result of an editorial edict by Jim Shooter - it was still the correct one at the time. Short of completely blowing up Spidey's situation, such as killing off the entire supporting cast, or relocating him to a new city, marrying him was the most viable way of telling new stories but largely retaining the current framework.

And why Mary Jane? Well, as we've seen in this series - MJ was truly the only character who satisfied both of the requirements for a permanent companion - she was an interesting character in her own right - and her motivations for marrying our hero were entirely consistent with that character. The other female characters usually had one or more fatal flaws from either a relationship or a creative longevity stance that would have made them poor choices as a marriage partner for our hero. Also, as much as it can happen in a fictional scenario - Peter and MJ's relationship truly evolved along those lines. She wasn't created as "the girlfriend" from day one or designated as "the future wife", as Betty or Gwen were. The strength of her character literally forced its way into the foreground and the marriage was at the end of an entirely natural progression.

But - because it was the right move at the time in 1987 - does that mean the results of that editorial decision have to remain untouched forever? The answer is an unequivocable - No.

I did not want to see Peter and MJ divorce, or MJ be killed or any other of a half dozen crazy ideas the writers could dream up to end the relationship, such as the Joe Quesada they eventually chose. Killing Mary Jane not only is repetitive (see the Death of Gwen), but casts a dark pall over the lead character and the series. How could Peter date all these attractive young women Marvel wants him to date after the two women he loved the most died? So, in my opinion, to end the marriage is a dishonest, creatively bankrupt decision. There was a time, though, I believe Marvel could have honestly ended the relationship, but that time has passed. The time to do that would have been when the titles were still strong, where the dissolution of the relationship would have done the least damage, and when it would have been a normal outgrowth of situations already occurring. And believe it or not - that time would have been around the beginning of the Clone Saga. After the death of Harry Osborn, which would have ripped out both Peter and MJ's hearts, and the "parents" debacle when Peter began to act like a real prick (coincidentally, this is the same time MJ reconciled with her father), and Aunt May's illness and (short-term) death - it could have happened. That certainly would have cleared the decks by issue #400 to take Spidey on a new course. Would I have agreed with this decision - absolutely not - but in the current context of the titles and what was going on - it could have made sense.

But why do so many spider fans get so touchy over the subject of Mary Jane? After all, she isn't the star - as we've mentioned earlier, when all is said and done - she's just a supporting character. Well, that's largely because Mary Jane, and to some extent the Clone Saga, which as much as Marvel wishes people would forget, still stirs up passions today - is a microcosm for the various multitude of issues that have plagued Marvel's relationship with its fans over the last 20 years or so.

Essentially, the writing and editorial choices during the decade of the 1990's were so completely and utterly horrid and abysmal (like trying to tell us the character we've grown up with wasn't the real deal, and then later that the Aunt May whose death we mourned wasn't the real deal either), and the sense of betrayal so great - the core fan base's nerves became so frayed that there was (and sometimes still is) a tendency to villify everything Marvel does, which isn't right. Yes, Marvel ran the character of Spider-Man into the ground by overexposing him and saddling him with mediocre storylines and poor editorial oversight because that was the way to maximize the most dollars out of the character - like using inferior materials to build more cars than before - but still selling them for the same price. Then, faced with a busted comics market, and perhaps realizing the harm they had done to their franchise character, Marvel sought short-term solutions to the problem (such as replacing Peter with Ben Reilly and excising MJ) which only made the situation worse. Like any real relationship built over time - Peter's and Mary Jane's is complicated. How it formed, why it held together, and the inherent potential for it to fall apart is something that well, took me several parts to tell (hey - think I can get a trade paperback deal?) The relationship formed over the course of 400 issues, literally 30 years, yet Marvel, with the Clone Saga and the reboot and the deal with Mephisto, wanted to shit-can it ASAP. But, the marriage couldn't realistically be undone that quickly without bad writing, making the characters behave in ways completely foreign to how they had been established, and outlandish scenarios. And yet, we got all three - repeatedly. And when we complain - we're insulted, told that we're just "geeks" and "man children." That's why the old fans get cranky. Spider-Man is a fictional character. Mary Jane is a fictional character. We know that. The comic is called The Amazing Spider-Man NOT The Amazing Mary Jane or The Amazing Married Couple. We know that, too.

But then One More Day happened - and we have what we have.

And for the moment, the above referenced article will be my last words on one Mary Jane Watson-Parker. May she be happy and at peace - where ever she is.


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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.