This month, Marvel Comics relaunched Amazing Spider-Man with a Nick Spencer as head writer, marking the end of Dan Slott's long run with the title and an end of the "Brand New Day" era of Spider-History. Spencer's run begins with a bit of a bang.
This has come after Peter and Mary Jane have been apart for about a decade. This recent "surprise" get-back-to-gether is the same sort of "exciting development" that happens eventually after Marvel breaks a couple up, or kills someone in one of their books (See the Hulk, Jean Grey, Peter Parker during Superior Spider-Man, etc. etc. etc.) Peter and Mary Jane getting back together (apparently) is sort of a big deal.
See, in 2007 Marvel Comics made the bold decision to end the marriage between Spider-Man and his longtime wife, Mary Jane Watson. At the time, fans lost their shit. You can't really blame them because the deed was done in the most asinine way. For some reason, divorce was out of the question. The alternative was somehow more awful. After Peter's Aunt May got shot in the bo-bo at the end of Civil War, Spider-Man literally made a deal with the devil to save her life. However, Mephisto wanted something in exchange: make it so Peter and MJ's marriage never happened.
What did this change exactly? Well, the events of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 didn't end in a marriage. So everything that happened after was still the same except Peter amd MJ were a common-law couple. Or something.
Anyway, like I said, a lot of longtime fans hated it. You know, the audience they weren't trying to appeal to anymore. Still, they came up with a storyline that would be relatable to younger readers, and still be relevant to longtime readers as well
The fiscal reasoning made sense, there were Spider-Man films that were out roping in a new generation kids who wouldn't relate to a married Spider-Man. Also, times have changed. Fans freaked out that Spider-Man was no longer married and back to living at Aunt May's home? At the time Peter Parker was in his late 20s (Marvel Time).
Looking back at the storyline 10 years after the fact, it's hard to understand what the big deal was. Because I secretly hate myself, I decided to read every Spider-Man comic published. I started about a year ago, and I'm just hitting stories published in 2007. In retrospect, there are a lot of shitty Spider-Man stories. Some of them weren't as bad as they were made out to be (The Clone Saga, being one of them, surprisingly) One thing about the Peter/MJ marriage (which ran from 1987 to 2007) is you quickly realize their marriage was horrible. Especially for Mary Jane. It wasn't good, it was a burden to telling good stories. This is because the writers involved at the time didn't seem to understand how a marriage works. The marriage was, at best, an excuse for an instant damsel in distress situation, or at worse a reason for Peter Parker to go on about how "lucky" he was to be married to a model/actress. Like Mary Jane was nothing more than a trophy to pride himself because he was such a fucking loser in high school. What I really want to stress here is, Peter and Mary Jane's marrage was awful.
Can't take my word for it? Here are some reasons why:
Mary Jane Had to Swat Away So Many Dicks
Almost from the start, Mary Jane had to fend off other men who were obsessed with her and didn't give a shit that she was married. That's not necessarily Peter's fault, but it really says a lot of the opinion towards female characters in comics at the time. Sure, the idea of someone stalking an actress/model isn't outlandish, and a sad fact of the celebrity-driven reality we live in. However, the number of times this was used as a plot got a bit out of hand.
That said because it's a Spider-Man comic book they couldn't just settle on a dumpy guy wearing sticky jogging pants. They had to kick it up a notch. With horrific implications for poor Mary Jane.
The first scum bag to enter Mary Jane's married life was Jonathon Caesar. He was a wealthy man with a lot of connections. He helped Mary Jane get into the Bedford Towers condominium (which Caesar owned). His motivation? To kidnap a married woman and force her to live in a specially made trap room until she agreed to marry him.
Spider-Man didn't even save the day! Mary Jane broke free on her own and the wall-crawler showed up in time to do the cleanup. Caesar went to jail but he used his influence to ruin her modeling career and get her evicted from their home. Not only that, but MJ's money got tied up in a lengthy legal battle, with no apparent end in sight. In fact the money mentioned here is never talked about again.
Caesar eventually got out of jail and continued to stalk Mary Jane. Her husband didn't do squat to stop it. He was too busy playing Spider-Man to help his own wife. The only person who was interested in Mary Jane's safety was Officer Hal Goldman, who ended up shooting Caesar dead. Was Hal a super-cop detective that ate serial stalkers for lunch? Note really, see the thing about Hal....
Hal Goldman wasn't actually a police officer. He was just a fat NYPD civilian desk clerk with a terrible bowl cut who had an unhealthy obsession with Mary Jane when she starred in a soap opera called "Secret Hospital".
Although he was "investigating" Jonathan Ceasar's attempts to ruin Mary Jane's life again, he was also obsessed with protecting her from everyone who slighted her. He ran over an old woman who slapped MJ in the face, dropped a stage light on her director's head and tried to clobber Peter with a piece of concrete.
When he guns down Caesar he professes his undying love to Mary Jane and admits to committing all the above crimes. Again, Peter is nowhere around, so when she rejects him Officer Bowl Cut decides to do the old "if I can't have you, nobody will!" Routine. However, she sprayed him in the eyes with hairspray and clobbered him with a purse. You know just as you'd expect a strong female character to do.
Jason Jerome was an actor who thought he could seduce Mary Jane into having an affair with him. This came at a time when there were three monthly Spider-Man titles. This made for one busy wall-crawler. On top of fighting villains, he was also promoting a book and traveling the globe as a reporter. Needless to say, MJ was feeling more than a little neglected.
This made Mary Jane susceptible to Jerome's advances. However, despite his best efforts, Mary Jane ended things before they had gone too far. To do so, she invited Jason to her apartment under the pretense of sex. Instead of getting balls deep, Jason Jerome found himself in a room plastered with photos of Peter and Mary Jane together, like inviting an obsessed man into your home without telling anyone is a smart idea. All the lamps and hairspray in the world cannot possibly stop this potentially becoming a bad situation.
The most unoriginal character created by Howard Mackie during his run. The Stalker follows a long tradition of Marvel characters whose names are obvious: The Prowler prowls, the Watcher watches, and the Shocker finger blasts people. So obviously, the Stalker was a stalker. Specifically, he stalked Mary Jane. The guy went to some insane lengths. He set off bombs and killed people. The whole time this was happening Peter was busy going out as Spider-Man.
Ultimately, Mary Jane got tired of Peter putting her killer stalker issue on the back seat to punch supervillains in the face and decided to leave for LA. The Stalker then blew up her plane making it seem like Mary Jane died with everyone else on board.
For a while, Peter refused to believe MJ was dead. Instead of dropping everything to look for her, he got embroiled in various subplots. He was then convinced that MJ was dead, briefly considered dating again until he discovered she was still alive and went searching for her again. By this point, we find out that the Stalker was someone so obsessed with Mary Jane that he created a psychic link with Peter Parker. The long con? To steal Peter's entire life because the Stalker believed he was more deserving of having Peter Parker's life.
Anyway, when Spider-Man finally finds her and the Stalker dies in battle, Mary Jane isn't feeling the warm fuzzies for her husband. Which is understandable given the circumstances.
Still, she and Peter drifted back together when J. Michael Straczynski took writing duties until their marriage was magicked away.
Mary Jane Always Lived in the Shadow of a Dead Girlfriend
One of the most iconic moments in Spider-Man history was the story "The Night Gwen Stacy Died". If the title wasn't obvious, Peter's then-girlfriend was killed by the Green Goblin. Understandably, Peter took a while to get over it. Eventually, he and Mary Jane began dating, they got married. But, anytime something involving Gwen Stacy came up, Peter crumpled, usually leaving Mary Jane feeling insecure. Moments like...
The (Many) Times a Clone of Gwen Showed Up
One could understand that the first time a clone of Gwen Stacy showed up, Peter was quite confused. Makes sense. However, Peter has encountered Gwen clones on at least Three. Different. Occasions. Each time he seems to forget the fact that a lunatic had cloned his dead girlfriend every time.
Every time it made Peter confused and dug up old feelings. Which, naturally, made Mary Jane doubt the strength of their relationship.
Instead of going to a shrink to process these feelings, Peter usually fell for the various manipulations that typically came from these convoluted cloning schemes and hit whoever was responsible.
That Time Illegitimate Kids Showed Up
Gwen Stacy was always portrayed as a saintly woman cut down in the prime of her life. That was until JMS wrote a Gwen Stacy story that was entirely fucked up.
In it, Peter learns that Gwen had an affair with Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin, AKA the guy who later murdered her) and got knocked up.
Everyone apparently knew and kept it a secret. During a point where Gwen and Peter were on the outs, she found out she was pregnant, left the country, and gave birth to the kids. These kids were then secreted away by Norman for years.
When Peter found about these kids (but not their origins) he assumed they were his kids, even though he later remembers that he and Gwen never had sex!!
What's worse, is after all was said and done, Peter later went to France to help out Gwen's daughter, who was her spitting image and the same biological age that Gwen was when Peter dated her (they aged fast, look it up) This was all an attempt to seduce Peter and he had to constantly remind himself that his feelings for her were wrong.
Mary Jane had such a bad feeling about it, she travelled to France to check in on her hubby, and walked in on him while Gwen Jr. Was kissing Peter.
The fact that Peter was attracted to a 7 year old girl who only looked like she was in her early 20s because of a genetic disorder is super creepy. So you can totally understand when Mary Jane was upset about that one.
It Wasn't Just the Dead Girlfriend, but her Extended Family
Before we get into more of the Stacy family, let's talk about the Watson family for a minute. Mary Jane came from a broken home. An alcoholic and abusive father led to her mother taking the kids and leaving. Although he mom died her sister had two kids and was abandoned by the father. Also, she has a cousin who has an eating disorder. In a lot of these cases, Peter Parker left his wife to deal with the family drama on her own.
Which is quite the slap in the face when he spent more time helping the Stacy family. Namely Gwen's cousins Paul and Jill and their dad.
When they appeared in Spider-Man stories in the late 90s, Mary Jane took a back seat to whatever problems the Stacy's were having. You're still dealing with your miscarriage Mary Jane? Sorry, I got to talk Paul Stacy out of a hate group right now.
Peter Shut Her Out of Every Existential Crisis
Not only were Mary Jane's problems put on a back burner, whenever Peter had a problem, he shut MJ out.
During their marriage, Peter had huge life-changing moments. The first was when his parents came back from the dead only to be revealed as impostors then his Aunt May suffered a life-threatening stroke.
Spider-Man's answer? Give up on being Peter Parker and embracing the spider. The writers were probably going for dark and moody, but looking back at it, it was a lot of whining. Also, he totally abandoned his wife. Which is a dick move. Hey Pete, she might be someone to support you through your recent loss.
Then came the Clone Saga where Peter was convinced he was actually a clone of the real Spider-Man. He was too wrapped up on the fact that his past was potentially a lie that he couldn't see the good things in his life. He was married. Had a child on the way. None of this registered with him because of all the clones around putting his past into question.
It should also be pointed out that during this period, Mary Jane's life was at risk and she was being stalked, again. This time by a clone. However, Peter was once again nowhere to be seen.
I could go over every other moment where Peter treated his wife like crap, but those are the huge ones. Looking back at the upset of 2007, it's clear that anyone who got mad didn't actually read any of the stories written while Peter and Mary Jane were married.
Even then, over the past decade there has been a plethora of great Spider-Man stories. In fact, I'd even argue that Dan Slott's run on Spider-Man has contained some of the best Spider-Man stories of the past two decades. I can't think or a stellar Spider-Man run past 198 until Slott's run. Next to JMS' run, Slott has been the best Spider-Man writer in decades.
Where to Go From Here?
That raises some interesting questions. Will Peter and Mary Jane tie the knot again? It seems like Marvel is marrying characters off again (Colossus and Kitty Pryde as well as Gambit and Rogue) so that's promising.
Another is the promising thing is that the alternate reality series Renew Your Vows has been doing very well.
The last point is the main reason why they nixed the marriage to begin with: Needing a Spider-Man younger readers can relate with. For the past number of years they have been promoting the hell out of Miles Morales, the "Ultimate" Spider-Man. They have been grooming him to be the young Spidey that they want for younger fans.
While that doesn't mean Peter and MJ are destined to get married again, hopefully they will allow Peter to at least grow up a little.
However, let me say this: Doing what's expected doesn't necessarily make for a good story, it's the unexpected. That's what made Slott's run on Spider-Man so great. Let's hope Nick Spencer continues that tradition.