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This weekend marks the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the third version of Spider-Man to make his way to the big screen. In the past, I’ve discussed the best second-tier Spidey villains and looked at which Spider stories should be made into movies. So now let’s get into one of the most controversial issues regarding the comics history of Spider-Man – his relationship with Mary Jane Watson.
Mary Jane is Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s most famous love interest, though she is hardly his only. Liz Allen, Betty Brant, Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy and numerous other ladies have captured Peter/Spidey’s heart for a time. Mary Jane was initially teased for quite some time in the comics (over two years) because she was the niece of Aunt May’s neighbor and friend. The two women had long been trying to set up their respective young relatives on a blind date, something that Peter was not too pleased about. MJ finally appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #42 , with the immortal line, “Face it, tiger… You just hit the jackpot!”
She soon became very popular with Spider-Man readers and would become his most consistent love interest in the comics for many years. In 1987, Marvel made the big step of marrying Peter Parker and Mary Jane in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. There was even a promotional wedding ceremony with actors that took place in Shea Stadium in Queens, New York, with numerous Marvel characters appearing in costume.
While marrying Spider-Man and MJ seemed like a logical step in their relationship, and obviously provided publicity buzz, some writers struggled with how to deal with the new Spidey status quo. Mary Jane knew about Peter’s alter ego, but having him with a married wife at home still changed the dynamic of Spider-Man stories. While some writers made interesting changes and evolutions to MJ, many of the Spider-Man writers failed to utilize or develop Mary Jane’s character. So she often became a damsel in distress and even appeared to die in Amazing Spider-Man #13 (volume 2) in 2000.
Still, Spider-Man remained married for almost twenty years in publishing time. When Joe Quesada became Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, he pushed hard for a way out of the Spider-Man marriage. Brian Michael Bendis had had great success on Ultimate Spider-Man, with a young version of Peter Parker in an alternative continuity. Quesada thought that having Spider-Man be married made him feel too old to attract younger readers, and having him be divorced or widowed was also deemed a bad alternative.
So in 2007 Quesada had J. Michael Straczynski write the infamous One More Day, in which Mephisto saved Aunt May’s life if Spidey agrees to undo his marriage to Mary Jane. One More Day itself isn’t a terrible story, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense (undoing Spidey’s marriage to MJ is the thing that Mephisto wants? Why?) and was a pretty inelegant solution to an issue that not all believed was a problem. Thereafter, Spider-Man and the rest of the Marvel Universe forgot about the marriage. This enraged many Spider-Man fans who felt like Marvel had just wiped away years of great stories and left a murky continuity in its place (not the first or last time that accusation would be leveled against Marvel).
Within a few years, Dan Slott would begin a long tenure on Amazing Spider-Man that returned the character and series to a place as one of the flagship Marvel names. Peter Parker was single again and Mary Jane was not a major part of his life. Mary Jane has popped from time to time, and she had become a recurring player in Tony Starks’ company. The current story is that MJ and Peter dated but split up at some point well before marriage.
The dissolution of Spidey’s marriage to MJ is a thorny issue for many fans. There are those who hate the decision. Some disagree with the way it was done but believe that Spider-Man got a much-need jolt from becoming single. Marvel seems to have recognized that there are many fans of the Mary Jane marriage. During Secret Wars, an event that converged numerous alternate Marvel Comics realities, one reality was called “Renew Your Vows,” a world in which Spidey stayed marriage to MJ and they had a daughter named Annie (who developed powers of her own). Renew Your Vows was one of a handful of the Secret Wars realties to get an ongoing series coming out of the event.
Still, the stated goal of un-marrying Spider-Man was to make him appeal to younger readers. Elements in Spider-Man current status quo undercut that idea, though. He is a billionaire CEO of Parker Industries, occupying the former Baxter Building and numerous other international headquarters. Furthermore, a lot of the young demographic interest has been usurped by Miles Morales, the second Ultimate Spider-Man that has been folded into the main Marvel continuity as a result of Secret Wars.
So at this point it doesn’t seem like Spider-Man needs to “appear young.” He has a very adult life and his role as Spider-Man serves as a mentor to the younger Miles version. So Marvel could reverse course with Mary Jane. They could have the two reunite without erasing One More Day. A common theme in romance and comics is old flames coming back together. Or Marvel could follow another possibility with a dramatic reversal of One More Day in which all of Spider-Man’s past with MJ is returned.
Frankly, I’d like to see either direction. I was always a fan of MJ and her relationship with Spider-Man/Peter. I think the issue was always the problem that many comic creators have with handling marriage in an interesting way. To be honest, though, I don’t expect Marvel to go in either direction unless Spider-Man has a plummet in popularity. What the company has been doing has worked in regards to sales and Slott appears to be staying on Amazing Spider-Man for a while. There is bound to be a renewed focus on Spider-Man due to his new film, and I don’t think Marvel Comics will want to rock the boat too much. So I don’t think we will see an in-continuity reunion of Spider-Man and Mary Jane until the title needs a shake-up or an influential writer comes on the book and wants to change things. Sadly, some jackpots don’t last forever.