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Saturday, February 07, 2015 

The Atlantic doesn't realize a renewed Spider-marriage could be short-lived

The Atlantic wrote nearly 2 weeks ago about Marvel supposedly willing at last to restore the Spider-marriage, clearly not understanding to the fullest how Secret Wars may erase it as quickly as it comes. And even if it remains, so will Dan Slott and other numerous modern hacks who could make all resulting stories unreadable.

There's also a lot political correctness in this article, so let's proceed to check what could be:
A few weeks ago Marvel Comics began teasing out covers for its latest intra-title event, Secret War, which is set to kick off this summer. Among the covers attracting the most attention is one drawn by Adam Kubert that hints at the possible restoration of the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. The union, which lasted 20 years in real time, was written out of the Spider-Man books in 2007 during the "One More Day" arc, prompting great outcry from Spider-fans and near-universal panning from critics.

The possibility of restoration has been met with the exact opposite reaction. With some disappointment, I count myself among those rooting for a renewal. I like to think of myself as rather unsentimental. The one thing I know about the world is that it ends in cold death, and thus badly. But the upshot of that is not cynicism, but a deep belief that what happens in between the brightness of birth and the darkness of death really does matter.
Why be disappointed by a renewal in itself? What should be met with disappointment is all the editorial mandates that are bound to follow, if it even remains, and judging from the editorial staff's MO for over 2 decades, the chances of that are very slim. Mary Jane was already done a terrible disfavor with Sins Past, and I don't think J. Michael Straczynski needed the money for writing the story he said he originally set out to write (he's been a big screenwriter for many years!), so his defenses for staying with Marvel even after Quesada published the finished product fall flat. And restoring the marriage is only a possibility, not a guarantee. The editors have already made that clear with their description of the new Secret Wars.
I was 11 years old when Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson were married. It's worth noting that the initial marriage was attended with much outrage. I did not know this and I would not have cared. Even then, barely pubescent, I was a romantic. I mean this as something beyond chocolates and roses: I mean that I was deeply interested in the nature and depths of love. I was born in 1975, when a great many things were in question. I was the sixth of seven children born to one man and four different women, and the fact of sex—sex outside of marriage—was all around me. There were no stories featuring the stork. I was the product of a woman who looked at a man, and thought not of happily ever after but that he would make a great father. Good call.
This does not give a clear picture. If there was an outrage, who gave it? Not the Spider-fans, that's for sure. But there were a couple writers/editors with very narrow ideas of what Spidey and his co-stars should be like, and maybe they thought he shouldn't even have any co-stars. The worst part is that a few of those dislikers of the Spider-marriage included some writers whose past work I have respect for, like Roger Stern. And some of them were the same people who years later had no problem wedding Superman and Lois Lane! What's so wrong with Spidey getting married that isn't so wrong with Supes doing the same? I wonder if it's because they view the Man of Steel as less important than Spider-Man, so they have no problem doing what they want with Clark Kent and Lois Lane by contrast? That could be it, yet it only verifies how little faith they have in both properties.
My mother and father never gave me "The Talk." "The Talk" was my entire childhood. From the time I remember them talking, I remembering them, my mother especially, talking about sex. It makes me laugh now but I recall her telling me, when my time came, not to just "jump up and down on a woman." I might have been ten when she first said that. My family was all kinds of inappropriate—hood hippies—and yet we were correct. I say this because I knew, from a very early age, that there was love in my house, imperfect love, love that was built, decided upon, as opposed to magicked into existence.

That was how Peter loved Mary Jane. They were not destined to be. She was not his Lois Lane. His Lois Lane—Gwen Stacy—was murdered for the crime of getting too close to him, and the guilt of this always weighed on him. Whatever. While the world was fooled, Mary Jane Watson knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man. And she didn't wait around for him to figure it all out. She was, very clearly, sexual. She dated whomever she wanted. She dated dudes who were richer than Parker. She dated dudes who were better looking than Parker. She dated Parker's best friends. She actually spurned Parker's first proposal—and then his second too, before reconsidering. Mary Jane Watson was the kind of girl you did not bring home to mother—unless you had a mother like mine.
Says who? What a joke the writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, really is. He fails to say whether he finds past efforts by specific writers disappointing. He can't even muster the guts to say whether he thinks Stan Lee was wrong to even create her back in 1966. His terminology of Mary Jane as just sexual reduces everything to cheap description, without even crediting Lee and other writers for their portrayals of Mary as a hard-working young woman who came from a broken family that fell apart with an abusive father, how she was depicted taking acting jobs in theater along with modeling, and trying to make her way up the ladder to find success, and set good examples, just like Peter himself. I guess it's only what Peter Parker does for jobs by day that counts, and not his co-star. Point: in early stories, she and Peter first dated, but he originally didn't find her party-animal persona appealing, so they drifted apart for a time as she went out with Harry Osborn instead before becoming alienated from him too, at the time he was addicted to drugs, and Peter continued his affair with Gwen till her death in 1973. Later writers modified Mary Jane's personality incrementally to fit the scene as time went by.

And I don't like how he's saying Gwen died because she got "too close" to Peter. No, she got murdered by the Green Goblin because Norman Osborn lost his marbles again, and took the coward's route for real. Or, more specifically, Gwen died because the writing staff decided she was expendable, instead of trying to change her personality to something readers might find more satisfying. And Stan Lee was panned at a convention he attended for letting this happen, and let Gerry Conway take the fall for him by claiming he was out of town at the time the decisions were made. It was this protest by the audience - proving the customer can be righter than the store managers - that led the staff to come up in 1975 with a clone for Gwen in an effort to apologize. All this does not seem to interest Mr. Coates.
I have never quite understood the dictum that "you can't turn a hoe into a housewife." Perhaps that is because, if pressed, I would always take the former over the latter. Perhaps it is because I don't desire to turn anyone into anything. But more likely it's because I wasn't really raised that way. Nothing else explained my tangled family. Women obviously had sex. Women obviously enjoyed sex. Prince made my mother feel the exact same way that Lisa Lisa made me feel. Michael Jackson (pre-nose job) did the same for my sister.

I liked to believe that Peter Parker, ultimately, wasn't raised that way either. He did not ultimately end up with the blonde whom he was made for. And if he ended up with a beautiful woman, he did not end up with an ornamental one. His marriage was a rejection of the macho ideal of romance—which reigns even among nerds—and it mirrored and confirmed my own budding sense of what love was at a very young age.
There's something funny about this. He says Mary Jane is sexual. But what about Gwen? John Romita Sr. (and later Gil Kane) drew her so stunning and luscious, I'm not sure how, in his view, she couldn't be the same. Suppose she took up a modeling career? Would that change his position? No, Gwen did not have to die, even if her death at the time was handled respectably. But neither does Coates have to be so dismissive of Mary Jane he can't even argue whether her characterization wasn't good enough, and needed a tune-up.

His terminology of an ornamental beauty is fishy too. Is he saying he prefers the girlfriend/wife be little more than window-dressing, for real? There's something very disrespectful of women lurking in his text, and maybe that's why a guy from his background just isn't suited to comment on the subject. Coates goes on to say:
I wouldn't argue that the Parker-Watson marriage was always well-written and well-drawn. The "super-model" angle felt unnecessary, as did some of the porno-lite art. (It's good to see Kubert, here, depicting Watson the way women actually tend to look.) I won't defend the '90s, which were not a good period for the writing in the Spider-Man books. But in a genre aimed at young males, it is very hard for me to come up with a more mature, and I would say healthy, vision of what a marriage should look like. Mary Jane Watson was not looking to be saved. If anything, she wanted Peter Parker to stop saving people. She did not need Peter Parker. She was not fashioned especially to be his wife. She was a human and seemed as though she would have been with Peter Parker, or without him.
Oh, so he admits he won't argue! Honestly, that's just the problem here. He can't take up the challenge of researching history and stressing what's good or bad about anything. He can't even complain whether he thinks it was a dumb mistake to depict Mary wanting Peter to quit his nighttime job. Something that may have only turned up in the late 90s stories. And what does he mean by "human"? That she should've been a robot slave instead? There's something just so...dehumanizing about his take. I don't like his terming of past artwork as "porno-lite" either. Also, if supermodeling was so unnecessary, then wouldn't Peter's work as a college teacher be unnecessary too?

He also can't appreciate mixing real with surreal, hence, he claims that Kubert's art for this story, which I haven't even seen many samples of so far, depicts Mary as women "actually tend to look". Which means what? That not a single woman could possibly look busty and curvaceous? Clearly, what we have here is somebody who can't appreciate forms of escapism and wish-fulfillment (eg-for a guy, being married to a true beauty queen, and for a girl, being a true beauty). Somebody who believes "realism" must intrude upon every aspect of a book starring a guy who got superpowers from a simple bite by an irradiated spider. He must also belong to a crowd that thinks there's no way the superhero genre could appeal to young females. The true reason it wouldn't now is because of how awful the editors have made things today, namely, the scriptwriting choices. Yet, at the end, he says:
I never read One More Day. I generally hated the notion that you couldn't have a grown-up superhero, and I did not hate it just because I was grown-up: I would have hated it when I was 12. The fact of it was I idolized grown-ups. One More Day felt like an erasure of what had been one of its more unintentionally bold endeavors—the attempt to allow a superhero to grow up, to be more than Peter Pan, to confront the tragic world as it was, to imagine life beyond what should have been.
Now he tells us! But then, why did he complain about Mary Jane being a human in a negative-sounding sense? Is being married to a supermodel the most absolute worst thing that could happen? Being married in itself does not lead to bad storytelling. Otherwise, Reed Richards and Sue Storm's marriage would've been a terrible idea too. And life beyond what should be? I assume by that he means that they should've had a joyous wish-fulfillment type of relation, just what he seemed to be rejecting earlier. On the surface, his refusal to read One More Day was the right thing to do. Yet at the same time, for a man working as a critic(?), it was throwing away a big chance to let the wider world know what was wrong with the writing, as a commentor explained:
The problem with Superior is Dan Slott wrote the entire supporting cast as if they were stoned on stupid pills, from the Avengers to Aunt May. His depiction of Mary Jane during that storyline was the worst of all, not to mention creepy and sexist (Doc Ock-in-Peter's-body leering at her breasts and strongly implying Ock masturbated to Peter's memories of her were just the tip of the character assassination iceberg).

And the same basic story (villain "kills" Spider-Man, impersonating him to prove the villain is the superior being) was told before, with a newlywed Peter and Mary Jane. It was called Kraven's Last Hunt, written by J.M. DeMatteis, and it is a comic book classic. The marriage and relationship between Peter and MJ is what gives the story its heart and much of its staying power.
So, why isn't the infiltration of crude fanfiction into mainstream comicdom a worry? In the mind of Coates, "realistic" storytelling is a big issue. Artwork for character design and physique is an issue. But vulgar attitudes towards women in a mainstream product are not an issue, and not worth writing a single column about. Coates sure aims for the cheapjack, and missed a big opportunity to prove he could expose overlooked topics so everyone could learn what's going on under their noses and form a court of public opinion whether this is something we should be just letting go by without comment. He's not the only magazine/newspaper columnist who misses the chance, but still, he sure didn't set a good example by failing to warn people what kind of smut is finding its way into superhero comics, via writers and editors confident nobody will notice.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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