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Sunday, December 03, 2023 

Mary Jane Watson is still a crucial part of Spider-Man, but Straczynski and Slott's writing definitely shouldn't be

A writer for SyFy was willing to make some favorable points about why Mary Jane Watson's an important part of Spider-Man's legacy, which may never be mended after all the damage Joe Quesada spared no expense hammering into the Marvel franchise. Positive points made include:
Creators like Michelinie, Paul Ryan and especially Todd McFarlane (he loved to draw Mary Jane) made her more than just the damsel in distress. It wasn't always well-executed, but it was established during the McSpidey era of the early 1990s that MJ was an equal partner in the marriage. There's also the fact she was the main bread winner, too.

J.M DeMatteis captured the dynamic between Peter and Mary Jane as well as any writer ever has. He said in an interview about his run on Spectacular Spider-Man that aspects of the characters' relationship mirrored DeMatteis' relationship with his own wife. He recognized that a married couple could be interesting and fun and full of drama, if enough attention is paid to each partner. Under his watch, MJ went through her own drama — work stress, the loneliness of a superhero's wife, the smoking! — that continued to deepen her character. In DeMatteis' view, Mary Jane was a person who knew Peter better than he knew himself.
However, the columnist unfortunately takes a naive view of J. Michael Straczynski's run in later years:
Years later, J. Michael Straczynski would bring even more dimension to her during his run. He wisely made her more independent, and he eschewed the low-hanging fruit too many writers reached for when writing Spidey. We get it, it sucks to be married to a guy who fights supervillains every day and may not come home. MJ gets it, too. JMS didn't make that her raison d'etre, however. His MJ wanted a purpose for their love, beyond basic affection.

In Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) issue #50, the high watermark of JMS's stupendous Spidey tenure, MJ and Peter are trying to reconcile after a long separation. But things go boom, Doctor Doom and Captain America show up, because... comics. In between the fisticuffs and explosions, our fractured couple has perhaps the most authentic conversation that a comics couple has ever had. Peter pours his heart out, and explains to her that "all these things" he can do are because of the faith she has in him.

In that exquisitely written and drawn (by the legendary John Romita Jr.) panel page, MJ and all of us, understand what she means to Peter.
Wow, the issue that made Dr. Doom into a bizarre stand-in for Saddam Hussein. If this were a case of timing, it'd be bad. But it's more like a case of putting what could count as a great moment into a bad storyline laced with leftist political metaphors. All that aside, curious there's no mention of one of the worst moments in JMS' run to follow, that being where it's alleged Gwen Stacy slept with Norman Osborn and supposedly gave birth to twins he fathered, and Mary Jane supposedly knew something about this and kept it all absurdly concealed from Peter. How can you "understand" what MJ means to Peter if that's what JMS was going to foist upon her, along with Gwen?
"Writing [romance] frankly is never easy," Straczynski admitted during a recent interview with SYFY WIRE. "It's more about just listening to the characters and what would they naturally say and taking the time to just ask the next logical question. I just loved coming back to rebuild that relationship after they were separated for so long. When Mary Jane is sitting with Peter they're sitting down and they both exhausted from the conversation from the emotions and she tells him, 'you never introduce me to your friends.' How many couples have that conversation? Every couple, every couple has had that conversation. It's just natural."
But what's natural about the way Sins Past was scripted? What a head-shaker indeed. Nothing logical there. As for Spidey's buddies, that apparently meant various other superdoers in the MCU, maybe even Nick Fury. But while there may have once been a time when involving MJ with the rest of the MCU could've had potential, it was all laid to waste in the mid-2000s. Nothing felt organic by that time, and continuity coherence went down the drain.
We can't really write an "MJ is Amazing/Spectacular" column without mentioning One More Day, the story that wiped out Peter and Mary Jane's marriage through Mephistophelean manipulations, can we?

I'm not a Brand New Day hater. In fact, the post OMD era, spearheaded by Dan Slott, is loaded with Spidey goodness that made for years of entertaining comics. But none of the women who entered Pete’s life during that time could hold a candle to MJ, the one who got away.
She didn't "get away". She was thrown away by Joe Quesada, and Slott added insult to injury, as did Axel Alonso. And what's so great about a direction that frequently snarked at fans and insulted their intellects? I'm sorry, this is pathetic, even if the columnist does have the audacity to point out that:
The problem with One More Day is that they came up with a solution to the wrong problem. The marriage was not the problem. It was the way the creative team portrayed the Peter-MJ coupling that was the issue.

The worst times in the character’s history have come when creative teams lose sight of the importance of MJ’s role in Peter’s world. As an avid reader of Spider-Man for the better part of 40+ years, the problem was not that MJ wasn't interesting, but how she was utilized.

She’s not there just to be moral support. She’s his partner. She is the one person who he could talk to about being Spidey, a lifeline Peter never knew he needed, until MJ. In many ways, it made him a better hero
. MJ does not have his spider-powers, but she does have the resolve and belief in Peter that sometimes he doesn’t have for himself. MJ is responsible for reminding Peter that he can’t be the Spider without first being the Man.

Removing that from the canvas was a colossal mistake by Marvel. Slott's own 2015 series, Renew Your Vows, depicting a married with Spider-child Peter & Mary Jane, was immensely entertaining. But there is no better clapback on OMD than 2007's Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca.
Sorry, but anybody who sugarcoats Slott's writing is making a terrible mistake too. And what good is clapback when it never reversed the tragedy that's continuing to this day? And Fraction's one of the worst of the liberal writers who came along in the past decade, so I don't put any high value on what's said about him.
In the aftermath of Civil War, Peter is public enemy #1 and he and Mary Jane (and Aunt May) are in hiding. An old acquaintance of MJ's gives her an out: Sell out your husband, get your life back, and stop living like a fugitive. While her response to that offer will surprise absolutely no one, that's not the point of the story. It's about the power of love, and commitment. There's a great line in the issue, where MJ explains to Peter why she won't abandon him even when they've hit rock bottom.

"Maybe the rest of the world thinks marriage is something to do between other marriages, but it means something to me. You're my partner and my husband and I love you. This is our life."

That is Mary Jane Watson in a nutshell. It's also, IMHO, a humongous middle finger to the people who thought a married superhero couldn’t work. Reading that comic, you realize how shortsighted that sounds.
But what good is any of the above when it occurred in one of the worst crossovers of the modern era? When such a vision as One More Day is applied, it all rings hollow. Their marriage was obliterated regardless, and thus, there's no point in telling us how great it is to read MJ raising some good talking points when they don't retain long lasting effect, and get thrown out the window as quickly as they came. Even after C.B. Cebulski became the EIC, nothing changed in the long run, and they kept "dangling carrots" for possible restorations of the marriage that never occurred.

Great the columnist adores MJ. But taking such a lenient view of all the worst writers to come down the pike since the turn of the century only makes clear this is not a real warrior for integrity we're reading, but somebody who's otherwise an establishment figure who can't bring himself to deliver a tour de force rebuke of all the harm inflicted upon Spidey's world by an EIC who gave editorial mandates a whole new meaning. He won't even ask whether Quesada/Alonso/Slott should've been dismissed from the payroll, and obviously won't support a boycott of Marvel based on what he says about Brand New Day. Once again, a perfect explanation's been found for why everything went wrong with Marvel/DC in the past 2-3 decades.

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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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