Story By: John Semper
Written By: Gordon Kent
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)
THE PLOT: After unmasking to Mary Jane, Peter sees this as the perfect opportunity to propose marriage, which she conveniently accepts. Making preparations for the wedding, they approach Doctor Connors to give MJ away. Before he can say no, a group of mutated Lizards kidnap the two and claim that Connors is their father!
LONG STORY SHORT: With the help of Martha Connors, Debra Whitman and some science, Mary Jane saves Spidey’s life and the lizard are all relieved from their mutations. Peter asks is Mary Jane is sure she wants to be involved in his life, to which MJ confirms with a kiss.
MY THOUGHTS: This is a difficult episode to review, mainly because the unmasking and engagement to Mary Jane has to be fully addressed right up front. The comic-to-cartoon adaptation of one of the most significant changes in the Spider-Man status quo is something that proves to be a near impossibility to get exactly right, which is fitting since the comic book barely managed to keep from screwing it up when the marriage was around. This show was running during Marvel most dire era in the 90s where the company eventually went bankrupt, and since the introduction of Venom there was a sense of rushing to get things to match as best as it could with the comics book continuity. Not to suggest that every single thing was fixed to match the then-current stories of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man, but the biggest game changers were done to keep the show from feeling too alien from its source material. They adapted the Gwen Stacy death scene…sorta, “killed” off Norman Osborn and made Harry insane, and here most clearly they’re hooking Peter and Mary Jane up to be married.
Now I am a fan of the Spider-Marriage, if only for the fact that it adds history to a long-running saga. Uncle Ben dies, Peter dates Betty, Felicia and Gwen, Gwen dies, Symbiote Saga, Captain Universe, clones, all of this stuff that has happened to Peter Parker is a part of his personal history and continuity is the crack that us geeks can’t get enough of. It’s a large part of what makes reading these things so engaging, the on-going saga; the never ending battle as it were. This show is very similar to the comics in that it has a personal history as well. Neogenics, the symbiotes and Hobgoblin stories just to name a few help form the universe in the 22 minute cartoon.
That being said, one wonders if this was the best way to approach marrying Peter and MJ off and I’m curious to see if this was wholly necessary at all.
I’m not going to go into a OMD rant because this isn’t the forum for it. But one of the arguments constantly made by the fans of the “single, swingin’ Spidey” is that having a ball’n chain for Peter takes the fun out of his adventures, knowing he has to come home and be a good boy to his wife every night. While I think that’s a stereotypical view of marriage, particularly from the “House of Ideas” that likes to be known for foregoing conventional storytelling, the notion does have some merit. In this series, Peter is rarely in his civilian identity, let alone at home for more than a few hours at a time. Granted, he does sleep and much of it is off screen. Still 60-75% of the time Peter is Spider-Man. While you know that it’s the way it has to be for a superhero cartoon, it’s difficult to reconcile with the concept that Peter is the main character of the series, not Spider-Man. It’s just not the case for this cartoon. While we get the trademark inner monologue, it’s mostly dedicated to his Spider-Man life and not to his actual life. It’s something I felt The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series got over on this show, and it’s also something that this season tried to confront in the beginning when Mary Jane had dissapeared. He wanted to give up being Spider-Man, but he felt trapped. The show made attempts to save itself by having Joe Robertson tell him what a swell guy Spidey is, but it feels cheap when there’s no significant change in his personality. The Black Cat was the show’s attempt to rectify his feelings of self-doubt and self-worth, but after she left and Mary Jane returned, there wasn’t any other room for Peter to question his life anymore. It’s totally in Peter’s character to immediately rush into marriage the way he does here because in the comics, he considered marrying pretty much every one of his major love interests at times in the relationship when it would have been ridiculous. It’s another fault of “The Haunting of Mary Jane” because some build up to Peter proposing would have been nice, if only for him to come to terms with the events of this season. You figure he is, but it’s so sudden when he proposes to MJ. It works for the character, but not for the show.
Does this mean I think the proposal and SPOILERS eventual marriage shouldn’t have happened? No, I still like it in essence. There’s something so indefinable about the Peter/Mary Jane relationship that I genuinely like, and the image of the two embracing at the end is a particular favorite of mine in the entire series. But I will say that it could have been done a bit better. (The proposal being next to the gargoyles Peter always talks to was a nice touch by the way.) Mary Jane attempting suicide by jumping off the building after Peter proposes is always unintentionally hilarious but it settles all immediate doubts about the relationship right then and there. If we were to compare this to the comic, she turned Peter’s proposal down twice before accepting. I also feel that the episode could have been slightly altered to make MJ’s decision more meaningful. It’s cool that they put the situation of the Lizard men right up to the proposal so that MJ has to directly deal with Peter’s lifestyle, but if she had kept Peter waiting for an answer until the end, there would have been more room for meaningful contemplation.
I still like the proposal overall, because it had been building up to it throughout the series. Looking back on Peter and MJ’s entire relationship, especially in seasons 2 and 3, this almost seemed planned ahead because it really feels as though these two have grown to love each other. But again, it could have been done a bit better.
One thing I will give the plot is that it’s nice to return to Connors’ storyline without any interference from Silvermaine or the Vulture. This serves as a de-facto sequel to “Night of the Lizard”, and while it’s pathetic compared to that episode it’s still vaguely interesting just to return to it. I still don’t understand why Billy was exited from the series seeing as how he was never in any serious danger in the pilot, but Martha shows to be a strong character in her own right, having grown from her first appearance. Also, this is the first time that the Lizard adopts “hisssss truuue perssssonality” from the comics as a separate identity from Connors altogether. Whereas previous appearances were more akin to the Todd MacFarlene interpretation, this one is more classic in seeking world domination. It’s stupid, but it’s still classic.
To my utter surprise, I had completely forgotten about party gal Deb Whitman. Silly as it seems that the geek girl of the series turns into a contemporary of 60s Mary Jane, I thought that this was great character development for her and a true credit to the writers for not leaving her in limbo from Blade’s mother nearly killer her. I felt that the exposition by Flash who correctly guesses that this behavior was a means for her to come to terms with failing to save Morbius was well written, and even nice characterization from him to break up with her. It wasn’t for the immediately obvious reasons when thinking about the characters, like Flash dumps her for being a nerd or anything. He dumps her for being irresponsible, pretty much the opposite of what one would expect. This is something the fourth season nailed, the development of these two supporting characters. I thought the way Debra was brought into the main plot made perfect sense, seeing as how Peter was Connors’ assistant at the time he turned himself into the Lizard, and Debra had become his assistant at the end of season two. Now I did feel that Connors creating a neutron bomb in order to eradicate himself as the Lizard was hokey, especially since Debra rather easily fixed it to cure him. Why couldn’t he just do that in the first place? I don’t know, but I hope to God that this is the last we’ll hear of Neogenics in this series. I fear I’m wrong.
This season also deserves credit with it’s animation. Severely under looked, it’s been perfectly solid almost throughout every episode. I didn’t care for it in “The Return of the Green Goblin” but it was gorgeous in “The Black Cat” and some others, and I thought it was good here. The show never really gets back to the immaculate level of “Night of the Lizard”, “Alien Costume part.1” or “Doctor Octopus: Armed and Dangerous”, but there’s definitely a stigma against the show in thinking that all it did was repeat its animation or just have bad animation altogether. I figure people won’t care if they’re told that the animation’s good in season four, but you have to give credit where credit is due.
The Lizard plot is stupid and almost pointless, but this episode isn’t without merit. It serves as a reiteration of the love between Peter and Mary Jane, it continues/ends the Lizard plot for whatever that’s worth, and it ends the Flash/Debra relationship with respect to the characters. This is one of those that if you’re invested the characters and the personal drama it will be enjoyable. Otherwise, it is a bland piece of filler. I really like it, and it’s an episode I went into thinking I wasn’t. If nothing else, you can’t say that this series ever slows down or doesn’t move forward.
3/5 “MARY JAAANE!!!”s
Best Quote Contender-
Lizard: “You were lucky, Spider-Man. Your opponent was unworthy.”
Spidey: “Oh, you noticed that too huh?
Images taken from Marvel.toonzone.net and drg4.wariocompany.com respectively