Paging Miss Mary Jane Watson – Part 1


The first in a series of articles exploring the life and times of Peter Parker’s one true love 😉

I’m not going to lie to you, I have been in love with Mary Jane Watson for as long as I can remember. MJ and Spider-Man have been a permanent fixture in my life. I don’t recall my first issue of Spider-Man, I don’t recall the first appearance of Mary Jane that I read either.  They have simply become a constant.

Spider-Man and Mary Jane are so rooted in my childhood that the earliest memory I have is my mother buying me a stuffed Spider-Man from a local market when I was 3 years old. I still own that stuffed Spider-Man and have now handed it down to my own son.

I’m sure I was probably older than 3 when I really became aware of who Mary Jane was. In fact Peter and MJ were most likely already married by the time I read my first Spider-Man comic. I was ten when the Spider-Marriage happened and I don’t believe I was aware of the event at the time, after all I was only 10. But I can say one thing for sure, by the time I was reading Spider-Man comics on a regular basis; Peter Parker and Mary Jane were a married couple. For me that is the status quo. That is who Spider-Man and Peter Parker is.

Sure I went back and read all those classic issues. But Gwen Stacy was nobody to me. And although I bought and read “The Death of Gwen Stacy” in trade, it wasn’t until years later when the first 300 issue’s of Amazing Spider-Man became available digitally that I was really able to read about that relationship in full or the the wealth of continuity containing a single Peter Parker. And while I enjoyed them immensely, what I enjoyed most of all of that era was seeing Mary Jane’s character blossom. In retrospect the development of her character is truly wonderful. It is like they were setting her up to be Peter’s star crossed lover from the start. At least that’s how it reads to me.

So I’m not going to pretend this series of articles is anything less than an ode to the first fictional character I fell for romantically. I’ve always had a soft spot for red heads (I married one), and I always felt it was because of Mary Jane. My vision of marriage thankfully came from the pages of Spider-Man rather than a more cynical source like the classic Married with Children TV show or any other plethora of negative stereotypes from the 80’s. Thanks to Peter Parker and Mary Jane I saw marriage as a symbol of two people perfect for each other, always being there for each other and giving each other the strength to overcome anything.

So when that relationship was butchered by the Marvel “brain trust” that cooked up One More Day I was devastated. However unlike when Ben Reilly was temporarily revealed to be the true Spider-Man (Untold tales got me through those dark days), I did not drop the book. At this point I am too invested in Spider-Man comics to have holes in my collection. And while I have enjoyed most of the stories post Brand New Day, it has been with a heavy heart that I have done so. And I honestly see no reason why any of the good stories written since BND were improved by Peter being single. Carlie Cooper has been one of the worst things about the BND-era. 

And now Mary Jane is being further “erased” from her rightful place beside Peter’s side with this new movie. I know some will argue that Peter and Gwen came first. But this is not even true, Peter dated MJ before Gwen. he was just serious with gwen first. And if chronology was really of interest here then shouldn’t he be dating Betty or Liz Allen? After all Peter met Gwen in college, not high school.

However I am not here to moan about the new movie (I have done that enough elsewhere) or Brand New Day. I am here to celebrate the greatest supporting character of all time, Mary Jane Watson.

I intend to do that by exploring every single appearance of Mary Jane. If I can stick it out long enough, at least up until the marriage! I’ll be ignoring the retcon.

Along the way I will also be covering the backdrop of Peter’s other relationships, especially in how they relate to that of his with Mary Jane.

So without further ado, let us begin where it all began, with the very first mention of Mary Jane in Amazing Spider-Man #15…

 

 

At this time Peter is dating the rather jealous Betty Brant who meets Liz Allen for the first time in this issue. Apparently Aunt May doesn’t think the Betty Brant thing means much as she tries to set Peter up on a blind date with Mary Jane (who’s name we have yet to discover), and when he tries to protest (although not mentioning that he’s dating Betty) Aunt May gives him a lecture about finding a good girl who’ll make a nice “housewife”! Gosh that dates this issue a little huh?

Later Betty apologises to Peter for being so jealous of Liz and tells him she’s not doing anything tonight. Unfortunately Peter believes he already agreed to the blind date (although all he said was he would “talk about it later”) and has to tell Betty he can’t. Of course due to the old Parker luck she thinks he’s blowing her off for a date with Liz. When Peter gets home Aunt May tells him that “Mrs Watson’s niece has a headache”; Peter calls Betty in hopes of making that date, however she pretends she doesn’t know which Pete is calling her and Peter ends up threatening to call Liz Allen instead. That Betty Brant, what is she like? Well I’ll let Bertone answer that.

Next up is Amazing Spider-Man #25

 

Where Betty Brant and Liz Allan (now in full fighting-over-Peter mode) get to meet Mary Jane. Unfortunately for us her face is obscured by a flower. However from the reactions of Betty and Liz it is obvious she is quite the looker.

This build up to the reveal of Mary Jane is one of the many reasons it seems that there should be no other girl for Peter. From the start her importance as a character is emphasized even before Lee, Ditko or Romita themselves realised that importance. Her identity is treated with the same level of mystery as say the Green Goblins, the introductions of Betty, Liz, Gwen or Carlie Cooper are barely memorable by comparison.

We get another single panel glimpse at MJ at the end of ASM#25 where Flash also sees her for the first time.

 

Again Flash is also very impressed by Miss Watson’s appearance.

MJ is briefly mentioned in ASM#26 by Betty Brant being her usual crazy jelous self.

ASM#28 is of interest in regards to Peter’s love life because of the following scene with Liz Allen at their High School graduation (also take note those that argue Peter should be a high school student when represented in other media like movies/cartoon. He graduates high school in issue #28!).

 

With this scene Liz Allan is out of the picture as a romantic interest for good, in fact I believe other than a brief appearance in ASM#30 (4 panels. Which interestingly appears to take place some time after the graduation in ASM#28) she does not return to the comics for a good few years mainly being replaced by Gwen Stacy in college.

ASM#30 is also of note to Pete’s relationships because he breaks up with Betty Brant due to Ned Leeds proposing to her (rather out of the blue). Then in ASM#31 we have the first appearance of Gwen Stacy. So while the comics have been really building up this meeting with Mary Jane since ASM#15, Peter does actually meet Gwen Stacy first. Although I am not sure you could count their encounter in this issue as “meeting”.

 

 

So Gwen kinda likes Peter, but Pete is oblivious to her existence. Later that issue –

 

I guess we can say they met at this point. But Peter does not even look at her due to his concern with Aunt may.  This marks the start of Gwen’s ice queen period. Peter’s initial accidental snub cause her to be quite sassy and rude to Peter for a while. However while we are not here to talk about Gwen, (Bertone’s wonderful series of articles has that covered) I do want to establish the timeline of the Peter/Mary Jane/Gwen love triangle and Peter’s relationship status when finally meeting MJ.

In issue #32 Peter is rather obnoxious towards Ned Leeds in front of Betty to intentionally sabotage any chance of that relationship starting up again. She sees through his act but Peter is intent of distancing himself from her due to being Spider-Man and Betty finally takes the hint.

Issue#34 Peter has an encounter with Gwen in which she will not allow him to pick up her books for him, still being angry at the previous snub. Despite this Peter’s apparent lack of interest in gwen only makes her more interested in him. Mary Jane is mentioned by her Aunt on the last page, but nothing more.

Gwen actually stalks Peter in ASM#36, becoming quite obsessed since he is the only boy at college not falling over himself to talk to her. However Peter is forced to flee a villain to change into Spider-Man, Gwen sees this and believes him to be a coward and is apparently cold on him again, although she still remarks how “manly-looking” he is. Peter now notices how pretty she is. Later that issue we see the cruel side of Gwen, she can clearly be quite mean when her pride is hurt. A far cry from the doting daddy’s girl she becomes later.

 

In AMS#37 Peter attempts to smooth things over with Gwen, only for her to try and slap him!

 

After Peter refuses to fight Flash, Harry bad mouths Peter to Gwen too and she defends him. Clearly this relationship is beginning to overcome its initial bumps.

A very brief scene in ASM#38 has Gwen mention how despite what others think she sees something so “Strong–so proud about Peter”. No mention of Mary Jane for a while now, obviously Stan and Ditko wanted to establish this relationship before offering Mary Jane as a foil to it.

However this was also Steve Ditko’s final issue. Issue #39 marks the start of the Romita era, in which John Romita’s influence will change Gwen into a the sappy Daddy’s girl and Mary Jane into one of the greatest female romantic interests in all of comics. For me the Lee-Romita years are the definitive version of Spider-Man. However there is no MJ or Gwen in this issue.

In ASM#40 when Peter’s entire life “flashes before him” at the hands of the Green Goblin, it is Betty Brant he thinks of. Mary Jane is again mentioned by Aunt Watson.

In ASM#41 we learn that Mary Jane has taken an apartment of her own. Later Peter gets his motorcycle and shows her off to Gwen, she acts unimpressed but is excited to note that Peter seemed to look at her as if he was seeing her for the first. However when Peter gets home Anna Watson and Aunt May tell Peter that Mary jane will be coming for dinner on sunday night and Aunt May tells Peter there will be “no excuses this time young man”. Peter contemplates to himself that it would “be funny if she’s a real doll”. Little does he know.

ASM#41 concludes with the following teaser, building up this meeting with Mary Jane one last time –

 

Of course before this reveal finally happens in the final panel they up the ante one last time with this scene –

 

Gwen invites Peter to a party! But Peter has to decline because he has to meet Mary Jane tonight and Aunt May said no more excuses! The old Parker luck strikes again? Of course this sudden chance to court Gwen means that Peter is all of a sudden totally infatuated with the idea, he just has to “get this Mary Jane ordeal over with…”

However it is at this point when the old Parker luck is reversed, because Peter is about to hit the jackpot!

 

To be continued…

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(36) Comments

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  2. Michelle

    Awesome!! I did a video tribute to the marriage. If anyone is interested here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhPPco9fgM . I too can't wait to read part 2! :)))

  3. Rere

    Fantastic article, Parabolee! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it down. I'm a huge Spidey/MJ myself. To the point of stop collecting the comics after the retcon the marriage. Can't wait to read part II!

  4. CowLord

    Great article! Mary Jane was the first girl I loved (dont you dare tell me she's not real). Shes the reason i love redheads. Here's hoping I hit the jackpot and fing my own MJ!

  5. Akinyele

    @28 'Amazing' is Spidey's moniker no matter what series or universe the character is featured in. 'Ultimate Spider-Man', referring to 'Ultimate' Marvel, however, is just the title of the book. It's not inaccurate to call the film 'Amazing', even if it is based on 'Ultimate'. In fact, it would have been odd to me if they had chosen the 'Ultimate' title, as that seems too specific for a major film adaptation created for a wider audience.

  6. Parabolee - Post author

    Thanks to Spider-Dad I just updated the article with a better scan of the last page of ASM# 42. Thanks for all the positive feedback guys.

  7. Enigma_2099

    @#22 You should see me on the TFW2005 message boards when someone says "Geewunner..."(Derogatory name calling for anyone who loves Generation 1 Transformers) I'm literally out for blood. I apologize as well. @#23 They call it "Amazing," yet everything about it smells like "Ultimate." And I was saying that despite it being Peter's failed attempt at saving Gwen that doomed her, I still blame Norman... AND HE STILL GOT AWAY WITH IT!!! IN A WORLD WHERE THEY'LL PRACTICALLY BLAME SPIDER-MAN FOR THE COMMON COLD WITHOUT A LICK OF PROOF!!!

  8. CrazyChris

    26 - I didn't say the problem was with name calling. If there was name calling I'd have probably given out warnings instead of just saying you guys needed to cool it. What I said was that you weren't debating civilly. Neither you nor enigma were expressing yourselves respectfully. "Get over yourself," "baby flak," "butthurt" . . . there's no need to take that tone with each other when its perfectly possible to debate this maturely. Carry on with the topic at hand. If you want to debate my moderation more PM me on the message board.

  9. Mike 13

    @22... I didn't realize that "fanboys" was akin to name-calling... I am a fanboy... I was under the impression that we were ALL fanboys/girls... if it's some type of internet slag, then my apologies. My intial statement still stands... just replace "fanboys" with the word "fans" and/or "supporters"...

  10. Mike 13

    If you're a man... especially an older man... then you KNOW what the first thing is... :( I cannot take credit for the line though... I first heard it years ago on an old episode of Mattlock...lol ;)

  11. Regless

    Also I almost forgot... Mike... You said the memory was the second thing to go... do I even wanna know the first? LOL.

  12. Regless

    @15. I like her over all in the 616 universe, of course the 90s cartoon, and spect spiderman. She had style, class, personality, and if memory serves me correctly some kick ass bruce lee moves on one occasion. There were some moments where she was just dead weight sitting on an otherwise good story, but mainly the movies, the 2003 cartoon, she wasn't much int eh ultimate universe comics either. Ugh... it so head slamming worthy. She's portrayed as the little miss perfect that peter is always striving to get with. It adds nothing but drama... and not the good kind either. I'm talking the 'not a better love story that twilight' kind. Funny thing was in the 2003 cartoon the writing was pretty good as far as dialogue goes. Whenever MJ and Peter met they had pretty good banter, chemistry even despite being incompatible. (I one of those people that doesn't place much stock in compatibility for fictitious couples) But it was like the plot was contrived to cast MJ in the worst light. I don't think I need to go into the movies, Dunst wasn't good casting for that. Then again I wasn't thrilled with Tobey as spidey and I seem to be in the minority for that too. XD. As for the name... it is... AMAZING SPIDERMAN!!! Extra exclamation marks were completely necessary. Spidey's got so many universes and sidestories now... He could start his own spider army! Maybe they should bring in Sophia Sandoval from the marvel adventures stories... they were doing good stuff with that until... well... marvel started doing what it was best~ Cancelling good stuff. And ugh... I agree completely. Worst way to break up the marriage possible. 616 MJ, like I mentioned is one of the MJs I like... err, well most the time. I read the response defending his choice about nullifying the marriage and how. I think that actually made it worse. She's has been cooler in my opinion now that there's less drama and seeing her as a hero in Spider Island was great. (Making her a superhero would've been 'new' too.. and a much better idea I think) But still... what a dumb thing to do. I think Slott might actually be angling to get them back together. Not the biggest fan of his writing but plotwise he's been slowly undoing so much damage done by the OMD. And lol about Norman Osborn... I... have no idea how he keeps getting away with it. 616 is messed up sometimes. Him and gwen... ewwww... I can only imagine his weird haircut gives him strange super powers of persuasion. Also I should apologize if I came off like a dick before. I've got a nasty habbit of reciting my opinion like it's fact when I'm in a rush. Cheers.

  13. CrazyChris

    Mike, Enigma, you both need to cool it because what you're having is not a civil debate on either end. Debate this maturely or not at all.

  14. Enigma_2099

    You wan respect... after calling people fanboys? Well, lemme just fall a** over teakettle for you, sir. Yup, shure can't see anything disrespectful there. And what are you getting butthurt over? I didn't even call you a name... I just had a problem with a point you made. Mainly "Gwen was and always will be Peter’s one true love..." I don't just disagree with this, I STRONGLY disagree with it. Sorry if my "baby flak" rubs you the wrong way... hang on a second, no I'm not. Why should I be? I'm one of dem dere antiOMD fanboys you respect so much...

  15. Mike 13

    @#5... get over yourself... I picked ONE example by a writer that most anti-OMD fanboys like a LOT... there have been many more over the years... and read my intial post again... I said nothing bad about MJ... in fact, I said she was the second most important woman in Peter Parker's life behind Aunt May, and I get all this baby flak from you? Thanks for being respectful of one man's opinion... sheesh... @#18... yeah, you're right... I get those issues mixed up... Anna "Watkins" makes her first appeance in ASM #18, which is technically not Anna Watson's first appearance... her first mention was in ASM #15... thanks for the clear up... at my age, the mind is the second thing to go...lol :)

  16. Spider-Dad

    Good start to the MJ series, looking forward to reading more. From my personal standpoint, I can remember exactly my first time meeting MJ, it is issue #43...an old tattered copy of my brothers and I still have that torn up copy today. :) Although I like Gwen Stacy, I have to agree with Parabolee that MJ is "Peter Parker’s one true love". From my vantage point, Gwen was his first love, but misses out on "true" love for one simple fact, Peter could not be honest with Gwen and confide he was actually Spider-Man. For someone who was thinking matrimony (issues in the early 100's...up to her death), his lack of maturity and honesty does not peg their love as "true". When I first started reading Spider-Man, (in the late 1970's), Gwen was a tragedy and MJ was fun. I thought that when MJ returned under Stern/DeFalco, her character was more rounded, no longer just the flighty party girl, but one that had more nuance behind this side of her personality. So keep it up. Anything on MJ right now that celebrates the truth of her story and their history together is welcome for me... PS: I can send you a good original scan of ASM#42's last page. Send me a IM if you want a copy.

  17. Spider-Dad

    @ #2 Mike 13, you have your issues backwards...in issue #15, Mrs. Watson is called out correctly, it is in issue #18 that she is incorrectly called Mrs. Watkins by Peter...

  18. boomstick

    Mary Jane was written over a far longer period of time than Gwen, and her characterization has varied but she's always had an indefineable something that, to the average reader, made her more interesting than blue-eyed blonde all-American Gwen. Frankly, MJ and Peter grew up-Gwen is best viewed from hindsight. The most important thing she did in terms of the overall arc of Peter and ASM was to die; otherwise, she went from being a catty schoolgirl to a damsel in distress, and neither role was very interesting or likeable. Now I'm sure Joe Quesada would love to revive her, but if he does, that will be the straw that breaks the came's back. Bad enough to revive a character nobody beside the editor wants back, worse still to undo THE pivotal, life changing moment in Spider-Man and comics in general. Marvel will revive her whether we want it or not: To them, the direction of ASM is far less about what's good for the characters and the title than it is about being right. And if they do, then a PR disaster of epic proportions will be theirs to deal with. The 1970s and the Silver Age of comics are over and the editors at DC and Marvel need to understand that. Editorial fiat and nostalgia are poor ways to run a monthly title.

  19. Epidot

    This is a very much debated issue, and whom suits Peter Parker the most will always be down to personal preference. I'm with Parabolee though, and I won't come back to marvel as a reader before the relationship is back. Petty? You bet I am, but I never felt that marvel had good enough writers to upset their fans so much.

  20. Enigma_2099

    @#12 Mary Jane's a Mary Sue? Ohhh, I can't wait to see how you explain this... if you ever do. And if the movie doesn't follow the 616 universe, wouldn't it have made more sense to name it after the universe that it does follow? I mean it DOES have a name. Go on... you can say it. The bad part of all this for me? I could have ACCEPTED them wanting to do something new, if not for the fact that I remember how we got to this point... and the man who was ultimately responsible. Because HE didn't like him being married. Joe Quesada. No, as much as I don't care for the current group working on the book... ESPECIALLY the editor, I'm not blaming them for this. They were doing what they were told to do. By Quesada. THAT'S WHO I BLAME FOR ALL OF THIS. But back to Gwen. The first love of his life. Since Marvel says so, I suppose this is true. But you know what... I don't care. Mary Jane was the BEST love of his life. Gwen didn't even last long enough to have a greater positive impact on his life. Her most meaningful moment in his life? DYING. And something else has bothered me for a long time... Norman Osborn has been outed as the Green Goblin before... how the $#%$^ did he get away with this?!?!

  21. Alex

    I started reading after Spider-man and Mary Jane were married. I barely even heard of Gwen Stacy back then. I can understand why they want him single, but that was worst thing I'd seen in a comic. I don't think I need to go over it. We all know Gwen will be back. We know that. I haven't read in a while, but she'll be back. They did the unmarriage thing despite people hating it and this is the nex thing the list that will 'fix' things. I really want to see that thing J. Scott Campbell was going to do. He did these neat preview pictures of Gwen and Mary Jane.

  22. Regless

    Depends on the universe. I don't really buy the one true love take on romance. But I do believe Peter loved Gwen just as much as MJ. As for Gwen hating spiderman, so does aunt may in every universe until she finds out who it is. It just one of those things you can't really do a fair comparison on account gobby chucking the lady off a bridge. In fact most the recent renditions of Gwen (Ultimate, Spectacular) have been pretty awesome. When as many of the MJ renditions (first three movies, 2003 Spiderman, Ultimate) have been pretty lame. In 616 MJ and Pete are made for each other sure *Although if you reserve the right to ignore OMD then I reserve the right ignore that whole osborn thing with Gwen... seriously... what the hell was that* But the 616 isn't the only universe, or the most interesting. And the movie certainly doesn't follow it so I'm actually pretty glad they didn't force the obligatory MJ right off the bat. If they want to do it right, she'll come in later, although I wouldn't care if she didn't come in at all. So tired of seeing her mary-sue everything up.

  23. Parabolee - Post author

    @#4 - Yes the coloring changes are odd. They also have Peter in brown as apposed to the blue seen in the original. Unfortunately my digital copy of ASM#42 is pretty poor quality for that page, that is why I found that scan. If anyone has that page with the correct colours in decent quality I would love to switch it.

  24. Honesty

    Gwen Stacy is NOT Peter's one true love and anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves or has been brainwashed by Avi Arad's horse-baloney. The original 616 grade-a Gwen never knew what Peter was like, she didnt know he was Spider-Man, she even hated Spider-Man. Mary Jane wasnt keen on Peter's alter-ego either, and that was why she didnt make a play on him sooner, but she still UNDERSTOOD Peter and the pull of his responsibility. Peter and MJ went through so many phases of growing up together, and yeah, there best friends...isnmt your one true love SUPPOSED to be your best friend? Sound logic "number one" but you're Riker without the beard. Gwen is only famous for that blasted bridge...and later became infamous for shacking up with Norman Osborn. MJ is the mother of Peter's children in the MC2 continuity (which is the one TRUE continuity for Spidey from any logical perspective) and remains his loyal wife in the newspaper strip. Tell me, really, what defines "true love"...because as these articles are going to evidently show, Mary Jane defines that more than generic Gwen

  25. fantasyfreak

    Great first article! :) MJ also happen to be the reason I have a liking for redheads(for better and worse). A little offtopic but:what the heck is up with those eyebrows people had back then? they´re HUGE XD

  26. Enigma_2099

    @#1 So you're saying Mephisto's whole reasoning behind OMD was complete bull****? So he called out her name ONE TIME when slipping in and out of consciousness... look at all the stuff he's gone through for MJ. And let's not forget that thing with Osborn... euuuuuugh. After that, why would he even care if she's his one true love... SHE SLEPT WITH NORMAN OSBORN!!!

  27. Akinyele

    I dislike that recoloring in those panels from ASM42, with the super-red lipstick on MJ and the blue combo she's wearing. I have no idea what the thought process was in all of that. Fortunately I believe the newer paperback Masterworks return to the original coloring if I'm not mistaken.

  28. Fred

    Never liked Gwen, more damsel in distress than a real character with substance. Mary Jane however was not only his true love but made him grow up and be a man. Love the article Parabolee, keep up the good work:) Can't wait for the next one.

  29. Mike 13

    Also, that page from ASM #15 must have been edited, because in ASM #15, Mrs. Watson is actually refered to as "Mrs. Watkins", and was then called "Mrs. Watson" in ASM #18... sort of confusing to her first appearance, because the reality is that Mrs. Watson first appeared in ASM #18... due to the Mrs. Watkins change... but because of reprints, it's mostly accepted dogma that Anna first appeared in ASM #15... Just some Spidey trivia for ya...

  30. Mike 13

    "The first in a series of articles exploring the life and times of Peter Parker’s one true love " I'm sorry... but you lost me there. Gwen was and always will be Peter's one true love. Even at the end of Sins Past, while Pete's fading out and holding MJ's hand, he's calling out to Gwen. That's not to say that MJ isn't important... she's the 2nd most important woman in Peter Parker's life, behind Aunt May being #1... and arguably his best friend. And they love each other... no doubt about it. But Gwen is the one that gnaws at Peter's heart... And Betty Brant was indeed his "first" love... I wish you well with your endeavor.

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