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!