In some ways, this week marks the 30th anniversary of the Spider-Marriage—at least according to Jim Shooter. Researching the background of this story—which includes the firing of an editor, as well as the departure of a well-regarded Amazing Spider-Man creative team—indicates that there is some disagreement about what really happened.
At the Chicago Con in 1986, Stan and I were among the guests. He was scheduled to do a one-man panel. He asked me to do the gig with him.
In those days, Stan’s office was at Marvel Productions, our animation studio in L.A. He spent all his time out there trying to generate film and TV opportunities. That, and writing the Spider-Man syndicated strip. He said that he always got a lot of questions at such panels about the comic books that he couldn’t answer. He was pretty much out of touch with what was going on in the comics.
So we went onstage together. It was a big room and it was packed.
We didn’t do any presentations, just took questions. I think nine out of ten questions were about the comic books.
Turned out we were a pretty good act. I’d answer the basic question and Stan would tag on a funny comment or an anecdote. We were a good tag team.
Toward the end, someone in the back asked Stan if he was ever going to have Spider-Man get married. A lot of people in the crowd voiced support.
Stan said that it was up to “Marvel’s entire editor,” and right then, right there in front of all those people, Stan asked me if I would allow Spider-Man to get married.
Well, I may have been the “entire editor” but anything to do with the comics that Stan wanted I would have cheerfully done.
As Steve Englehart once said, referring to Marvel Comics writers “…Stan is the father of us all.” Honor thy father.
(By the way, Steve’s comment, which I believe I have represented accurately, was made in a footnote caption in one of the comics he wrote, I think around the time I started at Marvel, which was 1976.)
The audience cheered.
Perfect time for our exit. Thanks for coming, everyone.
By the time Stan and I made it to the door, the whole convention was abuzz about the impending wedding.
Later, Stan and I talked about it. He thought having Spider-Man get married would be a great thing for the newspaper strip. We agreed that it was important to coordinate the comics and the strip so that the event would take place in the same week of the same month and in the same way as much as possible.
Stan Lee described a similar version of events in Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir. He had a notoriously poor memory, but Peter David—co-writer of the book—worked on Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man at that time.
In August 2007, Back Issue magazine had a spotlight on the 20th anniversary of the now defunct marriage. Stan Lee explained his deicsion.
I had always wanted the Spider-Man series to be as realistic as possible. After a few years of Peter and Mj having a romance, their marriage just seemed like the most natural event. It had to happen.
Jim Shooter noted the context.
It’s just that, at this point in his career, he was just not involved in the governance of the properties and uninvolved with publishing and uninvolved with publishing except as a writer of the strip, and occasionally a comic book. Technically, the wedding was my call, and Stan respected that, because that’s the kind of guy he was. That said, all technicalities aside, he was Stan Lee, my mentor, the resident legend/ genius, and I would have deferred to him about almost anything.
Tom DeFalco said that initial plans for the story took it in a different direction.
I guess you could blame the whole marriage thing on Ron Frenz and me. When we were on The Amazing Spider-Man, we proposed a story where Peter asks Mary Jane to marry im, she accepts, but eventually-in true Spider-Man fashion-leaves him at the altar. Jim Owsley was our editor and took the idea to Jim Shooter, who mentioned it to Stan…who thought the couple really should get married. Shooter agreed and went ahead with the idea after Ron and I were taken off Amazing.
Jim Shooter claims that DeFalco is mistaken on the sequence of that, and that he never mentioned their plan to Stan Lee.
Ron Frenz recalled how he and DeFalco came up with the story.
One way to look at it is the best way to write a Spider-Man story is to make a list of all the sh*ttiest things that can happen to a human being, then you eliminate all the things that other writers have already done, and what is left are some story ideas. Certainly being left at the altar is the hugely sh*ttiest thing that can happen to a human being.
Tom and I made Peter and Mary Jane best friends and we kinda left it at that, and then a lot of other writers started taking that into the romantic realm. We had talked about the idea that now that they were romantically involved, they would get engaged, and we would get to the point of the marriage. Spider-Man would then be off battling the Sinister Six or something like that, and be completely out of contact for several days, and Mary Jane would get the opportunity to reconcile with her sister who she was estranged from. Then Mary Jane would use that as an excuse to bug out, because she’s been having second thoughts. She would try to get a hold out of Pete, but he’s fighting for his life up to the last minute. [In the end], Pete would race to his apartment, throw on his tuxedo, and web-swing to the church where Harry would be waiting for him out in front. There would be a silent sequence where they talk for a couple of minutes, Harry would hand Pete the ring, and the ring would drop to the ground, and there is the end of the sequence.
James Owsley—editor of The Amazing Spider-Man from #264 to #283—recalls his opposition to the move, and how he ended up leaving the books,
Also, around that time, Stan decided that Peter and Mary Jane would get married in the Spider-Man syndicated newspaper strip. I thought, and still think, it was the worst creative move the company could have made. Spider-Man, by definition, is “The Hero Who Could Be You.” Once he marries a supermodel and becomes domesticated, he moves beyond the realm of wish fulfillment of most adolescents. I mean, sure they’d like to give Mary Jane a toss, but marriage? What teenage boy dreams of marriage?
It was creative suicide, it could not be tolerated. I told Jim and Tom that Spider-Man would get married in the comics series, and this is a quote, “Over my dead body.”
Less than six months later, Spider-Man was married and I was gone.
The bomb scare had given Marvel’s shadow cabinet ammo to get the wheels in motion, but the catalyst for my demise was my firing Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz off of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
I had been told, at least a dozen times, to fire Tom. Tom was late. Tom was busy. Tom was distracted. And now, Tom was not doing his best on Spider-Man. Inker Rubinstein quit, annoyed that DeFalco and Frenz were habitually erratic. I scheduled fill in after fill in, affecting sales. Tom and I planned one schedule fix after another, but these efforts were routinely torpedoed by Shooter himself, who’d suddenly send Tom here or make Tom drop what he was doing and work on thus and so. All the while complaining about our near-misses (as I said, I never, not once missed shipping) with Tom, urging me to get rid of him. It was Jim himself who was playing havoc with Tom’s writing schedule.
Finally, I came up with an idea: Sensational Spider-Man by DeFalco/Frenz. This would, likely, have been a quarterly special, like Spider-Man Unlimited or some such. Tom and Ron could do as much Spider-Man as they wanted and were capable of doing, and we’d be off the hook for the monthly deadline. Tom and Ron continue to do the work they love, I get out of Shooter’s line of fire. I told Jim I was taking Tom off of AMAZING, and creating this other animal for him and Ron. Jim said, fine.
Tom took the news very hard. It ended our friendship, and, I am told, Tom saw Jim’s hand in this and threatened to quit. A stunned Shooter appeared at my door the next day, and I knew I was about to be fired. He asked me, and I quote, “Why’d you do that? [fire Tom]” I just stared at him as he stammered and stared at the floor and shook his head and exhaled, and I felt like I was in The Godfather II, the victim of some macabre Corleone plot. What the blessed hell was this man talking about?!? I cleared this all with him before I did it. More to the point, for months he’d been after me to do something about Tom.
I said, “Because you told me to. We talked about this beforehand.” To which Jim replied, and I’ll never forget this, “Yeah— but I never thought you’d actually do it.”
When DeFalco left Amazing Spider-Man, Owsley ended up writing his final storyline, the Gang War five-parter, as well as a few assorted other issues of the Spider-Man comics. James Owsley later renamed himself Christopher Priest. He would have notable runs on Quantum & Woody and Black Panther. His next project is the Deathstroke monthly for DC.
Future Amazing Spider-Man artist Erik Larsen remembered the timing of the marriage being off.
The marriage in the comics was pretty abrupt because, at the time, the two hadn’t even been dating and MJ had previoiusly refused Peter’s proposal some years earlier. Their reconcoliation and following nuptials came out of left field. In the span of four issues they went from not even dating to being married. It seemed forced—and it was—to coincide with the wedding in the newspaper strip.
Marv Wolfman—who wrote the first story in which Peter proposed to Mary Jane—believed that what worked for the comic strip wasn’t true of the regular comics.
I never thought Spider-Man and MJ getting married was a good idea, but I also always thought the Spider-Man newspaper strip was a very different entity and had to appeal to a very different audience where that kind of soap opera was fine. I just think for the comics Peter should have stayed single and still be struggling.
Jim Salicrup—editor of The Amazing Spider-Man from #284-345— was on-board with the wedding pretty quickly.
I thought it was a great idea. And let me clarify, that “the powers that be” in this case was Stan Lee. He wanted to marry Peter and MJ in the newspaper strip, and was asking what we thought on the comic book end. When editor-in-chief Jim Shooter first mentioned the idea to me, I was at first surprised. Then I was enthused—I was looking forward for something to shake up the comic book series and create new excitement. So I was all for it!
He admits one complication with timing.
What I didn’t fully understand at the time was how fast Stan wanted the wedding to happen. I was hoping we’s have at least an year or so to to build up to it, but i was wrong. I should’ve known—Stan is the most impatient guy in the world so if he was asking, it was becuase it was going to be his next storyline. When Jim told me roughly when Stan was planning for it to happen, I nearly had a heart attack. We had to pull stories we were already planning and try to get to the wedding as fast as possible.
The quotations here come from personal blogs of creators, as well as an article in Back Issue magazine #23. If anyone is aware of other interesting articles in print or online about the planning of the spider-marriage that sheds different information to the process, I’d be eager to see it.
The obvious big question is whether the people at Marvel made the right decision roughly 30 years ago. As for the execution, do you guys think it was rushed, or did Salicrup and company pull it off? When individuals had contradictory recollections, whose version of events do you trust more and why?