Tangled Webs: It’s Kinda the 30th Anniversary of the Spider-Marriage


Shooter Lee

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.

On his blog, Jim Shooter posted a story about how Stan Lee forced his hand on the spider-marriage at panel at the 1986 Chicago Comic Con.

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.

The ’86 Chicago Comic Con seems to have been on the July 4-July 6 weekend, with Stan Lee as the guest of honor.

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.

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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.

Back Issue mag

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.

Mary jane wedding

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.

 

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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.

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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? 

(20) Comments

  1. Went Brown

    I liked the marriage too so its very upsetting that they ended it. Same way I feel about the Bruce and Betty marriage.......

  2. Al

    Wow, I guess Frenz and DeFalco re-evaluated their views on Spider-Man. They seemt o be leaning hard on the ‘he has to suffer’ angle. Also Frenz’s comment raise my eyebrow as he and DeFalco clearly shipteased them back in the 80s. And no offence to either of them but I am eternally glad the direction they wanted never happened as it would’ve been overly cliché and mean spirited. The actual wedding was fresh and truer to Stan and Steve’s original concept for the character. Owsley, whilst the books under his tenure were good and Spider-Man vs. Wolverine is great...I not only disagree with his statements but find them profoundly narrowminded and sexist. The hero who COULD be you WOULD get married because most people do. I mean out and out wish fulfilment was anethma to Spider-Man’s core concept. DC was wish fulfilment, Marvel cut closer to reality. Even putting that aside though it doesn’t add up. In one stroke Priest criticizes Peter being married because marriage=lame to teenage boys but also refers to her as a supermodel which by his logic WOULD be what teenage boys would want. As for creative suicide....yeah how’d that pan out? In regards to Larsen’s statements, actually Peter and MJ were dating. That’s why in a Secret Wars II tie-in, Web #3 and other issues they use the word ‘date’, go on what’s clearly dates and in SvW Peter refers to her as his girlfriend. They just weren’t admitting it to one another was all. Additionally multiple stories had addressed MJ’s change in attitude towards marriage therefore it was far from ‘out of left field’. At the same time...why should we take Larsen’s opinion for anything? The man is an artist not a writer and not good in either capacity, all whilst bad mouthing PAD, Michelinie and many others. Regarding Wolfman I don’t think he has a leg to stand on either as he’s the guy who had MJ reject Peter’s marriage proposal in a way wholly OOC for her until other people retconned it and had Peter react in an OOC manner for the time. He basically shrugged it off nonchalantly which is BS for anyone when they get jilted like that. Now, regarding who’s recollection we should go with I think honestly we just have to admit the truth lies between them not with any single entity. As for the execution I think the wedding itself was too fast. But the idea of them getting engaged no. that had been built up 2 years in advance even if they hadn’t intended it. In Spec #123 MJ wanted to talk about their relationship. In SvW it’s obvious Peter and Mj are in love and dating. In ASm Annual #19 marriage is directly referenced.

  3. Cheesedique

    As someone who bought the ASM #21 Annual, where they were married, off of the spinner racks when it came out, I can attest that the marriage was not that rushed. Peter David had Peter confiding in MJ about a year before in his Spec Run. Issue #119 for example, has Peter relating how "the Sinister Syndicate just dropped a roller coaster on me at Coney Island", which startles MJ, causing her to drop a glass. The marriage coincided with Felicia being sent out of the books at the conclusion of PAD's story involving her in Spec. Then the proposal issues came in ASM. Peter realizes he doesn't want to waste time on crazy chicks like Felicia anymore, who just end up double-crossing him. He made a mature choice for himself. It read as a natural progression, not the rushed thing to just tie in with the newspaper strip as some like to state.

  4. Mark Alford

    I had been dabbling in back issues for sometime and had just started reading the "on the shelf" versions right before the marriage. It made sense to me then and I was far from married at the time. Upon going back and reading all the issues leading up to it in order, it makes sense to me now. Being married now probably biases my judgement some, but I like a married Peter. Plus, if it was so unrelatable, why is there the need to constantly hit at a return? Why did RYV do so well? Why does the current series tease at a return? Because it works.

  5. Jack

    I think the guys running Marvel for the last ten years actually are anti-marriage in their personal lives. They certainly are infantile and unfaithful in their on-line behavior, so I can see how they would think marriage is the end of real livin'.

  6. hornacek

    More griping. The public has been conditioned to think that marriage is an ending because so many romantic stories/movies end with characters getting together, realizing they are meant to be together forever ("and never to part"), leading to marriage. We never see these characters again (unless there's a sequel) so in our minds, those characters get married, have 2.5 kids, and live the rest of their lives together never being unhappy. But getting married is not an ending, it's a beginning. Yes, it's the end of your single life and all of the story possibilities that allows, but it's also the beginning of new story possibilities that were never possible when the characters were single. Whenever I hear someone say that having a married Spider-Man gives him a "happy ending" (hey-oh!) and eliminates potential stories and chances for conflict, my first reaction (whether I know anything about that person's personal life or not) is that that person has never been married or had a long-term relationship in their life (that reaction may not be fair, but that's how it is). If that person is a writer, my second reaction is that they must not be that creative a writer if they can't think of the story possibilities that a married Spider-Man allows that a single Spider-Man does not.

  7. Sano

    Peter Parker and Mary Jane were dating off and on in several books, just not in The Amazing Spider-Man. So people who say they were not dating at the time were only reading The Amazing Spider-Man. This has always annoyingly been the case. People only care about what is in the main Spider-Man book when throughout various times in his lifespan it has been IMHO the worst Spider-Man book on the racks. I still remember people complaining about JMS' The Amazing Spider-Man book not having his supporting cast. I did everything but yell from the rooftop to tell people "Read Friendly Neighborhood in conjunction with Amazing or instead of! It's a much better book anyway!" If you are an X-Men fan this is even more frustrating. "The Uncanny X-Men" comic has been the worst X-Men comic for at least 20 years. To try and get someone to read a satellite title instead was like pulling teeth.

  8. tevya smolka

    i love the marriage so much that it hurts me that we lost the marriage for bullshit reasons

  9. Chase the Blues Away

    "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?" Wow, misogynist much Owlsley/Priest? Owlsley's memories, not only of this, have been challenged many times. I do believe he had a difficult time at Marvel - one does not change one's name and erase all the recognition one has built up for no reason - which may account for the variation in recall, but I never trust anything he says. This is especially ironic given that Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, which he wrote, features Peter and Mary Jane growing emotionally closer. Peter David was also in favor of the marriage, and he was writing Spectacular at the time. He also hinted at Peter and Mary Jane having much deeper feelings for each other, and he wrote Felicia out of the picture.

  10. hornacek

    Whenever a Marvel writer says that a married Spider-Man makes the character unrelatable, and asks "What teenage boy dreams of marriage?", I have to wonder if they are looking at a different set of reader demographics as everyone else. Every article I've ever seen over that past few decades that talks about the average age of comic book readers says it's anywhere from late 20s to early 30s (and getting older every year). And hey, you know what a lot of people in those age ranges are thinking about? Getting married! When writers talk about unrelatability, it's like they still think it's the golden age of Marvel when the majority of their readers were teenagers. Or am I wrong and the biggest group of comic book readers are teenagers?

  11. xonathan

    I get why writers prefer a single Peter. Because it's easier to write one person than to write two. Also, it's easier to recycle old "peter is single" stories. Also, for some reason in the Western world, the marriage is the "happy ending" in all sorts of entertainment like books, movies, series, soap operas, etc so writers all grow up thinking that's what people want to be entertained with; the journey that leads up to the marriage. However they are forgetting that the marriage is even more fruitful story wise. Sure it takes a bit more thinking, but businesses want to reduce as many resources as they can in order to produce the same or more output, including thinking. Writers don't want to think, they just want to sell. Grant Morrison made a point in his book "Supergods" that after writing a character or characters long enough, they end up taking a life of their own, despite the intentions of the writers. And I truly believe this is what happened with the marriage, it took a life or it's own and it happened because it was the logical thing to happen.

  12. Friendly Reminder

    If you read the newspaper strip version of the marriage, Aunt May even brings up the fact Peter's rushing into it, MJ also remarks that she and Peter really need to get to know one another after they wed, indicating that outside of being "steadies" for years they hadn't quite opened up to each other. Another nice touch in the strip version is that Peter is almost called away to stop a crime as Spider-Man seconds after he got married, but is releived to find the matter is resolved without his presence there. How about looking over the strip version of the wedding some time next year Crawl Spacers? It's not the most exciting story, but it's still very different I don't believe the marriage was rushed, if you look at all of those stories leading up to the wedding, Peter was very justified when he told MJ they'd been more than friends for a long time. Marriage was the next logical step, they were more mature and experienced in their relationship, so they chose love over fear. MJ had also thought to herself that Peter was the ideal man for her and indicated she would have married him if she did'nt know he was Spider-Man. This is the same reasoning MJ has in the newspaper strip. When Peter revealed to her who he was in the strip a year before they married, she turned down the marriage proposal because she did'nt want to be associated with a "freak", but when she finally caved in and accepted, she said they'd have been married ages ago had it not been for Peter's duel life complicating it.

  13. Stuart Green

    I know the marriage was rushed looking back, but I was only 4 when Peter and M.J. were married and when I got into comics, I grew up only knowing a married Spider-Man. Personally, I love Spider-Man with M.J., I still love it, and I will always love it. I hate how having characters married in Marvel is such a bad thing. All my favorite couples from Marvel aren't married anymore -- Peter and Mary Jane Parker, Bruce and Betty Ross-Banner, Scott and Jean Grey-Summers, their marriages all went kaput. Spidey's marriage was undone in the worst possible way and Peter and Mary Jane are my favorite married couple in all of comics, so considering that next year will be the marriage's official 30th anniversary as well as the 10th anniversary of OMD, it makes me even more disappointed in Marvel that my favorite comic couple are being handled so poorly and remain apart after the Mephisto deal. Happy 4th of July, everyone! Hope you all are having a great day!

  14. hornacek

    Based on the amount of time between when the marriage was proposed (no pun intended) and executed in the comics, it was rushed. But whether the writers were aware of it or not, they were writing Peter and MJ in the comics as growing closer in their relationship since MJ returned in the Stern run. If you read those issues, through the DeFalco run, up to "The Big Question" issue, it mostly reads like the marriage was the end-goal all along.

  15. Frontier

    I guess the issues with the marriage even going into its inception were the seeds that festered at Marvel until Quesada got enough control to finally get rid of it. Could you imagine what would have happened if DeFalco and Frenz had gone through with their plan and how that would've effected Peter and MJ's relationship to this day? I forgot Priest was against it, and I've read his Spider-Man article a few times before.

  16. Jack

    I go with the oldest version, the one from Lee & Shooter, Plus Salicrup, mostly because it started publicly and is consistent with Lee's way of doing things, and I've heard it verified by others involved at the time. I mistrust the Owlsley version completely, because I'm suspicious of his motives. I don't know what to make of DeFalco's claim

  17. Jeremy Gingrich

    I personally agree with how rushed the marriage was. I think they should have built up to it more before it happened. But other than that I really liked the dynamic of Peter and MJ.

  18. BD

    I was 11 years old and bought ASM Annual #21 at the local Magic Market convenience store off the spinner rack. I thought it was a great move and I loved the Mary Jane character and still do. They had a great run and Peter and Mary Jane haven't been the same in nearly a decade. I initially thought it'd be an opportunity to have new stories of a single Peter, but that has not been the case. When I interviewed Jim Shooter last year he said a good writer can write a married Spidey. It also takes a good writer to write a single Spidey. Unfortunately we don't either.

  19. Shaun Martineau

    This article is fascinating. Seems like it was quite the dividing factor at Marvel. For all the crap we give Marvel for being erratic and unable to commit to things in hopes of trying something new, this makes it seem like it is just business as usual at Marvel.

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