Tangled Webs: Lost Commentary on Peter and MJ


One of the things I’ve come to appreciate as someone who has followed online discussions about the Spider-Man comics (and plenty of other stuff) for over a decade is how ephmereal the information can be. Things that are accessible for years can suddenly disappear as websites reboot, message board threads are erased, etc.

Over the years, I’ve copied and pasted some interesting comments on Spider-Man comics that are otherwise be lost to the ether. I hope you guys enjoy. It’s Valentines Day, so it seems appropriate to focus on stuff to do with Peter Parker and Mary Jane. The first comments will be from someone who liked the couple together; the next were from someone who had other preferences.

We’ll start with something Tom Beland said about Mary Jane Watson-Parker in a discussion on Brian Michael Bendis’ message board. At the time, he was the writer/ artist of the autobiographical romantic comedy True Story Swear to God. He went on to write some Spider-Man comics, including the Web of Romance one-shot. These comments obviously predate One More Day.

Regarding Spidey/MJ:

People can talk about whether or not Peter and MJ should’ve been married all they want, but the fact is… they are. And they’ve been together for far too long to simply divorce and get rid of her. More than any other female character, aside from, say, Sue Storm… MJ has a significant role in the Marvel Universe as Spider-Man’s muse. She is the main reason he does what he does.

Get rid of MJ and you lose the heart and soul to Spider-Man. Period. You can bring up all the “What If” scenarios you want, it won’t change the fact that when you think of one, you instantly think of the other. They have been created to now fit together.

I think the main problem is, nobody wants to take MJ and create her own personality. In the years she’s been around, all she’s been used for has been nothing more than a hot chick in a nightie waking up to console Peter in the middle of the night… or a hot chick in a nightie waiting up for Peter to return from a fight. Or someone who has to be saved.

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Sean McKeever is the only writer trying to get to the actual heart of MJ.

My take on MJ is a simple one… she digs Peter and Spider-Man. She’s lived with this for most of her life and they are both like a drug to her. She rarely gets overly worried about him and, truth be told, she sort of gets off on seeing him in battle. When he returns, she asks him about what he did to defeat the bad guy… she’d even know all his favorite moves.

What are her outside interests?

To me, she’d be a bit of a chocoholic. She never lets anyone have the last piece of chocolate and if someone gets there before she does, it bugs her to no end.

She loves those Macy’s Day Parade balloons. She also loves morning cartoons on Saturday.

She’d take up cooking with Jarvis and find out she’s very good at it. The kitchen in the Avengers Tower is where the heroes hang out. I think it’s like that in everyone’s home.

She loves to embarrass men in line at the grocery store by holding up a box of tampons and saying “Mind if I go before you? I need to pay for these.” It makes her laugh to no end the way men are freaked out by a tiny box of hygiene products. Which makes Peter roll his eyes when he sees her come home laughing.

She can’t lie to people. Nobody tells her about surprise parties.

In high school, she beat the crap out of Flash Thompson. They’ve never discussed it since… but each of them knows it happened.

Words about bodily function make her giggle like a child. “Crap” “Crappola” “Shit” “Pissed”…. all of them. And she can’t help it.

When she tells someone in the grocery store that you can use salt/pepper/garlic powder on some chicken legs (the cheapest, but best part of the chicken) pan fry skin side down in some olive oil and baked when turned for 40 minutes… and you’ll have the greatest first date meal of your lives… she feels like she’s Spider-Man.

She loves to carve her initials in wet cement. She’s done it all her life and, according to her log book, has 11,015 “MJW’s” and 7,342 “MJWP’s” across the streets of New York. It’s an obsession.

She’s afraid to get close to children… because they make her curious about parenthood. And those thoughts make her worry about what type of child you conceive with a man who has radioactive blood. So she stays back, keeping just enough distance to keep safe.

She thinks Bonds did it. He knew it. And she also knows that if steroids could win you a title… and they’re willing to do it… do it. Nobody is with her on that point of view.

She sponsors two children via mail. Nobody knows.

Soooooo, maybe some of those work for you, maybe they don’t. But I think the more you put into a character, the more endearing that character becomes to the reader. And let’s face it, though we don’t MIND seeing MJ in lingerie, it’s now like…. “okay, she’s in a nightie… get to the story.” You have to have more than the physical.

The more interesting MJ is, the more interesting Peter and MJ are. So, I’d love to focus on her side of the equation. She’d be the one of the few females in the Marvel Universe who can handle a crisis and not freak out. She’s lived with this shit for yeeeeeeears.

You may now bash me.

Beland praised Sean McKeever, the writer of the series Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which reimagined the story of Spider-Man’s high school days from the perspective of a Mary Jane Watson who didn’t know what was up with Peter Parker.

On the Comic Book Resources message board, Kurt Busiek wrote about what he would have done instead of One More Day. Busiek had written one of the most acclaimed Spider-Man runs of the 1990s with Untold Tales of Spider-Man.

I haven’t read ONE MORE DAY, as I noted earlier.

And I also never pitched for, nor tried to argue that there should be a story where the marriage was busted up. I think the marriage was a mistake, but I think that breaking it up may also be a mistake. It’s not always enough simply to reverse a decision.

That said, I outlined a way I thought it could work, long, long ago, and it wouldn’t have had Big Mystic Forces in it. When Big Mystic Forces show up, it’s not a Spider-Man story any more, to my mind. I’d probably have MJ injured — not in a permanently-crippling way, but she’d be close enough to death long enough for Peter to come to the conclusion that he was a danger to her, and out of love and concern, he’d withdraw emotionally, scared of getting her hurt again. This would lead to problems and sadness and a separation that neither of them truly want, as she tries to bust him out of his funk, leading to ultimatums and upsets and her finally leaving, hoping he’ll follow, but he doesn’t know she’s gone until after he’s put Dock Ock away and by that time, the train’s left the station. And then a few stories here and there where they almost get back together but Peter’s responsibilities as Spider-Man cause him to miss the moments where they could reconnect, and eventually there’d be legal papers served, and they’d each sign them separately, each thinking they were doing the right thing for the other one. I think that would have the opportunity for big, involving, Spider-Man-type stories, where Spidey has to fight to save MJ’s life, or where Spidey’s saving the world while MJ waits atop the Empire State Building, and gives up and leaves, sadly, about ten minutes before Peter makes it there, frantic and rumpled, with a beat-up bouquet of roses.

I’d make it about the dilemma between two sets of responsibilities, and I’d make it sad and heartbreaking, because this kind of thing can be a process that plays out over time, instead of a big event that gets done all at once, just to sweep it off the table. It’s better as a building series of character plots interwoven with adventures than as an adventure of its own. I’d have taken a similar approach when Spider-Man was cleared of police suspicion on Capt. Stacy’s death — make it a story, where he’s on trial and has to clear himself, rather than what it was, which was someone telling him, “Oh, hey, that dramatic set-up that’s been part of the book for years? We found out we were wrong, never mind.”

The upshot of it all would be that Spider-Man lost something, that his responsibilities as Spider-Man cost him something as Peter — and that’s the sort of thing that I think can fuel really good Spider-Man drama.

And they’d drift apart, and she’d find someone else, and he’d reluctantly start dating again, and it’d be difficult and clumsy and messy, but all that’s very Spidey-like, too. And when she came back into the strip, there’d be a sense of “what might have been,” that could be bittersweet. Milt Caniff did something like that with Pat Ryan and Normandie Drake, back in TERRY AND THE PIRATES, but in a very 1930s-melodrama sort of way. It worked, though.

The argument against something like that is that if Peter’s divorced, that makes him “old” and unrelatable-to, but I’m not sure it’s that strong an argument, since there are, after all, guys in their twenties who are divorced, and since, after you got past it, you wouldn’t have to bring it up every issue — but you could bring MJ in every now and then to torment the readers, which can be a lot of fun, dramatically (not for Peter and MJ, but then, writers aren’t supposed to make his life fun, they’re supposed to make it interesting).

Peter’s already got a lost love in Gwen, who is The One Who Died. MJ could occupy a similar role — but one with very different dramatic possibilities — as The One He Lost, And Man, This Gig Is Tough Sometimes. Finding new chances at happiness but knowing that they might be bittersweet and fleeting seems to me to fit the SPIDER-MAN mythos more than The Devil Did It.

But then, I say again that I never read ONE MORE DAY, so I can’t really judge.

And I don’t say that the process I outline here is something I’d ever propose — but if I was told I had to write a story breaking up the marriage, that’s the kind of road I’d go down. But my attitude toward it all is basically, “I thought it was a mistake, and I’m glad it’s not my headache,” not “Gimme the ball, coach, I can fix it.” kdb

In another post, Busiek explained why he didn’t care for the spider-marriage.

I have to admit, my interest isn’t in Peter finding the right girl, but in being entertaining. If being miserable makes him entertaining, then maybe he should meet the wrong girls.

I’m one of the Vicious Cabal that thinks the marriage should never have happened. I thought Gwen was kind of a drip — very sweet and lovable and passive, when she wasn’t irrationally jealous or angry about something. She’d probably have made Peter an excellent wife, but the result wouldn’t have been exciting, which is why John Romita thought it would be a good idea to kill her off — she makes a much better “ideal girl lost forever” than she does an active player in an ensemble cast. I liked MJ when she was an overcaffeinated hipster, and lost a lot of interest in her when she turned out to be a product of a broken, abusive home, and under the “laughing on the outside” exterior was a sad, wounded moper like so much of the rest of the cast — Peter, MJ, Flash, Betty, Liz, Harry…sometimes it seems like everyone in the cast is from a damaged background. Still, she had more drive to do her own thing than Gwen did, and that made for better drama.

But I don’t think Spider-Man needs a Lois Lane — there are enough comics characters with one great love already. I’d be fascinated if he had several major romantic foils, the way Milt Caniff did with Pat Ryan in the old TERRY AND THE PIRATE comic strip. Pat pined after Normandie Drake, lusted after Burma and was intellectually challenged by the Dragon Lady, striking dramatic and romantic sparks with each of them that illuminated his character in different ways, with others that cropped up when they were offstage. Readers argued over which of the three would be the best for Pat to end up with, and there were good cases to be made all around.

I like Peter’s life hectic, where he has to juggle lots of responsibilities, so I’m for there being multiple characters who he strikes sparks with, and different reasons each of them might be a good idea. For instance, I don’t think in a million years he should “end up” with Felicia Hardy, but I think things are often more fun when she’s around.

So I say mix it up, pull him in different directions, but do it with characters with vivid, compelling personalities who each have their own strengths and weaknesses to offer.

One of the most valuable aspects of the Crawlspace is the archives. They’ve got message board discussions going back to 2005, as well as interviews with editors, artists, and writers, which allows access to otherwise forgotten insights. This is an increasingly rare resource when an overwhelming amount of focus is on the most recent commentary. Here we get to see two writers discussing potential approaches to a major aspect of Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s story. Busiek thought there should be a cleaner break-up. Beland believed there should be a greater effort in making Mary Jane three-dimensional. It gives a sense of what might have been, and what might end up being.

(6) Comments

  1. Al

    Beland’s suggestions have some merit but are flawed in their presumptions that Mj lacked personality or that she ONLY was used for lingerie laden scenes. Some of his other suggestions are also flawed, like suggestiong MJ is distant from children because of Peter’d DNA and her inability to lie. Her history dictate otherwise. As for Busieck…thank Christ he never got to do this story at all it is so ill headed. First of all Peter distances himself from Mj because she nearly dies. Okay…lets put aside all the times her life has been endangered or she HAS been injured (e.g. ASm #136)…Gwen. Peter already had ONE girlfriend ACTUALLY die. And he continued to date numerous times thereafter. In fact in ASM Annual #21 he was questioning the dangers he could be placing MJ in by making a comparison to Gwen. The idea that he’d legitimately distance himself from MJ over something like this (especially in the light of the loss of their child) is utterly stupid. The idea that MJ would try to make him to snap out of it by leaving and hoping he’d follow is also stupid. She’d know that isn’t how he rolls. It also isn’t how MJ rolls. MJ is a go getter she’d actively try to find him to smack sense into him. Not gamble he’d follow her if she left. And she’d succeed too if her track record is anything to go by. Like Mj didn’t give up on peter when he withdrew from her so sompletely he had rejected his entire life as Peter parker in the 1990s. Then you got the fact that Busieck’s suggestion amounts to a) Peter misses appointments with MJ due to being Spider-Man leading to them breaking up and b) Peter and MJ miscommunicating with one another These are both bullshit for numerous reasons. The idea that a serie of dumb mistakes and misunderstandings which could’ve been resolved by just plainly explaining things is the reason peter and Mj’s marriage ends is cheap, unsatisfying and unearned storytelling as a way of undoing something so prominent. And they break up because his life and Spider-man interferes with his life as Peter Parker and costs him something? My…how original. Never seent hat before. Certainly not like…the first time they broke up in the 1970s. Then you got the whole thing about her filling a similar yet different role to Gwen. Again, then that’s not particularly original isn’t it. Especially when you consider he’s already lost lovers due to being Spider-Man, in Gwen’s case she was the one he lost again BECAUSE he was Spider-Man. What dramatic difference does it really make if losing her equalled her being dead rather than breaking up with him? Again this is not new. It is also a fuckton less dramatically satisfying than just keeping them married. Being spider-man costs him something is something we’ve seen since forever. But balancing one responsibility in life many people have like being married against being Spider-Man? That’s new. That’s real. That’s organic. And the idea that he’d date after things fall apart is profoundly unrealistic givent eh way Busick’s broken them up. If things fell apart between Peter and MJ this way there is no reason to presume such a thing wouldn’t happen again, especially in light of his older relationships. The fact that things worked out with Mj was fairly exceptional, not something which could be easily replicated at all. Not to mention you’ve removed one of the best characters in the series from the regular cast (and hooked her up with someone else which is at least debatable if she’d do that) and just use her as a prop for ‘torture’. Honestly between this and Busieck’s 90s novel I really don’t think he gets Spider-Man beyond the silver age. Not to mention…where is the pay off for this? Where the hell does this lead that’s so much more creatively enriching than what we had before? As for his comments on the marriage in general…where to begin. Spider-Man meeting the wrong girls and never finding the right person ISN’T entertaining it’s boring and repetitive and utterly boring. Misery does not = interesting. Having ups and downs is that. But even in the Ditko days he always had Aunt May the way most of us always have something in our lives which makes us happy. We all usually have SOMEBODY in our lives as our support structure. At the same time he says Gwen would’ve been a good wife despite calling out her negative qualities which would’ve NOT made her a good wife creatively or realistically. He says he lost interest in MJ when he heard her backstory. In other words he does not like character development or someone who is much like Peter himself. He says Spider-Man doesn’t need a Lois Lane. But this belies the nature of the character as well as Stan’s original intentions for him. Look…he’s the everyman. He goes through life experiences and milestones many if not most people go through. And MOST people do in fact eventually wind up with someone. Contrary to poular belief most people do not die alone and divorced or having never make a committed relationship work. MOST people do in fact find someone they make a life with long term. Maybe they find them after trying and failing a few times which can include divorce. But most people eventually do find someone. If Spider-Man is a reflection of real life, putting aside the specific life experiences he’s gone through with MJ, then he too should eventually find somebody he ultimately winds up with, just as Stan intended. It is part of his inherent concept of being the everyman hero. The everyman gets married and usually winds winds up with someone long term. He isn’t stuck in a constant state of second gear romances where he has resonant romantic sparks with different women which go nowhere thus rendering the whole point of us reading pointless and a waste of time. Like seriously why the Hell should Spider-Man BE like Terry an the pirates in the first place? This also ignores how the character is a serial monogomoist (meaning the idea of ‘juggling’ different love interests would be mega levels of OOC) and also has an ambition to ultimately wind up with someone long term in marriage. Because of this Peter marrying and juggling THAT responsibility along with other ones is what the series about and what would be most natural for it. The point is the juggling of those responsibilities are a reflection of real life as we all have to juggle our responsibilities.

  2. V

    "I don't think Peter needs a Lois Lane." When a character has had an iconic debut in comics like MJ, been his wife for 20 years, and been part of an iconic scene in cinema (the upside down kiss), she is giving Lois a run for her money. A waste of history and popularity to downplay her significance in the mythos.

  3. ac

    I didn't want to see the end of the Peter/MJ relationship, but if it was going to end, this would have been exactly how it should have happened. I could have read about a Peter Parker who lost MJ in such a fashion. I couldn't read about a Peter Parker that made a deal with the devil.

  4. Borvoc

    Hmm. I get where Mr. Busiek is coming from, but I think I disagree with him in that I don't like relationships cheapened by editorial breakup. It should also be noted that when you torment Peter too much, you also torment his readers who identify with him. I like stories about heroes who take on great odds and overcome—not where the heroes are constantly overcome because it's supposedly interesting. Granted that overcoming doesn't always mean the same thing. I don't think this sort of enforced slow breakup of the two characters would have made fans any happier than they are with OMD.

  5. Jeff Gutman

    Just want to point out that Spider-man hasnt been married for 10 years now. And we're still talking about it.

  6. xonathan

    Like most people around here, I'm on the "breaking them up was a mistake" camp. But if it had to be done by editorial mandate, dragging it would have been even worse, imho.

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