Overlooked Gems #3: “The Big Question”


Today we will be taking a look at The Big Question in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #290-292 by David Micheline, John Romita Jr. and Alex Saviuk from 1987.

While writer David Micheline is best known for creating popular villains such as Venom and Carnage, there is one particular contribution of his that tends to get oddly overlooked: the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Jim Shooter and Stan Lee may have been the masterminds behind the marriage, but Micheline was the one who brought it to the page.

It probably goes without saying at this point that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are one of the most famous and beloved comic book couples of all time; frequently appearing on (and even topping a few) “best comic couples” lists.

But hey, don’t simply take my word for it:

https://www.ranker.com/list/the-many-gi … ionId=1151

http://comicsalliance.com/greatest-roma … es-comics/

http://screenrant.com/best-comic-book-couples-ever/

http://www.cbr.com/the-20-best-comic-book-couples/

http://www.truthfulcomics.com/blog/my-b … uples-list

http://news.entertainmentearth.com/2015 … el-and-dc/

http://www.ranker.com/list/top-10-marve … rkangel123

https://moviepilot.com/posts/3921176

https://www.theyoungfolks.com/top-10-2/ … k-couples/

http://www.craveonline.com/site/643715- … #/slide/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IiizV-HK0Q

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru_vDMO_VG0

http://majorspoilers.com/2015/02/12/top … k-couples/

https://www.popmythology.com/the-10-mos … tionships/

https://news.dailytoast.com/blogs/15-be … ok-couples

http://jakes-take.com/2013/02/the-10-be … k-history/

http://www.star2.com/culture/books/book … in-comics/

https://fandomfactory.com/2017/02/14/16 … couples/4/

http://www.cltampa.com/arts-entertainme … ok-couples

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/movies/v … antasy/#/2

https://www.girlsaskguys.com/entertainm … ic-books-3

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIG4WrCNxyY&t=370s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iV8zpgfwJ7k

Stories that specifically focus on their relationship such as All My Pasts Remembered (AMAZING vol. 1 #259), The Wedding (AMAZING vol. 1 Annual #21), Doomed Affairs (AMAZING vol. 1 #49-50) and To Have and to Hold (SENSATIONAL vol. 2 Annual #1) are widely lauded by many fans with some even placing them among the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told.

Even after the dissolution of their twenty year long marriage at the conclusion of the infamous One More Day story line in 2007, the couple’s popularity persisted with fans; so much so that a mini-series titled Renew Your Vows, which depicted them as a happily married couple with a young daughter, was published in 2015.

The mini-series was such a success both commercially and critically that it became an ongoing series (one that is still being published at the time of this article) the following year.

With the couple’s immense popularity and devoted fanbase, you would think the arc where the two finally decide to tie the knot would get more attention than it actually does. The lack of attention The Big Question receives is quite baffling to me considering how important this arc is continuity-wise, not to mention that it’s technically the beginning of their two decade marriage and just a really good, satisfying story in general. It’s the culmination of events that have been building in the comics for years and…well I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Let’s take a look at the story first.

Our tale begins in the most romantic manner possible: Spidey sulking on a rooftop.

Just warms your heart, doesn’t it?

You see, Peter recently flirted with the idea of giving up his life as Spider-Man (for about the dozenth time), but ultimately decided that being Spider-Man is who he is meant to be and always will be (also for about the dozenth time; one could say Peter has some commitment issues). Yet for some reason that he can’t quite fathom, he still isn’t content.

Feeling his frustration rising, Spider-Man decides to head home (but not before stopping a gunman for good measure).

Once at home, Peter decides that he can’t keep his burdens to himself any longer and seeks out the one person he knows he can rely on for some friendly advice and comfort.

After explaining his woes to her, Mary Jane wisely deduces that whatever anguish Peter is currently struggling with might not be because of his Spider-Man persona. Despite being a little envious of sending him to someone else to discuss his problems, Mary Jane advises Peter to reach out to Aunt May.

Peter complies, but ends up deciding not to further burden May with further trouble. Feeling lost, Peter ends up deciding to take a stroll; doing some reminiscing in the process.

While Peter is taking a trip down memory lane, we cut back to Mary Jane who gives Aunt May a rather urgent call.

“What exactly did Mary Jane get herself mixed up in”, you ask?

“You really think I’m going to spoil it here?” I answer.

While strolling, Peter comes across a disturbance at a nearby auction.

Doing what comes naturally, Peter changes into Spider-Man and heads out to stop the thieves. However, he ends up coming across a much more serious danger:

Knowing that this takes precedent over some mangy, unarmed crooks, Spidey swings into action.

After that is taken care of, Spidey changes back into his civilian identity to continue his introspection. Except this time, he seems to reach some kind of decision.

Feeling a newfound fire and determination rising up in him, Peter heads back to Mary Jane’s apartment.

The question in…well, question:

Now as many of us are aware, Marvel editorial viewed the marriage as a disastrous mistake that tarnished the readers’ ability to “relate” to the character. They disliked the marriage so much that they eventually got rid of it two decades later (after a few failed attempts) in the aforementioned One More Day story arc.

At least this book makes for an excellent dart board.

Despite the massive fan backlash directed at the decision to split Peter and Mary Jane up (among other questionable choices), Marvel has continuously defended their decision over the years by claiming “youth” has always been the primary draw of the character. They’ve also claimed that the marriage was an inorganic development, coming off as “rushed”, “forced” and “out of nowhere” due to being an editorial mandate from then EIC Jim Shooter. And they’re completely right. I mean, it’s not like Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship had any kind of build up before this point, right?

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #259

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #259 (continued)

 

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #3

 

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #6

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 Annual #19

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 Annual #19 (continued)

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #275

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #275 (continued)

 

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #116

 

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #116 (continued)

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #283

 

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #123

 

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #123 (continued)

 

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #123 (continued)

 

SPIDER-MAN VS. WOLVERINE #1

 

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #129

Oh wait, yes it did. For years, Peter and Mary Jane had been growing closer and closer until marriage was an inevitability. How exactly Marvel (or anyone for that matter) can claim that the marriage “came out of nowhere” is completely beyond me as that sentiment is demonstrably false.

And that is ultimately what makes The Big Question so satisfying: it’s the culmination of an inevitable romance that has been building for years. The story also contains excellent character development for Mary Jane as she comes to terms with her dysfunctional past while finally accepting her love for Peter. There is even a surprising moment where Mary Jane actually stands up to Alistair Smythe’s Spider-Slayer robot by…well just read it for yourself. It’s great.

You can track down the individual issues or purchase the Spider-Man/Mary Jane TPB that collects the arc.

If you’re a Peter/Mary Jane fan of any kind, you owe it to yourself to read this arc. It deserves to be ranked alongside their best moments and stories.

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(6) Comments

  1. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    1,000 views? Wow! Thank you so much to everybody who read my article! I didn't expect any of them to get so popular!

  2. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    @André L. Santana -- In fairness, Shooter has been on record defending the marriage and saying that he had no problem with it. It was later editors (most notably Bob Harras and Joe Quesada) who vilified it. At any rate, thank you for reading and for your insightful comment. It's always nice conversing with a fellow fan whose passion rivals my own.@hornacek -- Thank you for pointing those out and they have now been fixed. It was nearly four in the morning when I published this, so I'm not surprised that I wound up making a few mistakes.@David Griffin -- While I may not be a big fan of the newspaper strip, I am grateful to it for keeping the marriage alive after its erasure in the comics.

  3. hornacek

    @David Griffin - I love how the newspaper strip changed its status quo awhile back to make Peter single again (I think they explained it by saying the strip was now telling stories from before Peter got married), and after a single story (involving Electro, I think), they had Peter wake up to find himself married to MJ, and the previous story had just been a dream - the caption said that Stan was responding to the readers' requests to bring the marriage back.If only Quesada and Marvel's monthly comics had responded to the negative feedback like that.

  4. David Griffin

    I don't know why anybody keeps forgetting Peter and MJ have enjoyed 30 years together in the newspaper strip...OMD never achieved it's gola of getting rid of the marriage if you factor that strip in.

  5. hornacek

    This issue is very well written, but it's even more impressive when you remember that it's Micheline's first issue (well, he wrote #205, but this was the first issue of his super-long run on the title). Imagine being told that you're being made the writer of ASM writing Marvel's flagship character, and you're told "Oh, in your first issue, have Peter propose to Mary Jane."My 80s self should have known from the issue title what Peter was thinking about and going to ask MJ, but I was young and naive then ("Ah, youth.")."... but ultimately decided that being Spider-Man is who he is meant to be and always will be (also for about the dozenth time ..." It's hilarious that every time Peter quits being Spidey he always comes up with the same reason to become Spidey again. And yet each time he never remembers that he already came up with this same reason the last time. He should write himself a note (like "YOU ARE LISA SIMPSON") so for the next time he thinks about quitting he can read the note and get to that reason right away.The images after "Feeling his frustration rising ..." and "Knowing that this takes precedent ..." aren't clickable like the other images.Josh has already talked about how Peter loses his microscope in this issue, but he already "lost" it in ASM #181 when he left it on Uncle Ben's grave (and the cemetery caretaker found it and took it to give to his own son). That microscope gets around.It's strange that MJ is still calling Aunt May "Mrs. Parker" at this point.I didn't realize it at the time but the Heaven's Angels are obviously a take-off on Curtis Silwa's Guardian Angels organization."Marvel editorial viewed the marriage as a disastrous mistake ... so much that they eventually got rid of it two decades later" If something is actually a disastrous mistake, wouldn't you get rid of it much sooner?There are 2 images above "AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 Annual #19" but clicking either of them loads the second image. Same thing for the 2 images above "SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #116".In that "SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #129" image I love how Peter runs to the door to catch up with MJ and she's just standing there, waiting for him to chase after her.Other images that could have been added - when Peter proposed to MJ the first time, and when Peter went to Paris with Robbie and kissed MJ before leaving at the airport (Robbie seemed to enjoy watching that kiss a bit too much).

  6. André L. Santana

    This post makes totally Spider-sense.The research in it is awesome in order to prove (Jim) Shooter wrong at the time. One of the beauties about Peter Parker, is how much of a strong character he is in his own published continuity; your research proved his life outgrew editorial judgment - as in "it's too late to avoid it! These two are actually building a strong and transparent relationship out of Love in every Spider-title and there's nothing we can do about it!" Life and Love happen - there's no other way around it; not even for a fictional comic book super-hero character. Still, the Parker luck worked backwards, outgrew outside his realm of published paper and made the powers that be change his past; not with class, by using a Delorean Time Machine, but with a Demon.(Well, at least it wasn't Felicia Hardy having her powers enhanced by Skrull-tech in order to lash her revenge upon Spider-Man for dumping her)In hindsight, Joe Quesada's decision to dissolve the marriage makes me analyze how our own western culture perceives marriage for altruistic people dress up in funny clothes to save the day and people's lives better. Which reminds me: the ultimate example of the guy who set up the standard of loneliness and brooding amongst the Super-hero community dressed up as a Bat and obscenely rich, just proposed to a former enemy who dresses up as a cat!Anyway, comics.Hey, I'll always remember fondly Peter and MJ's marriage - despite their difficulties, they were happy. And as a young reader by the time of those aforementioned stories by Joshua were published, their marital status didn't bother me; because I actually felt back then that Peter had grown up; that's what real people do: they grow up.And I sometimes miss their wedding happiness.

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