Face it Tiger - A Brief Look at the Life of Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Part 1 (Mania.com)

By:Arnold T. Blumberg
Date: Monday, July 15, 2002

Some of us are still riding high on the SPIDER-MAN film's monstrous success, particularly those of us who grew up with the wall-crawler and longed for the day we'd see him swinging through the city streets on the big screen. That day has come, the webbed one has made movie history, and now everybody is coming out of the woodwork and declaring themselves a Born-Again Spidey Fan...which is as it should be.

We'd be remiss here in the halls of comicdom if we didn't aid novice Spideyphiles by guiding them through the sometimes labyrinthine continuity that comprises 40 years of wall-crawling antics. Many of you may only know Spider-Man via his film incarnation, but as I've noted before, once you walk into the local comic shop, you're almost certain to go into arachnid meltdown. There are just so many Spideys around today, and even if you find the right one, there are still 40 years worth of stories to slog through. How do you know where to begin?

We've assisted you in the last few months with some solid primers on the many incarnations of Spider-Man, a bit of Spider-history, and more recently, a brief historical overview of his arch-foe, the Green Goblin, and the offshoot known as the Hobgoblin. These quick character sketches are meant to give you just a taste of what's in store when you finally grab onto those ESSENTIALS and MASTERWORKS reprint collections and dive webhead-first into all the Marvel magic.

But since we've already talked so much about Spidey and his grotesque sparring partner, what other characters from the movie might you want to know a little more about? Ah, of course. We've discussed the hero and the villain, which leaves the girlfriend. Mary Jane Watson is a very special person in Peter Parker's life, not least because he eventually married her (in the main comic book continuity, at least)! And while some of us who are old enough to know better still remember that the late, lamented Gwen Stacy was the first and true love of Peter's life, we have to admit - we have a special place in our heart for the swingin' Ms. Watson. So what makes this redheaded party girl tick?

Kirsten Dunst stars as Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN

Well, to figure her out, we've got to go back to the very beginning. In the pages of early issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, say around #25 or so, we find numerous references to Aunt May's attempts to fix up Peter with her friend Anna Watson's niece. Despite his wallflower status, Peter's attitude about the blind date is surprisingly standoffish - evidently Parker figured the chick must be bad news or a dog to need the help of two wizened old ladies to find her a date. And so, for years, the most we saw of MJ was a brief flash of arm or leg, or a missed phone call. A mystery woman indeed.

Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko hedged for months, keeping MJ always in the background, obscured by a plant or otherwise incognito. Was the revelation of Mary Jane as contentious an issue between these two powerhouse creators as the identity of the Green Goblin? Perhaps, but as with the nefarious alter ego of Spider-Man's arch-foe, it would take new Spider-artist John Romita Sr., fresh from a stint on DC's love comics, to reveal MJ at last and provide a gorgeous love interest for our hapless hero - two of them, in fact!

The cover that dared readers to guess the tragic truth. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121.

Romita took over the art chores in the classic #39, and together with Lee he instantly established Norman Osborn as the Goblin. Only a few issues later in #42, fans would finally get a glimpse of that mysterious MJ when Peter, finally recognizing the budding relationship he might be developing with college girl Gwen Stacy, opened his front door to greet the neighbor's niece. Yes, at last the fix-up worked, and MJ arrived - much to Peter's and the readers' complete astonishment. This was a bonafide knock-out! And with her carefree view of life, even Peter recognized that she may be just what the Spider ordered. Peter's life and the history of comics would never be the same again, tiger.

For a time, Peter and MJ tooled around town on Pete's new motorbike, but the deeper love was budding between Peter and Gwen. MJ was just too flighty for the studious superhero, while the more serious-minded and passionate Gwen was just his speed. So MJ stayed in the friendship circle, but wound up dating Peter's friend Harry Osborn for a time. Her eventual break-up with the Goblin's son would plunge him into a drug-induced stupor (in the classic #96-98). It seems once you have MJ, you can't go back.

A Goblin revealed! Cover to John Romita's first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, #39.

Despite Peter's love for Gwen, MJ was always there, almost as if she knew one day they were destined to wind up together. When Gwen met her horrible fate in #121-122, MJ fought her natural tendency to flee tense situations, dropped her party girl fašade, and stayed with Peter to help him through his grief. She proved to be a devoted friend when the chips were down...and perhaps something a bit more too. In fact, Peter soon realized that perhaps he might find permanent happiness with this redheaded dancer, and he told her as much. In AMAZING #182, Peter proposed to MJ, only to frighten away the commitment-phobic Ms. Watson.

And then she was gone, but not forgotten, and certainly not forever. No, MJ would dance back into Peter's life at just the right moment and lay a major revelation upon his red and blue shoulders, sharing a secret she harbored for years that would bring them closer and closer until the day MJ becomes Mrs. Parker! Stay tuned, oh True Believers! The best is yet to come!