Spider-man Loves Mary Jane #1 (from Target’s Spider-man Loves Mary Jane: Super Crush), 2006, Marvel Comics
writer: Sean McKeever
artist: Takeshi Miyazawa
colorist: Christina Strain
letterer: Dave Sharpe
assistant editor: Nate Cosby
editors: MacKenzie Cadenhead with Mark Paniccia
The comic book has had surprisingly few enduring romances. Superman and Lois Lane. Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Archie and Betty . . . and Veronica. Okay, bad example. My point is, for a medium that often and rightfully boasts the staying power of its characters, its heroes just can’t seem to commit. I mean, Batman nearly has as many lost loves as rogues, if the chick isn’t the daughter of one of his enemies in the first place. Then again, those heroes that can succumb to love get all weird about it; look at behold the Man of Steel’s possessive spying in Superman Returns, or Wolverine’s whimpering at the mere sight of Cyclops and Jean Grey grabbing a sandwich together, or something. Truly, love is the Kryptonite of any color.
In a romantic context, Peter Parker is truly a conundrum. While his relationship and subsequent marriage to Mary Jane Watson is among those few long-standing love affairs in comics, its success contradicts the original nature of Parker’s “puny” character. In fact, while Stan Lee went to great lengths to establish Parker as an unpopular, awkward nerd in his civilian identity, Spidey was never without an ironically reciprocal love interest, from Betty Brant to Gwen Stacy to the Black Cat . . . you’d think Parker’s ex-girlfriends would team up to form “The Sexy Six,” if some of them weren’t dead or on the lam. Indeed, for all of the emphasis placed on Mary Jane in recent years, thanks in part her dominant role in Spider-man’s successful film franchise, it’s Gwen Stacy that first captured Peter’s heart completely. In re-launches like Ultimate Spider-man or Spider-man Loves Mary Jane, Gwen is usually injected into continuity after Peter and MJ’s initial spark, as a shock-value monkey wrench if nothing else, but I dare say that her death is the best thing to ever happen to Spidey’s romantic affairs. His devotion to Mary Jane following such a tragedy proves that his heart is as strong as his superpowers, that, although she knows how he felt about Gwen, MJ can love Peter enough to overlook his heartbreak and give him the support and dedication he needs. Sure, Parker is a geek and therefore seemingly unworthy of a supermodel’s affections, but above all else Stan Lee simply sought to make him human, relatable to young readers, so such a realistic vulnerability to love only makes perfect sense.
Spider-man Loves Mary Jane spins their classic relationship on its ear, taking them back to high school in a contemporary context, not unlike Ultimate Spider-man, except this story is told through MJ’s perspective, in essence establishing this series as Ultimate Mary Jane, if Marvel were so bold. Unfortunately, while Stan Lee’s Mary Jane was a hip party chick that set the trends as much as she lived by them, this incarnation keeps her nose in the books, either via algebra tutoring with a certain spider bit bookworm or the upcoming school play’s script – not that the vibrancy of the character is lost, but rather replaced with an obsessive compulsion to date Spider-man. A far cry from the “Tiger, you just hit the jackpot” confidence that exuded from Mary Jane proper, and in fact more true to Lois Lane’s investigative paradigm. Still, it makes for a good, all ages read with a tinge of humor, as in this first issue MJ vows to track down the Webhead just to ask him out. She triangulates his sightings, figures he’s commuting from Queens (where Aunt May lives!), and actually finds him on a few occasions. Yet, as we know, with Peter’s crush on the future actress in full swing, his masked persona vows to remain hands-off . . . for now. Yes, I read this issue in its Target Super Crush packaging (probably still on sale at a Target near you), so I was able to peek at upcoming issues. I never thought I’d use this word to describe a comic book but . . . it was cute. In a good way. Ugh.
Takeshi Miyazawa’s art is perfect for this title’s overall packaging, as a romantic book intended for not only for all ages, but both genders. His style is borderline manga but retains a western sensibility, which appeals to today’s younger readers, all of whom seem to have a volume of Naruto in their backpacks – girls included. While enough Spidey action remains in this first issue to keep a boy’s attention, the girls would undoubtedly dig Mary Jane and Liz’s gift for gab. Yeah, they’re like a couple of Gilmore Girls, those two. It’s an easy, almost cartoony flow, and while this reproduction appeared to blow up the pages for a larger format so much so that the ink work seemed distorted, it’s otherwise clean and visually attractive. Just like the stars of this show. Very fitting.
Generally, while superheroes have had a hard time retaining relationships, all of them have experienced love at some point in their careers. Even the Thing’s tough hide isn’t invulnerable to Cupid’s arrow. I wonder if this phenomenon speaks to these heroes’ fans, as well. Are we geeks really just romantics at heart? It takes some semblance of commitment to buy comics every month, that’s for sure. So, while the comic book may not have featured many enduring affairs, in a significant, it’s always been one. Happy Valentine’s Day.