The History of Mary Jane and Spider-Man: Why’s She’s His True Love
From the moment that she first appeared back in 1965, audiences all over the world knew that Mary Jane Watson was destined to be something special in the world of Peter Parker.
As we’d all learn, she wasn’t just special, Mary Jane was different. She was, although it wasn’t known at the time, the one that Peter was destined to be with. She was his one true love.
The road for Mary Jane and Spider-Man to be together, however, wasn’t easy.
Similar to the way that Betty and Veronica fought over the affection of Archie Andrews, Mary Jane fought with Gwen Stacy over the affection of Peter Parker. Put it this way, Gwen Stacy was Peter’s Betty and Mary Jane was his Veronica. They were complete opposites. Each vied for his love and each gave him something different. However, at the end of the day, only one could have him.
Typical of most female characters of the day, Mary Jane was beautiful…a trait that’s remained true to this day. This revelation was surprising considering that up until her first full appearance, she had been tagged as the girl next door that nobody wanted to date.
If this comes as a surprise, know that for over a year, Marvel Comics and more importantly, Aunt May tried to set Peter up with the niece of May’s friend. Marvel ran this gag for over a year teasing that Mary Jane was somewhat of a troll. Of course, when Peter finally met her, he realized that he had “just hit the jackpot”. The problem was, and I use that term loosely, Peter was with Gwen Stacy.
Through the mind of Steve Ditko, Gwen provided a different dynamic to Peter than Mary Jane. Gwen was a brilliant student (particularly in Peter’s favorite, science), short-tempered, and unafraid to say what she was thinking. If Ditko has his way, Gwen, not Mary Jane was Peter’s soulmate.
This, like most things in life, eventually changed.
After months of arguing and unable to see eye-to-eye with Stan Lee, longtime Spider-Man writer and creator Steve Ditko left Marvel. With Ditko gone, John Romita Sr. took over the book and asserted his style of writing on the characters. Gone was the awkward and dorky high school version of Peter and in his place stood the confident, good looking, and college version of Peter.
But it wasn’t just Peter that transformed under Romita. As Peter changed, so too did Gwen. Even though Gwen was still a brilliant person, she began dressing and acting more like the era she was apart of. That is, she traded in her lab coat for mini skirts, high-legged boots, and parties. If Ditko’s version of Gwen made Peter’s heart flutter, which it did, Romita’s version downright made it stop beating.
Everything that was happening in Spider-Man said that Gwen and Peter were meant to be.
Or so it seemed.
Amazing Spider-Man #121 will live in infamy for many reasons. Not only did it kill the Silver Age of Comics and usher in the Bronze Age of Comics, but it also did instantly changed the Spider-Man character.
And how did it do this?
It did the one thing nobody thought imaginable. It killed Gwen Stacy.
After learning who Spider-Man really is, the Green Goblin kidnaps Gwen Stacy and throws her off the George Washington Bridge. Panicking, Spider-Man shoots out some webbing to catch her. Unfortunately, even though it worked and he caught her, the whiplash from the fall inadvertently snapped her neck.
Enter Mary Jane.
In the aftermath of Amazing Spider-Man #121, Mary Jane goes to Peter’s apartment to console her friend. Although her intentions were good, Peter didn’t see it as such. Rather than pour his heart out to Mary Jane, he instead snaps at her. He exclaims that she is nothing but a party girl and that she doesn’t actually care for his feelings. In a defining moment of the character, Mary Jane gets up to leave but instead of leaving, calmly shuts the door.
This moment, this instance where Mary Jane chooses to remain at his side even though he didn’t deserve it, laid the foundation for how they moved forward. Even though at the time nobody knew it, Mary Jane had cemented herself as Peter’s soulmate.
In 1989, Gerry Conway and Alex Saviuk released Spider-Man: Parallel Lives. This landmark graphic novel did more for the character of Mary Jane than the previous 20 years.
Let me explain.
Conway told a story that proclaimed Mary Jane was infatuated with Spider-Man from his beginning. He also explained that she watched Spider-Man duck into the Parker house after a long night of work. From there, she deduced that her neighbor Peter Parker and Spider-Man were one and the same. For anyone not keeping track, this meant that for as long as she existed in comics, she knew that Peter was Spider-Man.
Don’t take this the wrong way, however.
This didn’t mean that she was drawn to Peter because he was a superhero. No, not even close. Instead, she was drawn to Parker’s need to live his life behind a mask…a direct parallel to her own life. What I haven’t said is that Mary Jane grew up in an abusive setting. To avoid questions or pity, she purposely came across as shallow and never really all there. Like Peter and his Spider-Man mask, Mary Jane changed her persona to mask her own history and to hide her suffering.
This small, well, not so small tweak to the character, changed everything. For everything that she was and claimed to be, Peter quickly learned that Mary Jane was someone he could trust. Remember, she knew his deepest secret and kept it from him and the world for many years.
By all accounts, Mary Jane was well ahead of the curve. Mary Jane was a sense of maturity that Peter has never experienced before. For lack of a better description, she was the experience he needed without being the age that experience typically comes with.
Just think about it.
Mary Jane knew that Peter was Spider-Man before he wanted her to know, watched him cope with his dead uncle, knew that he was learning to handle his double life as a superhero, and more. When the two finally got together she knew more about him (not in the creepy/stalker way) than he knew about himself.
But that wasn’t all.
Mary Jane knew everything that Peter was going through and rather than run to his rescue, she gave him the time he needed to sort things out. Basically, the two aged and grew up without the influence of one another.
Damn rights he did. With Mary Jane he didn’t just hit the jackpot, he won the lottery.
When Mary Jane and Spider-Man got together, not only was she there to mend his wounds, but she was also there to talk him through every bad situation he encountered. Mary Jane provided him with something that nobody else could…a no-nonsense look at life. She didn’t sugar coat things. She didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. And she didn’t cautiously say things. She just said and did whatever was needed to say or do.
Those small details showed the entire world exactly what she was Peter’s soulmate and not Gwen Stacy.
The more they stayed together, however, the more Marvel realized that they didn’t want them together. Shortly after they married, Marvel knew they had a problem. In the world of comics characters don’t age because the companies that create them can’t afford for them to do so. A married Spider-Man is an old and dated Spider-Man.
Over the years Marvel has done a great job of creating superb Spider-Man stories.
- Spider-Man No More
- The Death of Captain Stacy
- Spider-Man Blue
- Kraven’s Last Hunt
Unfortunately, for all the great stories they’ve given us, Marvel has also given us The Clone Saga and One More Day.
One More Day did the one thing that no fan of Spider-Man would ever want to see done…it annulled and wiped the memory of Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage from continuity. By doing this, it reverted Peter back to the emotional wreck he was before Mary Jane.
Let me explain.
During the Civil War event, Spider-Man took off his mask and revealed himself to be Peter Parker. Of course, this meant that every villain under the Marvel brand now knew who he was and who meant most to him…Aunt May included. Shortly after his reveal, May was shot and left fighting for her life. Mephisto, the Devil of the Marvel Universe confronted Peter and offered him a chance to save his Aunt. Mephisto offered May’s life in exchange for Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage. They accepted, May was saved and Peter and Mary Jane were no more.
Early on readers embraced the idea. This, however, wouldn’t last as eventually, they came to hate it. And their reasoning made perfect sense. This was Mary Jane and Peter Parker. They were the number one couple in all of Marvel. The couple that couldn’t be ripped apart. They should’ve lasted forever.
But they didn’t. Marvel and Mephisto took it away.
Further proving Mary Jane’s superiority over every other girlfriend that Peter Parker had, later on during the One Moment In Time Storyline (a clever play on One More Day) it’s revealed that Mary Jane was responsible for Mephisto’s actions.
One Moment In Time showed that Mary Jane whispered something very important into Mephisto‘s ear. She explained to the Devil that Peter would only make the deal for May’s life if Mary Jane told him to. Mary Jane made Mephisto agree that once the deal was made, he was to 1) leave Peter alone and 2) make it so the world didn’t know that he was Spider-Man.
Mephisto agreed and Mary Jane got her wish.
While this may seem like an innocent enough moment, know that she did this to protect Peter. She wanted him to live a full and good life free from the many harms that have come and are still to come his way. She loved him and as such, only wanted the best for him. As the saying goes, “If you love someone, let them go. If they come back, they’re yours. If not, it was never meant to be.” She let him go under the pretext that if they were meant to be, they’d find one another again.
Mary Jane and Spider-Man are each others true love.
Sure, Gwen Stacy was his first love but nothing more than that. Mary Jane was his friend, best friend, helped him in times of sorrow, and became his girlfriend only after both had achieved considerable growth. She is the only to remain by his side knowing that he’s Spider-Man and is the reason that he comes home every night. Their relationship isn’t built only on lust, good times, and youth. Their relationship is built on a mature understanding of each other…the same understanding that goes into a marriage that lasts for a lifetime.
She does not look down on him or condemn him for being Spider-Man. Instead, she understands his need to keep everyone around him safe. Peter has suffered unimaginable loss and inherently has a need to protect others from suffering the same loss. Even though this comes at the expense of their relationship, Mary Jane recognizes this and does whatever she can to help. This includes closing the apartment door and wiping their marriage from existence.
Are Mary Jane and Spider-Man perfect?
No, but they are perfect for each other.
As I do with all of these in depth character looks, I’m going to leave you with this…Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world a little bit better. So may they be around forever.