(For context, I’m reading through all of the Amazing Spider-Man. At this moment I’m at issue 226, which is open to the immediate left.)
Mary Jane and Spider-Man are possibly the most famous fictional couple of all time*. Beginning in issue I’m-so-not-looking it up** with her most famous of lines, “Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!” they had an off-again, on-again relationship in the same way that I do with my toaster. I turn to it when I’m bored.
Before Gwen Stacy, there came Mary Jane but then of course did come Gwen Stacy and henceforth was known as Peter Parker’s one and first true love, despite the fact that Betty Brant came first, despite the fact that he met MJ first and she is much cuter, nicer and better suited for him (and despite the fact that Gwen was, and seemed to have been up to her death, a bitch; much like we don’t focus on the cancer-ridden husband for beating his children, Gwen’s small peccadilloes — namely being an annoying, awful person — are forgiven for her snapped neck***). So Gwen snaps her neck, Peter freaks out (as he so often does) and finally he and MJ become a thing, and then this happens:
J. Jonah Jameson (who is harder than you might remember, movie fans, being the creator of such wonderful creatures as the Spider Slayer, the Spider Slayer 2: Return of the Spider Slayer, the Spider Slayer 3-D, Spider Slayer 4: Oh God Why So Goddamn Many, and the Scorpion — Mac Gargan edition****) has been kidnapped by militant whatever it doesn’t matter. Robbie Robertson and Peter Parker are getting on a goddamn plane to fly to Canada.
And Mary Jane Watson comes along to wish Peter goodbye. And she explains why she calls him Tiger. “Because you’re not a tiger, Peter. You’re not.” (Paraphrased) And they hold each other and for the first time they kiss*****. And then Peter Parker has to leave, which leads to my all-time favorite panel in the history of Amazing Spider-Man.
And it is just absolutely the best, most horrendously real page and panels in the entirety of Marvel comics (that I’ve read). It is the single best depiction of that feeling you have when you realize you’re in love with someone, really in love with someone, and you leave them anyway — not forever, not for long even, but as you go, you glance back and think, “That person. I am in love with them,” but you can’t even think that, you’re just overwhelmed, like a dumbass surfer caught surprised by a wave. He knew he was out in the ocean, he probably heard it was coming — but now he’s in the ocean, covered, listening to the dim roar and floating, floating there. That’s how Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man feels. That’s how MJ feels — “Far freaking out.” I know those feels! Everyone knows them.
This is why MJ is Peter’s first, real, true adult love. With Gwen he was just a kid and she was just a kid and they fell in love and it was fine and all but they never would have lasted. Brant was a crush. Liz Allen doesn’t deserve mentioning. (Glory Grant and Peter have not, as of yet, gotten together… but I ship it.) This is the true dream. And it’s also one of the reasons why MJ ruined me for everyone else.
Chuck Klosterman talks about this a bit in his amazing Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs (which you should read). About how falling in love with a romanticized persona, a character, has ruined women for him and how John Cusack’s character in Say Anything (which despite being the inspiration for my favorite, still together band’s name I have yet to see) has ruined men for women and therefore they’ll never find true love.
Which, as you might recognize, bares a small resemblance to my Disney Kills Kids essay, wherein I argue that preparing kids with fairy tales is a bad way to lead your life and should be counted as child abuse. Except with Mary Jane and Peter Parker I don’t feel its the same******.
Because Mary Jane and Peter Parker are horrible to each other and abandon each other, again and again, and fuck up and fail and get back together, and lose each other and basically are a great big melodramatic representation of what being in a relationship is like. Venom isn’t going to come terrorize your girlfriend but you being a horrible fucking person might. She’s probably not going to turn into a giant monster . But I imagine you would fucking do anything for each other, if you’re actually in love with each other. And you’ll scream at each other and put up with your bullshit with each other and then have a kid together and not sacrifice your marriage to ancient deity just so your aunt can choke out some dust for a few more months*******.
And because I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much genuine emotion in a Disney movie, as I have in that panel above.
Famed Sandman-creator******** Neil Gaiman was once talking to famed best-at-everything-person Clive Barker about why the latter didn’t consider comic books art. “Because,” Barker said, “they’ve never made me cry.”
I wonder if he ever read this issue.
[Note: as you can tell if you click the picture up there, I swiped the scan from scans_daily. There’s also an essay over there. You should read it, I assume. Since I wanted to talk about that page, I skipped reading it. YAY for no plagiarism.]
* I wonder: nowadays would they’ve been portmenteaud into Mary-Man? Spider-Jane? Marypider-Jan?
** Amazing Spider-Man # 42
*** Which Peter did cause, by the way. In issue 125 (four issues after the event), from the letter’s column: “It saddens us to have to say that the whiplash effect she underwent when Spidey’s webbing stopped her so suddenly was, in fact, what killed her.” For more, let’s turn to James Kakalios, real-life author of The Physics of Superheroes who says that the whiplash effect killed her. Don’t believe him? Here’s Tony Stark: “If [Peter Parker] had been properly trained, maybe he could have broken [Gwen’s] fall without breaking her neck.” So for everyone else out there who disagrees, listen close: SHUT THE FUCK UP.
**** He also created the Fly, in Amazing Spider-Man annual 10, but more on him later.
***** To me this seems unlikely since they’ve been dating, casually at least, for about thirteen issues at this point and as will later be established Gwen Stacy had sex with and gave birth to children in less time than that.
****** Real quick though — let me get into how MJ has ruined women for me. She’s a buxom red-haired girl. She’s fucked-up, hiding behind a facade of being (more or less) a manic pixie dream girl. And she’s also an actress who is unafraid of her sexuality. I have just described my most perfect girl in the entire world. There is not a single woman I will ever have a crush on that does not resemble at least seventy percent of those traits. (And all of the ones I do end up dating I try and convince to dye their hair red and start acting. [That is not a joke.])
******* Fuck you, Quesada.
******** Gaiman is also known in comic book lands for Disappearing: How to Write One of the Most Successful Comics Books Ever and then Fuck All Else, Marvel 1602 and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?