Dec 3, 2015

Irrational Love: Spider-Man's Michele Gonzales

While Ben is covering his irrational love for Karnilla for the next who-knows-how-the-hell-long, I figured I'd spend a column talking about my irrational love for another character: Michele Gonzales from Spider-Man. One of the new characters and potential love interests introduced after Marvel reset Spider-Man as a single guy (which they had been planning to do since almost from the moment he was married in 1987, since they didn't really plan on marrying him off anyway), Michele was a lawyer of Latina descent and, probably stereotypically, the temper to match. She was really more of a cartoon character than a fully realized supporting character, and wasn't really meant, I think, to be taken all that seriously.

She was also entertaining as hell. And she's not around anymore! So let's look at her and see if she's worth bringing back.

The first time we officially meet Michele is when she comes to New York to defend her brother Vin in court. Vin, a police officer who just so happened to be Peter Parker's roommate, was involved in a massive conspiracy to frame Spider-Man, but due to a classic case of having a change of heart at the end, he could get a reduced sentence.

That's the first time we the readers officially meet Michele, but it's not the first time Peter Parker meets Michele. That happens much later, after Peter gets back from another dimension. Although months have passed, Peter's apartment is well-kept and the rent is fully paid, meaning someone must be taking care of it. Peter just assumes it's his old friend/ex-girlfriend Betty Brant, but... no.

Unfortunately for Peter, the first time he does meet his mysterious benefactor, he's in the unfortunate position of being sans clothing.

Already not the best start for Peter and Michele, it gets even more tense when he finds out that she actually co-signed the lease to the apartment with Vin, so she has more of a right to stay there than he does. So they decide to be roommates. Completely platonic roommates, who just end up going together to Aunt May's wedding to Jay Jameson because Michele wanted free food and Peter was going stag.

Unfortunately for Peter, that wedding also happened to be the day his longtime girlfriend Mary Jane Watson decided to come back into his life, which, as anyone who's been around a former significant other who was actually really significant knows, leads to bad decisions.

Several issues later, I guess because maybe Marvel had complaints about Peter being drunk, Michele would say
that she was just filling Peter's glass with apple cider and making him think it was an alcoholic drink. That's fine.
But I choose to believe that as Michele screwing with him. Drunken hookups happen. Additionally, it really weirds me out that Steve Wacker, the greatest American comics editor of the 21st century and the best
logistical editor of the modern era, couldn't somehow tell the artists of two succeeding books to keep
Michele's dress consistent.

And all this drunkenness of course leads to him waking up the next day, realizing that someone is beside him, and of course he thinks it's MJ, but...

This was a moment that really made me laugh partly because it was so unexpected, and partly because, come on, it's hilarious! Peter Parker's always dating these supermodel types that the average fanboy would consider themselves lucky to be dating, but somehow it always goes wrong for him. Now that's partly because he screws it up, but not even remembering it happened is on another level altogether, making this one action uncharacteristic of Peter's actually characteristic.

So Michele gets pissed and Peter goes out web-swinging for a while, and when he comes back, there's a freshly baked batch of cookies, which he thinks of as a peace offering, but then Michele has added a twist: the fridge is locked up.

This incredibly elaborate act of revenge/spite made me love Michele and want to see more of her. And it's really quite the exaggerated ending, the type that only really works as an ending (I'm reminded of the classic Seinfeld episode, "The Marine Biologist," in which the cast says that the ending only works as an ending because it's so ridiculous, and wouldn't work at any point earlier in the story). This era of Spider-Man's, entitled "Brand New Day," was already the era in which I began reading Spider-Man again after a near-decade long hiatus, and part of me not dropping the character since was because of lighthearted moments like these to punctuate the gravity of Spider-Man's adventures. Michele was a walking, talking personification of that level of exaggeration.

Which is exactly what makes what happens next problematic. Peter gets caught by the Chameleon and trapped while the Chameleon takes over his identity and life. It's while the Chameleon is pretending to be Peter that Michele tries to get serious.

Although they'd mention later on that they were just making out, this scene sparked some outcry when it came out. Today, in 2015? It would absolutely get taken apart. It's sexual assault, plain and simple, an exaggeration of what would today be called catfishing, all made worse by the fact that Michele is completely unaware of what's going on. My take? It's such an implausible situation (what's the closest thing that could happen in real life? A man posing as his twin brother to sleep with someone?) and it's also something that's been done in genre fiction in the past. one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, has Faith the Rogue Slayer switching bodies with Buffy, and in the process she sleeps with Buffy's then-boyfriend Riley. It emphasizes how messed up the Chameleon really is, not that writers should have to resort to depictions of sexual assault to emphasize such a thing. Ultimately, I think this scene fell during the cusp of the higher awareness of rape culture — a few years before and outcry wouldn't have happened, and a few years later and the writers themselves wouldn't have gone to that device. I prefer to think of it in the same context as Hank Pym's slap: superhero stuff is melodrama, and the Chameleon is a horrible human being. If it's too much for someone reading it for real reasons, that's understandable.

Apparently Chameleon is pretty good in the ways of the flesh, because now she thinks she and Peter are dating.

When Peter tries to be honest much later on and tells Michele what really happened, she doesn't believe him and responds the only way she knows how.

This makes things incredibly (more) awkward for the roommates, and Michele uses her Latina temper as an excuse to do certain things, like putting Peter's microscope down a sink.

Still, despite everything that goes on, Michele's got a soft heart when it comes to Peter and she thinks maybe something can be salvaged from all of this...

....unfortunately, it's at that exact moment that Norah Jones, another excellent creation from Brand New Day, comes in....

...and things get catty between Norah and Michele, when the worst possible person who can show up does show up.

 Peter and Michele continue to live together awkwardly and with a lot of yelling, but when a new villain threatens Michele's life, Peter still make sure she's safe. Near New Year's Eve, my favorite moment between the two of them occurs.

These two pages are everything I love about Michele Gonzales, the spunk, the crazy exaggeration (having a shotgun), the sarcasm, and, in that one almost-silent panel, the regret at the situation because despite all that, she can't just force her way to get what she wants.  It's almost a contradictory set of traits. and I love it and think it shows room for development. In fact, soon afterwards, after Peter saves Michele from a bunch of crooks, he finally apologizes for what happened (one could say that neither of them was at fault since they were both drunk, but there's no way you don't apologize for freaking out the next day).

And although she accepts his apology, she's still Michele Gonzales, so when Peter forgets to pay his rent, she sells his clothes. Again, it's one of those things that's funny and you just shouldn't think about it too much (where did Peter buy new clothes afterwards? Who cares? Do we need to go down to that level of detail? It's funny.).

The next time we see Michele, it's just to show that Vin has finally been paroled. We then catch a glimpse of her dressed up as Firebird during Harry Osborn's farewell party.

And then, in the very next issue, the first issue of Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, Michele closes the lease on the apartment and, with Vin paroled, leaves New York for Chicago.

Michele Gonzales was a fiery, funny character with hints, every now and then, of actual human emotion. There was a lot of room for development, and I think she could be a useful supporting character in the Marvel Universe. When Mark Waid's Daredevil launched, they said that a female character from the Spider-titles would show up. When the preview art for the first issue was released and showed Daredevil interacting with someone who looked like a lawyer, I thought it'd be Michele. That's how much I really wanted Michele to show up somewhere. (It turned out to be new character Kirsten McDuffie. The Spider-related female was the Black Cat, in the only storyline from Waid's run that made me uncomfortable.)

In a shared universe where Mary Jane Watson can become a supporting character in Iron Man (starting next month!), why can't the lesser-known characters get some love? Get Michele and She-Hulk in the same law offices! It doesn't matter. Just get her back on the printed page, and make this audience of one happy.

You can read the story of Michele Gonzales in the following collections:

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