May 31, 2016

Mary Jane Watson's Top 10 Most Unhealthy Reactions to Spider-Man Stress

Cigarettes and Dancing:
Mary Jane Watson's Top 10 Most Unhealthy Reactions
to Spider-Man Stress
Ben Smith

Special thanks to Travis Hedge Coke for the title and idea. Partial credit, or full blame, for what follows should be directed towards him.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that the marriage between Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson was an abject failure. In the over 50 years of Spider-Man’s existence, his comics have been some of the most consistently entertaining in all of the medium, except for the nearly 20 year span when he was married. If you look at the list of his most beloved storylines, almost all occur before or after the marriage years, with a few exceptions. That cannot be a coincidence. But how could something as relatively minor (in a fictional sense) as a relationship status be such a detriment to entertaining comics? Let's explore further.

There never was a whole lot of substance to Mary Jane Watson, and that was fine when she was the occasional love interest. I liked that Mary Jane Watson a lot. (When I was a kid, she represented the ideal girlfriend that I would someday like to have.) It’s when she became Mary Jane Watson-Parker, that writers and editors had to try to find something to do with her, and she’s just not that interesting on her own. The fundamental problem with her becoming the wife of Spider-Man, was that it made it mandatory for her to appear in every single story, no matter if she had anything relevant to do. Story is born from conflict, and there’s only so much conflict you can present in a marriage without it becoming unbearable to read. Now, I’ll grant you that many writers were able to handle the marriage fairly well. It wasn’t exactly entertaining, but it wasn’t an anchor dragging down the series. However, the majority of writers did not do a very good job at all with the marriage and Mary Jane’s role in the comics.

With that in mind, here are the 10 worst ways Mary Jane dealt with the stress of being married to Spider-Man, in no particular order.


Every bad decision has to start somewhere, and the simple act of marrying Peter Parker in the first place is where it all begins. She knew from the very beginning that she struggled with the danger Peter puts himself in on a regular basis, and that his sense of responsibility would never allow him to quit, and yet she did it anyway. Marrying someone with the hopes that they will eventually change something that defines them as a person, is never a great idea. Granted, it’s not like she didn’t struggle with the decision, which leads us to the second example.


Lots of people get cold feet in the days leading up to their wedding, but I’d think most would agree that spending the night with a romantic competitor isn’t a very decent thing to do. Exactly what happened that night with Bruce (otherwise known as Batman) is left open to each reader’s interpretation. Considering she spends most of the night unsure that she even wants to marry Peter and then shows up late to the wedding the next day, I think we can all agree that whatever happened, it falls on a spectrum of kinda bad to awful.


From time to time, Spider-Man goes missing because a crazed lunatic in a loincloth will shoot him with drugs and then bury him alive so that he can take his place. As the wife of a superhero, this is just something you’re going to have to accept as a certainty. The proper thing to do would be to carry on with life as best as possible, until the eventual moment when he returns. The incorrect thing to do is, is to patrol the streets alone at night in the hopes of finding him yourself. As Teddy KGB in the classic film Rounders would say, “Bad judgment.” (You have to read that in Malkovich’s terrible but awesome version of a Russian accent for it to have the proper effect.) I'll give her the benefit of the doubt as a newlywed irrational with worry and feeling powerless. But c'mon, make better choices.


Some might say that spending the night performing a strenuous activity in a public setting might be a terrific way to relieve stress, and maybe that’s true. Except that the reason Mary Jane usually went out dancing was as a punishment to her husband for leaving her while he went out to go punch criminals. She was almost always by herself when she went out, and always was in the company of strange men. Look, I'm not shaming her for trying to have a (presumably) harmless good time in a very stressful situation, but her dependence on this bordered on the pathological. That cannot be healthy.


The previous examples before this one may not have been healthy ways to deal with stress, but at least they provide some level of entertainment value to read. There is nothing entertaining about a woman using cigarettes to both relieve stress and punish her husband. For the most part, Mary Jane is at least a sympathetic character. She may not have always been entertaining, but you could at least understand her pain at having to live with a husband that was constantly risking his life. But her smoking habit (combined with the next example on this list) simply made her unlikable. (While I personally don’t like cigarettes, I’m not trying to suggest that smokers are bad people. I’m only saying that in the context of these stories, she was clearly smoking to punish Peter. That's not cool. Plus, smoking kills people, so there’s that.)


While there were many times when Mary Jane was loving and supporting of Peter’s life as Spider-Man, there were just as many when she decided that he should give up on his overwhelming sense of responsibility and quit. For some reason, many writers felt that this would be something entertaining to read. Nobody in any walk of life likes to be nagged for being who they are, and it’s just as unbearable to read about in fictional circumstances. Again, in a real world sense, Mary Jane is probably right in a lot of cases, but that doesn’t make it fun to read in a comic book. Especially since we know that Peter can never quit being Spider-Man (clones aside) so it’s a losing proposition to demand otherwise. For all the talk about how relateable Peter Parker is as a character, most people read the book to see him as Spider-Man at some point.

One of the more perplexing choices in comics history came in 1999, when Amazing Spider-Man relaunched for the first time with a new #1, with Peter Parker having made a promise to Mary Jane to retire as Spider-Man. Never before had their been a better jumping-on point for new or lapsed readers, and then he spends months avoiding being Spider-Man as much as possible. Riveting!


Granted, it is a rat. But still, beating a small animal to death with a boot is probably not the healthiest way to relieve stress. Or is it?

Since that one really shouldn't count, let's go with...


From time to time, usually when fraught with worry, Mary Jane might pull out an old yearbook and start reminiscing about the good old days when her husband was in love with her best friend. I don't care what you say, that's just complicated and weird.


There was a time period where Mary Jane entertained the idea of having an affair with a character named Jerome James, accompanied by the clichéd reluctant kiss. While this may be a realistic story to tell of a wife that often feels abandoned by her husband, there’s probably no quicker way to turn an audience against a character than infidelity. Even the contemplation of infidelity. (The one and only time I ever wrote and mailed a letter to Marvel as a kid, was to express my complete disgust of this subplot.) Even her eventual "heroic" denial of his advances did little to undo the damage done.


Okay, that’s just a joke, but on the subject on outfits…


Mary Jane’s feelings were hurt by Venom, so she decided that Peter could no longer wear what was arguably the best alternate costume ever created. I liked the black costume, and she was just being unreasonable. Okay fine, maybe she was being perfectly reasonable, and with the creation of Venom there was a good editorial reason for Spider-Man to stop wearing the costume. But still, I liked it.


Almost from the moment the decision was made to marry Peter Parker and Mary Jane, editors were looking for ways to erase it. Nobody wanted Peter to be a divorcee or widower, so that left only convoluted methods to end this vile abomination of a status quo. The Clone Saga famously began as a way for Peter and Mary Jane to ride off into the sunset and return a younger-seeming, unattached Spider-Man to the forefront. That didn’t work out, so next came John Byrne. His first attempt was to have Mary Jane appear to be killed in a plane crash, but despite how unlikable she sometimes became, nobody wanted to her to die. So instead, it turns out she was really kidnapped by an obsessed stalker, and Spider-Man had to find her and save her. (I’ve never actually read this story, so if I got the details wrong, whatever, you win.) The trauma of her imprisonment, and Peter’s continued adventuring, forces her to decide that they’re better off apart. (I’m guessing those were the reasons, because I’m not reading that comic in full.) Thus began the separation status quo, with Mary Jane out of the picture off in California, and Peter on his own but not really single in NYC. It was not a good look for either character. You either have to end the relationship, or embrace it (for all of JMS’ faults as a Spider-Man writer, and human being, at least he decided to depict the marriage as positively as possible) but keeping the marriage in limbo served no one.

(For the record, I think the McFarlane and Larsen runs had some of the best depictions of Mary Jane as a loving and supportive wife. They also had Jonathan Caesar, but that's a whole other topic.)

Infidelity, abandonment, cigarettes, and dancing. Not a good look for what was once one of the best supporting characters in the Spider-Man comics.

That's not even mentioning the other terrible subplots we were subjected to that were not her fault. It may not have been her fault in-story that she was sexually harassed by Jonathan Caesar in a story that refused to ever end, but it's not like we would have ever had to read it if she didn't become Spider-Man's wife. To be clear, I'm not blaming the victim in any way, I'm blaming the creative teams for believing that would be even remotely interesting to read. I do not like reading or watching anything like that, ever. I actively choose to avoid fiction like that. Beyond that, there were the little dramas that came with being, and I hate even typing this, a soap opera star. Nothing says fun-filled superhero action like Mary Jane being chastised by overzealous elderly fans. Hey kids, this issue Mary Jane and Aunt May get in a spat over Peter's best interests! Excelsior!

I know some of you will read this and come to the conclusion that I hate Mary Jane as a character, but I can assure you that is not the case. Like I wrote earlier, when I was a kid she helped form the template for what I wanted in a wife one day. Now, that was mostly based on her being smoking hot and usually very loyal and supportive (and also they had sex a lot, like A LOT) but those things don’t hold as much weight on an ongoing basis as an adult reader. The fact remains, that beyond her usefulness as eye candy and that occasional support system, her status as the wife of Spider-Man was so badly mishandled that there’s no objective way to conclude that the marriage was a success narratively. Almost everyone that argues otherwise, argues for the marriage as an idea, or because it represents something to them, and not based on actual storytelling execution. Sure there are always exceptions (the Sensational Spider-Man annual written by Matt Fraction being one of the best) but the examples above are far more damaging than any of the good. At her best, she was a loving partner and friend to our main character. At her worst, she made Peter (and us) feel bad about him continuing to save lives as Spider-Man.

Either way, she was always dancing.




Unknown said...

This article is laughable.

It is poorly researched.

It is sexist.

It doesn't even attempt to rise above it's intrinsic bias.

It's attitude towards Spider-Man is mostly at odds with many of the fundamental values of the series.

And it lies. Frequently.

It frequently lies to make it's points.

Unknown said...

Scratch laughable.

This article is frankly disgusting in how disingenuous and ignorant it is and how sexist it is.

You vicitm blame more than once, never see things from MJ's POV and prirotize your own preferences above trying to be an objective analyst multiple times.

Here is a secret Ben. Your views are not the final arbiter of whether something is good or bad or what it's reality even is.

Please never write about Mary Jane ever again and go back to fantasizing about her in your dreams or whatever.

Unknown said...

Whoever wrote this completely doesn't Mary Jane.
1. She didn't spend a night with that Bruce guy and didn't cheat Peter with him. If you would properly read that part of comic, you would know.

2. You really think that dancing at parties was because of punishing Peter? Lol, bullshit. If you would know that character you would knew, that it's just her mask so she simply wanted put out from her mind that she is frightened to death because of her husband.

3. Smoking, arguments, killing rats without thinking. It's all just the part of beeing married to the super hero. She is just a human, everyday she had to suffer from thoughts that her husband might be killed. It was too much on her but anyway she always supported him no matter what.

4. She was not cheating Peter with that Jerome. He kissed her and she rejected him.

5. And the last part. Are you really mad that she couldn't stand that black costume? Ok I liked it too, but 1. it made Felicia, 2. it looked like Venom who scared her for death. I completely understand her.

Unknown said...

Yeah The Black Costume was definitely the Best Alternate Spider-Man Costume and after Mary Jane forced Peter to get rid of it, she became one of my least favorites

Unknown said...

Yeah The Black Costume is definitely the Best Alternate Costume and seeing Mary Jane forcing Peter to get rid of it, she actually became one of my least favorites around the 90’s

Arkadeep Sharma said...

There are so many subjective points inside the facade of just some objective opinions in here that it is outrageous.

Anonymous said...

*pulls panels and miscontextualizes them* "Hurrrr, she's bad because she has? Traits? Women should only be supportive. Still hot tho I'd bang her."

Becca said...

So this article was brought to my attention recently and honestly, you should be ashamed. Not only is this article incredibly misogynistic, you also repeatedly and willfully misinterpret canon events and take panels out of context. Women, including women characters, don't exist to be subservient to the men in their lives. They can be just as complicated and flawed as men characters, and they should be, because that makes them interesting!!! Sorry, just say you hate women and go, dude!

john forshaw said...

mary jane is interesting and strong character and she makes mistakes and she has bad writing like other superheroes like spider-man one more day is worst marvel comic ever made and spider-man in civil war was bad writing why would he make his secret identity public puting his loved ones at risk or people he cared about at risk and mary jane did not sleep with guy in the comic but the truth in the end of the day is mary jane spider-man's or peter parker truth love.

Rachit 6 said...

I think you haven't understood the Mary Jane character at all. When she told Peter his childhood story. You should focus on that part. She always ran away from responsibility until she met Peter. She always worries that Peter is alright or not. Maybe the last moment you spent is the last moment of your life with him. This is constantly running over mind for someone who is married to a superhero. Everyone has its own way of living with a secret or anxiety. When she is dancing she is free of tension of Peter. For a while she is tension free otherwise she is always worried about him all night. How difficult it would be to sleep not knowing in which condition husband is. When she murdered small animal, it was just a sudden burst of anger. She was also sad that she killed a small innocent animal.
Also you are saying she thought of affair. Haven't you read it whole or read it but didn't understand. She didn't want to be in affair from starting. It was Jason Jerome who was forcing her. At one point you can say he was able to manipulate her but she realised it. Both Peter and MJ are faithful to each other. You are saying she spend a night with Bruce. She went to Party organized by Bruce. She didn't have done anything that you are thinking. Peter also went to place where Gwen died and was thinking about Gwen. So by your logic Peter was also wrong but by the way you wrote the Blog, you wouldn't consider him wrong. Hypocrisy. Actually your logic is completely baseless and wrong.
When she left Peter, you can't say her wrong. She wasn't able to overcome whatever happened. Sometimes a little me time solves the problem.
When she demanded Peter to get rid of Black Costume, she wasn't wrong. That suit resembled like a homicidal maniac who threatened her. Secondly Peter and MJ are married so from your logic she can't demand something from her husband because that costume looked cool. She also can't demand her husband to wear clothes of her choice because you didn't like the outfit.
After Liz Allan Osborn lost her husband Harry Osborn due to being Green Goblin. So her fear of Losing Peter would have increased also. She just doesn't want to lose Peter. She loves him that's why she is worrying about him and had a fear or losing him.
I think you hate Women or you hate Mary Jane as character that's why you are pointing out baseless flaws in their relationship without understanding from her perspective.
It is true that one sided perspective is mostly wrong.
Understand the character. She is strong women who always supported Peter Parker. She is really Peter inner strength.
You know why One More Day received such a hate. It was because Fans connected with her. They understand her Point of view. Remember one thing, In comics you need to understand the other supporting cast perspective also apart from Heroes perspective. Infact Mary Jane can't be said as supporting character. Indeed she was also a main character in comic. In Spider Man comic, you need to understand his double life as Peter Parker and Spider Man. To understand Peter Parker life you also need to understand her love interest character such as Mary Jane before One More Day.
You not only read Mary Jane character, you instead live with her character.

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