Hitting The Jackpot: A Celebration Of Mary Jane Watson
On this day in 1966, Peter Parker was confronted with the eight iconic words that would change his life forever, as Stan Lee and John Romita finally introduced Mary Jane Watson as a supporting character in The Amazing Spider-Man. Whether it’s as wife, confidante, or a take no prisoners model/actress/nightclub owner, Mary Jane has been one of the most enduring and important supporting characters in comics for half a century.
Mary Jane was originally introduced in name only over a year before she made her first on panel appearance, and her presence --- or lack thereof --- became a running joke in The Amazing Spider-Man. Peter Parker’s Aunt May wanted to set him up with her friend Anna’s niece, but Peter remained aghast at the idea of the type of girl his aunt would see him with, and made efforts to avoid her.
The character finally made her official debut in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #42 as Peter could avoid the meeting no longer. He was shocked to find Mary Jane was actually stunning beautiful. Introducing herself with the instantly iconic “Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot” she was originally introduced by Lee and Romita as “just for fun,” but they soon found the character running away from them.
According to the two creators, Gwen Stacy was always meant to be Peter Parker’s one true love, but in collaborating on Amazing Spider-Man, they found that Mary Jane had “all the personality,” and efforts to make Gwen more interesting and attractive seemed to fail. When Gerry Conway succeeded Stan Lee on the title, he agreed and famously killed Gwen off, partially to bring Mary Jane to the forefront of Peter Parker’s love life.
While many people will point to the infamous doorway scene as Mary Jane’s most iconic moment, a much more defining scene came in the wake of Gwen Stacy’s death. When Peter Parker tore into Mary Jane for a lack of compassion and a selfishness derived from her partying lifestyle, she chose not to leave, and instead stayed with Peter, knowing that he needed her then more than ever.
Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship was never smooth, as he was always in search of stability, while MJ wasn't ready to settle down at such a young age. It wasn’t a simple case of Gwen's death propelling them together; they broke up and got back together on multiple occasions. When Peter helped Mary Jane’s sister in securing the arrest of their father, she finally saw him as the man she was meant to marry.
That marriage occurred in the momentous The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, but as Spider-Man’s wife MJ found herself more damseled than ever before. Although a successful model and actress, she was used against Peter by the villain Venom and later stalked by her own landlord.
Peter retired from being Spider-Man and left the city in the capable hands of Ben Reilly to be with Mary Jane and plan to raise their daughter together. Unfortunately, Mary Jane was poisoned by an agent of the Green Goblin, which caused her to lose her baby late in her pregnancy, putting new stress on the couple’s marriage.
The couple separated on numerous occasions in the early ‘00s, most notably when Mary Jane departed for Los Angeles for a role in a superhero film that would later flop. They reunited shortly before Peter became an official Avenger, but the superhuman Civil War drove a wedge into their relationship that changed them forever.
After Spider-Man unmasked in support of the Super Human Registration Act, The Kingpin sent an assassin who would mortally wound Aunt May. In order to save her life, the couple was approached by the demon Mephisto, who offered to save May in exchange for their love and their marriage. Torn between the two most important people in his life, Peter Parker couldn’t decide, and ultimately it was Mary Jane who agreed to the deal.
Mephisto changed history and memories so that Peter and Mary Jane were never married, although they did date and she still knew of his alter-ego. She built a successful career for himself as an actress and television host, and was later hired by Tony Stark to help run the day-to-day operations of Stark Industries. She even suited up in the Iron Spider costume to take on The Regent.
Mary Jane is in a tier of supporting characters that just make a book better, and who can always stand on their own away from the adventures of the heroes. Her role in the 2010s proved that she doesn’t need to be with Spider-Man, or even in a Spider-Man book to be defined as a character, and that’s an extremely rare feat for a love interest that was introduced “just for fun.”