A few weeks ago Marvel Comics began teasing out covers for its latest intra-title event, Secret War, which is set to kick off this summer. Among the covers attracting the most attention is one drawn by Adam Kubert that hints at the possible restoration of the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. The union, which lasted 20 years in real time, was written out of the Spider-Man books in 2007 during the "One More Day" arc, prompting great outcry from Spider-fans and near-universal panning from critics.
The possibility of restoration has been met with the exact opposite reaction. With some disappointment, I count myself among those rooting for a renewal. I like to think of myself as rather unsentimental. The one thing I know about the world is that it ends in cold death, and thus badly. But the upshot of that is not cynicism, but a deep belief that what happens in between the brightness of birth and the darkness of death really does matter.
I was 11 years old when Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson were married. It's worth noting that the initial marriage was attended with much outrage. I did not know this and I would not have cared. Even then, barely pubescent, I was a romantic. I mean this as something beyond chocolates and roses: I mean that I was deeply interested in the nature and depths of love. I was born in 1975, when a great many things were in question. I was the sixth of seven children born to one man and four different women, and the fact of sex—sex outside of marriage—was all around me. There were no stories featuring the stork. I was the product of a woman who looked at a man, and thought not of happily ever after but that he would make a great father. Good call.
My mother and father never gave me "The Talk." "The Talk" was my entire childhood. From the time I remember them talking, I remembering them, my mother especially, talking about sex. It makes me laugh now but I recall her telling me, when my time came, not to just "jump up and down on a woman." I might have been ten when she first said that. My family was all kinds of inappropriate—hood hippies—and yet we were correct. I say this because I knew, from a very early age, that there was love in my house, imperfect love, love that was built, decided upon, as opposed to magicked into existence.
That was how Peter loved Mary Jane. They were not destined to be. She was not his Lois Lane. His Lois Lane—Gwen Stacy—was murdered for the crime of getting too close to him, and the guilt of this always weighed on him. Whatever. While the world was fooled, Mary Jane Watson knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man. And she didn't wait around for him to figure it all out. She was, very clearly, sexual. She dated whomever she wanted. She dated dudes who were richer than Parker. She dated dudes who were better looking than Parker. She dated Parker's best friends. She actually spurned Parker's first proposal—and then his second too, before reconsidering. Mary Jane Watson was the kind of girl you did not bring home to mother—unless you had a mother like mine.
I have never quite understood the dictum that "you can't turn a hoe into a housewife." Perhaps that is because, if pressed, I would always take the former over the latter. Perhaps it is because I don't desire to turn anyone into anything. But more likely it's because I wasn't really raised that way. Nothing else explained my tangled family. Women obviously had sex. Women obviously enjoyed sex. Prince made my mother feel the exact same way that Lisa Lisa made me feel. Michael Jackson (pre-nose job) did the same for my sister.
I liked to believe that Peter Parker, ultimately, wasn't raised that way either. He did not ultimately end up with the blonde whom he was made for. And if he ended up with a beautiful woman, he did not end up with an ornamental one. His marriage was a rejection of the macho ideal of romance—which reigns even among nerds—and it mirrored and confirmed my own budding sense of what love was at a very young age.
I wouldn't argue that the Parker-Watson marriage was always well-written and well-drawn. The "super-model" angle felt unnecessary, as did some of the porno-lite art. (It's good to see Kubert, here, depicting Watson the way women actually tend to look.) I won't defend the '90s, which were not a good period for the writing in the Spider-Man books. But in a genre aimed at young males, it is very hard for me to come up with a more mature, and I would say healthy, vision of what a marriage should look like. Mary Jane Watson was not looking to be saved. If anything, she wanted Peter Parker to stop saving people. She did not need Peter Parker. She was not fashioned especially to be his wife. She was a human and seemed as though she would have been with Peter Parker, or without him.
I never read One More Day. I generally hated the notion that you couldn't have a grown-up superhero, and I did not hate it just because I was grown-up: I would have hated it when I was 12. The fact of it was I idolized grown-ups. One More Day felt like an erasure of what had been one of its more unintentionally bold endeavors—the attempt to allow a superhero to grow up, to be more than Peter Pan, to confront the tragic world as it was, to imagine life beyond what should have been.