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If Her Hair Was Still Red: Amazing Spider-Man #25 and #38

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Here’s a new feature of indefinite regularity where I take a look at all of Mary Jane Watson’s comic book appearances in chronological order (by date of publication). Mary Jane’s progression as a character fascinates me.

We begin, of course, with her (sort of) debut in 1965’s Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee and her second hidden appearance in Ditko and Lee’s last issue of Spidey together…

We begin with Peter Parker being oblivious about how much Liz Allan is into him. Liz’s place in the titles was an interesting one. I like the basic idea of “when you graduate, you don’t stay friends with everyone you know,” but it is still surprising to see them drop her so quickly after Peter went to college. She somehow only makes THREE more appearances after this during Stan Lee’s run, and actually takes off A HUNDRED ISSUES before Gerry Conway brings her back into the fold to have more young people in the supporting cast after he killed off Gwen Stacy.

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At the Daily Bugle, Peter is trying to convince J. Jonah Jameson to buy some photos of him, so he tries the hard sell…

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Then, when a scientist comes by selling a “Spider-Slayer,” Peter doesn’t take it seriously and then goads Jameson again into pursuing the Spider-Slayer idea (he figures he’ll get some good photos AND embarrass Jameson in the process)…

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In Marvels, Kurt Busiek had a good riff on this scene by Ditko and Lee, which is that Peter often comes off as pretty slimy. I mean, he’s taking care of his sickly aunt, so that makes him look like a good guy most of the time, but the way he seemingly hates Spider-Man must have made some of his colleagues wonder a bit about him. On the one hand, they know he’s just doing his job, but on the other hand, he’s helping to discredit a superhero. So it’s interesting to see Betty give him some guff over it. Clever stuff by Ditko and Lee.

In another clever twist that seemed like it leaped right out of the best Archie comic book story, Flash Thompson has challenged Peter to a fight after school. Peter, though, is freaking out about the Spider-Slayer, as it turns out that it is a lot more competent than he expected. So it SEEMS like he’s nervous about his fight with Flash. Good stuff…

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Betty is freaking out back at the Bugle, and decides to confront Peter to try to get him to help her stop the Spider-Slayer…

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Peter, meanwhile, has run away (as he turns into Spider-man to fight the Spider-Slayer) and Flash and his gang of buddies are trying to find Peter so Flash can fight him. Liz tags along. I love how on point Flash’s thoughts are…

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Go to the next page to see MJ’s first comic book “appearance”!

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29 Comments

Aaron Bourque

March 8, 2016 at 8:13 pm

I just realized MJ and the Spider-Slayer made their first appearance in the same comic–that puts an interesting spin on Amazing Spider-Man Annual #19, where the Spider-Slayer legacy begins, and becomes almost MJ’s arch-enemy.

Travis Pelkie

March 8, 2016 at 8:54 pm

Tangled Up in Blue?

I’m really excited for this as I am also fascinated by her progression. Pretty sure you already know most of the bits I’d want to see especially highlighted. I think we’ve talked out MJ before a bit.

Wait… Betty Brant and Liz Allan?
So they’re both named Elizabeth?

And Liz Allan in a comic with Flash in it?
Is she related to the Central City Allens?

Wait… Betty Brant and Liz Allan?
So they’re both named Elizabeth?

This somehow has never occurred to me before.

Bernard the Poet

March 9, 2016 at 2:13 am

Why wasn’t Peter into Liz Allan? She’s pretty, she’s popular, her father’s a millionaire and it would really annoy Flash Thompson. Surely they are more than enough reasons for a teenager to go out with someone.

Travis Pelkie

March 9, 2016 at 2:41 am

Well, Peter was into Betty Brant at the time, no? And Liz had always been one of the gang of assholes to him before he got the spider powers and started being a little less dweeby, so there’s the “well, if you didn’t want me then, why should I want you now?” going on. So yeah, I can see Peter being friendly to her but even if he was aware of her interest, I can see him not reciprocating because of the past.

Wow, I forgot how good Ditko and Lee Spider-man were. Unfortunately, the Romita-Lee issues lost their steam quite quickly, I would say that around the ancient tablet saga.

I realize it was the 60’s, but still, the hair helmet was never a good look.

The Lee/Ditko version is the one and only Spider-Man for me. I think it’s so good that, for the next 20 years, everybody else’s version was just a pale immitation. That is why I never warmed to any of the 1970s runs of Spidey. The only one I sort of like is Claremont/Byrne in Marvel Team-Up, because it’s not a much inferior rehash of Lee/Ditko. The next one that was actually AMAZING was Roger Stern’s.

The Lee/Ditko is my favorite too, though I’ve enjoyed more of the later versions than it sounds like you did, Rene.

if ditko had drawn mary jane in the flesh from day one he might have ruined a good character since some of the thing that had fans start to like her in the spider man books was wondering what she really looked like in the flesh face and all.

I wonder: has any recent writer/artist ever hinted at MJ look in her first appearance? That is, showing her in a flashback wearing the headscarf or so?

Rene – I agree with you totally. How do you feel about Slott’s Spider-Man?

The placement of that flower is priceless.

Has Peter ever taken responsibility for his own contributions to Spider-Man’s negative publicity? That might be an interesting article.

Jeff Nettleton

March 9, 2016 at 9:50 am

“as she and Lix leave…”

Lix?

This is sounding more like a 50’s lesbian pulp novel!

T. –

I don’t have a strong opinion on Slott either way, but I will try to sum up my feelings about his Spider-Man, considering that I stopped reading circa 2010.

There is a column in this site a few years ago that talked about “grace notes”, story beats that are taken from classic runs. And there are some comic book runs that are almost entirely what a creator or creative team imagines a “ideal” run of that character would be. It’s not “I gotta tell the best Spider-Man stories I can”, it’s more like “Humm… what makes an archetypical Spider-Man run? Let’s try and do it.”

In this type of superhero storytelling, there is some stuff that is really amazing, like Morrison’s All-Star Superman, because Morrison leaves his mark even when he tries to tell “ideal” Silver Age Superman stories. Some are sorta good, like Kurt Busiek’s Avengers (mimicking ideal 1970s and early 1980s Avengers stories), and some stuff is really awful, like Jeph Loeb’s stuff.

I think the whole post-One More Day Spider-Man is this kind of thing. A calculated attempt to return to the Spider-Man of the first three decades. It feels strangely self-conscious. I am risking sounding like a hypocrite, because I’m in favor of editors thinking about the long-term viability of the characters, but this kind of checkbox approach to return a character to their roots often lacks soul and spark.

This is more or less how I feel about Dan Slott’s Spider-Man. Some of the technical aspects of the stories are quite good and enjoyable, but there is this distancing feeling of trying to write textbook Spider-Man stories.

But I only read until 2010. I never got to the real controversial stories, like the body swap and alternate universe Spider-Men.

Since I was first introduced to Spider-Man through his animated series (the one before Amazing Friends) before I moved to the comics, I’m surprised the cartoon still tried to push Betty as his love interest considering at that time Gwen and MJ were probably more popular. Hell, the only reason I probably accept MJ as the “one-tru” is because I still read the daily strip.

The first 38 issues of Spider-man are really consistently great almost right out of the gate. Even if a certain story fell a bit short there was some neat moment that made it feel like a small part of a larger whole. In short… Ditko really knew what he was doing.

I think the musical notes accompanying MJ’s “Hello, girls!” are meant to denote that she has a beautiful, melodic voice to go with her “screen star” looks. You know, the old cliche “Her voice is like music.”

Rene: “And there are some comic book runs that are almost entirely what a creator or creative team imagines a “ideal” run of that character would be. It’s not “I gotta tell the best Spider-Man stories I can”, it’s more like “Humm… what makes an archetypical Spider-Man run? Let’s try and do it.”

Funny. During the Bronze Age that was usually the mark of a new writer taking over: recycling old villains or plot points to get a feel for the character. Not an end in itself.

Part of the problem with Spider-Man, I think, is that Spidey is the hero who always gets the short end of the lollipop, as someone once put it. Over time it’s harder and harder to keep doing that and keep it fresh (though I think there are times the creators could have done more to that end than they did)

@T

I know you did not ask what I think of Slott, but since Rene quit ASM in 2010 and Slott became solo writer in 2011, and last year someone else gave you some inaccurate Slott info, I am jumping in anyway.

Slott is writing his own Spider-Man more than he is writing a greatest hits. Spider-Man is not facing off against that many of his old rogues, and when he does the plots are different from the traditional underworld power/revenge plots of old, or the villains are using new m.o.s.

The biggest change is to Peter Parker, who no longer gets “the short end of the lollipop” as Fraser put it. Peter has been working as a well paid and successful inventor/scientist for most of the Slott era, and is currently the CEO of his own company (so right now he is Silver Age Tony Stark). I think it was Rene or Louis who said that the Lee/Ditko/Romita Spider-Man was not about a ‘teen hero’ it was about a hero growing up. I think with Slott, Peter has grown up (although I do worry it will all come crashing down, and Peter will end up as a struggling photographer again).

If I were to sum up the Slott era in one sentence (I know, why did I not do that to begin with), it would be this; Slott is writing Spider-Man in the mold of DC’s Silver Age heroes, specifically Flash, Green Lantern with some Batman, but with less of the secret identity hang ups.

Yeah. Dan Slott’s Spider-Man reminds me of early Daredevil. His civilian identity supplements his costumed identity yet the actions of his costumed identity have no repercussions on his civilian identity.

They have some repercussions, like Sajani getting mad at Peter for neglecting his company and her doing things behind his back while he is away. I do agree that the repercussions are not as dramatic and disastrous as they have been in the past, i think a small part of that is that Peter handles them better.

Repercussions of Spider-Man on Peter is something I have thought about in Slott’s writing. In the Lee/Ditko/Romita days a lot of Peter’s problems were a result of taking on to much responsibility and missing out on things as Peter because he had to work as Spider-Man. It seems in recent years that has become ‘Peter is a looser and a flake.’ In this case Slott is going with the classic/Lee version over the ‘looser/flake.’

Great idea for a new article series, Brian. I hope you do the Untold Tales of Spider-Man issue told from Mary Jane’s perspective; that was a great story.

Something I always liked about the first Spider-Slayer story that none of the others really captured is the fact that the Spider-Slayer is an actual threat to Peter. Sure, the other ones are deadly, but this honestly feels like the deadliest (at least, of those I’ve read) since once it gets close he’s essentially defeated.

I can certainly believe that Peter had no clue that Liz was interested in him. When I a teenager I was friends with a girl, and I thought she was attractive, and we had some common interests. But I just figured that she saw me as a friend. I was definitely shy in those days, so I really didn’t even attempt to pursue any sort of relationship with her.

Anyway, she moved to Florida, and eventually she got married and had a couple of kids. Fast forward 20 years, and we’re friends on Facebook. One day were chatting on instant message about this and that, and she ends up letting slip that way back when she had been really interested in me. Seriously, I had absolutely no idea. It caught me completely off guard.

So, yes, these sort of things do happen in real life.

Peter did have the hots for Liz in AF#15 but she had no use for him. By this issue, Peter had been involved with Betty for well over a year and although they had their difficulties, mainly because although Betty had no idea Peter was Spider-Man she could see evidence that he was continually getting himself involved in dangerous situations, supposedly to take the photos he sold to JJJ, and after the murder of her brother the thought of Peter likewise getting killed filled her with dread and created a barrier that eventually destroyed their relationship. Meanwhile, Liz got fed up with Flash and took notice that Peter wasn’t such a wallflower after all and suddenly she was interested in him but by this point he wanted nothing to do with her. And then along comes MJ — Aunt May had been trying to get them together for several months at this point, but of course that wouldn’t actually happen for nearly another year and a half, by which point Gwen had also come on the scene. Peter had by far the most convoluted lovelife of any of Marvel’s Silver Age superheroes, probably an aspect that added to the popularity of ASM.

I thought it was always “hello with flair.” Kind of a common over arching (or over bearing) sing song greeting. Not how she usually talks. Literally how it’s typed (“Hel-lo”). I was trying to think of an example of an old actress or entertainer, but all that jumped to mind was Mother Nature in The Year Without a Santa Claus…but she talks like that all the time.

https://youtu.be/BadOQnwjS3w

So sounding like that, but just as a greeting.

I’m really enjoying this look back at Lee/Ditko! Thanks for running this series.

@kdu2814

That is a rather astute summing up of Slott’s approach. Which is to say, Slott is not writing Peter Parker. He’s writing his own generic superhero, apparently based on what he thought was “kewl” as a kid. Unfortunately, on a craft level his writing is also pretty adolescent.

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