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Faster than a DC Bullet #35: Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane (Part II)

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13 November 2011 | 08:22 pm

I wrap up my quick sidetrip into the Marvel universe with not just the last two volumes of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, but a sidesidetrip as well; shortly before the Mary Jane series, Marvel dabbled with novels with a similar conceit (the Spider-Man story from Mary Jane's perspective), though otherwise there's no connection.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Vol. 2
Writer: Sean McKeever
Art: Valentine De Landro, Takeshi Miyazawa, David Hahn, with Rick Mays
Colors: Christina Strain
Letters: Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2006-07

This picks up right where Super Crush left off, with the arrival of new girl Gwen Stacey at the exact moment that Mary Jane Watson decides to tell Peter Parker that she has feelings for him. But first, events are interrupted by a two-part story called "The Origin Thing," where MJ discusses the events of a year ago with Liz Allan, the events that led to her losing her carefree attitude. The flashback format lets regular artist Takeshi Miyazawa take a break while Valentine De Landro fills in. The story of the flashback is kinda weird-- MJ is dumped, so she turns goth, but then she decides that she's not a goth, so she just goes back to normal-- but De Landro's presence makes the whole thing terrible. Putting characters in the hands of a different artist is like recasting characters on a television show: even though the dialogue is the same, the delivery is completely different. Things just don't sound right coming out of these characters' mouths. It doesn't help that De Landro draws some ferociously ugly art... especially at moments where the characters are supposed to be smiling and attractive!

Thankfully, things are soon back to normal, with Mary Jane, Gwen, Liz, Peter, Flash, Harry, and Spider-Man rotating affections in their usual complicated dance; by the end of this volume I'm pretty sure we've seen every possible permutation of male/female pairings. I feel like it shouldn't work, but it does; just flipping through the pages now to remind myself of what happened, I have a strong sense of affection for the story-- and those heartbreak moments (like where MJ sees Gwen kissing Peter) are always killer. There's more Spider-Man in this volume than in the previous ones, too, especially his ongoing battle with the prosaically named "the Looter," the climax to which was hilarious and fantastic. The issue where Gwen relates a Spider-Man/Sandman battle in flashback is also great, even if we have to put up with another fill-in artist: McKeever puts Gwen's rendition of the dialogue in the balloons, such as, "Hi, I'm Peter Parker? And I act like I like you? But now I'm totally gonna ditch you without warning for no reason whatsoever."

Other things are silly, though, like a subplot about the football players considering wrecking the school play. And of course MJ continues to be the best at everything ever without even trying; the entire male population of the school falls in love with her after her play performance. The bit where a writer for the school paper tries to get Harry and MJ to explain why they are such big flirts is also weird, though it has some nice moments. I do like that the MJ-is-so-popular subplot gives us some moments of vulnerability from our often-invulnerable heroine.

Things go as they do for most of the book, until the last third, when Miyazawa departs permanently, David Hahn taking over. Hahn is okay. I suffered from the dialogue-just-sounded-wrong problem again, but since he's there for five issues, I was able to get used to it eventually. (Except for his weird eyes.) Firestar comes back, which is one of the best plots in the whole series: she attempts to put the moves on Spider-Man, not Peter Parker, at a moment where he's feeling particularly vulnerable. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn is receiving advice from his evil father on how to win MJ to himself forever; he alternates between seeming manipulative and seeming like he genuinely wants to be with MJ. The Felicia Hardy subplot isn't so great, but on the whole, the end of the book comes together very nicely, just in time for Sean McKeever to jump ship too!
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx
Writer: Terry Moore
Art: Craig Rousseau
Colors: Guillem Mari
Letters: Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2008-09

From its first page, Sophomore Jinx has a different tone and voice than the previous volumes of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane; new writer Terry Moore introduces the device of Mary Jane narrating the book. The whole thing instantly feels different. Not in a bad way... but it's not what drew me to the series to begin with. The transition isn't assisted by the myriad discontinuities between volumes. Mary Jane and company were at least sophomores before, if not juniors; now they're starting sophomore year. Flash Thompson was star quarterback; now we're told he warmed the benches all last year. Mary Jane had a job in a clothing store (among many other places); now she's never had one. All of the recurring characters have vanished. Worst of all, the series left off in November or so; now it's the following August, yet the characters' emotional lives don't seem to have changed at all.

The main plot of the book, MJ discovering that someone's made a website devoted to mocking her, is no worse than any of the goofy plots that ran under McKeever's pen, but without his fun dialogue and Miyazawa's fun art, there's nothing to sell it, and so it falls flat. Plus, five issues go by and MJ and Peter's relationship hardly changes. (Under McKeever, it'd've changed five times.) I can see why the series cut off at this point. It's all right, but it's got nowhere near the charm that it used to. The McKeever/Miyazawa run is good enough for me.
Mary Jane
by Judith O'Brien, illustrations by Mike Mayhew
New York: Marvel, 2003. Hardcover, 215 pages. Borrowed from the library (ILL).

A friend of mine who studies children's and YA literature mentioned the term "teen issue novel" the other day (while bemoaning them), which is an apt description for this book. We see the very beginning of the Spider-Man saga through Mary Jane's eyes-- while Mary Jane also deals with anorexia, an absent father, and a semi-abusive mother's boyfriend. All that plus she's starting a new school and Harry Osborn is coming onto her and she's been reunited with Peter Parker, who was her lab partner in fourth grade, long ago. It's too much, and it doesn't fit together tonally all the time: a subplot about evil energy drinks just jars with the more serious material. Plus, the serious material isn't always handled well: Mary Jane's descent into anorexia feels plausible to me, but the way it stops definitely isn't. There's definitely some stuff to like in this book, especially the depiction of Peter and MJ meeting as kids, and again as high schoolers, but this conceit was executed much better in Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane than it is here. (Mike Mayhew's pictures are gorgeous, though.)
Mary Jane 2
by Judith O'Brien, illustrations by Mike Mayhew
New York: Marvel, 2004. Hardcover, 218 pages. Borrowed from the library (ILL).

Even though Gwen Stacy preceded Mary Jane Watson in the original Spider-Man comics, it seems to be a law of Spider-Man adaptations that Gwen only shows up once Mary Jane and Peter Parker are ready to get together, as that's how it happens here, in the Sam Raimi films, and in Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Of course, Gwen's arrival makes our already insecure Mary Jane even more insecure, one of many subplots struggling for dominance in this unfocused novel. Unfortunately, the most prominent plotline is also the most contrived, with the narrative dumping on MJ unbelievably hard-- and then resolving that problem unbelievably easily. I liked the first book okay, but struggled to enjoy this one. (Even the pictures aren't as good; clearly no one told Mike Mayhew that 1) Peter's not wearing his glasses anymore and 2) the book takes place during the winter.)

Next issue: back to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, with its other other spin-off, Lucifer

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