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

by  in Comic News Comment

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.


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


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)…


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…


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…


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…


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

So Liz thinks Peter is at home hiding from the fight and Betty thinks Peter is at home hiding from the Spider-Slayer problem that he got Jameson to pursue, so they both go to visit Peter’s house. They’re kind of oddly harsh to each other. Take it down a notch, ladies! Anyhow, they’re about to meet the niece of Aunt May’s friend, Anna. Aunt May told Peter about her back in #18….


That’s some poker face you have there, ladies! The sing-song dialogue is interesting. Do you think it’s supposed to denote that her voice is sort of sing-song like or is it just to denote that she’s saying hello with flair?

I guess Betty isn’t really all that concerned about Spider-man, as seeing Mary Jane shut her right up, as she and Liz leave…


I like Flash’s first impression of MJ…


Peter gets home, having lost his costume in a successful attempt to escape from the Spider-Slayer, but he’s in for a surprise…


Be happy that’s the only thing she found behind your bookcase, Peter! Your stack of magazines are safe!

Mary Jane appeared one last time in Ditko’s last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, #38. At the very end of the issue, Peter is depressed that it seems like Betty Brant is moving on with Ned Leeds and also, after helping to save some guy who had been given superpowers out of nowhere, Spidey is quickly reminded that while things worked out for that guy (an actor, his studio dropped all charges and suddenly he was a celebrity!) HE is still hated by the public. He takes his frustrations out on a mannequin that looks like Ned and then just wallows in self-pity while missing Mary Jane, who is visiting the Parker residence at that same point in time…



And with that, Steve Ditko’s tenure on the book was finished. I guess it is only fitting that his last page on the book was so dark.

I sometimes wonder how different Spider-Man’s history would have been had Ditko drew Mary Jane this issue, thus defining her look for the future. Not only that, but had he drawn her, I bet he would have had her interact more, so we might have seen a whole other personality for Mary Jane. However, it’s important to note that she was ALWAYS intended to be very attractive. Some people think that John Romita came up with that on his own, but as we see, it was present from the get go.

Mary Jane doesn’t wear enough head scarves anymore.

Okay, that’s it for Mary Jane’s debut! Next time, we’ll look at the first time that PETER lays eyes on Mary Jane. Thanks to commenter Cass for reminding me of her brief appearance in #38.

If you have any thoughts on early MJ in particular, you can drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com. Maybe I’ll address you e-mail in an installment.