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When you’re Marvel Comics, and you have the juggernaut that is Spider-Man at your disposal, you’re likely to put out as much Spidey-related material as possible. Peter Parker and his alter-ego have been interpreted by a number of creators over the years, but it wasn’t until the 2004’s “Mary Jane” series that his equally famous wife, Mary Jane Watson Parker, got a spotlight of her own, thanks to writer Sean McKeever. Chronicling the life of a young Mary Jane Watson, smitten with the hero known as Spider-Man, “Mary Jane” proved a hit with fans and was brought back as “Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane,” a new ongoing series continuing where the two previous mini-series left off. With “SMLMJ” garnering strong fan feedback, and issue #5 about to shock fans, CBR News caught up with McKeever to learn more about the series.
A Spider-Man romance comic isn’t the first idea that would come to mind for a Spider-Man related book, especially in a market so resilient to non-superhero, non-big battle books. So why did McKeever do it? “Because the fewer people who read my stuff, the better?” laughs the scribe. “Heh…you know, when I first wanted to be a comic book writer, I was all about writing super hero comics for Marvel. I pitched who knows how many Spider-Man stories blind before I realized that maybe I should figure out what I’d want to write about if I wasn’t going to write about established Marvel characters. That’s when I came up with the idea for ‘The Waiting Place,’ a teen drama. Writing that series made me realize the romance-type stuff was a strength of mine, and so when I finally got to work at Marvel, I took every opportunity I had to flaunt that strength.
“And, really, I’m not just writing ‘SMLMJ’ because I’m the go-to guy for the teen angst stuff. Sure, I would love to be writing big, exciting, royalties-paying, in-continuity stuff at Marvel, but the comics industry in general needs to wean itself off this reliance on super hero comics. Not only is it unhealthy to have a single subgenre dominate the market, there also are not a lot of comics out there that are truly ‘all ages’ material. Yeah, it’s a teen romance book spun out of the super hero cloth, but we have to start somewhere, and it’s a wonderful thing that Marvel is entertaining this sort of series at all.
“Also, I love being able to throw in whatever heroes and villains I want, and play with the Spidey/MJ mythos as I see fit in my own little pocket world. I got to use Rocket Racer and Big Wheel, for cryin’ out loud!”
Some fans have felt that Mary Jane hasn’t been too well-defined in the past, but McKeever would sharply disagree with those who would label her as “one dimensional.” “I think Mary Jane Watson is a complex young woman, and has been since the early days,” asserts McKeever. “The part of MJ that I decided to take off from was how, at first blush, she just seems like a care-free party girl, but in reality, she’s putting on an act to help her forget about all the troubles in her life. Reading old stories in ‘Marvel Tales’ as a kid, that aspect of her personality really made me buy into her.”
Still, the end of the story is something everyone knows: Mary Jane and Peter Parker end up together. McKeever laughs when this is pointed out, explaining, “See, that isn’t the point of the series, so it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Even if it was a given — and I’ll concede a lot of folks probably feel that way — the fun isn’t in the destination but in the journey. That’s where the meat of the story is.
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“There are all sorts of twists and turns I can put the characters and the readers through, and that’s because I treat every single character in the series as an actual person with depth and hidden desires and the whole nine. Yes, even Flash Thompson has depth. Honest!”
Thus far, “Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane” has featured established characters, such as Flash Thompson and Liz Allen, though McKeever has made some notable additions, including Mr. Limke, who will be familiar to fans of “The Waiting Place.” There may not be many new characters in the series quite yet, but McKeever isn’t complaining about a lack of creative freedom. “I can’t say I have full autonomy, because at the end of the day I’m answerable to editorial, but I have yet to present a direction or guest star or cameo that’s been poo-pooed.
“As for new characters? Like, heroes and villains? Honestly, there are so many great existing characters to choose from, it would be silly of me not to use one of them. But you will continue to see brand-new supporting characters and antagonists, like Lindsay Leighton.”
The ominously titled “Dark MJ” story is coming up and while it doesn’t involve a black symbiotic costume as some hoped, it will fill in some important gaps in the Spider-Man mythos. “It’s a two-part flashback story built around the period where Peter Parker first became Spider-Man. But since the series is told from MJ’s perspective, and since Peter and Spidey are essentially treated as different characters, this will hardly feel like well-trod ground. The real focus of the story is how MJ became the sort of person to run from her problems rather than deal with them, and in the process she gives herself a bit of a gothic makeover.
“Those two issues are guest-illustrated by Valentine De Landro, with framing sequences by Takeshi [Miyazawa, artist on the series].”
Readers are likely most familiar with McKeever for his work on “The Waiting Place” and “Mary Jane,” which makes one wonder if the scribe is typecast as a “slice of life” writer or if he fears being typecast, without being able to write some more “fantastic” stories. “I’ve got all sorts of stories in me, from sci-fi to horror to fantasy — you name it — but if I keep getting work because I write teenagers well or whatever, that’s fine by me. I enjoy writing that stuff. But absolutely, I’d love to do something else as well. Something high-profile.”
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“SMLMJ” has also made Takeski Miyazawa quite the familiar artist, as his style has helped to define the book in many fans’ eyes, and is quite the creative partner for McKeever. “There’s just something about Tak where we’re on the same wavelength, you know? I mean, I don’t necessarily write my scripts differently for different artists, so it’s really a matter of him just getting where I’m coming from.
“I really love how he’s able to convey the subtlest emotions. I’ll sometimes drop dialogue because what’s the point? Tak has the character saying everything that needs to be said. He also has this wonderful knack for cutting away from the characters, which is a really brave thing to do, because it can be jarring if it isn’t done right. But Tak is able to cut away in ways that really energize the scenes and keep the talking heads from being too static.”
With all this in mind, it baffles some that this new Mary Jane series can’t quite seem to get a big boost in sales, despite the universal acclaim heaped upon the series. McKeever has his own theories, saying, “It’s a series perceived as being ‘for girls’ in an industry dominated by men and that I daresay can be hostile toward women. I was told by one reader that she went to a comics shop looking for ‘SMLMJ’ and the shop owners laughed at her. They laughed at her!
“And then there are a lot of male readers who tell me they’re almost too embarrassed to buy the book because they aren’t supposed to be reading it. And there’s those who won’t even give it a try because it’s out of continuity, or because it’s not a straightforward super hero title. This is the sort of mentality the series is up against, so to say it’s an uphill battle is an understatement.
“Fortunately, between the digests, the library hardcovers, subscriptions and foreign reprints, Marvel appears to have faith in the series’ longevity.”
When facetiously asked if Marvel’s upcoming “Civil War” crossover will affect the title, turning it into a grim ‘n gritty book, McKeever laughs and says, “Lines will be drawn. Hearts will be broken. Detention will be served.”