In 2007, twenty years after the two were wed, Marvel Comics made the controversial decision to break up Peter Parker and Mary Jane. The magical retcon meant that the marriage between one of Marvel's most popular couples had now never existed, with MJ's role in the Spider-Man books drastically changed as a result.
Ten years after the event, which divided fans like never before, CBR examines MJ's long history and explores whether there's still a place for her within the Marvel Universe.
The Red-Headed Stranger
Mary Jane was a presence in Spider-Man's world long before her on-panel debut, with Aunt May's attempt to match-make her and Peter being a running joke. An obscured cameo in Amazing Spider-Man #25 suggested that MJ might exceed Peter's meager expectations, but it wasn't until #42 that she made her first on-panel appearance with an iconic John Romita image.
Mary Jane quickly became a vital part of Peter's supporting cast, her introduction shaking up the soap-opera dynamics that were central to the title. While the initial relationship between Peter and MJ never expanded beyond casual dating, it allowed Peter to compare MJ's effervescent personality with Gwen, his longtime crush. His musings that MJ was "pretty as a pumpkin seed, but just about as shallow" seemed to sum up her portrayal during this era as a fun loving party-girl.
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MJ's portrayal during the '60s stood out because unlike the majority of her friends, she didn't appear to have family drama weighing her down. While her relationship with Aunt Anna was often shown, her parents and wider family were seldom mentioned. Later writers would show that MJ's extrovert manner was a way to mask private pain, but as she danced and flirted her way through the '60s, it seemed as if she was worry free.
Stan Lee would later claim that he had always intended Peter to end up with Gwen, but that plans changed when MJ appeared more fun and interesting, though it's unclear whether this was indeed the case or an example of historical revisionism. The MJ of this era was often portrayed as a fairly shallow and unlikable character, with Peter's inner monologue frequently questioning her character. Distraught over Gwen's death, Peter finally told MJ what he thought of her in Amazing Spider-Man #122, an issue that marked a turning point for both MJ's portrayal and her and Peter's relationship.
A New Romance
By choosing to stay with a grieving Peter, MJ showed for perhaps the first time that she was more than a superficial party girl. In ASM #143, Peter and MJ finally shared their first kiss, marking a new stage in their relationship. In true comics fashion, however, this new found contentment wasn't to last long. The seeming return of Gwen Stacy marked the start of the original Clone Saga, causing both Peter and MJ to reevaluate how they felt about each other. For Peter, it was his feelings for MJ that convinced him he was the real deal, not a clone. For MJ, the situation made her realize the strength of her feelings for Peter, convincing her to face her problems head-on rather than cut and run.
The 1989 graphic novel, Parallel Lives introduced the retcon that MJ had always known Peter was Spider-Man. While there was no evidence of this in the comics of the time, MJ's fear of getting too close to Peter, as well as her frustration with his absences and excuses, could all point to someone struggling with this unspoken secret. Her initial refusal of Peter's marriage proposal, in Amazing Spider-Man #183, also conforms to this narrative. When faced with the prospect of marriage and settling down, she again takes cover in the persona of the party-girl free from all responsibilities.
After a couple of brief appearances over the next few months, MJ vanished from the Spider-books for almost five years. Readers grew used to seeing Peter Parker with other women and MJ might have become just another in a long line of forgotten Marvel love interests. Instead, the opposite was true. When she returned to the Spider-books it set the scene for a bombshell revelation that would change her and Peter's lives forever.