Once upon a time, a radioactive spider bit a nerd named Peter Parker, who became Spider-Man, fell in love with Mary Jane Watson, and went on to live a pretty exciting life. But what if Mary Jane had been Peter's high school classmate? And had fallen in love with Spider-Man during that same time? Would Peter have chosen MJ over Gwen Stacy? Those questions - and more - are answered in "Mary Jane Lover Spider-Man," the critically acclaimed out of continuity Marvel Comics series focusing on a teenage MJ and her life, which includes a certain neighborhood superhero. Writer Sean McKeever and artist Takeshi Miyazawa brought fans two popular "Mary Jane" mini-series, which spawned the current ongoing book, and the sky's been the limit since then. CBR News caught up with McKeever, who spilled the beans on "Mary Jane," "Spider-Man Family" and told us about a new artist for the former.
Even with strong sales and a vocal fanbase, "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane" is still a bit of an oddity. In a comic book market full of crossovers, gritty reinterpretations of heroes, and an odd definition of "death," McKeever's insistence on producing a romance comic may seem a bit odd. "I'm all about giving the fans what they don't want, but that they need, even though they don't know it. SMLMJ is like broccoli," McKeever laughed and told CBR News.
If the romantic focus of the book wasn't enough to distinguish it from competitors, McKeever's bucking the trend by writing each issue chock full of major events and genuine surprises. Readers have come to expect that big moment from McKeever each month and while that might put pressure on some writers, the mid-west native is cool as a Green Bay winter. "I can come up with character-driven story twists all day long without breaking a sweat, so I don't really find it difficult to keep pushing forward," he explained. "The nice thing about a series like 'SMLMJ,' where it's kind of like a soap opera, is that I get to keep making these fun cliffhangers and building off previous issues. I don't think that works against their being reprinted in five-issue chunks; in fact, I look at every five issues as a block of stories, much in the same way I look at every five or six scenes as an issue."
One of those big events that some are anticipating - or dreading if you're a certain fan - is the fate of the recently introduced Gwen Stacy. Her "official" counterpart died in a battle between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man, which has made her reintroduction in other Spider-Man iterations ("Ultimate Spider-Man" and the upcoming "Spider-Man 3" film) quite interesting to fans, as there's an expectation she'll perish. In a recent issue of "SMLMJ," a character even joked about Gwen being thrown off a bridge, which some fans interpreted as foreshadowing her fate. "Nah, I think Gwen's safe," admitted McKeever. "I always wanted her to be a part of the series. In fact, her introduction was in the plot notes for my initial series pitch for 'Mary Jane' way back when. She's a wonderful character and brings a lot to the table, plus I feel she's vital to the Spider-Man mythos, so she just has to be there, you know?"
Another element that "has to be there" is the turn of Mary Jane from regular girl (albeit a popular one) into the diva that fans have come to know and love as Spider-Man's in-continuity wife. Recent issues have shown that the intimacy between Gwen & Peter isn't sitting well with her, prompting a new side of MJ to emerge, as she rebuffs old friends and revels in the spotlight afforded to her by her status in school. Some fans aren't inherently happy with this turn to the "dark side" (don't worry, she hasn't named herself "Darth MJ" yet), and McKeever said that was always the intent. "My honest hope is that anyone who reads the series doesn't agree with all of her choices. It's so easy to play characters safely but it's much more interesting and authentic, I think, to really get inside a character's skin and look for a path that's true to that character."
Finding that "truth" in a character is something McKeever has aspired to do since the days of his indie hit "The Waiting Place," another teen-centric book and one that established his cred as a legitimate scripter of teenage life. He admitted that he doesn't so any special research for the characters, and explained, "A lot of it has to do with an instinctive grasp of character I've always seemed to possess. Whether it was writing fiction or competing for solo acting awards, all through my school years I was able to tap into that innate ability. I also feel Tak has been a huge part of this series' success. He's great with the small, subtle moments and has one of the strongest grasps of character out there."
The stars of "SMLMJ" have a slight problem with secret and lies - they're full of both of them it seems! With all the havoc that's already been caused (and by) MJ & Co with the continual inability to be totally honest, will these folks ever learn to talk straight? "Absolutely not," said McKeever. "Just look around you and you'll realize most adults haven't learned that lesson yet!"
As mentioned earlier, "Spider-Man 3" is on the horizon, and with the 2007 release inching closer each day, it's no surprise that the black costume featured in the film will once again appear in the comics. As for the chances of it appearing in "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane," McKeever explained, "Last summer, I emailed Nate Cosby and Mark Paniccia with this great idea I had to put Spidey in the black costume for a while in 2007. They replied that Marvel Adventures and the other Spidey books were already doing just that, so the idea was immediately nixed. And I thought I was so clever!
"So all you red-and-blue fans out there, SMLMJ will be the only place to get your fix for a few months!"
However, fans just might catch a glimpse of some other young superheroes in "SMLMJ" if things go McKeever's way. From Iron Fist to Johnny Storm, Spider-Man's always hung with some young heroes and in this alternate universe, it's not too crazy to think that a hero or two might make their presence known. "It's always a possibility," admitted McKeever. "I have a couple characters showing up who were at one time regulars in the Spider-Man books. In #12, I'm bringing in Joy Mercado as a journalist for the school paper. And a certain old flame of Spidey's will be showing up down the road."
Speaking of changes, McKeever told CBR News that there's a new artist joining the "Mary Jane" express, namely David Hahn, who he says was the obvious choice. "We had a really hard time figuring out who could possibly fill Tak's shoes. I mean, months of hemming and hawing, but as soon as David's name was mentioned, he made perfect sense. David's one of those artists who has a great grasp of character and subtle emotion, plus his art is clean and candy-like in its appeal. He's also a very smart storyteller. These are all of the things I loved about working with Tak, so it's a no-brainer to me."
As one of the only romance books published by the Big Two (Marvel Comics and DC Comics), there's been some question as to the strength of "SMLMJ"'s sales, but McKeever happily reported that all is well. "It's been holding pretty steady, and more and more these days I seem to see adult males sort-of 'outing' themselves as fans of the series. But I still hear the occasional story of a retailer making fun of a customer for buying it, which is un-cool beyond words."
If you're one of the fans who prefers McKeever's Mary Jane adventures in portable digest form, he's cool with that, though he recommends the monthly issues. "I can understand why people do it, and there are series ('100 Bullets,' 'Lucifer') that I'm more comfortable reading in collected format, but at the same time I think a lot of people are missing out on the thrill that comes from reading a monthly serial. That aspect of comics seems to be forgotten, and it's a real shame. I work really hard to make sure my comics are as addictive and engaging as monthlies as they are when collected."
Not one to rest on his laurels, McKeever is tackling the Spider-Man mythos in a new upcoming series entitled "Spider-Man Family." "It's a bi-monthly series in the spirit of the 100-Page Monsters that used to come out, with a full-length lead story, a new backup and some cool reprints," he explained. "When 'Spider-Man Family' was first conceived, it was just as a one-shot. But when I pitched an idea for a comic celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 'Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends' cartoon, they decided to make that another Family. It was so successful for them that they decided to turn it into a regular feature, and here I am.
"The stories are able to run the gamut in terms of what version of Spidey is used (2099, Earth X, Original Recipe), which Spidey-related characters are used, where they take place in continuity, the tone. In my first two stories, for example, I'm dealing with Spidey when he had the alien costume in kind of a fun romp in one, and then having him go up against Venom in a personal, noir-ish tale in the other. I liked being able to add to the alien costume saga, and having Peter living in his Chelsea Street apartment. I got to write Mrs. Muggins!"
With all the changes in the future of "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane," it's quickly becoming one of the most exciting Spider-Man books on the stand and McKeever hopes that fans will give it a chance. "Anyone who's a fan of Spider-Man or of character-driven drama that's earnest and not overly melodramatic can jump on board. And with the recap page, virtually every issue is a great jumping-on point, so why not start with #12?"