Spider-Man: Homecoming is hitting theaters next year. Recently, we learned that Zendaya is almost certainly playing long-time Spider-Man love interest Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane was prominently featured in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie trilogy, played by Kirsten Dunst. In the Amazing Spider-Man franchise, the role went to Divergent star Shailene Woodley but was ultimately cut from the movie. The character has also been featured in many other mediums such as cartoons and video games.
With so many appearances from the red-head, you might think you know the character pretty well. The thing is, she is a comic book character, and if years of reading them have taught me anything, is that nothing in comic books is straightforward. More than just a pretty face, there's a lot more to MJ than just being Peter Parker's significant other. So here's a history of Mary Jane Watson, Spidey's favorite girl.
Her Background And Upbringing
Born to Philip and Madeline Watson, Mary Jane also had an older sister, Gayle. Her family moved constantly due to Philip's various teaching jobs. Because of this, Mary Jane developed a care-free, fun-loving, and extroverted personality to make the most of her situation and make friends quickly in her various schools.
Not everything was sunshine and rainbows, though, as Madeline, Gayle, and MJ eventually left Philip, and moved in with different relatives. One in particular with whom Mary Jane formed a bond with was her aunt Anna Watson, neighbor of none other than May and Ben Parker.
Her Relationship With Peter Parker And Spider-Man
An interesting and not well-known fact is how Mary Jane discovered Spider-Man's secret identity. The night Ben Parker was murdered, MJ saw Peter Parker run into his home and shortly after, spotted Spider-Man leaving the house from an upstairs window. She pieced together that the wall-crawler and her neighbor were the same person, but chose to keep the discovery a secret.
Mary Jane was first referenced in The Amazing Spider-Man #15 (August 1964) but wasn't physically introduced until The Amazing Spider-Man #25 (June 1965). Her first appearance actually had her face covered by a houseplant when she visited Peter Parker's house to meet him. But Peter was out fighting Spider-Slayers (you know, the usual). Instead, MJ got to meet Peter's other love interests — Liz Allan and Betty Brant — who were fighting for his attention at the time. For a "nerd," Peter Parker never seemed to have any problem getting girls.
Dreaming of being an actress, Mary Jane took part in various school plays. Unfortunately, her mother fell ill and the girl was forced to quit acting and get a job to support her family. Once Madeline died, MJ left her house, determined to pursue her dreams and be happy.
Her first full appearance in comic books was when she and Peter finally met face-to-face during a dinner at her aunt's house. This is when she uttered the now legendary catchphrase, "Face it, Tiger...you just hit the jackpot!" at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man #46 from November, 1966.
Peter falls in love with Mary Jane and they start dating. Knowing about his alter-ego, on their first date MJ encourages Peter to "check it out" when they both spy Rhino going on a rampage. However, despite her loyalty, after some time together - even with their undeniable chemistry - Peter becomes tired of Mary Jane's apparent shallowness and superficiality and chooses Gwen Stacy over her. Eventually, MJ seems to move on and dates Harry Osborn.
But after Gwen was killed by the Green Goblin, Mary Jane goes to Peter's apartment to comfort him. However, Parker lashes out at MJ, telling her to leave and stop trying to make him laugh – a party girl like her wouldn't be sorry even if her own mother died. MJ, more perceptive than Peter gives her credit for, understands Peter's hurt and stays with him.
Peter and Mary Jane confess their love for each other as time passes and they begin a rather...tumultuous relationship. During this time, they share an on-and-off relationship, in which Mary Jane doesn't want a serious commitment with him, gets caught in an explosion set by Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin and rejects Peter's first marriage proposal as she doesn't want to be tied down. Eventually, she moves away...which is still less cheesy than his proposal from Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
Years later, after she returns to New York, Mary Jane confesses having always known his secret identity and tells him her life story. Peter realizes he can trust her with his secret and they develop a close friendship. They soon realize they're still very much in love with each other and Peter proposes to her again. This time, she accepts.
Mary Jane and Peter finally marry in The Amazing Spider-Man #21. A rare occurrence, this comic book issue was released at the same time as the comic strip. Of this feat, Spidey's co-creator, Stan Lee said this:
"I wanted to find a way to have them get married in the comics books and the newspaper strip at the same time. There is no way I can explain to you how difficult that was, because the comics books are written two or three months ahead, the newspaper strip is written a certain period of time ahead. To synchronize the two was almost impossible."
While Peter and Mary Jane's relationship had been frequently shown as a rocky one, this issue showcased how their unconditional love for each other made them the perfect couple, despite their fears and doubts.
Her Tragic Pregnancy And Birth
During The Clone Saga, Mary Jane discovers she is pregnant. At the same time, Peter is tricked into thinking that his clone, Ben Reilly (also known as the Scarlet Spider) was the real Peter Parker and Peter was the clone. The Jackal took this opportunity to mentally control Peter to kill MJ. Fortunately, Ben Reilly stops him. The hero's stress level only gets higher when, while arguing with Ben, accidentally strikes his pregnant wife.
Peter decides to walk away from everything and move to Portland with Mary Jane to give their baby a healthy life. However, after moving back to New York (is anyone sensing a pattern here?) during the Onslaught crisis, a Sentinel scans the redhead and reveals that her baby has an abnormality. On the day she goes into labor, a woman working for Norman Osborn poisons Mary Jane's food and causes their daughter to be stillborn.
Mary Jane tries to recover from this tragedy by going back to school to study psychology but gets bored and returned to modeling (stick to what you know, right?).
Once Peter joins the New Avengers, Mary Jane and Aunt May move to Stark Tower. There, they live crazy adventures that border on the ridiculous. But when the Superhero Registration Act is introduced and the Civil War arc happens, May and Mary Jane tell Peter they will support him in whatever he decides.
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As we know, Peter reveals his secret identity to the world but changes his mind once he realizes things are getting out of hand and flees with his wife and aunt. Shortly after, Aunt May is shot by a sniper hired by the Kingpin to kill Peter.
One More Day And Later
Aunt May getting shot sets off the events of one of the most controversial storylines in comic books so far: One More Day. Mephisto approaches the wall-crawler with an image of Peter's future daughter and makes a deal with him: Undo Peter's marriage to Mary Jane in exchange for Aunt May living. As the demon puts it, the love between the two only occurs once a millennium and he wants to get one over on God.
After discussing for some time, Peter and Mary Jane decide to sacrifice their marriage to save Aunt May. While they're with Mephisto, MJ whispers to the entity and threatens the demon to never approach Peter again – once again showing her trademark feistiness. Once the deal is done, their history is re-written with Peter missing their wedding after being knocked out while chasing a criminal, leaving Mary Jane alone and hurt.
More recently, she has been working for Tony Stark as part of All New, All Different Marvel, after he and Doctor Doom destroy her newly-opened club in a fight against Madame Masque.
So What Makes Mary Jane Watson Unique?
Mary Jane was introduced well into Peter Parker's life as merely a love interest at first, but she's one of those rare characters that took on a life of her own once she was presented. No matter how you write her, the essence of her fierce loyalty and adventurous spirit will always be there. MJ's co-creator, Stan Lee, talked about how she took over as Spidey's greatest love since being introduced:
"Somehow, Mary Jane seemed to have all the personality, and much as we tried to make Gwen more attractive, we couldn't! We, ourselves, felt that Mary Jane ended up being not only more attractive but more fun and more interesting, and we finally decided to let Peter end up with her, but it was ... as though the characters had taken over!"
One of MJ's most interesting aspect is the mask she wears. She acts like a party girl that hasn't a care in the world but that is just a veil that hides an intelligent, tenacious, loyal, and wise woman who will do anything for the ones she loves. This is proven when she, even though hesitant to accept Mephisto's deal, goes through with it to make Peter happy.
Mary Jane Is An Awesome But Complicated Character To Get Right On Screen
As stated before, Mary Jane Watson is a particularly interesting comic book character. Despite her insecurities and tumultuous relationship with Peter Parker, she is a trustworthy and loyal partner. Unfortunately, the live-action interpretation we got didn't quite capture Mary Jane's essence.
Hopefully, we get a faithful and enjoyable portrayal of Spider-Man's favorite redhead in Spider-Man: Homecoming that cements her as not only a great love-interest, but a great character in her own right. With Zendaya's fierce personality, it's almost impossible to think we won't.