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Greatest Peter/Mary Jane Stories #5

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In celebration of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, over the next few weeks superiorspidertalk.com is going to acknowledge the very best Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson stories. Criteria for this list include historical significance, artwork, creativity, and of course, my overall enjoyment of the arc.

Here’s #5:

“The Wedding” – Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (published June 1987): script by David Michelinie and Jim Shooter; pencils by Paul Ryan; inks by Vince Colletta

ASM Annual 21 02“Ooh, ahh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” – Dr. Ian Malcom, The Lost World

As far as I’m concerned, any fictional character portrayed by Jeff Goldblum is a wise character. 

“The Wedding” is arguably the most historically significant storyline to make this top Peter/Mary Jane list, primarily because of the endless wave of controversy this issue has caused over the course of Marvel Comics/Spider-Man history. As a result, it’s very rare to find a somewhat intelligent discussion of the actual contents of this comic – you know… stuff like how the story and art were executed in a comic book. Instead, everyone just likes to talk about what this comic has come to represent in terms of two very polarizing opinions on the concept of superhero-dom. Namely, is a married Spider-Man a good Spider-Man?

You know from past posts I’ve made within this series and on Chasing Amazing that I’ve never been a bang the drum, Peter must be married Spider-man fan. But I do think it’s worth noting that this is a debate that has raged within the back channels at Marvel for many, many years – well before “One More Day” was a glimmer in Joe Quesada’s eyes. In fact, many at Marvel protested the Peter/MJ marriage the moment it was first proposed, with the common consensus being this was just another in a long line of publicity stunts being forced upon creative by former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter (who would be fired from the head position about a month after this comic was published). 

Further demonstrating that the marriage was not an organic, universally-supported decision, is how clumsily the entire build-up to the union was executed in the comics. Peter is actually seen reuniting with Felicia Hardy/the Black Cat at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #289 (written by Peter David), while the concurrently published Spider-Man vs. Wolverine graphic novel (scripted by Jim Owsley) shows Peter longing for MJ. Then the David Michelinie-era kicks off in Amazing Spider-Man #290 and Peter is shown asking Mary Jane the “big question” (she finally says “yes” in ASM #292). “The Wedding” annual issue was published shortly after and depicts certain elements about Peter/MJ’s engagement in a very unrealistic light. The fact that Peter doesn’t even tell his Aunt May he’s marrying MJ until “days” before the wedding seems extraordinarily odd, as does the fact that the happy couple took what comes across as about a week to throw a wedding together. Not everything has to be a “storybook” wedding in a catering hall made to look like a castle (the Long Island in me is coming out), but a week? I don’t buy it.

ASM Annual 21 04But beyond the logistics, if you look back at every controversial/problematic storyline that transpired between 1987 and 2007, the dramatic status quo shift introduced in “The Wedding” can usually be cited as a contributing factor. People hated the fact that the “Clone Saga” attempted to replace Peter with his clone, Ben Reilly, as Spider-Man, but that was something engineered by Marvel in an attempt to give Peter his happily ever after (with child). Jump ahead to the Howard Mackie/John Byrne reboot in the late 90s/early 2000s and Marvel was so desperate to change up Spidey’s status quo they killed MJ in a plane crash (only to retcon it a year or so later). J. Michael Straczynski reunited them during his storied run on ASM, but we all know how that ultimately ended (hello Mephisto). 

Now, I’m not suggesting that the poor creative choices that followed “The Wedding” ultimately justified its erasure from continuity, but it does shine a light on the fact that it was more than just Joe Q. who couldn’t think of a way to make a married Spider-Man work. And based on its own merits, I don’t know if that’s a completely unreasonable viewpoint. 

ASM Annual #21 is a sweet and charming look at Peter and MJ but it also tonally operates well beyond the bounds of a “traditional” Spider-Man story. It’s chock full of clichés and unoriginal ideas and concepts — Peter and MJ both have second thoughts about getting married; Peter’s impromptu bachelor party (which is attended by a whopping two people in Flash and Harry Osborn); Peter and Mary Jane are both late arrivals to the ceremony — all leading up to the customary “I now pronounce you man and wife” moment. But outside of a few introspective sequences, it’s hard to view “The Wedding” as anything other than a gimmick designed to get people into comic book stores. It’s not particularly compelling, nor does it go out of its way to make the case as to why these two people need to be married other than “because Shooter said so.”

ASM Annual 21 01And yet, this is such a historic moment in the history of the character, the Spider-Man franchise, and Marvel Comics in general, it’s easy to overlook its inherent flaws and celebrate a stress-free superhero read. Plus, because this is a Spider-Man comic after all, it does retain some trace elements of what makes the character so unique, making ASM Annual #21 one of the better crafted obvious cash grabs in the medium’s history.

“The Wedding” presents two major complications for Peter and Mary Jane – and neither has anything to do with the roughshod way these two were united in what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment (call me old fashioned). First, Michelinie and Shooter’s script is very on the nose about how different Peter and MJ are as people. The Peter/MJ story doesn’t exactly mirror Billy Joel serenading Christie Brinkley in “Uptown Girl” (I’m going Long Island on you again), as MJ was not raised in a place of privilege. But because of the life she carved out for herself as a supermodel, she has access to a lifestyle that Peter professionally and extracurricular-ly can never approach. Towards the beginning of the comic, Peter and Mary Jane are talking all cutsie-cutsie to each other (hence the “wedding episode” clichés) but the scene is cut short when Peter offers his wife-to-be a ride on the D train and she casually tells him that a limo is picking her up. Peter’s dumbfounded face coupled with him repeating the word “Limo,” is a tad sit-commy, but also effective in terms of demonstrating just how over-his-head our hero is entering this union.

Aside the social/wealth disparity, “The Wedding” does an excellent job exploring Peter’s unresolved guilt over the death of Gwen Stacy. It’s only natural that on the precipice of spending the rest of his life with his current love, that Peter’s mind would wander back to his first love (and the love that was tragically cut short because she was killed by the Green Goblin during a fight with Spider-Man). 

ASM Annual 21 03Still, ASM Annual #21 does go in some unexpected directions while Peter laments his ability to move on from Gwen. We get an otherwise carefree scene where Peter whisks MJ away and shows her Spider-Man’s world by taking her to the top of the Empire State Building (which, from this point on, would become their “spot” in continuity). The sequence is set up to be this huge release for Peter and MJ who are already starting to doubt whether or not marriage is the right decision, but instead only adds to further complicate things when MJ points out the Brooklyn Bridge (yes, in the never-ending debate of where Gwen was killed, let the record show that “The Wedding” says Brooklyn Bridge) before realizing the tragedy that took place there earlier. Peter gets lost in his thoughts and then assures MJ that he’s moved on, but it’s obvious that he hasn’t. 

In many ways, I prefer this level of doubt and resistance to the more tired “everyone I’ve ever loved is killed because I’m Spider-Man” mantra that ultimately gets put forward in this storyline and countless others. It’s not that it’s an invalid emotion on Peter’s part, but it gets repeated with such frequency that the reader almost becomes numb to it. Instead, in this one instant at the top of the Empire State Building, we get something that’s a bit more organic and honest. It conveys the idea that as great as MJ is, Peter will never fully get over Gwen — nor should he be able to. The fantastic Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale would plunge into this idea further.

These isolated moments don’t necessarily push ASM Annual #21 into “great story” territory, but it’s hard not to love “The Wedding” all the same. It’s unapologetic in its commercialism much in the way some of the very early Stan Lee scripts were (i.e. ASM Annual #1). The story even ends with a plug for the concurrent Spectacular Spider-Man Annual where Peter and MJ get into some wacky adventures. Of course those adventures had very little bearing on the status quo of Spider-Man so that storyline is not about to show up on an essential list any time soon.

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