Marvel-lous Ladies: Mary Jane Watson

“If Anika was in a comic book she would be Mary Jane Watson. Fashionista, fangirl, free spirit…and in love with Spider-Man.” I’ve used variations of this as my bio over the years. MJ and I share things like red hair and a background in acting but it’s really her bubbly personality, the damage it hides, and the resilience it reveals, I respond to.

Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is my favorite Mary Jane

In the long history of Spider-Man, Mary Jane is arguably the most important supporting character but even the stories told from her point of view are about Spider-Man. That’s okay, Peter is the protagonist, but it puts MJ in a precarious position. The complaints run the spectrum: she’s too one-dimensional, nothing but a pretty face, a damsel in distress, a manic pixie dream girl, a flighty actress, a silly hippy, a whiny girlfriend, a needy wife. But if she gets her own storyline she’s stealing attention from the action — Peter — and “who cares about her anyway”. She’s routinely pitted against every other woman Peter’s ever dated (or stood near) regardless of the relationship she has to the women (“MJ and Gwen were friends!” screams my entire tumblr dashboard).

Spider-Man

Old school Mary Jane is my favorite Mary Jane

And then there are the two related but warring sides surrounding her specific relationship to Peter. One side claims Peter can’t be the “loser” he’s allegedly meant to be if he comes home to a “supermodel” every night. So we have to get rid of her. And the other side points out that hooking up the loser with the supermodel suggests all the readers (men) who identify with Peter also deserve a supermodel (aka a trophy) and that is both damaging and dangerous. So we have to get rid of her. But none of this is about Mary Jane.

Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane in Spider-Man 3

Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane is my favorite Mary Jane

Mary Jane has a whole life and personality separate from Peter Parker and Spider-Man. It’s there in the comics. It’s there in the movies. She has family, friends, lovers, dreams, disappointments. She’s her own person, full of confidence and cruelty and compassion and curiosity. She’s all that AND Peter’s best support. Here, Mary Jane comes to comfort Peter after Gwen’s death:

Spider-Man #120

This Mary Jane is my favorite Mary Jane

She comforts and protects and supports him even when he doesn’t want her to, and even when she doesn’t want to. Here, she finds Peter suiting up more than a decade after he gave it up, choosing to work for the police directly when they married and started a family.

Spider-Girl 100

Spider-Girl Mary Jane is my favorite Mary Jane

Those middle three panels explain everything. If I was in a comic book I would be Mary Jane Watson.