Spider-Man was once part of one of comics’ most well-known love triangles, with two beautiful women vying for his affection. There was Gwen Stacy, the gorgeous blonde who shared a mutual attraction with Peter on an intellectual level, and the other was Mary Jane, a fiery redhead who brought passion and excitement into Peter’s life. As time went on, Peter Parker knew he would have to choose between the two.
Unfortunately for Peter Parker, the choice would be made for him, as the actions of the villainous Green Goblin directly led to the death of poor Miss Stacy. The web-slinger eventually began dating Mary Jane Watson, and the two would begin a romance that has spanned 50 years of real life history. MJ is the true love of Spider-Man’s life, and the two have shared numerous adventures over many different mediums. Almost all of the Spider-Man adaptations have portrayed Mary Jane as the woman he was meant to be with.
Clearly, Mary Jane Watson is one of the most important characters in Spider-Man history. She’s been the love of his life for longer than most of us have been alive, and now that she’s back in the headlines, it’s time to look into the history of one of Marvel Comics’ most famous women. From her stealing the spotlight away from Gwen Stacy, to the Amazing Spider-Woman herself, here are 15 Things You Didn’t About Mary Jane Watson.
15. Mary Jane Became So Popular That She Stole Gwen Stacey’s Role
For a supposedly nerdy guy, Peter Parker sure does have a lot of gorgeous women vying for his attention.
Peter Parker’s first love was Gwen Stacy, who was introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #31, as a fellow undergraduate at Peter’s university. Gwen Stacy was created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, and was originally intended to be Peter’s love interest for the rest of the series.
Mary Jane Watson shared the same creators as Gwen, with the addition of being designed by John Romita, Sr. Whilst Gwen was reserved and intellectual, Mary Jane was outgoing and vivacious. Mary Jane was considered a modern woman, and seemed exciting compared to the more traditionally minded Gwen. Her own creators were shocked by how much she appealed to the audience, and they found themselves preferring to write for her than Gwen.
Gwen Stacy was planned to one day marry Peter Parker. The runaway success of the Mary Jane character convinced the Spider-Man writers to change their minds, and make her Spidey’s one true love instead.
14. She Was Based On Ann-Margret
It’s not unusual for comic book artists to base their characters on real life people. These muses can be anyone from celebrities to common associates of the creator. The Ultimate version of Nick Fury is based on Samuel L. Jackson, which led to him portraying the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Hellfire Club from the X-Men comics are all based on famous actors. Using someone’s name or image can also backfire if permission is not asked. Todd McFarlane learned this lesson the hard way when he based a mobster in his Spawn series on Tony Twist, a then-famous ice hockey player. Twist successfully sued McFarlane for fifteen million dollars in damages.
Mary Jane Watson had her appearance based on a celebrity from the 1960s named Ann Margret, a Swedish actress and singer best known for her roles in Bye Bye Birdie, The Cincinnati Kid, and Tommy. In her heyday, Ann Margret was considered an internatonal sex symbol. It should come as no surprise, then, that John Romita, Sr. used her as inspiration for the new love of Spider-Man’s life.
13. She Became Red Sonja (On Multiple Occasions)
Red Sonja was created by Marvel Comics in the 1970s. She is a legally distinct copy of Red Sonya, a character created by Robert E. Howard who lives in a Conan the Barbarian-style fantasy world. One of the most skilled warriors alive, she has the power of the goddess, Scáthach, on her side. Despite being a Marvel character, the setting of Red Sonja is too distinct from the regular Marvel universe to be able to do a crossover. At least that’s what people thought…
In Marvel Team Up #79, the ancient sorcerer known as Kulan Gath reappears in modern day New York City. Kulan Gath had previously transformed New York into an ancient city from a fantasy world, and all of its inhabitants into Conan-style warriors. He was attempting to do so again, and only Spider-Man stood in his way. Mary Jane was waiting in a museum when the battle occurs, and one of the swords on display calls out to her. She grabs it, and becomes Red Sonja reborn.
This idea must have been popular with Marvel, as they later based a miniseries around the same concept. In 2007, they crossed over with Dynamite Comics (the current owners of Red Sonja), and released a five issue Spider-Man Red Sonja limited series. At the end of the first issue, Mary Jane is transformed into Red Sonja once more, and must fight alongside Spider-Man in order to thwart Kulan Gath’s plans.
12. She Was The Star Of Her Own Series Of Romance Comics
Manga series from Japan have gotten a bad rap when it comes to depicting female characters. There is a misconception that manga is just filled with fetishized drawings of underage schoolgirls. The truth of the matter is that the ratio of female to male manga fans is a lot higher than with Western comics. While the movies and TV shows based on Marvel and DC characters may be big money spinners, the actual comics are not (at least by comparison). When it comes to pure sales figures, The Avengers and Batman pail in comparison to series like One Piece and Naruto. One of the reasons for this is that manga creators (both the artists and the editors) do their best to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and that includes the ladies.
In response to the growing presence of manga in the West, Marvel created the “Marvel Age” imprint, featuring comics that were clearly inspired by the Japanese aesthetic. One of the most acclaimed of these Marvel manga comics was Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, a series that was aimed towards the teenage girl demographic.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane focused on the story of Mary Jane, who has a crush on both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. The series dealt with the kind of issues normally faced by high school girls, with the superhero stuff acting as more of a framing device.
11. A Spider-Man Video Game Had To Be Changed Due To Mirror Mary Jane Lesbian Kisses
Spider-Man is a character that has had numerous adaptations and merchandise over the years. There have been a ton of Spidey video games over the years, with the first one being released in 1982 for the Atari 2600. The video games have not only been based on the Spider-Man comic books, of course, as some are actually adaptations of the Spider-Man animated series and movies.
The first of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies was a smash hit at the box office, breaking numerous sales records across the world. This meant that video game adaptations of the movie were inevitable. Several Spider-Man games were released across all of the gaming systems of the day (the PlayStation 2, the GameCube, the original Xbox, and the Game Boy Advance).
Spider-Man on the home consoles actually needed a recall, with a patched version of the game replacing it. This was due to a cheat in the game that allowed you to change the character model so that you could play as someone other than Spider-Man. One of these different characters was our gal Mary Jane. This meant that if you were playing as MJ, then you could kiss yourself during the cutscenes where Spider-Man was meant to kiss his one true love.
10. A Real Life Wedding Was Held For Mary Jane And Spider-Man
In 1987, one of the most important events in Spider-Man history occurred. Peter Parker finally married Mary Jane inside the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. This marriage remained the status quo for both characters for twenty years, until the events of Spider-Man: One More Day in 2007. Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, wanted to switch up the dynamic of the Spider-Man comics, so he came up with a truly terrible way of breaking up the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Mephisto offered to save the life of a dying Aunt May, in exchange for Peter Parker never having been married. Yep, it’s as stupid as it sounds.
But before all that madness, to celebrate the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, an actual wedding was held in Shea Stadium. Actors were hired to portray the happy couple, and Stan Lee himself officiated the ceremony. Spider-Man showed up to the wedding in his superhero outfit (with a tuxedo jacket over it). The guests included the Hulk, Captain America, Ice-Man, and Fire-Star. The Green Goblin also showed up, but he likely wasn’t invited. He probably tried to recreate the ending of The Graduate, but with less success.
9. It Was A Running Joke That You Never Saw Her Face
Although Mary Jane would eventually steal the hearts of the fans (and the staff at Marvel), she was not always intended to be the one for Spidey. She was originally created to act as someone who could insert some extra drama into the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy romance plot.
The Sam Raimi movies (and many of the adaptations since) have portrayed Mary Jane as Peter Parker’s neighbor, establishing that they grew up with each other, with Peter loving her from afar. In the original comics, while Mary Jane was Peter’s neighbor, he never actually met her until their first blind date.
Before Mary Jane’s introduction, it was a running joke in the Spider-Man comics that you never saw her face. She was kind of like Maris from Frasier. Aunt May had been trying to set Peter and Mary Jane up, though Peter assumed she wouldn’t be his type. Until her first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #42, Mary Jane’s face was always obscured. This was intended to be a diversion from the truth, so when Peter finally meets Mary Jane, her beauty is a shock for both him and the reader.
8. She Was Cut From The Amazing Spider-Man Movies
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies focused on the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Gwen Stacy did not become a major character until the third movie, and even then, she was nothing more than an obstacle for the Peter/Mary Jane relationship to overcome.
When the ill-fated Amazing Spider-Man movies were being produced, the decision was made to focus on the relationship between Peter and Gwen from the outset, and bring Mary Jane in later (after Gwen has her inevitable death scene from the comics). Mary Jane was going to be the focal point of the third Amazing Spider-Man movie, but that film will never see the light of day thanks to Sony and Marvel reaching a shared custody agreement over the big screen rights to the wall-crawling hero.
Mary Jane was actually set to appear in Amazing Spider-Man 2, but her scenes were cut from the final movie. She was played by Shailene Woodley, who is now best known for playing the lead in the Divergent film series. Her scenes were removed from the final cut by director Marc Webb, who felt her presence took away from the focus on the Peter/Gwen relationship. Although he’d reportedly planned to introduce her in a planned third installment, whether or not Woodley would have even bothered to return to the role is up for debate.
7. Kirsten Dunst Was Tired Of Mary Jane Being A Damsel In Distress
The most famous screen adaption of Mary Jane is the one brought to life by Kirsten Dunst in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. Fans loved her portrayal, so much so that they were willing to overlook the fact that she clearly wasn’t high school age during the first Spider-Man movie. Then again, Tobey Maguire was no spring chicken himself (he was 26 when Spider-Man was filmed) and people still accepted him as a teenaged Peter Parker.
But unlike the strong and willful Mary Jane from the comics, Kirsten Dunst’s version of the character was often relegated to the role of damsel in distress. We’re talking Princess Peach-levels of constantly being held hostage by the villain of the film. When the third film was being developed, Dunst told Raimi that MJ shouldn’t be placed in yet another perilous situation from which she’d need rescuing. Her pleas must have gone unanswered, as Mary Jane ends up being kidnapped by Venom. With the planned fourth Spider-Man movie dead and buried, it seems that we’ll never see this film version of the web-slinger’s favorite red head have her moment of awesomeness.
6. Mary Jane Suffered A Terrible Fate In The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
The Spider-Man franchise is usually marketed towards children, which is a major reason why Mary Jane is used more often than Gwen Stacy in the adaptations. If you include Gwen, then it’s expected that her famous death scene should also be depicted. If you include Mary Jane, then you get a character who isn’t expected to suffer such a grisly fate.
It seems no one told this to the creators of The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin on the Sega CD. The final battle of the game involves Spider-Man battling the Kingpin, whilst Mary Jane is being lowered into a vat of acid. If the battle goes on for too long, then you’re forced to watch as Mary Jane goes feet-first to her death. A cutscene that plays after the battle shows Spider-Man swearing vengeance on the Kingpin and mournfully looking at the vat of acid.
There is an even worse ending, where Kingpin manages to defeat Spider-Man. He ties him up with Mary Jane, and the player gets to watch as they are both dropped into the acid. We just hope that too many kids weren’t scarred for life by this scene.
5. She Once Defeated Hydro-Man
With the success of the X-Men animated series in 1992, Marvel decided to try a similar cartoon adaptation for their other major property. Spider-Man: The Animated Series ran from 1994 to 1998, and was Marvel’s 2nd longest running cartoon at the time (after X-Men).
Spider-Man: The Animated Series is not quite as well-remembered as X-Men. The animation quality was a lot worse, with the series looking like it had been colored in with highlighter pens. Some of the stories that were adapted had to be heavily altered in order to fit broadcast standards (like Morbius the vampire not being allowed to say the word “Blood“). Despite its shortcomings, Spider-Man: The Animated Series has a dedicated fanbase that hails it as one of the best animated superhero shows of all time.
Mary Jane was Spider-Man’s main love interest throughout the series, as Gwen Stacy only showed up once (in an alternate universe). Unlike the film version of the character, the animated Mary Jane took no abuse. She actually managed to defeat one of Spider-Man’s villains, despite having no powers of her own.
The villain known as Hydro-Man is made from water, and has the ability to shape and control liquid with his mind. Mary Jane defeated Hydro-Man by giving him the runaround. She kept distracting him, running away, and holding him off until he tired out. Hydro-Man needs to be near a body of water to survive, and Mary Jane exhausted him to the point that he evaporated before being able to return to his much-needed power source.
4. A Sexy Statue Of Mary Jane Caused Controversy
Both Marvel and DC seem to be unable to shake off the idea that only males buy comics. While their wider mainstream endeavors (like the Cinematic Universes, and cartoons) make more of an effort to be inclusive, the comics are still stuck in the “boys club” mentality. It’s for this reason that female superheroes and villains are overly sexualized to the degree that they are. There is nothing inherently wrong with creating a product like this, and it’s really no different than how males are sometimes portrayed in media aimed at women (like Twilight, or Sex and the City). It does, however, have the side effect of potentially turning off a large portion of the audience.
Adam Hughes is a famous comic artist, best known for his work on Wonder Woman and Catwoman. He once drew a picture of Mary Jane cleaning Spider-Man’s outfit while bending over. A merchandising company called Sideshow Collectables produced several statuettes of Marvel characters for sale, and they used the Adam Hughes picture as inspiration for their Mary Jane statue.
Not long after the statue went up for sale, complaints were made to Marvel, Sideshow Collectables, and to Adam Hughes himself about how the design was sexist. The statue sold out quickly, but the response prompted Hughes to look into changing the design of future pieces, in order to avoid another controversy.
3. She Is Currently Tony Stark’s Assistant
In 2015, Marvel Comics decided to do a full company reboot for the first time. This decision was met with a negative reaction from long-time fans, as Marvel’s adherence to one main continuity is what helps make storylines feel important. To contrast, DC have rebooted their universe on numerous occasions. To some fans, this takes away from the long-term importance of any of their major plot twists, as it could all be undone in a few years time. Despite the initial misgivings, the so-called “All-New, All-Different Marvel” has been met with positive reviews.
The Mary Jane of this new continuity has actually been a big player in the new Invincible Iron Man series. She is hired as Tony Stark’s personal assistant after the nightclub she owns is destroyed during a supervillain attack. This development has obviously annoyed Peter Parker, especially given Tony’s reputation as a womanizer.
Since becoming the genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist’s assistant, Mary Jane has actually donned the Iron Spider suit in battle, and she even assisted Spider-Man and Tony Stark in taking down the villain known as Regent. Whether Mary Jane will become a full-time superhero in a suit of Stark armor (like Riri Williams) remains to be seen.
2. Spider-Man Once Killed Her In A Bizarre Way
The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are two series that are associated with bringing more adult themes into mainstream comics. Due to the commercial and critical success of both series at the time, they spawned numerous imitators of varying quality. Some creators could tell the difference between genuine adult themes and comics that simply threw in sex, swear words, and graphic violence for no inherent reason other than to be edgy.
Spider-Man: Reign falls into the latter category, as an unnecessarily grim tale about the life of an older Spider-Man. It has become infamous for a single scene, where Spider-Man admits to unwittingly killing Mary Jane… in one of the silliest ways possible.
After Dr. Octopus’ disembodied tentacles dig up the grave of Mary Jane in front of him, Spider-Man finally reveals to the reader how Mary Jane died. He gave her terminal cancer — because his semen had become radioactive.
1. Mary Jane Was The Amazing Spider-Woman In An Alternate Universe
In 2001, Marvel released a new series with a simple premise: they mixed X-Men characters with the story of Quantum Leap. This series was called Exiles, and it starred alternate universe versions of famous Marvel characters (mainly from the X-Men comics). The Exiles were a team of superheroes who had all been displaced from time and brought together to go from universe to universe, fixing problems that could threaten the multiverse as a whole.
During one of their adventures, the Exiles traveled to a world that had been almost totally overrun by the Phalanx (the X-Men equivalent of the Borg from Star Trek). On this world, it was Mary Jane Watson who had been bitten by the radioactive spider, and she had become the amazing Spider-Woman.
Another way in which the Exiles Spider-Woman/Mary Jane differed from her main continuity counterpart was in her sexuality. Spider-Woman was a lesbian, and during the Exiles time on her world, she fell in love with Sunfire. The Exiles version of Sunfire was Mariko Yashida, a woman who is one of Wolverine’s love interests in the main continuity. The two were reunited when the Exiles’ transporter was damaged, and they had two weeks of happiness together as a couple before Sunfire was called away once more. When Sunfire perished in a later mission, she was returned to Spider-Woman’s world, so that she could be buried by the one she loved.
What else do you think fans should know about Mary Jane Watson? Do you think she’ll appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming? Sound off in the comments.