(I promise this is my absolute last word on anything to do with “One More Day” until, I dunno, they make Spidey gay for Harry Osborn or something.)
One of the basic premises of the Spider-Man reboot with “One More Day” is that the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane, as it stands, doesn’t “work” as a storytelling device, that it impedes the natural flow of the character. This is not an unfair criticism, because for a great deal of the lifespan of the marriage, Peter and MJ’s relationship has almost been a chore rather than something that works for telling stories.
However, that’s not something that’s intrinsically the fault of the marriage itself, but rather the fact that most of the Spider-writers haven’t had any clue what to do with it. There are of course notable exceptions. J.M. DeMatteis’ final Harry Osborn as Green Goblin saga is a big one, using MJ and Peter’s relationship as an excellent grounding point for Harry’s insanity. Matt Fraction’s recent annual, positing Spidey and MJ as an unbreakable team, is even better because it gets right of the heart of what a marriage should be.
But I’m getting away from the reason I started writing this, which is Erik Larsen’s most recent column, wherein, discussing recent Spider-events, he raises a point of comparison:
“And that’s what has happened with Superman — with Lois in the know about the Clark and Superman and married to him — the dynamic has changed and the new dynamic simply isn’t as interesting as the old dynamic. The old dynamic worked — the new one doesn’t.”
This is where one has to respectfully point out that Erik Larsen has, I suspect, taken up smoking crack – because the Supermarriage works well. In fact, it works naturally and uniquely well. And there are good reasons for this.
The Supermarriage works, firstly, because it approaches the concept of marriage from the proper perspective for a superhero comic: as a team-up. Because, really, what is marriage if not the ultimate team-up?
Back in the 1970s, the Bronze Age Superman comics made some startling editorial changes. Lois Lane stopped being a fucking idiot and became quite rightly portrayed as a brilliant journalist in her own right – and capable of recognizing that Clark Kent wasn’t half a bad catch on his own. Both of these elements were reinforced by the very strong hints (indeed, often not so much “hints” as “saying it right out”) in the 1970s comics that Lois had already figured out that Clark was Superman, and that the stumbling block for the relationship wasn’t that she could only love Superman and not Clark, but that she couldn’t accept a relationship with someone who was constantly lying to her, even if it were for her own good.
All of this is why Lois works as an equal partner for Superman. In capable hands, she’s portrayed as a bit smarter than Big Blue, which makes sense – she doesn’t have powers to fall back upon when she gets stumped by a problem. She’s definitely ballsier than he is, and entirely too willing to pick up a giant gun from S.T.A.R. Labs if she thinks her husband is in trouble fighting a giant evil baddie villain person. They’re a team, and that’s the storytelling model, even if Superman gets top billing. (Except in a Lois Lane series, which, come on now, is something vitally needed. She had two-hundred-something issues fifty years ago, for crissake; surely we can get her a miniseries or two now?)
I mean, does anybody write in saying that the Fantastic Four just doesn’t work because they’re a family rather than a bunch of friends?
Bringing it back to Spider-Man and MJ now: if we take the rules that make the Supermarriage work, we see that by and large they don’t apply to the Spider-marriage. MJ barely ever gets treated as an equal partner to Spider-Man, and in fact got shoved into a supermodel gimmick that’s not only detrimental to the lovable-loser image of Spider-Man – and if you think a lovable loser can’t have a hot wife in a good ongoing narrative, I’d point out that The King of Queens has been a hit show for how many years again? – but both patronizing and insulting to MJ’s character to boot. “Tee hee I’m a supermodel giggle giggle (*wears lingerie* *makes mock-pouty face*)” isn’t going to win over any new fans, much less bring the old ones on board unless you assume that all the old-school fans are borderline-misogynist losers, which – wait a second…
Seriously, though. If you want the marriage to work as a storytelling device, it’s not hard: you find the strengths Mary Jane has which complement Peter in a team-up sense and allow her to use them. Giving her a job where she makes a lot of money doesn’t count, especially when the job is predicated on her being pretty, because that just implies that Mary Jane is just a set of tits and a nice smile. Besides, MJ being hot doesn’t logically lead to her being rich and successful anyway. There are plenty of hot women who work as bank tellers and Starbucks servers, you know.
MJ’s strengths that complement Peter? She’s more socially adept than he is (Peter Parker, when properly written, should always have that slight anxiety that personifies the grown-up nerd), which means she’s ideal for covering his ass when he’s nearly going to get his secret identity exposed or when he needs to make a quick change. She knows people – even if she’s not famous, MJ should be the sort of person who knows somebody everywhere who’s willing to do her a solid just because they like her. And she probably follows cultural news a lot more closely than he does.
And, sincerely – the Jackpot idea (assuming that MJ is Jackpot and it’s not just a huge Marvel swerve, which it of course could be) is actually pretty good, the one redeemable portion of the whole stupid retcon mess. Even if MJ is an inactive super when married to Peter – she’s still a super.