With the big Spidey news all over the interwebs, it seems like a good time to look back at another newsworthy Spidey event. So please join us if you will, as we set the Wayback Machine for the year 1987.
It really did come out of the blue. At the time, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN had been on a pretty good tear for a few years, coming off of first Roger Stern’s extremely entertaining run that had introduced the mystery of the Hobgoblin, followed by an almost-as-enjoyable run by Tom DeFalco, who primarily focused on the battle for New York’s underworld among Spidey’s villains, with characters like the Kingpin, the Rose and the Hobgoblin fighting amongst themselves for control, with Spidey often caught in the middle. Romantically, Spider-Man had spent the bulk of this period in a relationship with reformed villainess Felicia “the Black Cat” Hardy, with Mary Jane relegated far, far into the background, not appearing for months or even years at a time (with the exception of a brief interlude during Stern’s run, in which it was revealed that Mary Jane had known about Peter’s secret identity for years, almost from the very beginning of their relationship, a revelation that didn’t make a lot of sense of you thought about it too hard. Best to move on.).
Meanwhile, in the pages of your local newspaper, Spidey’s co-creator Stan Lee was plugging away steadily on the daily AMAZING SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip, a job he’d been doing steadily for years with artists John Romita and Larry Lieber. Well, apparently around that time, circulation was beginning to falter on the strip, and the syndicate had asked Stan to do something big to shake things up and keep more papers from dropping it. Stan’s idea? A wedding, of course, between Peter Parker and his love interest in the strip, Mary Jane.
As a matter of courtesy, Stan informed Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter of his plan, and reportedly Shooter became bound and determined not to let this happen in the newspaper strip before it could happen in the comics. Which is why things seem so insanely abrupt when the story begins, in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #290, written by David Michelinie and drawn by John Romita, Jr.
Here we see Peter Parker supposedly having finally accepted his life as Spider-Man (as of the previous issue, again highlighting how fast things were moving), yet still feeling like something was missing in his life. Feeling at a loss, Peter goes for a chat with Mary Jane who had just recently moved back to New York:
Following MJ’s advice, Pete goes to talk to his Aunt May, where he discovers that his beloved childhood microscope was accidentally given away for charity. This leads to a fairly routine adventure with a robbery at the local church action, and in the end Pete has his microscope back and all is well. And here’s where the big leap is made, where Pete decides to propose marriage to a woman he hasn’t even been seeing romantically in months, maybe years.
It’s a little self-centered, to be honest. It still doesn’t seem that he’s doing it for the right reason, like, oh, I don’t know, he’s in love with her? Some sort of acknowledgment here that he’s realized he’s till in love with Mary Jane would have made the whole business go down a lot easier for me, both then and now.
So the question is popped:
And with the next issue comes the response, which I have to admit, makes sense:
Mary Jane’s not eager to talk about it, either:
The bulk of the next two issues has to do with a trip to Pittsburgh to see Mary Jane’s family, a father, sister and nephews that hadn’t been seen before and (to my knowledge anyway) haven’t been seen since, intercut with Spidey’s battles with Alistair Smythe and his Spider-Slayer robot.
Even at the time, it seemed to me like Peter wasn’t exactly into the idea of marrying MJ as much as just the idea of getting married. Take this little soliloquy for example:
“put on indefinite hold”? Dude, she said no. Most of us would look at that as a bit more serious than “indefinite hold.”
Anyway, by the end of the next issue, after MJ has settled things with her family and helped Spidey defeat Smythe’s Spider-Slayer (with a baseball bat, mind you), she apparently has a change of heart, and lets Peter know as they await their flight back to New York:
And by the way, even 25 years ago, John Romita, Jr.’s art was great. Sure, it’s missing a lot of the polish and flash we see in his work nowadays, which comes naturally with decades of experience, but even then, J.R. Jr. was turning out tight, clear, effective storytelling.
So with that, the wedding was on. And it was no lengthy engagement, either, as the very next month saw the publication of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #21, entitled “The Wedding,” plotted by Marvel honcho Jim Shooter, scripted by David Michelinie, penciled by Paul Ryan and inked by Vince Colletta.
And by the way, another sign that this whole endeavour was done on the quick. Arguably the most important book Marvel would publish that year, and they get Ryan and Colletta? Nothing against Ryan — his work is solid, but surely there were bigger names in comics in 1987.
The book opens with the apparently mandated superhero fight, a by-the-numbers tussle with Electro, who has apparently spent his summer at the Renaissance Faire based on his out-of-character, melodramatic dialogue — “Come! There’s havoc to be wrought!” This is a guy who used to work for the city on power lines, you know…
That out of the way, the issue settles in on the story’s central conflict: cold feet, suffered by both Peter and Mary Jane. Peter is worried about whether or not he’s ready for marriage, while MJ is fending off the advances of a mysterious Hollywood movie star determined to get her to run away with him. I gotta tell you, for a wedding issue, this is probably the least romantic story you’d expect. You never really get the sense that Peter and Mary Jane love each other and are happy about getting married. Just to cap off the anti-romance, we’re even treated to a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge so we can have one more visit to the site where Gwen Stacy died.
And in case we didn’t get the point, it’s hammered home again on the next page:
Then there’s Peter Parker’s raucous bachelor party: Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn in a coffee shop. Look at this blowout bash.
Everybody Wang Chung tonight. We’re partyin’ now.
Mary Jane, meanwhile, is having her own bachelorette party, apparently attended exclusively by mullet-wearing himbos trying to talk her out of getting married.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a comic-book wedding without a dream sequence, so we’re treated to this shot of Spidey at the altar, just before a ghostly Gwen fades into vapor and all of Spidey’s foes converge on MJ, and Pete wakes up in a cold sweat.
With both Peter and Mary Jane on the verge of backing out (with a morbid Spider-Man even making yet another visit to the Brooklyn Bridge), the day finally arrives, with all of Peter and MJ’s friends gathering on the steps of City Hall for the blessed event. Mary Jane and Peter both arrive late (with MJ even arriving in her ex-boyfriend’s Ferrari, which seems to be in somewhat questionable taste, but whatever), and soon the ceremony is underway:
It all just seems a little halfhearted and rushed, especially for Marvel’s trademark character. Why don’t we see more of the wedding? And why aren’t more people there? Where are Liz Allan and Glory Grant? What was Felicia Hardy doing? How did she take it?
When you compare this to something like NEW TEEN TITANS #50, Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s stunning book about Donna “Wonder Girl” Troy’s wedding, it falls way, way short both in concept and execution. And this is Spider-Man, we’re talking about, for crying out loud. This should have been an event, with all the great Spidey writers and artists involved, folks like Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Wolfman and Wein, Stern and DeFalco, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Romita Senior and Junior, you name it. Instead, it’s just kinda…there. Not really bad, but nothing to put a lump in your throat or anything. There’s just no heart to it.
Then again, it could have been worse. Take a look at the real-life wedding of Spidey and Mary Jane, as held in Shea Stadium the week before this issue came out, as officiated by Stan “the Man” himself:
Yeesh. Nice jacket, Webhead.
And what about the newspaper comic-strip wedding, the thing that started this whole business to begin with? Nobody even remembers it, and it’s not available in print anywhere. Mazel tov.
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