Thursday, June 30, 2011

Face-Off: To Spice, or Not to Spice?

Doug: As we've recently come through our BAB take on the events of Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122, I thought it might be interesting to discuss character-types, and as an extension of that, character evolution. Regular reader/commenter J.A. Morris posted a link to a series of essays on the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson that this writer found simply wonderful. And it got me thinking about the choice Pete faced throughout his young adult life: the down-to-earth, wholesome Gwen Stacy, or the more effervescent, global Mary Jane Watson. And it further got me to thinking about why we as readers gravitate toward one over the other. Personally, I've always been a Gwen guy, because she's the type of "person" that I would be attracted to. If you want to extend this to Gilligan's Island, I'm a Mary Ann guy, too. While MJ and Ginger certainly have their, ahem... merits, personality-wise I find myself more in line with the gals I've cited. Yes, I understand that certain characters take trajectories to make them more interesting and to open up more story possibilities -- but I'm thinking here of the inherent qualities of particular comic book personalities.

Doug: So for some of our female readers, would you be more of a Peter Parker gal, or is Flash Thompson more your type?
How about the Summers boys -- Scott, or Alex?

Doug: And as long as we're discussing character personalities, let's open it up a bit to character evolution. Take Mary Jane, again, for example. We all know how she was depicted in the Silver Age, as that happy-go-lucky party girl (see panel sample, above). How did she evolve as she became Peter's steady girl, then fiance', and finally his wife? Did writers in the early 1980's change her, or was she still basically framed as Stan and Jazzy Johnny had depicted her in the '60's?


dbutler16 said...

I'll just say that I'm definitely a Mary Ann guy.

david_b said...

I'd think most guys go for the quiet, warm types, polls have always favored Mary Ann. Same is true for Bailey from WKRP.

As for Mary Jane, ish 122 and the next dozen issues was the most significant growth for MJ I can recall.

J.A. Morris said...

Mary Ann...and Dawn Wells.

Which Gwen are we talking about?
If we're talking about Romita Gwen vs. MJ, Gwen wins.
If we're talking Ditko Gwen, MJ wins. Ditko Gwen is mean!

Here's another great multi-part essay about Gwen's evolution(and eventual devolution), by Josh Bertone, where we see Ditko Gwen in action:

J.A. Morris said...

"Did writers in the early 1980's change her, or was she still basically framed as Stan and Jazzy Johnny had depicted her in the '60's?"

No, I think the writers allowed MJ to grow up and become multidimensional.

She breaks up with Harry due to his continued drug problems(and taking her for granted). MJ sticks around at the end of #122, after Peter tells her to get lost. In the 80s, we learn that the her "Groosville" personality was mostly for show, she came from a broken home and put on a "party girl" face to hide it.
I've always been okay with her evolution, as far as retcons go it's not a terrible one.

Unlike Gwen, who became a whining caricature who became nothing but the sum of her neuroses. It got worse when her father was killed, she joined the "Spider-man's a criminal" club. And Peter's failure to tell her about his secret identity didn't help her either. I'm not sure why Stan Lee (and later Roy Thomas)did this to Gwen.

Fred W. Hill said...

I don't think Ditko's Gwen was necessarily mean, as he did show her developing a keen interest in Peter, but Peter himself was increasingly displayed as very distracted and anti-social. Even given his multiple problems which he couldn't talk to anyone about, Ditko's late era version of Peter seemed intent on alienating everyone.
Quickly within Romita's tenure, however, both Gwen and Peter were considerably softened, ultimately too much in Gwen's case. Perhaps the relationship could have been saved after issue 100 if, after having accidentally given himself 4extra arms, Peter had actually confided in Gwen, let her in on his secrets and let her help him, as she would have if she genuinely loved him -- and, although Stan, Roy & Gerry seemed to forget it, Gwen was a science student, just like Peter! Instead, he continued hiding from her, distrusting her love. Well, even in the real world people of all walks of life do that sort of thing all the time.
Tragedy and fear haunted Peter and Gwen and kept them from ever really coming together. Her death naturally brought Peter & MJ closer together as they sought comfort in the wake of the tragedy.
Perhaps MJ was too protective of herself to put up with Harry's weaknesses and obsessions, but she wasn't so shallow as to turn away from a friend in need. Moreover, despite their playful competitiveness, Gwen was her friend too. Peter & MJ still had some emotional muturing to do, but their bonding after Gwen's murder proved strong enough to bring them back together even after MJ rejected Peter's initial marriage proposal and ran off for a few years. At least it was until Marvel's current big boss put the kibosh on the whole affair.
BTW, I recall an issue early in Romita's run where Peter is pondering whether to go for Gwen or MJ and determining that while MJ was a lot of fun, Gwen was the one he genuinely yearned for. In the unlikely event I was ever faced with a similar choice, I think my decision would be the same as Peter's. Hopefully I wouldn't find my love being tossed off a bridge by a nasty goblin too!

Jack Alberti said...


Part of the reason Ditko's late era version of Peter seemed intent on alienating everyone is that perhaps Ditko was intent on alienating everyone ... consider the Ayn Rand influence.

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