The big engine behind necking, and teen romance, and giddiness at the sight of a bombshell girl, is sex. Industry rules don’t allow any follow-up on that sort of thing. As a result Stan’s approach to romance works best for one-offs, like cover-gags or Mary Jane’s doorway moment [her first appearance, where she opens the door and tells Peter Parker, “That’s right, Tiger. You’ve just hit the jackpot!” Or some such.] Mary Jane emptied a full bolt of glory her first time out and then it was 40 years of decline….if Mary Jane wasn’t going to have sex, there wasn’t much else for her to do. In the 80s, Marvel stuck her with a TV-movie backstory that said her larking about was just a defense; she’d put it on because of her lousy father’s drinking. So everything specific to Mary Jane turned out to be an act. The reason, presumably, was that her schtick had worn a bit thin and she now needed explaining away. At this point, Mary Jane became the girlfriend, then the wife. She didn’t do badly in these roles, but no one can do especially well in them. She was on hand. She helped buck up the hero; she provided relationship tensions. But she didn’t do anything interesting. She dressed louder than the other superheroes’ wives/girlfriends. I guess she also had more spunk, for what that’s worth. Differences in spunk among this bunch get to be like IQ shadings at a high-price computer camp. All the girls have spunk, if they don’t go crazy.
Crippen still has more affection for Mary Jane than I do, though. He sees her first appearance as a quintessence of Stan Lee pizzazz; a fizzy, energetic bombshell. To me, it just seems like tired cliché. Pin-ups by Dan DeCarlo or Jack Cole have a lot more visceral oomph, and while their female characters aren’t exactly fonts of wisdom, they don’t actually talk in a way that makes you worry that their brains have been hoovered out and replaced with the fusty jock-straps of aging hucksters. I don’t know…maybe it’s because I’m particularly down on the hippie thing this decade, but Stan’s Mary Jane seems like a particularly vacuous and hypocritical creation.
Anyway, that’s it on this topic for me. Cross my heart, tiger.