Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why Are Married People Just Not Interesting?: Some Thoughts on the Parker-Watson Controversy

An "Amy Reads the Week" Special Edition!

As many of you know by now, Gentle Reader, I am married, these three years, to the intrepid Mr. Reads, himself a long-time comic book reader and fan. In fact, our shared love of comic books and All Things Geek—sci fi novels, zombie movies, Buffy, once-obscure bands we-knew-when—is what sparked our romance, those many years ago. And as Constant Readers of This Humble Blog are likely to remember, This Humble Author is, tried and true, A DC Girl. All things DC, but mostly of the Amazonian variety—and the Batman variety, and the Super-School, and Teen Titans (Go!), etc. etc. ad nauseam.

But what You, Dear Friends, may not remember is that Mr. Reads is Quite The Spidey Fan. That is to say, The Amazon Princess is to Amy Reads as Your Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger is to Mr. Reads. As I salivate for Diana Prince storylines, so, too, does Mr. Reads for Peter Parker. As I anticipate excellent writers on board Tales From Themyscira—give me your Ruckas, your Simones—so, too, does Mr. Reads anticipate excellent writers for Books From The Big Apple—your Bendises, your McKeevers.

And while yes, some people believe that the Marriage State is the antithesis of An Interesting Life—a life of comfort and “sameness” and perhaps predictability—I would disagree. Perhaps it is because I find Mr. Reads infinitely more fascinating now than I did ten years ago, when we first met. Perhaps—just perhaps, Gentle Reader!—it is because he has grown up in those intervening ten years, and I have had The Privilege of growing with him.

Edit: For those Constant Readers who are, perhaps, not Constant Comic Book Readers, the Editors at Marvel Comics have just (!) dissolved the marriage between Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Mary Jane. Read more here.

Not unlike fandom, no? Not unlike my twenty some-odd years of fandom for Wonder Woman, or Mr. Reads’s twenty some-odd years of fandom for Spider-Man. We have had The Privilege of watching Our Beloved Characters grow up in these intervening twenty years—even farther and even faster, these thirty, forty, fifty, seventy years of existence. And frankly, we have had The Privilege of growing with them.

Now while Mr. Reads is Quite the Fanboy for All Things Spidey, All The Time, I must regretfully decline fandom of the same. Oh, certainly, I enjoy the Spider-Man, but I am not A Rabid Fangirl for him. Rather, my interest in Spider-Man stems, almost solely, from enjoying something that Mr. Reads himself enjoys so much. He says the same of his burgeoning interest in Wonder Woman. As I am and always have been a DC Girl, Mr. Reads is a Marvel Boy. He knows all incarnations of Spidey villains, their real names, their aliases, their strengths and weaknesses. His wealth of knowledge of All Things Spidey is somewhat daunting, admittedly, but perhaps because This Humble Author must then admit that it is due to Mr. Reads’s now thirty-plus years of Spidey fandom.

And while This Humble Author cannot claim the same for herself, she can, however, point to two of the best stories she has read in the Comic Book Universe: Jim Butcher’s novel Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours, and Sean McKeever’s Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series. The McKeever is, perhaps, a given. It is a smart, fun, well-illustrated series that touches on the birth of the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. McKeever is a fantastically successful young adult writer. That is, Mr. McKeever is a fantastically successful writer of young adults. He portrays teenagers in a way that I remember not only as a former teenager, but also as a former teacher of teenagers. They are realistic, and charming, and the tiniest bit frightening.

But Mr. Butcher’s novel might seem a strange choice, particularly coming from a comic book fan. What This Humble Author enjoys about comic books could fill many more pages than This Humble Entry would warrant, but no small part of this is because comic books are the ultimate marriage of image-and-text. I am perhaps The World’s Worst Artist—many aborted attempts at art in my younger days lie as testament to this fact—and because of my rather horrifying non-talent in the artistic world, I find myself Rather Interested in Art, in general. I collect artists, one could say, in that the Brother-Reads-In-Law and the Best-Friend-Reads are artists, both, and Rather Free with the fruits of their labours. Chez Reads is peppered with such artistic endeavours, and it is Rather Lovely to say the least.

A novel of a comic book hero, then, severs that dependency on art, and forces the story to prose form. I am Quite the Fan of Mr. Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and find him a wonderful writer. And he approaches an older Peter Parker, a married, employed as a high school science teacher Peter Parker, and he gives us a wonderful tale.

An interesting tale, one in which Mary Jane Parker is integral—yes, Friends, integral--to the story. An interesting tale that is in No Small Part dependent on the marriage of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker to carry the storyline. And, wonder of wonders—at least, it stands to reason, wondrous to Marvel’s editorial staff—it is fantastic.

A few months back when Marvel first announced its plan to sever the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, I asked Mr. Reads how he felt about a new single Spider-Man. “Unhappy,” he said.

Unhappy. A fan with purchasing power, a rabid fan some twenty- to thirty-odd years in the making, unhappy. Because Peter Parker is more interesting with Mary Jane than without her. Because Peter Parker, married and happy, puts more at stake than Peter Parker, single and looking. Because Peter Parker proves that nice guys do not Finish Last, and that smart complex people Do Find Love, and that super-heroes have lives that require some finesse to write.

Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are infinitely more interesting together, with a child, than separately. Even farther and even faster on the Avengers front, Young or Otherwise, Teddy Altman (Hulkling) and Billy Kaplan (Wiccan) are more interesting, together, than separately. Superman is never Quite as Fascinating as he is with Lois Lane, and who doesn’t love the idea of Bruce Wayne, adopted father to Tim Drake? Super-heroes have ties, be those Marriage, Relationship, Parental, or otherwise, and those ties, the humanity beneath the mask, make the super-hero worth reading.

Gentle Reader, I say these things not only as a fan of Mary Jane Watson (which I am), and not only as a wife of a Spider-Man fan (which I am). I say these things as a Fan Of Good Stories. And with this decision, I fear that Spider-Man has just become a Rather Uninteresting Story Indeed. I say this as a Fan Of Good Stories who has enjoyed Spider-Man tales that involve Spider-Man and Mary Jane, particularly a tale involving a married, settled Spider-Man. That is the Spider-Man who fascinates me. That is the Spider-Man I want to know.

Spider-Man was ever the Super-Hero of the People: not a rich playboy like Bruce Wayne or an alien from Krypton like Kal-El, but a kid from New York who threw on a suit to help people because his uncle taught him so. Because Aunt May needed money for the mortgage. Because he wanted to impress a girl. He was the science geek who read books and got picked on by the non-geeks. And in the end, he fell in love and married his best friend who accepted him for who he was.

What’s not to love in a tale like that?


SallyP said...

You have put your finger on a key part of the Peter Parker as interesting married as he could be single? An awful lot of people seem to think so. An awful lot of people are USED to Peter and MJ being married.

I like Spider-Man, although I'm not a rabid fan, being more of a Green Lantern Buff, but what twists my knickers the most, is the way that it was handled. Poorly. Shoddily even. And with very little thought to the consequences.

Rachel said...


Amy Reads said...

Hi Sally,
You have put your finger on a key part of the Peter Parker as interesting married as he could be single? An awful lot of people seem to think so. An awful lot of people are USED to Peter and MJ being married.

That was, indeed, Mr. Reads's point as well: the fans are unhappy about this. Also, it shows a bit of laziness on the part of the editorial staff, I believe. Why is a married Spider-Man so hard to write? Another blogger--whose name I can't recall at the moment--said something to the effect of, "well, why can't married people be flirted with? or have problems?" My point is: exactly. How is married Spider-Man boring in any way? I think it offers the writers a wealth of material to work with.
As mentioned, I do not read Spider-Man with any frequency, but I do see a lot of it because Mr. Reads does. From what I've seen of the recent issues (I believe from scans_daily or something), Peter Parker is living at home with Aunt May and partying like a kid. That's not interesting; that's just sad, on Many Levels.

I like Spider-Man, although I'm not a rabid fan, being more of a Green Lantern Buff, but what twists my knickers the most, is the way that it was handled. Poorly. Shoddily even. And with very little thought to the consequences.

Indeed! (And I find it charming that you mentioned your adoration for All Things Green--I know that well, Friend!). Handled very poorly, and it makes me decidedly not interested in the Spider-Man.

Although, and here's the clincher, from everything Mr. Reads has told me about the Green Lanterns lately--Black Lanterns, etc.--I am very interested in them. Perhaps my exploration for 2008, no?

Amy Reads said...

Hi Rachel,

Indeed! We must reaffirm the atrocities that have been wrought on Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.