Marvel has tried to break Peter and Mary Jane up many times over the years. Perhaps the most notorious attempt was when they “killed” Mary Jane.
The critically reviled “One More Day” was not the first attempt to break up Spider-Man’s marriage, but the successful culmination of many failed efforts. Despite positive reception from fans, Marvel editorial regretted Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (by David Michelinie and Paul Ryan) and were looking to make him single again. The first attempt happened during the “Clone Saga” in which Peter Parker was replaced by his clone Ben Reilly. Marvel’s next effort would be even more ham-fisted as they actually killed off Mary Jane, only to backpedal after a fan backlash.
The Spider-Man books were at a creative nadir when Mary Jane was seemingly killed out of nowhere. The Spidey line had recently been relaunched by the writing duo of John Byrne and Howard Mackie, but the new direction wasn’t well-received. Byrne had never written Spider-Man and failed to understand what made him tick, and Mackie seemed burnt out. The relaunch of a new volume failed to revitalize sales, and so instead of addressing the core problems, the creators resorted to shock value in Amazing Spider-Man (vol 2.) #13 (Howard Mackie and John Byrne) by killing off Mary Jane in an airplane crash.
This move just turned fans off even more and after a few months of Peter Parker seeming as lost as his comic’s creative direction, Marvel looked for a way out. First, Byrne exited and was replaced by Paul Jenkins, which marked a return to solid storytelling and compelling characterization. This pushed Howard Mackie and reignited a spark of his ability as well. Peter had earlier been characterized as being in denial about Mary Jane’s death, but now his grief was written with more nuance and depth. There were still odd moments, like Peter’s friend trying to set him up with Gwen Stacy’s cousin Jill, but overall the writing had been improving.
As new star writer J. Michael Straczynski was slated to take over the flagship book, editorial wanted to reset Mary Jane’s status. In Amazing Spider-Man (vol 2.) #29 (by Howard Mackie and Lee Weeks), it was revealed she had been abducted by a telepathic stalker who had formed a mental connection to Peter when the latter had rescued him months earlier. He became so obsessed with the web-slinger that he faked Mary Jane’s death by whisking her off the doomed airplane just before it had exploded. Peter finally found her locked in an abandoned storefront and confronted her stalker.
The resolution to this plot line was rushed as soon after their reunion, the stalker killed himself by spontaneously combusting in a huge explosion in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #29 (by Paul Jenkins and Charlie Adlard). Absorbing Peter’s pain had been too much for him, and he chose death instead of his original plan of replacing him. Now that Peter and MJ were released from the stalker’s hold, they were free to resume their lives together. However, Mary Jane’s time being held hostage had left a psychological mark on her, and she couldn’t act as if nothing had changed.
In Howard Mackie’s farewell issue, Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2001 (by Mackie and Joe Bennett), Peter and MJ came to the painful realization they needed time apart. Peter had been overly possessive of her since she had come back, and Mary Jane was still struggling with the trauma of her ordeal. Thus, Peter and Mary Jane separated with the latter moving to Los Angeles to restart her modeling career, but with the door left open for the couple to get back together in the future.
Behind the scenes, incoming writer Straczynski had requested for Peter and MJ to be split up for his run. This was ironic considering all the effort that had been put into reuniting the couple. But that’s always how it goes with this couple. They’re constantly being pulled apart only to get together again. In the current Amazing Spider-Man run (by Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr.), they are once again on the outs. Fans are clearly growing weary of the on-and-off nature of their relationship. Marvel should stop toying with expectations and decide once and for all whether they will stay together or forever be apart.
University instructor with a passion for Spider-Man. My interests include doodling in the margins of documents and ordering too much pizza. My Dad is my superhero. Like it? Hate it? Just want to discuss Spidey? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.