Geeks have opinions. A happy geek debates everything from best writer/artist to the all-important, “Who would win in a fight?” It is the idle chatter to keep our minds off of the parties we’re not invited to and the girlfriends we don’t have. Every so often, there is a “bigger” issue, like whether or not Batman should kill people (the answer is “no”). An oft-stated view is that Peter Parker never should have married Mary Jane Watson. Comic book professionals voice this. This has been hammered to a degree that suggests it is fact. The fine folks at Marvel Comics compounded this by going out of their way to remove the marriage from continuity in one of the laziest stories the “House of Ideas” ever published— and, man, is that saying something.
For background, in 1987 someone (Stan Lee has taken credit) suggested that Peter and Mary Jane should get married, and that it would be serialized in both the Spider-Man comic strip and the centerpiece of that year’s Amazing Spider-Man annual (#21). The event would be celebrated with a massive marketing campaign (as massive as comic books could warrant in 1987) that culminated with a “live” ceremony at Shea Stadium. The wedding had detractors who complained that to marry Spider-Man to a supermodel “ruined” the character. This opinion grew over the years, until it was considered a certitude. This certitude was devoid of evidence or credence, but this is comics. Debate is rarely structured or designed.
The main arguments against the wedding are that Spider-Man can’t be married and be a superhero, as fighting crime puts your family at risk. That it “ages” the character, thus his core concept is altered. That Peter Parker’s supposed to be a neurotic, “aw shucks” loser, and marrying a supermodel/actress negates the sincerity of that character. That unrequited love is a theme of Spider-Man’s character and a marriage kills that theme. Finally, the marriage was a cheap publicity stunt with no artistic merit.
These arguments are kinda stupid; all of them boil down to “Spider-Man shouldn’t be married because I don’t like it”. This is fine, like what you like, but don’t rationalize it. The idea that you cannot have familial ties and be a super-hero is ridiculous; this logic suggests that police, firefighters, the military, and anyone with a high-risk job is somehow ignoring their family. People have callings and Spider-Man is (theoretically) a person who has taken an oath to protect people. This oath does not suggest a vow of chastity. Within the genre, comic characters are full of family commitments, relationships and, on occasion, even have kids. Having a girlfriend does not impact Spider-Man’s ability to sock Kraven the Hunter in the jaw. Even if there wasn’t a “real world” precedent for heroic behavior mixed with familial responsibility, comic readers should see the that a to call of something being far-fetched doesn’t work when the problem with a super-strong, weirdly agile man who can climb walls is that someone loves him enough to live with him.
The “aging” argument is stubborn nonsense; Spider-Man had been consistently aging since his inception. He graduated high school in 1965, bounced around college until the late seventies, went to grad school in the eighties, dropped out, moved in and out of several apartments, went from gawky bespectacled teenager to handsome motorcycle-rider in his early twenties, etcetera. The Amazing Spider-Man is comparable to a bildungsroman that chronicled Peter Parker’s ascent to manhood. If that’s too high-minded, the character of Spider-Man has always maintained the illusion of change; he experiences personal growth, yet finds the time to stop The Gibbon from his latest crime spree. Marriage is part of growing up, and Spider-Man’s character arc has been about a boy growing up.
To assert that Spider-Man’s self-doubt and various neuroses are undercut by a romantic commitment is to claim that married people do not have problems. Everyone that makes this point should ask a married person if all personal turmoil ended at the alter. When this person bursts into laughter, assume it’s because personal issues don’t end when you tie the knot. People with an inclination towards self-doubt are not suddenly cured because they get married; neurotic behavior is amplified as new situations create new problems.
It is true that unrequited love and doomed romance has been a subplot of Amazing Spider-Man since Steve Ditko first drew them, and once again, marriage doesn’t change that. Most of Spidey’s love interests still exist in one form or another, and as Peter Parker is a high-strung fella, it is natural for him to wonder about roads not taken and other clichéd bullshit. Mary Jane’s supermodel lifestyle could also create tension in the Watson-Parker marriage. There are endless possibilities for romantic tension in a marriage— marriage is potentially rife with melodrama that is as interesting and relatable as Liz Allen deciding in 1964 that there is more to Peter Parker than meets the eye. Also, there are always fistfights with Electro.
As for the marriage being a cheap publicity stunt… duh. Of course it was meant to sell books. Robin being introduced in Detective Comics #38 was meant to sell books; all stories in comics are meant to sell comics. That’s how it is. It’s an industry based on commerce; if you’re going to complain about that, don’t read superhero comic books.
The arguments against Spider-Man being married are a mask for gut-level disapproval. This instinct is not the result of an inherently bad idea, it is the result of a resistance to change. Marvel has tried many times to erase the marriage, and each time has been an embarrassment. The “Clone Saga” was designed to retire Peter Parker and bring back a younger Spider-Man (who’s a clone of Peter Parker because comics are stupid). The equally hated “One More Day” storyline had Spider-Man make a literal deal with the devil in order to take the marriage out of continuity. This ultimately stuck, but it is still a lazy story designed to fix a problem that was never broken. Pre-and-post “One More Day” there have been good, fun Spider-Man stories and terrible Spider-Man stories. But as exhausting as the bad stories were, be it the introduction of Carnage, “Round Robin: The Sidekick’s Revenge!”, or any other goofy, uninspired dreck, there has yet to be someone to opine, “Wow! This story would be great if Spider-Man was single!”