Should we? These are honest questions.
I was never really a Spider-Man fan so I don’t know that much about Mary Jane. She has, however, always struck me as your basic pretty girl character — she only has a personality when it suits the comic. And as you know, she’s been ditched in favor of Gwen Stacy as the love interest in the upcoming reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise.
But that brings me to Mary Jane: Homecoming and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx. These, if Wikipedia is to be believed, are more or less part of the same series although they don’t feel all that connected to me, honestly (granted, though, these two parts aren’t directly continuous, so I have missed some things in between the two).
Mary Jane: Homecoming
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In Mary Jane: Homecoming, Mary Jane is dealing with her relationship with Harry Osbourn as well as Flash’s crush on her and troubles with her friend Liz. It’s all pretty typical high school stuff — Harry is aimlessly angry and he and Mary Jane just seem to be together because they are. Liz and MJ have a conflicted friendship — they like each other, sure, mostly because they’ve been friends forever, but they’re competitive with each other, too. Oh, and Spider-Man shows up and fights some bad guys a couple of times, but that’s pretty inconsequential (except MJ does feel a growing connection to him — and to Peter Parker).
In writer Sean McKeever‘s hands, the story’s twists have the right amount of drama without ever becoming over-the-top. These kids are just trying to figure themselves out as well as each other. The shifting alliances and confusing relationships feel natural. He has a wonderful grasp of how teenagers behave without being condescending. Takeshi Miyazawa‘s art is cute and soft and is just manga-like enough to make it distinctive from a superhero title. I love the eye for detail he has, from MJ and Liz’s updos for the homecoming dance to the emotional glances characters give each other.
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Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx feels a bit different. It has another creative team of Terry Moore and Craig Rousseau and everything feels a bit bigger — more drama, more action, more conflict. Here, MJ is just starting her sophomore year of high school (hence the title) and struggles to find her place after someone starts some cruel rumors about her.
I don’t think anyone would accuse Moore of not being able to write women well. Even when Strangers in Paradise began getting more and more convoluted, it was always clear his female characters were fully realized. He does less well with teenage girls, though. This isn’t particularly bad, but he doesn’t seem to quite grasp the intricacies of teenage relationships (and maybe I’m wrong, but I’m almost sure no teenager was appending “not” to the end of a sentence to make it a negative in 2008). Rousseau’s art is stylized and has an exaggerated, animated feel to it, but also comes across as a bit more generic. I don’t think he gets to shine here.
Neither of these books are bad. I liked Homecoming more than Sophomore Jinx, but I liked both. But I was left with one major question: Who was this title for?
Now, I ended up with them because I am interested in this sort of thing (you know, comics aimed at girls). Homecoming was a dollar at a comic con and a friend gave me Sophomore Jinx because he ended up with it and figured it had a better home with me.
But other than me, who was this intended for? I can’t really picture the audience for this title.
Mary Jane is presented as likeable, sweet and smart, but she’s also one of the popular kids. She has some problems at home, sure, but a lot of that just feels thrown in to keep her from seeming too perfect.
I can only use myself as an example, but as a teen — even as a preteen — I wouldn’t have been interested in Mary Jane. I was a misfit and I didn’t hang out with cheerleaders or football players. I wasn’t interested in reading about them. And I’d guess that a lot of teen girls that are into comics wouldn’t really either.
(I did see some girls excited by Archie comics, so maybe I’m wrong.)
While I was critical of a lot the Minx titles for feeling too young for their intended audience, they were mostly about girls I would’ve wanted to read about at that age. I could see a 12-year-old enjoying Homecoming that her loving father (or even older brother) bought for her, but I do think Sophomore Jinx, while still pretty innocent, is probably too old for her. I don’t think any older teen girls who like comics would’ve sought this out on their own. It’s possible I’m wrong there, though.
I think Marvel has done some interesting things aimed at women (even before last year’s push, and even when they’ve put stupid covers on them) but I’m not sure why they felt like Mary Jane needed to be its go-to teen girl character, other than the company thought she was (or would be) “popular” following the Spider-Man movies.
Which I guess means we can look forward to some comics starring Gwen Stacy.