Last week, Longbox Graveyard welcomed guest blogger in Dan Gvozden of Superior Spider-Talk to count down the Top 10 romantic interests in Spider-Man’s life. With bottom half of his Top 10 complete, Dan gets down to the nitty-gritty in this concluding column, highlighting the most important women in Peter Parker’s love life, and giving his answer to the eternal question: MJ, or Gwen?
Take it away, Dan!
5 Betty Brant
Betty Brant has always been an interesting character, particularly when it comes to her tumultuous love life. She was Peter’s first love during high school and who Peter initially shows interest in during Amazing Spider-Man #5 and begins dating in Amazing Spider-Man #7. Peter is head over heels in love with Betty, a young secretary at the Daily Bugle who fantasizes about becoming a housewife and settling down with Peter, remember these stories were originally published in the 60’s, long before Betty would go on to be a hot-shot reporter and unrepentant adulterer.
Peter and Betty’s romance was doomed for failure due to Peter’s life as Spider-Man. Betty liked Peter for his shy, bookish side, the persona he often put on to distract those around him from noticing he was Spider-Man. Betty was fearful that Peter would end up like her brother Bennett, who was murdered by Blackie Gaxton during a gang war.
When Peter continuously comes back from “taking pictures of Spider-Man” and is bruised and beaten up Betty becomes hysterical.
Eventually she begins to look for attention elsewhere and begins dating Ned Leeds without officially calling things off with Peter, a habit she will continue to display with all the various men she ends up dating over the years.
After marrying Ned Leeds in Amazing Spider-Man #156, Ned was frequently reporting overseas and away from Betty. Ned eventually gets stationed in Paris for a prolonged duration and Betty grows homesick for New York. She rushes home and back into the arms of Peter, who doesn’t really know what to make of the situation but also doesn’t actively fight it. He encourages her to get counseling and to return to Ned but Betty won’t hear it. When Ned returns home and confronts the two Peter quickly ends the affair, regretting his involvement.
What I find most interesting about Betty’s relationship with Peter is that if the radioactive spider had never bitten Peter he probably would have been the perfect man for Betty. His maturation and development due to his powers pushed him into dangerous situations and out of the arms of Betty. It is this rejection that pushes Betty into the arms of Ned Leeds, who for a while was thought to be the Hobgoblin, and damages her psychologically for quite awhile. Betty and Peter are best of friends now, but what could their future have looked like without Spider-Man?
4 Ultimate Kitty Pryde
Women, for the most part, are portrayed terribly in comic books, often only operating as male sexual fantasies and wish fulfillment. Unfortunately this is also true for most female characters that have appeared in Spider-Man comics. Much of this treatment really depends on the specific writer of each book and their own depiction of women young and old. Brian Michael Bendis, author of Ultimate Spider-Man, does an absolutely wonderful job with fleshing out the female characters of Peter Parker’s world, even allowing them to have conversations that have nothing to do with Peter or his world of superheroics.
Perhaps my favorite new idea from Bendis was how he handled Peter Parker’s dating life, a real focus of his Ultimate Spider-Man series. Gone is the truly deceitful Peter who hides his secrets away from the women in his life and instead readers are given a realistic young man who is emotionally honest with the women he chooses to spend his time with, outside of all the normal teenage dramatics that come along with dating.
After Mary Jane is nearly killed by the Hobgoblin, Peter breaks up with her to protect her from the dangers of his world. He is looking for someone who he can spend time with that he doesn’t have to protect. After meeting Kitty Pryde during his debacle with the car-exploding Geldoff, Kitty (aided by Storm and Jean Grey) decides to call Peter and set up a date.
Kitty has been secretly obsessed with Peter for awhile, decorating her bedroom with images of him in his Spider-Man costume, despite not really knowing him beyond their brief initial encounter. That obsessive quality would come to define Kitty’s feelings towards Peter during their brief relationship. The two meet up after school and spend the day chatting at the mall before getting entangled in a battle with the Shocker. It is this battle that cements for Peter that he could date Kitty without having to protect her. The relationship that follows is one of the most honest depictions of teenage dating that I’ve ever read in a comic. The two young adults are both coming fresh off of very important and significant first relationships in their lives and begin dating, with their exes still playing a large part in their lives. As is common, the two are almost dating so as to prove to their previous significant others that they still have value to the world. Despite enjoying each other’s company, the relationship possibly moves quicker than it normally would as they are kind of using each other to prove something. These situations inevitably lead to jealousy, heartbreak, and infidelity.
Kitty is consistently insecure about their relationship, due to her obsession over Peter and his own insecurities about how public their relationship soon becomes. This insecurity propels Peter back into the arms of Mary Jane, when a fight with vampires unsettles him more than any recent battles of his have. This upsets Kitty greatly as she feels that he should have come to his girlfriend rather than his “friend” Mary Jane. During the “Ultimate Clone Saga” story Kitty discovers Peter kissing Mary Jane and becomes furious over his infidelity. The two are eventually able to reconcile but would never date again.
3 Felicia Hardy (Black Cat)
To detail all of Felicia Hardy’s relationship with Spider-Man would take pages and pages of incredibly detailed notes. Of all of Peter Parker’s relationships, his time with Felicia Hardy has to be the most complicated and tumultuous. Their relationship is made difficult for a number of reasons:
1. Black Cat remains a criminal, taking after her father, for quite some time.
2. She only likes Peter Parker when he’s in costume and would rather not know about his secret identity.
3. She’s constantly putting herself in danger to augment her powers or to prove something to Spider-Man, with disastrous results.
Spider-Man doesn’t fully trust her, after failing to stop several of her robberies, until the “Owl/Octopus War” in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man. Felicia learns that the Kingpin is in control of an incredibly powerful detonator that the Owl plans on using to hold New York City hostage whereas Doctor Octopus plans on using it to reduce the city to rubble. She manages to steal the detonator and turn it over to Spider-Man and in the process puts herself on the top of both adversaries “Must Kill” lists.
Doctor Octopus’ men open fire on Black Cat, forcing Spider-Man to rush her to the hospital. As she is being operated on, Peter realizes just how much he cares for her, eventually starting to love her. While she is recovering the two begin a relationship and Peter reveals his identity to her, something that Felicia has an especially hard time with. The two remain together and become almost sickeningly in love with each other, with many issues of Spectacular Spider-Man detailing just how obsessed with each other they had become. It even leads to a particularly bizarre issue where Spider-Man meets Felicia’s mother and gets her approval to date Felicia.
When Spider-Man disappears to fight in the “Secret Wars,” Felicia seeks out a way to gain powers similar to his so that they can safely be together. She undergoes the same procedures that were done to the Scorpion and The Fly thanks to the Kingpin. The powers she gains begin to permanently affect Spider-Man, essentially jinxing him. Sensing the lies growing between them, Peter calls off the relationship between him and Felicia and has Doctor Strange remove the hex that she put on him and in the process gives her new powers.
The two would continue to have a rocky relationship moving forward, particularly when Felicia finds out that Peter and Mary Jane have married. For awhile she taunted and threatened Peter and Mary Jane and even dated Flash Thompson just to get even. The two eventually managed to settle their differences and even developed a casual sexual relationship after Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage was undone by the events of “One More Day,” but the less said about that the better.
Peter’s love of Felicia is notable for its intensity and the drama that it introduced into the series. While it might not be as honest or relatable as Ultimate Peter Parker’s time with Kitty Pryde it certainly helped to inspire that story.
Now, let’s get to the moment you’ve all been waiting for:
2 Gwen Stacy
As much as Betty Brant was Peter’s first relationship, there is no mistaking that Gwen Stacy was Peter’s first true love. The two meet in Amazing Spider-Man #31 when Peter first attends college. With Ditko as the artist on the book, Gwen is initially presented as a sultry, popular blond who is clearly assessing the potential of all the new young men at Empire State University. She begins by flirting with Flash Thompson and is turned off by Peter’s casual disregard for her and her friends, as he is too busy being worried about Aunty May’s need for a blood transfusion.
Peter is thought to be “too good” for everyone else, a notion that Flash Thompson is happy to reinforce. Regardless, Gwen remains attracted to Peter, who whether he intends it or not is becoming quite the “man of mystery” in her life. Tensions rise between the two and Gwen even attempts to slap Peter at one point. Even though Gwen has “girlfriend” written all over her, things aren’t getting off to a good start.
Eventually all of Peter’s problems get smoothed over with the introduction of John Romita Sr. as the new penciler on the book. Ditko’s Ayn Randian worldview was one that is portrayed as being full of anger and spite and it manifested itself in the characters’ relationships. The introduction of Romita cast the world in a distinctly different light. Peter and Harry patch up their differences over shared familial experiences and Gwen begins to see Peter in a different light.
However it is at this point that Mary Jane finally enters Peter’s life, with a vivacious “Face it Tiger!” This would trigger a love-triangle in the spirit of Archie, Betty, and Veronica in Amazing Spider-Man. Gwen would date both Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn due to the murkiness of her relationship with Peter and his sudden disappearances. However, when they were together Peter and Gwen were an unstoppable couple who faced innumerable threats to their lives.
When Gwen eventually leaves for England to visit her Uncle Arthur it is only then that Peter realizes just how much he loves Gwen and thinks silently about the possibility of marrying Gwen. However, this wasn’t to be as the Green Goblin famously put an end to her life by dropping her off the Brooklyn (or was it George Washington?) Bridge.
I’ve always felt that Gwen started out as an interesting, if antagonistic character, that slowly became less and less interesting as time went on. The world of Spider-Man was changing, with the introduction of some modern problems and situations that only served to make her character seem more and more like a relic of the past. Peter was growing up as well and the only next logical step for the two of them was marriage.
Her death in many ways ended Peter’s innocence as a character and properly launched him into adulthood. It was the catalyst for him to enter the adult world of superheroics where it was no longer just fun and games but a world full of consequences. As great as their relationship was, it will always be remembered for how it ended … Tragically.
1 Mary Jane
If Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s first true love then Mary Jane should be his final true love. From the minute she first entered Peter’s life in Amazing Spider-Man #42 with her famous, “Face it tiger… You just hit the jackpot!,” there could be no other girl for Peter. Sure, her early appearances cast her as a flaky party girl with little time for anyone but herself but she always had something that Gwen didn’t, she was a ton of fun.
However, what solidifies Mary Jane as the girl that is the best love of Peter Parker occurs in Amazing Spider-Man #122. Mary Jane goes to visit Peter at his apartment after hearing about Gwen’s death. She attempts to console him but he pushes her away saying, “Don’t make me laugh, Mary Jane. You wouldn’t be sorry if your own mother died. What do you care about straights like me and Gwen? Go on — get out of here. I know how you hate sick beds. And believe me – I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.”
Mary Jane hesitates for a moment before leaving but decides to stay and silently closes the door. This is the moment that not only comics grew up, with the death of the innocence in Gwen, but also that Mary Jane matured to become the woman Peter would eventually be with.
Gwen was reliable and consistent but Mary Jane could push Peter in ways that he hadn’t been pushed before. If Gwen was an innocent love, Mary Jane was the real thing with all the ups and downs that come in a real romance.
This very concept was incredibly documented in the original graphic novel Spider-Man: Blue, as Peter talks to Gwen posthumously and tells her how Mary Jane has taught him to love again. To chronicle how the two got to this deep level of understanding and connection is to recall the entire story of Peter Parker as Spider-Man, that’s just how essential Mary Jane is to the series. This is why it is so unfortunate to see all the things that have been done with her character over the past several years. Their marriage was sold to Mephisto in exchange for Aunt May’s life and just when it was about to be rekindled Doctor Octopus took control of Peter’s body and messed it all up again.
Now, Mary Jane seems fit to no longer have Peter in her life, complaining that his responsibilities aren’t hers and that she can no longer be endangered by having Peter in her life. These are all intelligent sentiments from a character whose life has been continually torn down by Peter Parker’s chosen lifestyle, but sometimes love knows no dangers too perilous and no chasms too wide. That’s the kind of love that Peter and Mary Jane have for each other. That’s the kind of love that made Mary Jane such a great character. That’s the kind of love that places her at the top of this list. That’s the kind of love I wish would return to the world of Spider-Man.
That being said, all of these qualities that I enjoy about both Gwen and Mary Jane are both alive and well in the Ultimate Universe where perhaps the best versions of these characters exist. I wonder if Peter Parker can ever move beyond Mary Jane or if comic creators can ever create an honest and loving character in this more modern world of complicated relationships, especially since both Gwen and Mary Jane came from a simpler and more pure era of comics. That feeling of nostalgia and innocence might be key to both characters’ appeal and perhaps Spider-Man’s appeal as a character. I fear that the more that the writers and editors at Marvel push these characters further into Spider-Man’s past the more they lose what makes Spider-Man so appealing.
These are just my Top 10 but I would be remiss in forgetting to mention all the other wonderful (or not) women that Peter has been romantically linked to. See if you can recognize them all:
- Amy Powell
- April Maye
- Caryn Earle
- Sophia “Chat” Sanduval (Marvel Adventures Spider-Man)
- Cissy Ironwood
- Fallon Skye (Hostess ad)
- Lisa Skye (Hostess ad)
- Firestar (“Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends”)
- Miss Kay
- Jillian Blythe
- Invisible Woman
- Janine Godbe
- Jessica Carradine
- Marcy Kane
- Michele Gonzoles
- Silver Sable (What If Spider-Man Married Black Cat?)
- Virginia Dare (Spider-Man: 1602)
Thanks again to Dan Gvozden for filling yet another hole in my scandalously-thin knowledge of Marvel’s greatest superhero! Keep an eye out for Dan’s work when he returns with Super-Blog Team-Up next month, and in the meantime, please be sure to visit Dan’s home blog — Superior Spider-Talk — for even more Spider-Man goodness (and Dan’s signature podcast, too!)
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