It’s February, guys & gals, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.
You know what that means. Yep, more advertising targeting your desire to be loved by someone (or several someones) and even more aimed at reminding you how much you suck because you’re all alone (or is that just me again?). The great thing about Valentines is that it gets me thinking wonderful flowery thoughts about women – and some womanly thoughts about flowers – and lets me take a stroll down romantic memory lane. Not my own rocky road of romance, oh no, but who cares about my love life when you can read about Spider-Man’s?
Let’s be clear about something up front here. All my misconceptions about girls, about love and interaction with the fairer sex come courtesy of Spider-Man. When I was a young lad and should have been focusing on things like 1+1 and the metaphors about the futility of man’s struggle through life embedded in ‘The Red Book’, I was instead reading way too many Spider-Man comics, and learning things about “romance” Archie didn’t pick up on till at least 1995.
When I first encountered the webslinger, it was in his 90s cartoon incarnation. This is the cartoon where everyone dressed like they were from the late 80s (so by today’s standards they’re just hipsters) and square-jawed, muscular Peter Parker’s only obvious nerdy outsider trait was that he occasionally wore this shirt.
During the course of that show’s 6 seasons, the webbed one maintained an on-again/off-again (read: there was sex involved) relationship with one Mary Jane Watson. He also got with other birds, but the redhead was his chief source of anguish and the girl he most often had to rescue from supervillain kidnappers who’d taken her hostage for no reason in particular.
The interesting thing about MJ in the comics is that, for the first 30-some issues, she never showed up ‘on screen’. She was mentioned a few times as being the bird Peter Parker’s kindly old aunt was trying to set him up with, but whenever she popped by their house, he’d be off wrestling okes dressed like giant scorpions or whatever. And when he’d get back and find out he just missed her, he’d give himself a mental high-five cos he reckoned she was a right minger. And the art didn’t dispel that image, either. For most of her early appearances, MJ’s face was hidden behind everyday objects like she was in the opening sequence of The Spy Who Shagged Me or something.
Then one day the artist who created Spider-Man, legendary Ayn Rand groupie and hermit Steve Ditko, left the book and was replaced by the decidedly less bizarre John Romita on art duties. Now the funny thing about Romita was that before he’d drawn superheroes, he was an artist on romance comics. So suddenly chicks who used to talk about how hot they were but generally looked more like normal people were transformed into sexy, curvy love goddesses who dressed like real (or ideal) 60s college kids. Even Peter Parker got a makeover, from skinny nerd to muscular scientist athlete. He also got a motorcycle.
But as if to confuse my puritan prepubescent mind even further, Mary Jane wasn’t Peter’s only great love. She wasn’t even his first choice. No, that honour goes to Gwen Stacy. Blond, blue-eyed and troubled by mood swings so severe I’m surprised a late night search for lithium didn’t become one of Spidey’s adventures, Gwen was Parker’s first true love. She was the girl he had the most trouble lying to about his night job and also some sort of strange mythical perfect girl. As I said before, the comic was drawn by an artist who made his people look a bit more ‘regular’ up until Mary Jane showed up, so in Gwen’s first few appearances all her claims about being both the prom queen of her high school and a giant science nerd seemed somehow acceptable. When Romita started drawing her, though, she was suddenly a supermodel scientist. While I never dreamed of ever doing science (that was my big brother’s department), the idea that you could find some hot broad who was also into the same crap as you absolutely blew my mind.
Unfortunately for Spidey, his life is nothing without a little drama. His origin is basically a funeral. In the early 70s, after they’d had his best friend trip out on LSD (topical!), said friend’s crazy dad decided he’d kidnap Gwen to challenge Spidey to a fight. Then, when our hero showed up for the battle royale, the bad guy chucked her off a bridge. Spidey catches her with his webbing (cos he’s awesome), but accidentally snaps her neck in the process (cos…physics!), putting an end to the one good, hot blond thing in his life.
It’s like the ultimate breakup metaphor writ large on a superhero canvas.
Spider-Man’s girlfriend dies and readers everywhere burst into tears.
But it wasn’t all bad news for Spidey. You might even say he dodged a bullet by accidentally snapping his one true love’s neck (doesn’t seem so accidental, now that I think about it), because after she was gone, and he’d fought enough bad guys, and her clone showed up, and his clone showed up, and his college professor turned out to be a creepy stalker supervillain… uhh, things got better! Much better!!
Yes. Peter Parker spent most of the years between the death of his baby love and the almost-sort-of-marriage to his hot redheaded best friend just tapping as much ass as was humanly possible. You see now why he is a horrible influence on impressionable boys everywhere, right? One of the first times I read an early 80s Spider-Man comic, he was trying to shack up with one of his enemies, the Black Cat. She is the sort of chick that leads people to believe that comics are just adolescent boys’ power fantasies. She’s crazy, and crazy hot, and she wants to bang Spidey’s brains out purely so she can avoid going to prison. Oh, and she wants him to keep the mask on when he does.
This is the sort of stuff your mom calls puerile and your girlfriend cringes at, so it’s probably best you don’t show it to too many impressionable sponge-brained 9-year-olds. It’s too late for me, but maybe we can save a few kids from horribly misconstruing the fictional romances of Spider-Man’s life and their own, very real ones. Give them a ball to play with or something.