About that new Mary Jane Watson

In case you’re unaware, there’s a new Spider-Man movie coming out! It features Tom Holland as Spider-Man, an actor you’re probably now most familiar with since seeing him in Captain America: Civil War.

Since the set up of Spider-Man in Civil War, the audience got a bit of a taste on what to expect for the new Spider-Man movie, scheduled to be released in 2017. What some people weren’t ready for were the casting choices.

Since this is the third reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise, all of the characters were to be recast. Of all of the casting choices, having Zendaya Coleman cast as Mary Jane Watson – Peter Parker’s girlfriend/eventual wife – caused a bit of an unexpected uproar.

Mary Jane's first appearance.
Mary Jane’s first appearance. Her actual person would not be revealed for another 17 issues.

Personally, I never had heard of Zendaya before the casting announcement. And to be honest, I still really don’t know who she is. A quick IMDB search shows she’s been in a lot of Disney stuff, but that’s about it. I’ve never seen her act as I don’t have cable, Netflix, or watch any Disney television shows. I was going in blind upon hearing the casting announcement.

When I heard of the casting choice through ComicBookResources, I saw a picture of her and moved on with my life. It was another actress hired in another role. I’m excited for the outcome but cannot pass any judgment on an actress whom I’ve never seen work before.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction from some Spider-Man fans.

Over social media, some Spidey fans cried out about the casting choice saying Zendaya is not what they want in their Mary Jane. I know this because I bore witness to this outcry on a friends’ Facebook page:

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Is it that hard to understand that the colour of someone’s skin does not have to be the definition of a character? Mary Jane being a Caucasian redhead was never really an integral part of Mary Jane. Sure, she was nicknamed “Red,” but if she was blond, it could’ve easily been “Blondie.” Either way, a nickname that a writer creates for a character is not an integral part of that character.

In fact, all of the physical attributes this person on Facebook makes are solely based on the physical appearance of Mary Jane – not who she is as a person. From no storylines can I recall how her skin, eye colour, or hair colour were important to the story. She’s not Medusa from the Inhumans. Mary Jane’s hair isn’t that important to the character, let alone the colour of it.

And spoiler alert: hair can be dyed.

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Is it racial diversity or is Zendaya just a good actress? Mary Jane can be whomever she is cast as. Skin colour doesn’t define the role. The written characterization, the actress doing her job, and the storytelling is what defines Mary Jane.

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How does Zendaya not fit the character? The movie isn’t even out yet. There’s prejudice in these words as they make assumptions without any base to support them.

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Is it really that your fandom is being changed? Or is it that your “picture” of Mary Jane is being changed because we’re no longer in the 1960’s and people of different backgrounds and colour are finally starting to get equal representation in the comic book medium?

As of late, Marvel has made some major strides to become all-encompassing with their characters. Thor is now a woman, Jane Foster; Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American named Kamala Khan; Amadeus Cho is the Korean-American Hulk; Riri Williams – a black woman – is going to be the new Iron Man named Ironheart, and let’s not forget Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

The comic book industry is shaking up and changing in some major ways. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a lot of the major comic book characters we all know and love were created in the 60’s and 70’s when minorities did not have a voice in the comic book medium. Strides were being taken, such as Storm’s introduction in ’75, or Luke Cage in ’72, but arguably neither of those characters are “big league” characters like Captain America or Thor. But now we have a Luke Cage TV series coming out soon and the Black Panther movie is slated to come out in 2018.

It’s a changing landscape and it’s wonderful that it’s happening. But when Marvel takes a character like Mary Jane and change the colour of her skin, suddenly it’s the biggest deal on the planet?

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Right, because Martin Luther King is a fictional character. . .

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Hrrrrrnnnngggghhhhh.

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That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy of it all.

Look, if you’re freaking out over the colour of someone’s skin because your fictional character no longer looks the same, then you haven’t been enjoying that character as a character. You’ve enjoyed their looks and therefore never really cared about the character at all.
Think about it.

Agree or disagree? Let’s chat in the comment section below.

Classic Comic Fridays: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21

The first Friday of each month, I will review a classic comic from my own personal collection.

This month, I’ve decided on something I’ve been putting on the back-burner for a while. The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 – the wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane.

I’ve been wanting to do this since Joe Quesada re-did the wedding issue with his One Moment In Time story arc to compare notes, but really haven’t gotten around to it. It’s also not something I wanted to do – compare two storyboards – but it’s something I wished to revisit. So let’s begin!

Amazing Spider-Man

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (September, 1987)
David Michelinie (writer), Paul Ryan (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Rob Sharen (colours), John Romita Sr.(cover). $1.25

The story opens with Spider-Man tackling a few foes – from Electro to some common thugs – it’s a breeze for Spider-Man. Heading home, he meets up with Mary Jane where she is busy prepping for their upcoming wedding. Taking limos to do her chores, Peter Parker starts to think how her lifestyle – in comparison to his – seems a bit different.

At work selling photos of Spider-Man beating on Electro, Robbie Robertson sends Peter into the lunchroom for a wedding surprise party. There he receives a cheque from the Daily Bugle to help out with his wedding expenses. As Parker leaves, he runs into Betty Brant just to say hi. Parker then thinks about how he used to like Brant and how his life could’ve been different with her.

Afterwards, Parker goes to Aunt May’s for dinner, awaiting Mary Jane and her Aunt Anna to arrive. Aunt May was looking through old photos earlier and had them out. Peter decides to look through them too while May baked a pie. Peter finds an old photo of Gwen Stacy and tells himself that he was planning on marrying her first.

Mary Jane and Aunt Anna arrive and the four have dinner. After dinner, Peter and Mary Jane announce that they are getting married to May and Anna. (I’m just as surprised as you that they waited days before the wedding to say anything).

As they leave, MJ gets picked up by a friend named Bruce – a man trying to win over MJ’s heart before the wedding – and even offers her two tickets to Paris. Meanwhile, Paker goes to ask Flash Thompson to be his best man.

As the story progresses, MJ goes out and parties with friends while Peter remains home – thinking about how his will be. He slips into a dream where Spider-Man marries Mary Jane. Uncle Ben is there to support Spider-Man, while heroes and villains fill the pews of the church. Suddenly, Gwen Stacy arrives to give Spider-Man a goodbye kiss, and all of the villains defeat the heroes in the crowd then go after Mary Jane!

Peter awakens from his dream to realize that by being Spider-Man, Mary Jane will have dangers to face.

Spider-Man Annual

Inching closer to the wedding date, Peter has his bachelor party with Flash and Harry Osborn at a bar, and the three discuss relationships and as long as Peter loves Mary Jane, everything will be fine. Mary Jane celebrates her bachelorette party with friends, while Bruce appears and yet again and tries to win over MJ’s heart.

Then comes the day of the wedding. Everyone is gathered at the church, worried about how late both Mary Jane and Peter are. Fortunately, both show up around the same time – and terribly late. They have the wedding on time, and MJ surprises Peter with two tickets to Paris for their honeymoon.

By the end of the story, they head back to their small apartment and Peter wonders what they are “doing in a dump like this.”

MJ simply replies, “Living happily ever after!”

And with the end of the story, we have Peter Parker and Mary Jane married up until the events of Civil War. A twenty-year marriage ain’t bad nowadays, right?

. . .

Well the issue itself was presented very well. A definite look into the insight of both Peter and Mary Jane makes the story that much more intriguing as near the end, you can’t really tell where the story will go.

On the down side of things, that’s also the problem: there is too much negativity coming from Peter about the wedding. With Mary Jane gone all of the time and living a lavish lifestyle – not to mention he seemed as if he was going to end the wedding at a dinner in earlier in the book – it’s more surprising that they did get married. Admittedly, if this was a standalone book, this story simply could not work properly unless Peter lived the rest of his life as a lie. Fortunately enough, that is not the case here.

As for the other exciting parts to the book, Jameson’s hilarity throughout the wedding party at the Daily Bugle gave me some laughs. Robbie’s kindness always shines through, and the action scenes at the beginning were just enough to keep the reader interested in the love story which fills the rest of the book.

Art by Paul Ryan gives great depth in his work as particular scenes from Spider-Man on rooftops, to a wide assortment of Marvel characters, to a crazy bachelorette party, can all look and feel different from one another.

But to grade it as a standalone issue, the book doesn’t really work. But since that clearly is not the case, bravo for an intriguing plot!

Grade: 6/10