Comics : Ultimate Mary Jane

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This review was first published on: 2004.

In Detail...

Ultimate Mary Jane
Aug 2003 : SM Title
Find ISBN 0785113088
Writer:  Judith O'Brien
Illustrator:  Mike Mayhew
Staff Only

This story follows Mary Jane Watson, the only child of divorced parents Madeline and Philip Watson. The story begins with MJ in 4th grade at the elite Bradford School, where Peter Parker also attends. "Pukey Parker" was the school nerd, hopelessly disheveled and spastic, yet gifted with a marvelous intellect and mature sensitivity. MJ gained a profound respect for Peter while working together on a science project, Floyd the robot, in Peter's basement laboratory. At the Parker's home, she was treated with respect in a joy filled environment that contrasted sharply with her dysfunctional home. Her father, an alcoholic, came drunk to the debut of Floyd at the science fair, destroying the robot in the process. Her father left home, never to return. MJ avoided Peter out of guilt for the loss of their project until the day when the Peter was removed from class by his aunt and uncle - his parents were killed in a plane crash on their way to Switzerland. MJ attended the funeral, but Peter barely responded to her presence. His Aunt May and Uncle Ben were to move into his parents' home, but Peter would no longer be able to afford to attend the private school.

Meanwhile, MJ's life began to unravel as well. MJ's greatest love was attending the Manhattan School of Ballet. With her father gone, and her paternal grandmother cutting off financial help, life with MJ and her mom grew further and further away from their upscale lifestyle.

Six-years later, MJ and her mom had moved into her latest home, a flat in Forest Hills, Queens New York. This was a big change from their original home on Park Avenue in Manhattan. MJ was to transfer, again, into a new high school - Midtown High. Life was depressing for her, especially with her mom's creepy boyfriend, Mike. A flicker of hope came knowing Ruby's House-O-Dance was not far away from their new apartment. On her first day of class, MJ was befriended by Wendy Gonzalez, making being the new kid much easier. Over time, MJ learned to adapt to her environment, meeting classmates like the suave rich kid, Harry Osborn, jock and bully Flash Thompson, and to her surprise, Peter Parker. Peter hadn't changed much in many ways, and association with him was deemed detrimental to your social status. Yet, Harry seemed to be friends with him - at least just for the academic benefits. MJ enrolled at Ruby's House-O'-Dance taught by Ruby and Madam Olga. It was "Dance Lite", but it was still dancing. Life was starting to stabilize.

During a class trip touring Osborn Industries, the company run by Harry's dad, Norman, the class learned that they were to be test subjects for a new sports drink called "OZ". During the tour, Peter was bitten by a spider. MJ attended to Peter, while the class mocked him. MJ felt torn between an unusual attraction to the sweet and soulful Peter - and a desire to be like the rest of the class and reject him as a nerd.

In the days that followed, Peter transformed from reclusive hopeless to a confident basketball star, upstaging a horrified Flash Thompson. MJ and Peter grew closer as they reunited in Peter's basement working on a new science project. MJ joined ballet, snubbing her friend Wendy in the process. She became increasingly distant with her mother, focusing on her ballet and avoiding the leering eyes of Mike. Her obsession to improve increased, and her desire to be thin enough for dancing became unhealthy. She avoided food and the symptoms of anorexia / bulimia became apparent. Peter was the only one to try to warn her of the signs - but she rejected his concern. Her impression of Harry changed from smooth hunk, to a spoiled manipulator. Peter, meanwhile, had risen in the social ranks as a new found hunk - athletic, intelligent, and clever with comebacks. Remaining just friends, Peter's dates with cheerleaders generated a level of jealousy. MJ, Peter, and a number of school mates went to a wrestling match. There, a guy in red and blue leotards (that looked like her own from Ruby's House-O'-Dance!) took on the Demon Knife Master - and won the prize money!

Mary Jane had the greatest surprise - somehow, someone paid for admission back into the Manhattan School of Ballet! An anonymous benefactor had allowed her dream of returning to come true. She ran to Peter's - he was out, but she told Uncle Ben the great news. She then told Wendy, and that she'd quit cheerleading and put in a good word for her to fill her vacancy. Next she ran to Harry's - there, she overheard Norman on the phone, confessing the true dangerous nature of OZ - it had contained illegal substances causing the artificial boost in athletic abilities. Norman assumed it was responsible for Peter Parker's physical changes. Returning home, MJ saw the bad news on the TV - Uncle Ben had been murdered outside of his home. MJ could not understand why Peter blamed himself. Her heart broke for Peter, realizing he has suffered more tragedy than any kid should have to bear.

This became a turning point for Mary Jane. Finally listening to Peter's warnings, she recognized her eating disorder, and began the slow process of returning to a normal diet. Her mom broke up with Mike, and for the first time in ages, had a heartfelt conversation with her daughter. At school, however, things had begun to run amok. A level of aggression swept the school, and things began to get out of control. Aware of the effects of OZ, MJ faked a play for Harry to see if she could get access to his dad's files. Harry, perpetually flirting with MJ, fell for the lure, and MJ managed to find a confidential memo about the drink revealing Norman's callous attitude towards the health of his test subjects. MJ kicked and pushed Harry away, leaving victorious, yet guilty of leading Harry on. As she ran, she was nearly hit by a car until a streak from the sky grabbed her - it was the Spider-Man! Something about him reminded her of Peter - the voice! Though muffled, she recognized it. Racing to the Parker's home, she found Peter, but not Spider-Man. Her suspicions were perhaps unfounded.

The story concludes with MJ and Peter anonymously revealing the secret of OZ to the Daily Bugle, causing Norman's arrest and nationwide attention upon Midtown High. MJ asked Peter out to the movies after the funeral of Uncle Ben. She spent the afternoon returning to her old ballet school, impressing the teacher with her outstanding abilities. Too late for the movies, she invited Peter for dinner. Peter informed her that the murdered of Uncle Ben had been caught. Closer than they've ever been, Peter and Mary Jane shared their first kiss, and enjoyed the best casserole they ever had.

In General...

Though marked as a tale from the "Ultimate Spider-Man" universe, there are too many liberties taken for this to be true. The setting and personalities within "Mary Jane" is very similar to "Ultimate Spider-Man", but avid fans should be cautioned not to consider this novel to be part of the continuity.

With that caution aside, "Mary Jane" is an enjoyable novel. It's not "Wuthering Heights", and I don't think it should be reviewed as such. Older, more mature audiences, may find it a simple - perhaps too simple for their tastes. It can easily appeal to teens, as the story contains all the conflicts and angst associated with the growing pains of high school. The writing is breezy, and fluid, with plenty of insight into Mary Jane's conflicted mind to let you see the world of Spider-Man through a different perspective for a change. Returning back to the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, I'm left hungry for the depth of MJ's personality explored in this novel that, by nature of the constraints of the comic book medium, is left by necessity for the readers to imagine.

Mike Mayhew's artwork supplementing the text was outstanding. Consistent and realistic, Mike's pencils could have been photographs. Like Alex Ross, I'd love Mike to do a "Marvels" style book.

My biggest complaint was the minimal attention given to Spider-Man. Obviously, this was not a Spider-Man book. And, truly, it's Peter Parker who makes Spider-Man such an enduring characters. Yet, since Spider-Man had almost no role in the story, it was a bit of a let-down.

I can't imagine "Mary Jane" will be a Must-Read for the average Spider-Man comic fan who reads looking for a good fight with Carnage, Scorpion, or the Rhino. Absent are the epic battles and super powered slug-fests. This is more like an after-school TV special, with characters we already know and love. If you can't get enough Spider-Man, I'd recommend picking it up for a good easy read.

Overall Rating...