Where we last left off... This is the story of Mary Jane Watson. In O'Brien's novels, she's most similar to the Ultimate Spider-Man version of the character (the book jacket says it's "inspired by" Ultimate Spider-Man), yet she's a unique interpretation. Mary Jane shares a history with Peter Parker back in the days when her family had money - before Philip Watson divorced MJ's mother, Madeline. MJ and her mom move from place to place, until ending up in a small apartment in Forest Hills where she is reunited with Peter Parker at Midtown High. During the course of the first novel, MJ grows into an excellent student of ballet, suffers anorexia, exposes Norman Osborn for poisoning her classmates with an experimental sports drink, is saved from a speeding car by Spider-Man, and falls in love.
The story picks up where the first novel left off. Mary Jane was excited to have a boyfriend named Peter Parker. Though things were going well between MJ and Peter, it was still a little strange to recognize him in his new role in her life as more than just a friend.
MJ's best friend since the first day at Midtown High, Wendy Gonzalez, convinced her that the two of them should try out for the school musical, My Fair Lady. Wendy surprised everyone with her hidden singing talent. She's awarded the lead as Eliza Doolittle. MJ gets a part in the chorus. For once, Wendy has the spotlight away from MJ.
Other things were new this school year too. Harry Osborn was different. No longer the slick rich boy, Harry had been demoted in the social ranks thanks to the arrest and conviction of his father after the sports-drink scandal at the high school. MJ couldn't help but feel bad for Harry, considering her and Pete's involvement in the arrest. Harry opted to lay low, and began hanging out with some troublesome freshmen. Harry was further alienated when Pete and MJ accidentally forgot to get together with him, as they had promised.
Different too was Mary Jane's attitude towards dancing. Her dedication to her lessons at Manhattan School of Ballet began to wane this year. Accepting the part in the school play mea and having a boyfriend nt more lessons would be missed. MJ spoke with one of her instructors, Elaina, about her divided interests. The response was harsh: soon, MJ will have to decide if ballet will be her life, or not. She had the talent to make it her career -but the cost will be all her other activities and education. MJ never felt so uncertain about her dream to be a ballerina at the Manhattan Ballet Theater. Soon, if she hesitates much longer, others more hungry than she will take her position in the school and leave her behind in the dust.
At the play rehearsals, Wendy hit it off well with Bernie Glick, who was playing opposite her as Prof. Henry Higgins. MJ and Wendy had previously considered Bernie as a bit of a snob who lacked Wendy's natural born talent. But Wendy grew to enjoy his company more and more. Soon, Wendy and the theater group spent all their time together, leaving MJ isolated and concerned at her best friend's colder attitude towards her.
More trouble came along in the form of Gwen Stacy. Gwen was a fashion nightmare, socially spastic, and clearly smitten with Peter Parker, whom she worked with at the school paper. Peter was oblivious to Gwen's affections
At home, MJ received a mysterious instant message from "HOTCOP54", who was getting flirtatious with her. MJ dismissed him, and tried to reach Wendy, who was now at Bernie Glick's house - and talking to MJ less and less. Peter, meanwhile, was hunting Spider-Man to try to take photographs of him for the Daily Bugle newspaper. MJ remembered her crazy suspicion that Pete was really Spider-Man. What was odd was that Pete called Spider-Man's costume leggings, not tights. Then, on the radio interview the next day, Spider-Man was on, and correcting the DJ's description of his costume in a similar manner.
Gwen Stacy had the best accident of her life. Slipping on a banana peel and covering herself in her lunch may have made her the day's laughing stock. But Mary Jane took pity on her, and not only helped clean her up, but she used the opportunity to teach her how to dress and apply makeup, unleashing the beauty queen beneath the drab. In return, Gwen helped MJ prepare for her upcoming literature quiz.
The Winter Formal approached, and MJ was thrilled to have Peter ask her to join him. Afterwards, she had finally found time to see Wendy. Things spun wildly out of control as an innocent conversation led to Wendy lashing MJ. She accused MJ of being jealous of her getting the lead part, of ignoring Harry Osborn after his father was jailed, of looking down at her new boyfriend. She said Peter wasn't ignoring Gwen now that she's been beautified, and nobody remembers who transformed her. MJ ran away in tears.
HOTCOP54 sent another instant message. This time, he called her "Maddy". MJ forgot that she shared her account with her mother. She replied that she was mad at him and to leave her alone.
Harry, meanwhile, accidentally forgotten by MJ, was pressured by the new freshman gang he had been hanging out with to drive a stolen car to a Brooklyn chop shop. He reluctantly agreed, and returned home with $70 of dirty money.
Before the Winter Formal, Peter took Mary Jane to a fancy restaurant called Le Petite Araignée (translated from French as "the Little Spider!") Things were going fine, except the menus had no prices. MJ intercepted the bill, and went into the ladies room shocked to find dinner cost $400. She didn't realize that the waiters gave her the wrong check. As luck would have it, she stumbled upon a client of her mother, Mrs. Biffy Stevens, who loaned her the cash, while MJ allowed her to try on some yet-to-be-released lipstick. The evening was saved - but there was still a debt to pay.
At the dance, things went sour. Gwen Stacy's affection for Peter was obvious as they chatted, while the cold war between MJ and Wendy continued with superficial talk. Then, MJ overheard Gwen talking in the bathroom, admitting her rivalry with MJ over Peter, causing a cloud of doubt of Peter's loyalty to overshadow her.
Things grew worse, as MJ discovered Mrs. Stevens thought the bill was for $500, and as an important client, that money had to be repaid as soon as possible. The rent was due, and her mother despaired that they may have to find someplace cheaper to live. To add salt to the wound, the bill was incorrect from the restaurant. MJ returned to the restaurant the next morning to confront the staff at the restaurant. The waiters denied the mistake, accused MJ of lying, and ripped up the receipt. MJ kept a copy at home, but left defeated nonetheless. MJ refused to tell Peter what had transpired, especially with her mistrust of the relationship.
MJ needed money - fast. She found a painful job at the Queens Plaza Mall spritzing perfume on customers. (note: This is the third time this year a version of Mary Jane Watson has been forced to work at this mall - in Ultimate Spider-Man, in the new Mary Jane comic, and now here!)
Madeline was happy to hear MJ got a job, but still, her worries prompted her to start smoking again. MJ had to break a date with Peter since she had to work - but Peter called her and broke their date so he could take pictures of Spider- Man with Gwen. The next day, Peter saw MJ in the school yard. They talked awkwardly, as MJ didn't want to get into the whole story with him - about Wendy, the dinner, the loan, her job. She avoided his questions and snapped at him. Peter took it the wrong way, and assumed she was breaking up with him. He withdrew, said, "he got it," and that he'd be there for her always, before running away.
MJ went home to discover how much trouble she and her mom were in for MJ giving Mrs. Stevens a lipstick that wasn't released to the market yet. Mrs. Stevens tried to find the shade in every department store, and the competitors replicated the secret shade before the official release date. Madeline was fired.
Things couldn't get any worse when MJ got her first paycheck. On her way home, a mugger tried to steal her pay. Out of nowhere, Spider-Man came to the rescue. While checking to see if MJ's was hurt, he made some humorous jabs at the webbed-up crook. He showed concern for her, curious as to why she was out so late, and made sure she could get home safely. MJ thought she smelled photo developer on Spider-Man, and asked, "Peter?" Spidey took the mugger and said goodbye.
MJ called Pete when she got home, and listened to him ramble as she told him about the mugging and Spider-Man. Peter's tone made it clear - he was NOT Spider-Man!
The next day, MJ encountered Gwen met at the lockers. Gwen had heard about the mugging and Spider-Man - and MJ immediately felt sick thinking Peter called her right away with the news. MJ hesitated, but confronted her on how she heard. Gwen denied hearing it from Peter, but MJ persisted. She blurted out, "I hope you and Peter are very happy together." Gwen misinterpreted her jealousy as a sign that they broke up.
Things began to turn around. MJ had given her hard-earned money to help her mom pay the rent and recover from the dinner bill. At the play, Ms. Krumplesteater, the volleyball coach / amateur choreographer requested MJ help her, learning from Wendy how trained she is at dance. MJ was thrilled to turn the walking-in-circles routine into something beautiful, and the ideas burst forth from her creativity. The best part of all - the school would pay her!
At home, Mary Jane called for Peter, but he wasn't home. Aunt May told MJ how much Peter reminded her of her departed Uncle Ben. Next, she impulsively called Gwen Stacy. Gwen's dad answered - assuming it was Madeline and making sweet-talk into the phone. Embarrassed, George Stacy put his daughter on. MJ apologized for snapping at her, and Gwen conceded that MJ just had a rough night. Soon, Gwen was interviewing her about her encounter with Spider-Man. They actually were talking like friends, not rivals! Gwen thanked MJ for the "makeover of the year", and MJ thanked Gwen for the help before the literature quiz.
The story wraps up nicely. Harry has a run-in with Spider-Man, who helped him steer away from the bad freshmen. Pete suggests to MJ a double-date with Harry and Gwen. MJ was paid $450 for the play's choreography. After talking with mom, MJ understood how Wendy could be insecure and say rotten things to her. She really needed MJ's support while she was getting used to the spotlight being on her for a change. MJ has an awkward yet interesting dinner with her mom, Gwen, and her dad. By the end of the meal, MJ confessed her jealousy, and Gwen reciprocated with admitting her feelings. Glimmers of hope for a friendship between the two emerged.
Once MJ admitted to Peter about Gwen and the formal dinner, and the job. Things Peter said started to make MJ think. She attempted to ask Peter if he was Spider-Man, but he dodged the conversation. Peter realizes that the restaurant could be found guilty of serving liquor to minors since the waiters gave her a check with wine they never ordered listed.
Madeline got her job back at twice her salary after a campaign by Ms. Stevens on her behalf. She also got back the $100 after Ms. Steven's remembered the loan to MJ correctly. The Bugle liked Peter's idea, and gave him an expense account to run sting operations with MJ, ordering wine from high profile restaurants. Sometimes, Gwen and Harry went with them.
Pete and MJ had a conversation the started about Spider-Man, and ended with Pete and MJ locking eyes and communicating - without speaking - Peter's secret identity. There was an understanding, and a prideful feeling in MJ that she was privileged to be Peter's girlfriend and know him better than anyone else in the world.
Opening night of the play was a huge success. MJ supported Wendy, who had an incredible performance. MJ's choreography was a stunning success. At the curtain call, Wendy called MJ to share the spotlight and applause with her as Peter watched with pride.
Mary Jane 2 is another well written novel from O'Brien. I'm sure it will have a great appeal to a number of readers who enjoy fantasy teen romance novels, and Spider-Man. It's light, it's fun, and the characters have depth.
I must admit, however, that I didn't enjoy it as much as the first. The first had the advantage of the novelty of the approach to Mary Jane, but it also had a bit more interests for male readers with Peter's storyline running throughout. This is much more of a Mary Jane story. That's fine. But I am not the target audience.
Have you ever, if you're male, been the only guy in the company of female friends, patiently listening as the conversation swirls around things that are of absolutely no interest to you? Have you, if you're a female, ever witnessed the glassy stare returned back to you from a guy you've been discussing fashion, decorating, or relationships? Yes, this is the age-old stereotypical assessment of guys versus girls, but despite equality, there are differences between the sexes. As I read parts of this book, I found myself, a man, feeling a bit sleepy over the winter formal, Gwen's makeover, MJ's gown, etc. I didn't get that feeling of impatience from the first novel. Is that a reason to criticize the book? No, not really - but it's a warning to readers looking for action and explosions, this ain't it!
Gwen Stacy's role was a highlight. This is a very different Gwen than has been seen before - and a radical departure from the Ultimate storyline that is supposed to be the inspiration. However,the character was fun and well positioned between Peter and MJ.
There were several blatant typos throughout the book I found to be a minor nuisance. You see, I write for Spiderfan.org, where we haven't had more than 1 typo in almost a decade on the world wide weeb.
All the loose ends came together at the end of the story, except for a few that I was anticipating. MJ's curt reply over instant messaging to HOTCOP never got her in trouble. I thought Harry was going to get into much deeper trouble than he did. Does Gwen enjoy dating Harry? When MJ and Pete appeared to have broken up, how come the "breakup" was never discussed again? I was expecting more angst over the apparent split.
I also thought it was funny how MJ was playing Peter's typical role - the good- hearted loveable kid who tries hard, has incredibly bad luck, but manages to be responsible and turn things around. Here, she was the one breaking dates to be responsible and earn money at her secret job at night. It was odd, however, that being Spider-Man didn't really interfere with Peter's relationship with her. Usually, before Peter and MJ came clean with the Spider-Man secret, Peter would break dates and make excuses to run off as Spider-Man. This omission seems intentional, as O'Brien was focused on Mary Jane, not Peter.
Mike Mayhew's art is once again phenomenal. Like Alex Ross, he makes comic book characters come to life. I was just disappointed that he didn't draw Gwen, before or after the makeover.
Overall, it was enjoyable, but just slightly less than the first with the diminshed role of Spider-Man, and some slow spots. Gwen Stacy was an excellent addition and added some spice to the story.