Goodbye Mary Jane
A few months back, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a reader poll asking which comic strips were liked and which weren't, and I guess I was probably one of ten people left who still read The Amazing Spider Man. The axe, they gave it! The axe!
I began reading the comic pages at the wee age of six.
At the time, I didn't understand everything I read, but I knew I liked Hagar the Horrible because he wore a helmet with horns on it, and Marmaduke because he was, well, a dog. Mostly I read the comics because I was a kid and comic strips seemed to be for kids, so it seemed a great deal more interesting than those other parts of the paper that were advertising Avocado green refrigerators and bitching about Gerald Ford.
About that time, I also started reading the daily Spider-Man strip. Ooh, I liked this one. It had this guy who could swing around on webs, and he fought villains with big iron tentacles and grenades shaped like jack-o-lanterns, and the strip was always filled with gobs of visual goodness. And every Sunday they would run one of the same three color panels telling how he was bitten by a radioactive spider and could lift up buses and swore to fight crime after losing his Uncle Ben. He was more fun than the other superheroes I knew about at the time. Superman flew around, untouchable, and was kind of boring. Batman drove around and had a gadget for every occasion. Spider man was always hanging at the end of a rope, low on web fluid, late for a date, behind on his rent, and up against really addled bad guys in pervy costumes. (Newspaper comic serials are really slow-moving storylines. I remember a scene with The Kingpin - a sweaty behemoth like an armored car in a white leisure suit - chasing Spider Man around a 20 foot room for an entire month. It was so butch.)
As I got older, though, it wasn't Peter Parker who held my interest. Oh no. I liked the villains enough (I've always considered Doctor Doom somewhat of a personal role model - he has his own Country), but after they began repeating the same story line for the 10th time, I might have begun passing on the comic.
But by the time I approached puberty, it was all about Peter Parker's girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson.
Now, the strip has Stan Lee's name on it, but it's pretty clear Stan's farmed the daily strip out to a few dozen artists and writers, with varying approaches to story lines and general quality. One constant remained, though. Mary Jane was always a Total Babe. She was buxom. She was ripe. She would take any opportunity that presented itself to slip into something low-cut and clingy. She rose every morning in a nighty, and exclaimed "Oh Peter!" to the radio news. Then she would disrobe for the shower, rush off to a bikini modeling shoot, put on a miniskirt and a blouse with a plunging neckline for her evening date, and when Peter didn't show because he was off battling the Hobgoblin, tears would well in her eyes as she returned home to slip into something more comfortable.
Nothing else on the comics page ever came close to the sex content in Spider Man. Once in a rare while, Berke Breathed would draw a good sexpot character (remember Lola Granola, anyone?), but for the most part comic strip art is pretty sexless and all the women are moms and little sisters and prune faced schoolmarms. Somehow, Stan Lee Inc. managed to ignore the rules that comic books were for kids, and jumped straight into the world of puerile adolescence. THANK YOU STAN.
It's a generational thing with me as well. Back when I was living at home, my dad would peruse the funny pages, let out a low chuckle, and say "Oh look, Mary Jane's in the shower again!" Even at an age where I was far too concerned with being cool to "connect" with my Dad, we always enjoyed a good Mary Jane cheesecake shot together. Maybe not in the black and white daily strip, but a good Sunday morning color edition made for quite a father-son bonding moment. I wasn't going to miss something like that.
Since then, it's been a daily ritual. I pick up the paper, check out the front page, the editorials, the comics... ooh, what's Mary Jane wearing today?
But that's all over now.
What ever shall I do?
Columns by Cindy