Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. kicked off their Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Vol. 6) in April of 2022 with a six month time jump in the narrative. Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, reunited as a couple in Nick Spencer’s run on Amazing Spider-Man (starting in July 2018), had broken up. Peter was despondent and angry. Everyone was angry with Peter, too – Aunt May, Randy Robertson, even the Fantastic Four and Captain America. MJ wasn’t taking his calls. Creditors were hounding him. He was working for Norman Osborn! Most shocking of all, Mary Jane was living with her new partner, Paul…and their two kids. It was certainly a jaw-dropping reveal at the end of Wells and Romita’s first issue. Now, a year later, the gaps are being filled in with Amazing Spider-Man #21-25. Why did Peter and Mary Jane break-up? Who is Paul? Why is everyone angry with Peter? What happened in those six months? Will Mary Jane and Peter get back together?? For me, a bigger question has been on my mind since I first saw Stephanie and Owen run into her arms at the end of that issue: Should Mary Jane even be with Peter in the first place?
Note, this piece contains plot spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man #21-25.
I began reading Spider-Man comics in March of 1986, when I was just three-years-old. Peter and Mary Jane married in June 1987 in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. They were a couple for my entire life so I had feelings when Marvel broke them up with 2007’s “One More Day” storyline. I had stopped reading comics at the time but Marvel breaking them up angered me all the same. Over five years ago I wrote a piece titled “Spider-Man and the Black Cat: Flirting with Perfection.” I began this piece about Peter’s relationship with Felicia Hardy by saying, “It’s no secret I love Peter and Mary Jane together. Their relationship was the foundation of all the Spider-Man comics I read as a kid…For me, they’ve always been Marvel’s power couple (sorry Reed and Sue) and a testament to love’s power to endure all things.” While the piece was about Felicia and Peter, I felt compelled to make my love of Peter with Mary Jane clear at the start!
That piece launched a series where I’ve done a deep dive into every woman Peter Parker’s ever dated or been in love with. Naturally, the second installment was titled, “Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Soul Mates? Y/N/Maybe.” As the title implies, I considered their relationship through the lens of Soul Mates. I ended that piece by writing, “No matter what stage in their relationship you’re looking at, Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker reflect all that is beautiful and broken about romantic love. They give us the highs and lows of trying to follow our heart. Are they Soul Mates? Are Soul Mates even real? Who knows? Will they find each other again in the end? I don’t know that either. But I choose to believe they will. My favorite comic couple can’t be apart forever :). More importantly than that though, I believe they’ll find each other again because I’m a hopeful romantic and because there’s nothing I believe in more than love.”
So, my answer to the question posed in this piece’s opening should be obvious.
Except I don’t know that it is.
To give the obligatory plot summary, Zeb Wells (writer) and John Romita Jr. (artist)’s current storyline sees the return of the mathematician-cum-maniacal zealot Benjamin Rabin, first introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #555-557 (one of the most unique Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read!) where Wayep, an ancient Mayan God of Death, tried to use him to destroy the world. Now, Rabin has returned with plans to raise Wayep once more. With divine energy crackling around him, he arrives in Mary Jane’s apartment (just after she and Peter agreed to move in together) and a battle ensues. Rabin marks Peter “for vengeance” and Mary Jane “for sacrifice” and sends them to a post-apocalyptic hellscape of a world. There they meet Paul when he rescues them from a creature. He tells them Rabin sent him to this world a long time ago to tell Wayep Rabin will make our world ready for similar destruction. Peter helps Paul finish his dimension jumping device and plans to send Mary Jane back to get the Fantastic Four…though she surprisingly sends Peter back, to save his life and protect their world.
Peter is frantic when he learns time passes differently between the dimensions – only a few hours have passed since they left though they were gone for weeks. Everyone from the Fantastic Four to Captain America need him to slow down and explain what’s going on but Peter has no time so he turns to the only one who will help him – Norman Osborn, who’s been trying to make amends with Peter since his soul was cleansed of its sins. Peter steals a mini-fusion reactor from the Fantastic Four, quantum cables from Tony Stark, and Felicia lifts a plank-drive from Moon Girl. They don’t sleep for days, racing to fix the dimension jumping device. When Peter returns to the other world, his arrival distracts Rabin long enough for Paul to stab him through the chest from behind. Peter goes to kiss Mary Jane and she pulls away. She tells him, “You’ve…you’ve been gone a long time…a lot has changed.” And that’s when Peter first meets Stephanie and Owen.
Back in our world, Mary Jane tells Peter he was gone for almost four years. Things changed. She has no intention of leaving Paul or the family they made with Owen and Stephanie. Peter is understandably furious with himself, with fate, with everyone.
A casual perusal of the internet – from social media to YouTube to blogs – shows many people feel the same. This is nothing new. There have been everything from plaintive laments to angry rants demanding Marvel reunite Peter and MJ since “One More Day” first ran in 2007. This vein of frustration was born anew with Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr.’s first issue, when we learned Mary Jane and Peter had broken up again, and it’s mounted for a year. (To be fair, there are those who like the current story, too!) As my comments at the beginning of the piece should make clear, I get it. I do. I love Peter and Mary Jane together.
Do you know what my first feeling was when, at the end of that first issue, I learned Mary Jane was living with Paul and I saw Stephanie and Owen run into her arms? I felt relief. I felt happy for Mary Jane. I felt like she finally – FINALLY – has the sort of life, relationship, family, and love she deserves. The sort of life Peter can never give her. No matter how much I loved Mary Jane and Peter as a couple, they don’t work. While I personally believe this current run by Wells and Romita – with Peter aching and angry at what he lost and Mary Jane having moved on and found a healthy, fulfilling relationship – is the most interesting and complex their story has ever been, I don’t mean they don’t work in a narrative sense like single Peter Parker stories are more fun (though they can be). I mean they are terribly unhealthy and the relationship is horribly unbalanced at MJ’s expense.
You see, I’ve spent over five years researching all of Peter’s romantic exploits for a series that has hit sixteen installments (and counting!). For each, I read every issue where the woman featured is a part of Peter’s life or, in the case of recurring characters he dated for a time, every issue where flirtation or outright love and romance was between them. Perhaps the single most shocking thing I’ve learned is what a bad romantic partner Peter Parker is. It’s not because he’s an asshole or abusive or anything like that. It’s because of his trauma he is yet unwilling and unable to accept let alone love and heal. This affects all his relationships.
As I’ve written before, my therapist Katherine has been using IFS as one of the treatment modalities in our sessions since the summer of 2020. Nothing in my life has taught me more or yielded more beautiful growth and healing than this work with Katherine (even if it isn’t always easy). The Internal Family Systems model (or IFS) was developed by Richard C. Schwartz in the early 1980s. In his most recent book, You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For: Applying Internal Family Systems to Intimate Relationships, Dr. Schwartz explains IFS, “involves helping people heal by listening inside themselves in a new way to different ‘parts’ – feelings or thoughts – and, in the process, unburdening themselves of extreme beliefs, emotions, sensations, and urges that constrain their lives. As they unburden, people have more access to Self, our most precious human resource, and are better able to lead their lives from that centered, confident, compassionate place.” The Self is, “an essence of calm, clarity, compassion, and connectedness.” The Self marvels at the beauty of all it encounters. It offers love and acceptance to all it finds. And when it encounters suffering, within or without, it is moved by compassion and offers help.
The central thesis of this book says the cultural idea that we all need a partner to complete us isn’t real. In fact, this idea creates the majority of our relationship problems. We need to learn to access Self and love, hold, and heal our parts ourselves as opposed to putting such a responsibility on our partners as no human being can do that for us. They can love and support us on our journey. But we must learn we – our Self – is what all our parts need. Only then can we go into a relationship and love the other as they are and allow ourselves to be loved the same way in return.
Some of our parts – all our thoughts, feelings, memories, emotions, and everything that moves inside us – are exiles within us. “Everyone is born with vulnerable parts. Most of us, however, learn early – through interactions with caretakers or through traumatic experiences – that being vulnerable is not safe. As a consequence, we lock those childlike parts away inside and make them the inner exiles of our personalities.”
When it comes to traumatic experiences, Peter Parker has had more than his fair share. He was orphaned at a young age when his parents died. His Aunt May and Uncle Ben became his primary caregivers and, while they were incredibly loving, he goes through school bullied and a loner, a social outcast in every way. In those first Stan Lee and Steve Ditko issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter has no friends. It actually hurts my heart to read those early years and see how mocked and alone he always is. Shortly after gaining his spider-powers, potentially a traumatic event in its own way, Uncle Ben is murdered by a robber Peter could’ve handed over to the police earlier. A few years into being Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy, the first great love of his life, is murdered by Norman Osborn/the Green Goblin after he learns Peter’s secret identity.
So much trauma would result in many, many exiled parts within Peter. The trauma which creates our exiles also leaves them carrying burdens.
These foreign feelings or beliefs (sometimes described as energies) are what I call burdens. It turns out that burdens are powerful organizers of a part’s experience and activity – almost in the same way that a virus organizes a computer.
It’s important to note here that these burdens are the product of a person’s direct experience – the sense of worthlessness that comes into a child when a parent abuses them; the terror that attaches to parts during a car accident; the belief that no one can be trusted that enters young parts when we are betrayed or abandoned as children. When we are young, we have little discernment regarding the validity of these emotions and beliefs and, consequently, they get lodged in the bodies of our young parts and become powerful (albeit unconscious) organizers of our lives thereafter. These we call personal burdens.
And this – Peter’s burden-laden exiles – are what prevent him from being a healthy, symbiotic partner for Mary Jane. It’s not that Peter doesn’t want to be a good partner for Mary Jane. It’s not that he chooses not to be a good partner for Mary Jane. It’s that he literally can’t. Until he welcomes and heals his exiles, until he unburdens them, he can’t love and care for Mary Jane in healthy way, in the way she needs, the way she deserves to be loved.
Our exiles drive our behavior. Discussing how they affect our intimate relationships, Dr. Schwartz writes:
In addition, when exiles are not triggered and instead exist in us in a chronic background ache, they still powerfully, though unconsciously, influence many aspects of our lives, including our choice of intimate partner, our ability to be patient during the search for that partner, and the degree to which we cling to, try to control, protect ourselves from, are hurt by, and are dissatisfied with that partner. In other words, our exiles and their protectors determine everything about our success and failure with intimacy. Your exiles suffered a double whammy. First they were rejected, abandoned, or shamed by someone you relied on to love you, and then you rejected, shamed, and abandoned them. As a result, they are often desperate to be loved yet also desperately afraid that they will lose any love they get or are convinced they don’t deserve any. As I said earlier, in their exiled state they seem less like buried treasure than toxic waste which will contaminate everything if you let it out. While in that state, these exiles can wreak havoc on your relationships.
Look at the havoc Peter has brough to his relationship with Mary Jane over the years. Heck, Marvel didn’t need Mephisto to “take their love” to end their marriage in the “One More Day” storyline. The healthy choice for Mary Jane with how Peter was treating her – how he always treats her – when he falls completely into his Spider-Man identity during that storyline, was for her to divorce him. No matter how foundational a fictional couple they were for me, reading their relationship as an adult, I can see how often Peter shuts her out, ignores her feelings, expects her to heal and help and hold all that’s broken inside himself (as opposed to him doing that work himself alongside her loving support), and always leaves her alone – physically and emotionally – when he takes on more responsibility than he should, a tactic he does to avoid addressing the trauma in his life.
To my mind, the single most important passage ever written (by someone who doesn’t work for Marvel) about Spider-Man comes from Ben Saunders’ text, Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes:
To put it another way, if we look at what Peter is repeatedly made to do by his creators, rather than what he is sometimes made to say [“With great power, comes great responsibility”], then both his feelings of guilt and his crime-fighting can seem to have an obsessive-compulsive quality about them. His expressions of self-loathing and guilt with regard to Ben’s death start to appear more neurotic than heroic. For example, his constant cry – “It’s all my fault!” – simply doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. He didn’t actually shoot his uncle, after all, a burglar did, and yet he seems compelled to take on more responsibility than belongs to him. He is getting something from all that delicious guilt…Time and again he resolves to stop. But, like an alcoholic returning to the bottle, or more accurately, like a co-dependent, resentfully but perpetually riding to the rescue, he always finds himself donning his Spider-Man costume again.
…Bruce Wayne does not go through nearly as many bouts of agonized indecision in relation to his Batman identity, after all; nor does the Green Lantern constantly wonder whether the universe needs him to police it; Wonder Woman never seriously considers abandoning humanity and returning to Paradise Island; and so on. Only Spider-Man is so driven to renounce his heroic identity, and then take it up again, in an endlessly repetitive cycle. And that cycle, I am suggesting, is inherent in the particular mechanism of trauma and guilt that shape and drive his story.
….But when Gwen dies, despite and perhaps even because of his best efforts, the relationship between guilt and responsibility central to Peter Parker’s self-understanding is exposed as a self-protective fiction – keeping at bay the awareness that we live in an unpredictable universe where Bad Things happen that no one can prevent. Thus, Peter and his readers were forced to face the possibility that, in taking up the mantle of “hero,” he had only replaced one self-serving fantasy (that his powers set him apart from involvement with ordinary humanity) with another (that his powers allow him to always save others from harm). With Gwen’s death, the true cause of Peter’s neurotic guilt over Ben’s murder was inadvertently revealed. His exaggerated sense of responsibility served not only to compensate for Ben’s loss, but also (and perhaps more important) to sustain a comforting illusion of safety and control in a profoundly uncertain world.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man is the fictional character I have loved longer than any other. It is impossible for me to imagine my life without him. He is indelibly stamped on my heart and mind and his stories have shaped my life in a way no other character has. And my heart aches for Peter. I can’t imagine what it’s like to carry such trauma.
But I do know, until he is ready to follow Cindy Moon/Silk’s lead and begin regularly seeing a therapist, he’s only ever going to be a toxic partner to Mary Jane. Spider-Man, Peter’s comforting illusion and trauma avoidance mechanism, is always – always – going to come before Mary Jane. And I love Mary Jane too much to want that life for her, even if her being with Peter is nostalgic for me. I love Mary Jane as much as I love Peter and, as a result, I want to see her happy. And she is happy with Paul, Owen, and Stephanie. That much was evident from the final page of Amazing Spider-Man #1 and why my heart filled with relief and joy at seeing the kids run into her arms. Those feelings were only reaffirmed as I read Amazing Spider-Man #25 and saw her and Paul slowly become closer, find the kids, and begin to fall in love as they built their family together. In a post-apocalyptic hellscape, Mary Jane found the most mutually symbiotic relationship of her life. Together, they made a family.
When Owen finally lets Mary Jane in – when he tells her, “You can hug me sometimes if you want.” – my heart overflowed with happiness for them all. It was one of the happiest, most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen in my nearly forty years of reading Spider-Man comics.
The reason I think Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr.’s story is the most complex and interesting I’ve ever found Mary Jane and Peter’s characters is twofold. First, I’m an empath so I love stories where the characters I love are happy and Mary Jane is happy with Paul, Stephanie, and Owen. Admittedly, Peter isn’t happy…but he really can’t be until he does some serious work inside himself. This story highlights those differences. Second, where the Brand New Day Era (which I loved) saw a single Peter juggling a half dozen potential romantic partners while a “will they/won’t they” tension hung in the air above him and MJ, this masterful story has them broken up but Mary Jane has found something beautiful, real, and nourishing with Paul and the kids. The honest, healthy relationship Wells has written and the intimacy Romita delivers when he draws them together…how can I root against that?
This is why, even if Peter was to follow Cindy’s lead and get himself a good therapist and begin the process of unburdening his exiled parts, I don’t want him back with Mary Jane. She has Paul and the kids and as someone who’s been following her character since before I could read, it does my heart good to see her so happy :). Plus, Peter’s back with Felicia now! The Black Cat is a much better match for Peter, especially as he’s still therapist-less, as she won’t take on the role of sole-provider for the exiles Peter ignores. Now I’m sure the fact that Rabin is still around and bordering on the edge of godhood means we are far from a happily-ever-after (plus there’s that whole MJ’s “marked for sacrifice” thing I’m not too keen on). However the dramatic narrative dust settles, reading Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr.’s current run on Amazing Spider-Man has changed what I wrote all those years ago. I no longer choose to believe Mary Jane and Peter will find each other again in the end. In fact, I don’t want them to.
I still believe in the power of loving communion more than anything else. As it does for any of us, I believe such a love, grounded in Self, can allow Peter to unburden his exiled parts which will let him heal his trauma, stop using Spider-Man as an unhealthy coping mechanism, and finally build a healthy, nourishing, beautifully divine loving relationship with his own parts and, should he so chose, with a romantic partner. Now, I doubt we’ll ever see Peter do so. I don’t think that’s his nature or his role as a character. But I am forever indebted to Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. for having Mary Jane find such a love with her family and no amount of youthful nostalgia would ever make me want to see her leave that behind.
 Richard C. Schwartz, You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For: Applying Internal Family Systems Model to Intimate Relationships. (Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2023), vii.
 Robert C. Schwartz, No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma & Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model, (Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2021), 1.
 Schwartz, You Are the One, 37.
 Schwartz, No Bad Parts, 18.
 Schwartz, You Are the One, 46.
 Ben Saunders, Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Religion, and Superheroes, (New York: Continuum, 2011), 79.
 Ibid., 80.
 Ibid., 85-7.
4 thoughts on “Should Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, Be With Mary Jane?”
I think Zen Wells’ run started off really good, the premise was really intriguing, but I feel the story has been dragged out far too long and not really delivered as of yet. I think it totally highlights that old Parker luck, and this time it’s really taken a toll on all his relationships. I think Peter and MJ had reached a critical turning point in their relationship anyway before this, the events of the arc has just accelerated things. I hope Peter and MJ find a way back, but at the moment – especially given what we now know is coming in ASM #26 – it doesn’t look like it’ll be anytime soon.
Excellent article! You provided some interesting and novel thoughts about Peter and Mary Jane. Yeah, Peter is in dire need of therapy to deal with his trauma. It can be said that he is suffering from PTSD.
While this story is intriguing it seems that most fans hate it and given the spoilers about issue 26, I’m sure this run’s controversy will increase, which is unfortunate.
Ever since “One More Day” Spider-Man has been ruined as a character all because of a desire by Joe Quesada to break him up with Mary Jane. I can understand his motive but the execution about making deals with Mephisto was convoluted and ruined Peter. He would never agree to suc a deal and like us would have accepted Aunt May’s death. What was worse was that in the years that followed nothing interesting was done with his love life.
Nic Spencer kept hinting in his closing arc that “One More Day” would be undone but that never happened which left so many disappointed and led us to where we are.
I can’t fully judge, as I haven’t read the whole arc, but I do understand the criticisms of not developing a character. After all, that’s why I was so excited (and subsequently disappointed) by Tom King’s Issue 50 of Batman, when they aborted the wedding. I was excited to see how the marriage would allow new, fresh stories to be told, but instead it didn’t happen and we got a tease of *another* revenge-focused story to do with Bane.
Anyway – I really enjoyed reading this! There have been so many soundbites online that it’s good to see a more fleshed-out opinion.
I’d be intrigued to know your thoughts on the revelation of what they’re doing with Ms. Marvel, however… !
I really want to see Peter and MJ together. But I can admit, even without having read a bunch of Spider-Man, that their relationship seems unbalanced and unhealthy. Presumably, every “ordinary” person who dates a superhero is carrying a heavy burden, and it makes sense that Mary Jane would get tired of having to deal both with Peter’s guilt and his placing superheroics over their relationship. It is indeed nice to think that she can build a happy family with someone else! But…this is Spider-Man, so I can only assume Peter and MJ will be back again soon.