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Things Only Adults Notice About Spider-Man's Mary Jane Watson

Mary Jane Watson has been a part of the Marvel universe and a vital character in the life of Spider-Man since she was introduced to comics in the 1960s. Since then, she's gone on countless adventures, had her share of ups and downs with the web-slinger, and cemented herself as a part of comics fandom. While this has made her a recognizable (if not favorite) character for fans of all ages, there are also some aspects of MJ that just won't stand out to kids.

Comics, as well as the games, movies, and shows that are based on them, have something for everyone. There's plenty of action and adventure that all can enjoy — as well as plenty of plots and themes that will definitely appeal to older crowds. MJ and her relationship to Peter Parker is no exception. Kids can know and love the character, but there are some things about her that only adults will notice and appreciate.

She wasn't always the love interest

Younger fans likely know MJ as Spider-Man's one and only love. She regularly appears as his current, former, or would-be girlfriend, including in the comics, several live-action "Spider-Man" films, the more recent "Spider-Man" video game, and will likely show up in this role again in the upcoming sequel. Older fans, however, may remember that this wasn't always the case. Indeed, it took a tragic plot line — one that's not really suitable for all children — to bring MJ and Peter Parker together.

In the early days, Peter Parker's paramour was Gwen Stacy — with MJ helping to fill out a complicated teenage love triangle. In a famous storyline, however, Green Goblin causes the death of Stacy, leaving Spider-Man broken and guilt-ridden. In his grief, however, he finally bonds on a deeper level with MJ. This sets the pair up for the future romance that younger fans will be familiar with today. Older grownups, on the other hand, remember the horrible events that made this relationship possible. 

It's also unclear if this tragic trajectory remains intact in the Insomniac Spider-Man universe — or if the developers are setting Peter up for an even greater heartbreak in the future. Older fans will know to be on guard, particularly whenever Peter thinks things are finally looking up.

Counterculture of the 1960s

There have been many versions of Mary Jane over the decades, and MJ has taken on many different appearances, personalities, and roles in the Marvel Universe. Only older fans (or folks with a serious collection of back issues) are likely to remember her original role as a representation of youth culture in the 1960s.

When MJ was first introduced, she was undoubtedly a '60s girl immersed in the counterculture of the age. Much more outspoken and confident than many other female comic characters of the time, this undoubtedly helped her win over fans and become popular enough to earn more and more attention in the comics. Indeed, creator Stan Lee has even said that he never planned for her to become Peter's main love interest, but she became such a hit with fans that it was impossible to write her out.

While her style has changed over time, and she no longer dresses like a go-go dancer, she remains a strong, progressive character and continues to exemplify many of the values of the '60s feminist movement and the era in general. Even her name, as adults may notice, was a popular slang term for marijuana in the '60s — although Stan Lee swore this was just a coincidence, and he had no idea that the name had an accidental "hidden" meaning.

More than a damsel in distress

Kids will generally focus on the action and explosions, but some adults actually enjoy the drama of superhero stories and notice character development and the real depth given to Mary Jane, which has historically been mostly afforded to male counterparts. Right out of the gate, Mary Jane Watson was more developed than many other supporting characters and love interests in comics.

The fact that MJ became so popular after being introduced speaks volumes about how she was written. Unlike many superhero paramours — especially those written decades ago — she's been far more than just a damsel in distress. From the beginning, she's had her own realistic feelings, dreams, and aspirations. Once again, the story in which Gwen Stacy died marked a turning point for the character and allowed her to open up to Peter in ways she hadn't in the past. Over time, readers and viewers have also seen her pursue her career goals and achieve remarkable success.

As an aspiring actress when she made her debut, various plotlines have seen her achieve fame and recognition for her talents. More recently, in the 2018 "Spider-Man" game, MJ was reimagined as a journalist seeking to change the world through her reporting. Her investigative skills prove invaluable in the story and make her a true ally of Spider-Man, not simply someone to be rescued.

Relationships are hard

One thing adults sadly learn over time is that romantic relationships are hard. Building a life with someone takes work and compromise. Mary Jane's ongoing struggles with Peter Parker are sure to ring true to anyone who's dealt with the pangs and frustration of dating or living with a partner.

To be sure, not all of Peter and MJ's relationship issues are realistic. Most of us don't have to worry about a date being interrupted by a supervillain attack or having our marriage erased from reality by Mephisto. Still, so much of what MJ goes through is entirely normal for a young woman in a serious relationship.

Mary Jane and Peter Parker have broken up and gotten back together numerous times over the years, including in the Insomniac universe, and their conflicts have often revolved around differing values or priorities in life. Often, it also comes down to a failure of both parties to communicate effectively with one another. Anyone who has worked to make a rewarding but struggling relationship viable is sure to notice how much MJ's life rings true.

Her finances don't make sense

One part of Mary Jane's life which is far less realistic — and adults are sure to notice — is that her financial situation doesn't make any sense. Whether she's a young actress or a junior investigative reporter, one would expect her to be living a frugal lifestyle on a very tight budget in New York City. Instead, she's often depicted as living a glamorous life with nice clothes, lots of parties, and few concerns about paying her rent.

This omission is particularly shocking, as money concerns are such a regular part of "Spider-Man" plots, what with Peter working to support himself while saving the city. Indeed, 2018's "Spider-Man" game practically begins with Peter being evicted from his apartment because he didn't pay his rent. It's hard not to notice that MJ seems to be doing pretty well for herself, all things considered.

Despite this minor issue, MJ continues to be a great character who stands out among many comic book supporting characters. With traits and stories that can appeal to both kids and adults, she's likely to remain a favorite for years to come.