Mary Jane Watson: Character, Costume History, and Cosplay
Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and John Romita Sr. are all credited with creating Mary Jane Watson. Lee and Ditko made plenty of references to MJ in the early Spider-Man stories, starting from the 1964 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #15. Peter’s Aunt May was continually trying to set him up with “that nice Watson girl next door.” Peter, being a teenager at the time, avoided any matchmaking by his Aunt.
Readers would get their first glimpse of Ms. Watson in the 1965 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #25. However, Peter didn’t show up, and fans had her face blocked from view by a strategically placed plant. It would not be until the 1966 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #42 that the world would be fully introduced to this dynamic, beautiful, green-eyed redhead. Writer Stan Lee and artist John Romita Sr. made Spider-Man history on the last page as Mary Jane Watson is shown in all her glory and utters the famous line, "Face it, Tiger . . . you just hit the jackpot!”
The Darker Side of Her Past
Party girl MJ always had a happy face and was ready for fun, but it would not be till the 1984 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #259 that we learned the darker side of Mary Jane’s past. Mary Jane grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. Her mother, Madeline, gave up her dreams of becoming an actress in New York so her husband could pursue his passion of writing. He would move from job to job as a professor at different schools and continually uproot his family. This is where MJ took on the party girl reputation, to hide her pain and make friends quickly.
When her father turned his physical abuse from his wife to MJ’s older sister Madeline, their mother finally left with the kids to live with different relatives as they bounced around. One of these relatives was Anna May, who was neighbors to the Parkers. Mary Jane first saw Peter Parker when she was only 13 years old, but she didn’t think much of the nerd across the street. She would eventually find a semi-permanent home with her mother’s uncle Frank Brown. He himself was suffering from the death of his wife and three children.
MJ and Peter's Relationship
Mary Jane and Peter Parker would have an on-again, off-again relationship for years, but these two would always have a tight bond no matter what the current status of their relationship. When the Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy, it was Mary Jane waiting for Peter in his apartment to try to help him grieve. When Mary Jane was hospitalized, it was Peter who would not leave her side at the hospital.
Their romantic relationship has always been difficult. Mary Jane admitted to loving Peter, but her family history caused an unhealthy fear of being hurt by those she loves. Peter’s double life as Spider-Man always got in the way of his dating life. (Except for the Black Cat, where it was his normal life as Peter Parker that was the big road block.) However, it was a battle in Peter Parker’s apartment in the 1984 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #257 that the biggest shocker was revealed.
She Always Knew
It turns out that Mary Jane has known Peter Parker was Spider-Man from the very beginning of his superhero career. She saw him climbing out of his window the night he went to catch Uncle Ben’s killer. It was her fear for his safety as Spider-Man that created a huge wall between their romantic relationship. They would eventually get married in the 1987 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. It was not a perfect marriage, and it had plenty of ups and downs. Mary Jane was pregnant with their child at one point, but it was believed to have been stillborn. Through it all, their love for each other remained strong.
It took the god-like Mephisto changing reality to finally break up their marriage. Even after this, their love was still strong, but the choices they made would lead to them no longer being married or in a romantic relationship. Who knows how long that will even last? When Doctor Octavius took over Spider-Man’s body, the possibility of a future relationship was reinforced. Peter Parker just needs to come back from the dead. A small feat for true love.
When Mary Jane Watson first appeared in the panels of The Amazing Spider-Man, she was wearing a plain black sleeveless t-shirt and pants (as shown at the top of the article). This simple outfit has imprinted its image in the minds of comic book readers everywhere.
However, as a costume, it is hard to identify as anything but a redhead wearing her everyday outfit. A common picture use by artist now has the Spider-Man head in the shape of a heart printed on the front of the shirt. Cosplayers will purchase one of these common graphic Ts and either dye their hair or wear a wig. One creative woman made a headband with word balloon/speech bubbles with the immortal lines "Face it, Tiger . . . you just hit the jackpot!” written inside.
Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s wedding was a huge event in the Marvel Universe, so it should come as no surprise that their nuptials would come with a large publicity campaign. Marvel would pay actors/models to pose as the real-life happy couple. Even though it would be Peter Parker getting married in a tuxedo, for obvious reason they had somebody wearing their formal attire over a Spider-Man costume.
They did stick close to Mary Jane’s wedding dress design. The white mermaid style dress formed nicely to show off the silhouette of her body. The fabric over the bust and running up her neck was made a sheer material, giving an open appearance. The veil was attached to a cap and, rather the covering her face, would puff up and out. The only detail that did not match the comic cover was that the model’s opera gloves only went to her elbows, while Mary Jane’s continued up till they reached the middle of her bicep/triceps.
The cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #601 is probably the most imitated cover by Mary Jane cosplayers. This was the first in the Red-Headed Stranger storyline that brought Mary Jane Watson back into the Peter Parker’s life after Mephisto erased their marriage from the Marvel continuity.
It is probably the most reproduced, because it is one of the easiest scenes to recreate by yourself. All you need is a couch and coffee table in front of a window. The outfit itself has Mary Jane Watson wearing a low-cut white t-shirt with the image of Spider-Mans head on it. She is barefoot and wearing basic ripped jeans. Cosplayers usually only have the upper thigh and knees ripped open, but the comic actually as another torn area between these spots as well.
Despite what many posters, toys and statues would have you believe, Mary Jane did not often wear shirts with Spider-Man’s head printed on them like an obsessed stalker. However, after the One More Day storyline, Mary Jane was wearing a Spider-Man t shirt at a dance club to show her support.
The tight white tube top has lots of different interpretations amongst cosplayers surrounding how much midriff and bust is actually exposed. While the comic had Mary Jane wearing a pair of shorts, this photo has the model wearing jeans. The one model who was wearing short, pushed the bounds of what I thought would be appropriate, so I did not include it in this article. A simple Google Image search of Mary Jane Cosplay will turn up plenty of these images near the top of the search. Big surprise.
Comic Code Authority Approved
Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since I started reading comics as a child. Although it was the 1971 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #96 that would remove the Comic Code Authority stamp from its cover, so that it could tell a story involving Harry Osborn’s drug addiction, the story itself was anti-drugs. Spider-Man is almost always “kid” friendly. However, sometimes a picture or caption will come up that makes you scratch your head and wonder how.
Often times, these moments occur with Mary Jane and Peter Parker’s physical relationship. This particular panel came up a lot in my website searches. The picture and cosplay model are remarkably similar in both their position and clothing. The comic has the Spider-Man top being pulled up a little farther than the real life model, but drawings don’t have to worry about gravity. The spidey print underwear is almost an exact match, except for the comic had a yellow trim and the picture has a blue band.
Oddly enough, the quote, “Hey tiger . . . is your spider-sense tingling yet?” brought up images of the cosplay model and not the drawn picture with the dialogue.
There are plenty of jokes in the comics and films about Peter Parker needing to wash his Spider-Man costume at the laundromat. There are even more jokes of him smelling like a high school gym locker, because he has not had time to wash his costume. Lucky, Mary Jane’s career as an actress/model would often give her the spare time to do a little laundry and save Peter the embarrassment of not having the time to do basic household chores.
The image of Mary Jane doing laundry around the house was obviously inspired by a male artist and not from somebody who actually does laundry. As she bends awkwardly over the laundry basket to grab Spidey’s mask her clothing choices come into question, or perhaps she was out of clean clothes herself. The ripped jeans are so tight that it appears she is only able to bend from the waist, sticking her rear end out for balance. Her brown shirt has been shrunk by the dryer that it fits more like a sports bra.
In the statue Mary Jane has on a necklace, because it is always important to look your best. Other differences between the cosplay interpretation of the figure are very subtle. The cosplayer went with a darker belt and lighter colored shirt, but other than that did a good job matching the source material.
For the 2002-2007 Spider-Man movie trilogy, Mary Jane would be played by Kirsten Dunst. Kate Hudson was the first choice to play the role, but turned it down so she could do The Four Feathers. Oops! There was a lot of controversy around Kirsten Dunst playing the famous red haired Mary Jane and many fans still disagree with the casting choice. So what if all her screams in Spider-Man 3 were simply recycled from Spider-Man 2, at least the role did not go to runner up Tara Reid.
With such a long history with Spider-Man, it should come as no surprise that artist have found excuses to put Mary Jane in a spider costume. The cosplay picture that gets the most attention as Mary Jane in a Spider-Man costume looks more like a cross between a Mattie Franklin and Ben Reilly costume, than the classic one Peter Parker is most associated with wearing. However, since most of Mary Jane’s appearance as Spider-Woman occur in alternate timelines, we can leave the choice of costuming more open to interpretation.
Mary Jane likes to wear a variety of clothing and will dress according to what is popular at the time. There are very few outfits that she will wear more than once and often times her clothing can be dated from the decade in which the comic was published.
For the Spider-Man Animated series, her yellow sweater appearance is a favorite amongst fans. Perhaps because it is one of the most simple to put together. A yellow sweater worn over a purple turtle neck is all that you need to make people recognize this character. The animated series used a pair of purple pants, but cosplayers prefer plain blue jeans.
Google Images (Images appeared on several sites and was unsure of original)