Anatomy Lessons – Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1

Brandon Thomas writes for Bleeding Cool:

"To Have and To Hold" by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca

Once upon a time, I famously (well, internet famously anyway) threw a stink bomb onto the soul of fandom when I wrote a piece in defense of the largely reviled One More Day storyline that erased Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane.

I still believe that it was a smart move to preserve that character's long-term viability, and that Peter's marriage to MJ isn't an essential component to the Spider-Man mythos, among other points. Besides, anyone that doesn't realize the two characters will eventually end up back together (once Peter returns from the astral plane) clearly hasn't read enough comics. That said, one of my favorite Spider-Man stories of all time, hell one of my favorite stories period, is Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca's To Have and To Hold from Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1, which is something of a thesis on how and why the Peter/MJ relationship worked just perfectly in the right creative hands.

Sensational Spider-Man Annual 1

The "Peter Parker Unmasked" storyline brought us a few real standouts, but none surpasses this script by Fraction that finds Mary Jane caught up in a S.H.I.E.L.D. sting operation, and threatened with jail if she doesn't give her fugitive husband up. At the same time, clear across town, Peter is attempting to do just that, horribly ashamed at what he's putting his entire family through with the outlaw life style they've been forced to live in recent months. And on top of all that, both of them are flashing back to simpler times when they were just friends, and the significant events that led to their relationship turning into something else. This shared history supports and informs on the main narrative, showing just why they've developed a seemingly unbreakable bond, and what makes it truly special and ultimately worth preserving.

Conceptually, it would be easy for the whole thing to crumble under its own weight, but Fraction takes all of the elements and produces a classic. No offense to Pete, but Mary Jane has the best material throughout, since she's the one staring down the barrel of a gun. Despite that she isn't the least bit phased or intimidated by the situation, and quickly makes it clear that she is willing to do anything for Peter, even be hauled off in cuffs. Her greatest moment in a series of greatest moments is when the Agent tries to convince her there was something brewing between them in the past that could continue if she makes the right decision here. The following exchange is the result of the intense confrontation–

"I felt something, Mary Jane. We could've—"

"What? We could've what, Brady?"

"We—we could—You know. You felt it."

"What, exactly, did I feel? One drunk, lonely almost hookup does not star-crossed lovers make. Is that what you think we were? You work my security detail for a few months and now—now you're Mr. S.H.I.E.L.D. man here to rescue me from my big, bad life? He's my husband. You're just some dude."

And THAT ladies and gentlemen, is Mary Jane Watson at her absolute finest.

There's also another great moment that Peter shares with his iron-willed wife, which gives us both perspectives of a critical flashback scene. The whole sequence is incredibly awkward, and therefore entirely believable, featuring two people hoping hard that their personal idiosyncrasies don't ultimately push the other person away. It's perfect that Peter would respond to her mixtape with a recording of science lectures, because that's how much of a nerd he is, and the most appropriate way for him to express his growing feelings. And it would be so so important to him that she understood exactly why, and would be able to accept his love of "boring, stupid things." It's these little details that make a compelling argument that this relationship should endure no matter what, and I find it impossible for anyone to leave this story without a good feeling about both characters.

Don't know exactly when this was written, or if I'm clearly projecting, but from the moment I finished this story I was entirely convinced that its writer was himself in a relationship and was feeling pretty excited about it. What he says about love and commitment here just feels like something he was experiencing firsthand at the time, and I think it's just another reason this story shines so bright.

Mary Jane receives an incredibly strong portrayal (if not stronger) than her superhero husband, and seriously…isn't that the way it should be? This woman tells the feds to kiss her ass, and it's not because she knows Peter is coming to get her, but because that's the type of woman she is, and that's how committed she is to Peter Parker and everything he's done in his so-called life. And by the time they make their daring escape and are plunging off a building together, you have no doubt their love can survive and outlast anything…even a deal with the devil.

Brandon Thomas writes comics and writes about comics. He's written stories for Dynamite, Marvel, DC, and Arcade Comics, and co-created The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, with artist Lee Ferguson, which is available right now from Archaia in OGN format. His personal blog is The Fiction House, and his Twitter handle is @mirandamercury.   

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About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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