One of my first graphic cover binds, this run is a very special one to me. JMS & JR Jr.’s work on Spidey definitely goes down as one of the most charming and innovative periods in the wallcrawler’s history. It comes at a time when the Spider-Man books were in my opinion what I would consider coming off their worst period ever with the Howard Mackie and John Byrne relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man. A couple years had gone by with disastrous editorial and creative decisions on where to take the character that honestly almost killed the entire franchise. Just when it looked like Spider-Man was ruined forever, JMS comes on and instantly gives us something new and exciting. While some of his totemic power plots are polarizing, the,y along with the decision to make Peter Parker a teacher immediately gave the book a refreshing jolt and led to one of the strongest periods in Spider-Man’s history.
I could go on for days blathering about all the strong material within each issue, but I already have a far superior writer doing just that with an issue by issue breakdown of this stuff here. I also have a great Potluck guest article about the run here. So instead of falling short in comparison to them, I’ll just show off pictures of my big custom bound book I had made collecting all this material and share why this stuff personally means so much to me.
Let’s flashback to the year 2004. It’s a hot summer day in July and I’m hanging out at my friend’s house with a few buddies. We’re playing badminton, just being dorks together when one friend suggests going to see the recently released Spider-Man 2. Now, I’m clearly a huge comics guy now but at that point in my life the Clone Saga and growing up led me to leave comic books behind for a few years. When I was young, Spider-Man was my life. This article about Spider-Man: The Parker Years goes more into that, but a lifelong Spider-Man fandom was clearly in my blood, no matter how many teenage years of newspaper comic strips, music, girls and basketball had taken me away from the medium fully for a few years. I thank all the Gods that my friends dragged me to see that movie (I hadn’t even seen the first one), because it brought me back to comics. I remembered that I quite loved this Spider guy and started wondering why I had ever left comics in the dust. About a week later, with the same group of friends, I was at the mall and decided to scope out the comics section in Waldenbooks. There wasn’t a huge selection but there were two series they had tons of books for – Brian Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man and JMS’ Amazing Spider-Man. I flipped through the ‘Life and Death of Spiders” and “Happy Birthday” trades and was quickly charmed by Romita Jr’s rendition of everyone and saw Mary Jane and Peter together, which is my very specific favorite thing. I quickly bought those trades and some hardcovers of Ultimate Spider-Man. I remember going back to my friend’s house and just sitting there reading comics instead of actually engaging in the hangout. The last comic I read had been Dan Jurgen’s Sensational Spider-Man with Ben Reilly, so after about seven years, because of this specific run, I was HOOKED AGAIN.
I filled in some of the pieces of this run the next couple of years, while fully getting into monthly books and all the collections I could find during high school. With the rest of the trades and way more context and knowledge behind it, I did a chronological read of the whole run in the Summer of 2006. This was smackdab in the middle of my first serious relationship and let me tell you, JMS’ handling of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship REALLY hit home for me. I remember showing pages to my girlfriend, excitedly exclaiming as only an in love 17 year old can “They’re just like us!”. I don’t think she ever really appreciated it as much as I did but this run found it’s way into my heart, curled up, pitched a tent and never left. Straczynski writes an absolutely amazing Mary Jane and imbued her relationship with Peter with charming and realistic attributes that I feel like anyone can self insert their own relationships into. I’ve written before about how much I value Mary Jane as a character and her relationship with Peter. It influenced and informed almost every feeling I have on love. That JMS was able to perfectly tap into that was the biggest factor to me returning to Spider-Man and loving comics again for the rest of my life.
Cut to 2010. A lot has changed. That girlfriend I mentioned? We broke up in 2007 and I never really stopped loving her. We’d talk now and then but never reconciled. She had moved to Rochester, gone through so much living and moved back to Buffalo. I went to college, dropped out and had just left home for the first time, moving into a house with my brother. We had started texting again, just touching base with each other, feeling out how our lives had gone when one night, a night I feel was fate, I was coming home buzzed from Bar Trivia with my friends and decided to text her. Astonishingly, she was hanging out with a friend just down the street from my new place, a glass of wine or a few puffs in. Thanks to our lowered inhibitions and destiny of course, I invited her over and they stopped in for a short porch visit. We laughed and had a good time and from there we started hanging out again, eventually dating, and now we’ve been married for a little over a year. She’s the absolute love of my live and I couldn’t live, I couldn’t properly function without her.
So what does this all have to do with this run? Well during our second try at a relationship, I read this run again. Where once my youthful naivete had sort of seen me and my wife in the Peter and Mary Jane roles, the new matured version of me was looking into a mirror when I read these books, particularly Amazing Spider-Man #50. When Straczynski took over, Peter and MJ had separated. She went to the West Coast and he trudged through life, making the most of his hollow existence without her. Throughout, JMS organically has them grow and live their lives solo, developing their own internal selves while slowly having them talk and meet up and hash out their issues and past troubles. After a period of growing and self reflection they reunite and are able to see they literally cannot live without each other and give their love a second chance that blooms into a satisfying, important connection. Peter and MJ needed each other, just like my wife and I did. This run will always be insanely special to me for hitting and reflecting three major milestone points in my life. This run is inside of me, it’s in my DNA. I wouldnt be here writing about comics without it. I don’t think I’d be the man I am, or in the soulmate relationship I am in without it. That is why this gold brick had to be custom bound, to sit on my shelf as a spiritual tome intertwined with my life. You owe it to yourself if you’re reading this, to go read it all but PLEASE when John Romita Jr. leaves, also close the book and pretend that is where Straczynski also leaves. Never read past that point. Trust me, I’m trying to help you here.